#IWD2016 COMMENT | RECLAIMING WOMEN

Stephanie Davies-Arai looks at the emerging new definitions of what a ‘woman’ is, and asks if it is men who are once again in charge of the agenda.

There’s a strange thing happening to the distinct group formerly known as ‘women.’ The change in meaning of the word has crept up on us but it has become so established this past year across the media, government, public institutions and women’s groups that I find myself wondering ‘Who is International Women’s Day for?’ I don’t know anymore, I’d have to check with the organisers: ‘When you say ‘women’ who do you mean?’ The only answer permissible would be ‘anyone who self-identifies as a woman’ because anything thing else would be exclusive of transsexual males and therefore ‘transphobic.’

Already I can hear the sharp intake of breath from those shocked at that term ‘transsexual males;’ already I have declared myself ‘transphobic’ by not using the term ‘trans women.’ I do use that term sometimes out of courtesy, but I use accurate terminology here because that’s what this piece is about. A ‘trans woman’ is a male who identifies as the opposite sex, that’s all, no judgment. ‘Transsexual male’ is accurate and facts in themselves are neutral.

Clarity of language is important, words and their meanings influence thought; it matters to be factual. If we are separating people into distinct groups, we need a clear definition of the recognised characteristics of each group in order to say ‘This is where that group ends and this one begins.’ Yes, we are all members of that marvellous inclusive group called ‘humankind’ where boundaries dissolve, but within that we have distinct groups, and oppressed groups especially need clear terms to name and define themselves.

The biological sex difference between men and women performs, and has always performed, this function. There is no intrinsic judgment or meaning inherent in primary sex and reproductive characteristics: in themselves, they indicate only which sex we belong to, for over 99% of people.

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