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Brazil: Prominent Feminist Comes Out Against Calling Women 'People Who Menstruate'

Professor Djamila Ribeiro faces backlash for criticizing terms erasing women.

Brazil: Prominent Feminist Comes Out Against Calling Women 'People Who Menstruate'
Img source: Wikimedia Commons

Djamila Ribeiro, a prominent Brazilian philosopher, writer, professor and journalist, is facing intense backlash, especially from leftists, after she published an article for news outlet Folha de São Paulo on December 1st, 2022. Her piece, called “We, women, are not only ‘people who menstruate’” explores the reasons why referring to women as “people who menstruate” is a “throwback” to women’s rights and a form of “biological determinism.”

In the article, professor Ribeiro says that she feels “deeply disturbed,” both as a black woman and a feminist theorist, to be “reduced” to female biological functions, as if women were not “complete, social and political human beings.” Further, she questions the phrases that a section of Brazilian leftists use to refer to women, such as “people who menstruate”, “gestational person” or “people with boobs” that she has seen on social media or in online publications.

“A woman is not a person who gestates,” Ribeiro wrote. “There are women who can’t or don’t want to get pregnant. In this case, how are we going to refer to them? ‘People who don’t gestate’? Women who need to have their breasts removed for medical conditions or other reasons will be referred to in what way? This refers to the biological sexism, which was so well explained by Simone de Beauvoir in ‘The Second Sex,’” she explained. Ribeiro then wrote that she thinks it’s “interesting” that the “men’s category” remains “untouchable.”

“There are no publications referring to them (the men) as ‘people who ejaculate,’” wrote the professor.

The reactions to Ribeiro’s article have been mixed and intense. Under the tweet by Folha de Sao Paulo with her article, there are several comments calling her “transphobic,” comparing her to J.K. Rowling, but also throwing insults such as “slut,” “nazi” and “nigger” at her. Some of her more eloquent critics argue that rejecting the phrase “people who menstruate” is “transphobia.” A politician who self-declares as a “intersex transvestite,” called Carolina Lara, tweeted that by writing her article, Ribeiro also committed “intersexphobia” and that, as a member of the Brazilian parliament, “we can’t exclude people when writing laws, therefore we use “people with wombs.”

Another high profile critic, Leticia Parks, a Marxist journalist and professor, called Ribeiro’s article “absurd.” Parks claims that the feminist movement and the “LGBTQIAP+” movement “only gets stronger when “PEOPLE WITH UTERUSES”, independently of their gender, fight united for the right for abortion, free sexuality and bodily autonomy.”

However, many others have sent their support to Ribeiro, including several Brazilian black women who align with radical feminism. Larissa Santana tweeted that professor Ribeiro used to be “contemplated and admired by the liberal leftists until she questioned the phrase ‘people who menstruate’… Now she is going to be called "T3RF NI663R," just like other women,” she said, mentioning feminist artist Laetitia, who was called “transphobic” for her art, and Nigerian feminist writer Chimamanda Adichie Ngozie, who was “canceled for saying that ‘transwomen are transwomen.’”

Feminist writer Yasmin Morais, founder of Vulva Negra, a project for black women aligned with radical feminism, wrote for a leftist media outlet, Carta Capital, asking “Can a black woman talk?” Her piece compares Ribeiro with the mythical character Pandora, explaining what happens to women who question the space reserved to them in patriarchal societies. “Pandora (meaning Ribeiro),” Morais wrote, “felt tormented with the lack of autonomy in the reduced space that others had built for her and, in an outburst of enlightened courage, wrote the opinion article “We, women, are not only ‘people who menstruate’ for Folha de Sao Paulo.” Morais finishes her piece saying that “Pandora opened the box. And of course, there would be consequences. After all, all women, my dear Pandora, are banned from some paradise when they open the so feared box.”

Eugenia Rodrigues, journalist and campaigner for No Corpo Certo (In The Right Body), another black woman who wrote about the backlash against professor Ribeiro, told 4W that she solidarizes with any woman who is attacked for questioning the “trans speech.” Rodrigues says that there’s no conciliation between “trans ideology” and women’s rights. “I wholeheartedly agree with Ribeiro’s critics against this dehumanizing language… and I urge people to not only support Djamila in this issue, but also to understand the incompatibility between ‘trans speech’ and our rights.”

Marcelle Fonseca, former member of collective GARRa Feminista, who organized a lesbian march for two decades, wrote that Ribeiro’s article is important because it comes from a woman who is a liberal feminist and not a radical feminist. “She explains with a lot of clarity something that we, radical feminists, have been saying for a long time,” said Fonseca. “We left the (feminist) ‘bubble.’ That’s it. We are women.” Fonseca told 4W that Ribeiro’s article brings to the surface the debate about “biological determinism.” She added that calling women “people who menstruate” is “sexist” and reinforces female oppression, which is “directly related to our biology and presumed biological capacity. We have to be able to talk about everything that surrounds us (women) and our material reality without fear.”

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