Some impermissible female thoughts on the word “woman”

You don’t need to use the word “woman” in order to discriminate against females. If you are a misogynist, you already know who “those people” are and what you think of them. You probably have your own words for them, somewhere in the back of your mind: gash, bitches, TERFs, breeders, mummies, helpmeets, whatever. You know what you expect of them: submissiveness, the constant massaging of your ego, sexual subservience, reproductive labour, pipe and slippers, the works. You have millennia of tradition behind you — that hierarchy feminists call gender — to reinforce your demands. So why would you want the word “woman” when it comes to discriminating against that inferior class? It only grants your subordinates a dignity you’ve decided they don’t deserve. So go on, take it from them and put it to a better usage, a usage that permits you to set the boundaries of what women can actually be.

In contrast to this, you do need the word “woman” if you are the one being discriminated against. You need it to say who you are, what is happening to you and why. You need it to describe the historical and cultural context of your subjugation. You need it so that when discussing your abuse you can say “it’s because I’m a woman”. These things matter. Misogyny is not arbitrary and you need language both for your own understanding and to provide you with the tools to enact change.

For a long time I’ve felt, as many of us do, that the word “woman” is context-specific and that, in a world where all of us are victims of gender, it needs to be shared, to allow individuals the space to live their lives. I still think this holds. Nevertheless, over the past year I’ve seen a massive contraction in who is allowed to define womanhood and in what context, and it’s one based entirely on a backlash against feminism and the reinforcement of male supremacy.

There is a small group of trans activists who are full-blown misogynists but no one, trans or non trans, is allowed to say so (or rather, they literally can say so, but the cost in terms of abuse is too high).  When these people subject females to misogyny and/or demands based on assumptions  of female inferiority and/or expectations of female compliance there are no words to describe it – none at all. You cannot talk about male entitlement. You cannot discuss male privilege. You cannot say “I am hated because I am a woman”. The most you can say is “I am hated because I am gash, a bitch, a TERF, a breeder, a member of the-class-formerly-known-as-women”. “Cis woman” won’t do, since “cis woman” is positioned as the oppressor of trans women, and the dynamic you are experiencing is the precise opposite: males oppressing females. You are forced to describe yourself using the very terms men who hate women would use, yet you are not even permitted to call those who are demeaning you male.

Definitions of maleness and femaleness based on what one does – how one acts based on one’s physical and social experiences – are not allowed. Male entitlement vanishes as soon as the entitled says “I’m not male”. Female subjugation remains only the subjugated can’t even call it that. Female testimony – female lived experience of what gender is and does – is utterly discounted when it comes to defining what gender is (and ironically, part of what gender is lies in this very discounting). The point is not that one should be allowed to call out trans women using terms that alienate them, but that if women suffer abuse because they are women and because those who abuse them see them as women in terms of their role and function then it is absurd to demonise these women just for pointing this out. It is saying “you have no right to contextualise your abuse because you are not someone who is allowed to contextualise their own experiences”. It is saying “we won’t listen to you because you’re only one of those-people-who-are-inferior-but-we-don’t-call-them-women-any-more”.

This is something that many mainstream commentators do not see either because they do not experience it or because they do not care. A bastardised, misogynistic version of trans inclusivity slots neatly into the everyday sexism of mainstream media. A number of mainstream male commentators, currently patting themselves on the back for their inclusivity, ought to be hanging their heads in shame. It’s not enough to say you’re not sexist when you’re pissing on the people sexists have always pissed on. It’s not enough to absolve yourself of responsibility for woman-hating now you’ve found some superior women to champion while you continue to trample on all the rest. I think there is a misconception that accepting trans women as women is the next step on from accepting women as humans, when in fact you can do the former without doing the latter at all. You can accept trans women as women and still be a raging misogynist with no concept of male privilege. Not being transphobic isn’t a shortcut to not being sexist. It doesn’t work like that and in many ways, treating all women as human beings will cost you a damn sight more than saying “trans women are women” ever will. Which of these things will impact on your life the most?

I’ve thought a lot about whether to bother publishing this post. I can’t even name anyone in it (although they have named me, again and again) as that would just heighten accusations that I am an awful person. I would be accused of misgendering, simply for identifying a dynamic that makes billions of women’s lives appalling and quite often kills them. I’ll be accused of all this anyhow. No one who hates women will be persuaded otherwise by this post. People who haven’t seen much of this misogyny will just think “pointless in-fighting, irrelevant”. Knee-jerk liberals will trot out “anyone who identifies as a woman is a woman” as if smug circular logic has anything at all to do with the flesh-and-blood realities of why and how half the human race is despised. It feels utterly, utterly pointless. The only reason I’m doing this is because I saw this published this morning, agreed with every word and thought “why the fuck is all this having to be said anonymously?”

Women who have experienced so much abuse and shame all their lives, simply for being women, are now afraid to even talk about the misogynist abuse they experience right now. They are afraid to admit it in public, or rather, they might not be afraid, but they have rational reasons for thinking the consequences will not be worth it. This is an absolute disgrace.

“Woman” means more than “whatever I say it is”. It is a word and a concept that defines real experiences, real interior lives, real conditioning, real pain and real shame – not just yours, but mine, too. If you don’t think females have a need to capture those things, or if you think it simply doesn’t matter, shame on you. You too define women as a group in terms you would consider essentialist; it’s just that instead of calling us women, you conceptualise us as scum.