800 maternal deaths a day is not gender neutral

Last week I wrote an article on the discrimination suffered by pregnant women and new mothers. In doing so I wished to stress that such discrimination is rooted not in the nature of pregnancy itself, but in the low status accorded to women as a class. If the rules changed overnight and people of higher status – men – got pregnant, we would treat the whole process very differently. Instead, we live in a world where 800 women die every single day from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. This isn’t because pregnancy happens; it’s because it only happens to people who don’t matter. These people we call “women.”

Yesterday I received some feedback on the piece, which I’ve edited below:

Your article rests on two pillars, that A) men cannot breastfeed and B) men cannot give birth. […]. Many trans men choose to retain their breasts and/or genitals and can happily do both of the above.

Now obviously I was expecting this kind of thing, but it is still immensely frustrating. I wonder if anyone would ever dream of writing to someone who’d produced an article on any other form of class discrimination only to say “yeah, but you forgot to validate all the people who don’t believe that such a class hierarchy exists in any meaningful sense.” I am not prepared to compromise on what gender is and how it relates to the exploitation of female bodies if what I’m writing about is pregnancy discrimination (if what I was writing about was favourite sandwich fillings I might take a different approach). I’m well aware that it’s considered polite (at least if you’re a woman) to add some little qualification that undermines one’s whole argument by prioritising gender as brainsex over gender as a murderous hierarchy, but if we’re talking about actual death tolls, I’m not doing it. So that’s it. Much as I’d love to join in which the superficial halo polishing I’m out.

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The freedom to say women matter

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

George Orwell

Orwell’s famous quote on liberty has always sounded to me like something an abusive father would use to justify over-disciplining a child. Superior, self-pitying (why is it always me who has to deal in these home truths?), tactless (no, you have to hear this, I don’t care what it does to you), it is practically a patriarchal mission statement. It assumes that things “people don’t want to hear” — you’re worthless, you’re an object, you don’t exist — don’t have the power to make people less free. It assumes knowledge of why people don’t want to listen (can’t handle the truth, can’t argue back, just can’t face it, can you?). Those who don’t want you to speak are positioned as petulant children. It is how abusers think of those who ask them to stop.

I’ve felt all this about the current hot topic of free speech in British universities. To be clear, I am not on the side of young, white, middle-class students who seek to no platform women who’ve got more integrity and compassion in their little fingers than these students have ever shown in their lives. However, I don’t think these students are merely petulant children who don’t know what they’re doing or can’t stand debate. To me this just doesn’t ring true. Perhaps some of them are weak, but those shouting the loudest are the ones who are chairing societies. They’re ambitious, if ignorant, mini-politicians (and since when has ignorance got in the way of a successful political career?). Continue reading

Misogyny, left and right: Why we shouldn’t have to choose

Right now there’s a battle going on between the two sides of the political spectrum: who is best at controlling women? On the Right there are those who still vouch for the “women as purchasable property of husbands” model, while on the Left there’s a preference for “women as purchasable property of all men, everywhere.” Should a woman be on her knees for one man or for several? What’s best for the common good?

Of course, this is not a real fight, more a performance. As long as women remain objects who exist to satisfy male needs, either way will do.  As Dworkin observed in 1987, “this public fight they’re always having, from our point of view and for our purposes, is a diversion. They each do their part to keep us down.” It’s nothing more than ostentatious dick swinging. They each say they’re the best at managing this resource called “woman” but they both know that they’re in it together.

Hence it should not surprise us that the Greens are every bit as virulently misogynistic as the Conservatives or UKIP. Their politics are pro the rampant commoditisation of female bodies, anti the rampant commoditisation of everything else. Because, of course, the commoditisation of female bodies isn’t anything to do with capitalism; it is “natural.” The fear of both sides, argues Dworkin, is “that male supremacy wasn’t just this giant, monolithic thing that had, in fact, been given to them by God or nature. God is the right; nature is the left.” Can’t argue with nature, can you? The idea that the Left is more pro-woman because it claims to be on the side of the people is absurd. All you need do is exclude women from your understanding of “people” – because “woman as people” is just some sinister construct – and you never have to listen to them ever again. Continue reading