It hasn’t been popular in progressive circles to talk about biological sex for a while, now. For those uninitiated, liberals have been obsessed with the idea of “gender identity” — or the idea that the particular collection of sex-stereotypes you associate with dictate your actual sex.
Feminists, however, are fighting back. This is why biological sex matters in feminism:
Gender is a tool of the patriarchy
Gender has come to mean a lot of things lately. Traditionally, “gender” has been a polite word for “sex”, since the word “sex” is also used to refer to sexual intercourse. The conflation of these two concepts appears to begin with a concern for propriety in public discourse, but it has had lasting consequences.
In modern liberal circles, “gender” has come to be associated with the idea of gender identity, which according to Merriam-Webster means:
A person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female
I’ve already talked a bit about this concept, and how while some people may have this internal feeling, many (if not most) people do not. For those who do, it’s largely clear that it’s based in sex-stereotyping, autogynephilia, or internalized misogyny.
When feminists talk about “gender”, though, they are referring to gender roles, “the social roles encompassing a range of behaviors and attitudes that are generally considered acceptable, appropriate, or desirable for people based on their biological or perceived sex.”
Feminists view the very existence of gender roles as patriarchal oppression and wish to abolish them. One major reason for this is because women are nearly always considered lesser under the gender hierarchy. This happens in multiple ways, including 1) being assigned inherently lesser traits through stereotyping (ex. “women are weak” and “men are smarter than women”), or 2) through the cultural devaluing of traits associated with women (ex. the relative market value of physical versus emotional labor). In a patriarchal hierarchy, women will always lose out when gender roles are assigned.
Therefore, feminists will always disagree with any ideology that perpetuates gender norms, even if it’s wrapped in a shiny new package. Feminists want everyone to be able to live and express themselves however they want (so long as it’s not hurting anyone), without receiving harassment, violence, or discrimination. Modern gender ideology does not accomplish this, it simply provides new ways for people to conform to gender norms (ex. If you are a boy who likes barbies and ballet — you must actually be a girl).
If sex isn’t real, then neither is sexism
Proponents of “queer theory”, the prevailing ideological framework which drives gender ideology, argue that biological sex isn’t “real” and that humans can change sex.
Of course, we could have a philosophical discussion about if anything is real or not. Maybe I’m not real — maybe you’re not, but this is not their point. They argue that biological sex is not a binary, and that human sex is mutable (able to be changed). Proponents of this ideology often claim to have “science” on their side, despite the fact that there has never been a peer-reviewed scientific paper published which classifies homo sapiens sapiens’ sex as a spectrum.
To be clear, these are the definitions of male and female:
Female: of, relating to, or being the sex that typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs
Male: an individual of the sex that is typically capable of producing small, usually motile gametes (such as sperm or spermatozoa) which fertilize the eggs of a female
Gender ideologues often trot out individuals with disorders of sexual development (DSDs) as pawns to prove that sex is a spectrum. Claire Graham, an intersex activist, has written extensively on why this comparison is false, irrelevant, and dehumanizing to people with intersex conditions. People with DSDs are either male or female, and have a developmental disorder — meaning something went wrong along the way. The existence of people born with Syndactyly, for example, does not mean that humans don’t normally have 10 fingers and 10 toes.
Despite the absolute stretch of these arguments, gender ideologues still claim that biological sex is not real, is socially constructed, and is “assigned at birth”. This terminology is, once again, an appropriation of the intersex community — who’s genitals may be surgically altered without consent at birth in order to appear more clearly male or female. In reality, most people’s sex is observed at birth (or earlier). It is largely correctly observed.
The fact that sex is real matters to feminists because feminists are fighting patriarchy — the domination of the male sex class over the female one. Claiming that sex isn’t real or doesn’t matter is akin to saying sexism isn’t real.
If there is no real, clearly defined group called “women”, then there can be no violence against women, no workplace harassment of women, no genital mutilation of young women (aka “girls”), and no forced marriage or sexual slavery of women.
This is why feminists often see gender ideology as working hand-in-hand with men’s rights activists, who also claim to deny the reality of patriarchy and women’s real experiences of male violence. But male violence is real:
- 90% of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men
- 93% of perpetrators of sexual violence against men are men
- 95% of perpetrators of all child sexual abuse are men
The idea that sex is mutable in humans is a form of victim-blaming, claiming that women could simply become men to avoid patriarchial violence and discrimination. It’s no wonder that young girls are now jumping in line to attempt to identify out of their womanhood.
But feminists know the truth — no matter your proclaimed “identity”, female people will always be at risk of violence from male people as long as we are under patriarchy.
A rapist does not stop to ask a woman her “identity” before raping her.
Parents in Somalia will not stop to ask a girl, “Are you sure you’re not a boy?” before cutting her.
A student in India will not be able to command her period to be drawn back up inside her by declaring she identifies as the sort of child who is permitted to go to school.
A pregnant woman in Honduras will not be magically able to obtain an abortion if only she explains, “Wait, I’m actually a man!”
Sex matters in the lives of women. To deny this is to deny the fundamental building blocks of patriarchy. To deny that sex is real, or that it matters, is to be explicitly anti-feminist.
If women are defined out of existence, we can’t organize around issues that affect us
One of the most insidious was the undercutting of the reality of biological sex is impacting feminism is the inability to organize within our own oppressed class.
Feminists have long recognized the importance of getting together with other women, in spaces without men, to organize, support each other, and consiousness-raise. However, trans activists who adhere to strict gender ideology have convinced “progressives” that this is not only no longer allowed, but that to attempt to do so gives men a valid excuse to be violent towards women.
The attacks on Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) demonstrate this most clearly. VRR is a collective of women who have organized to create services for victims of domestic violence, including a shelter. Only women may become members of the collective, which has sparked a series of hateful threats an attacks from males who wish to forcibly enter the female-only space (the sublimation of rape in this circumstance is ironic, to say the least).
Transgender activist Morgane Oger encouraged the city to withdraw $30,000 in funding from the shelter. The shelter was later vandalized with threats of violence and found a dead rat nailed to their door.
Other women who attempt to organize without men have had to hire additional security, meet in secret, and face actual physical assault from trans activists to wish to deny women the right to organize.
If you are denying women the right to organize along the lines of sex, the axis upon which we are oppressed, then you are not a feminist. You are a tool of the patriarchy.
Biological sex is real, and it matters to feminists
Claims that women who believe biological sex is relevant to feminism are “hateful”, “violent”, or “bigots’ are misinformed at best, and intentional propaganda at worst. Making actual feminism so tabu NGOs are afraid to say use the word “women” and feminists are scared to organize without men has done nothing to move us towards women’s liberation.
In fact, patriarchy has pulled a big trick on women — and a lot of us fell for it. I fell for it, too, for a while. If you’ve been told that biological sex doesn’t matter in feminism, it’s time to question who really benefits from that ideology. I promise it’s not women.
Cover photo by Molly Adams on Flickr
CC-BY-SA, M. K. Fain