I’m not a feminist. I suppose I don’t even have to explain that to regular readers, but you never know if someone who just casually comes across one of my columns has that momentary thought of, “Oh, an immigration lawyer, a woman, kind of mouthy, yup, she’s a feminist.”
Aside from thinking that the label sounds more like a gastric condition than a revered identity, my biggest problem with the term is that it evokes troubling imagery of anger and resentment. Feminists are not happy people, despite the fact that they insist they are. There’s this idea that being unfettered by family obligations and traditional values frees us to be our best selves. As the raven-haired daughter of Danny Thomas once told us, we are “Free to Be, You and Me (but not You, If You Vote the Wrong Way).”
That being said, I find myself replaying Helen Reddy over and over in my head these days. “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” was a catchy tune that came out when I was in sixth grade at Merion Mercy, around the time that I was reading “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” The latter was a rite-of-passage book about getting your period for the first time, and how it defined being a woman. In my mind, those two things are closely connected, the ability to give life, and identity as a female. Biology is very much a part of being a woman, in my book.
Not everyone reads my book of course. Lately, the trans movement has gaslighted everyone into believing that gender and sex are simply societal constructs that can be changed at will, and whim. I know there are folks who have studied the whole issue of gender dysphoria and think my worldview is woefully simplistic and, more importantly, cruel. I am fully aware that even broaching the subject of gender in the context of biological reality is likely to get me hate mail.
It’s happened before, it will happen again. No surprise there, and no real regrets because I refuse to say that up is down and white is black. If you have a penis, you are not a woman. If you do not have a penis, you are not a man. You might identify as one, and you have a right to be respected as a child of God no matter how you present to the world. You can even have your gender changed on your birth certificate, and live your life as whatever sex gives you serenity, and calms the demons in your troubled soul.
But you cannot erase an entire group of people because of your own desire to reconcile the disconnect between your brain and your body. Let’s be blunt.
Rachel Levine, born Robert Levine, is not a biological woman. She, and I will use the pronoun she prefers, is a trans woman who began life as a male. She has every right to call herself whatever she wants, and many of us can respect her choices and her desire to live her adopted identity. But in pretending that she is an actual woman as opposed to a societal construct of a woman, we are telling women who grew up wondering when their periods were going to start that they are not exclusive.
They are simply an option. In other words, you don’t have to go through all of the trauma and triumph of being a biological female if you want to be called a Woman of the Year, as Levine was recently named by USA Today. You don’t have to have spent your earlier years struggling to make it in a man’s world, or deal with actual gender discrimination, or sexual harassment, or all of the other things that are common in the female experience. You just have to one day come out as female and demand that the world accept you as such. Even if you had a nice run as a male, in a society that rewarded you for being “not female.”
And then there’s Lia Thomas, the biological male who stole a women’s swimming title from actual women. “Her” victory is an affront to every girl who got up in the dark, pre-dawn hours and did endless, tedious, soul-crushing laps, end to end, reaching toward the glistening brass ring. Instead, a social phenomenon grasped it, stole it, and smiled as others cheered. Devastating and infuriating at the same time. An assault on women.
For a woman who started out saying she’s not a feminist, I sound a lot like a feminist. But I’m really not. I’m more of a humanist, and by that I mean I find value in the human condition alone. I believe that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity regardless of any extrinsic labels. Women who achieve great things are simply people who have achieved great things. Men who take their daughters to school and feed them breakfast are simply great parents (as well as achieving one of the greatest things, nurturing a child.) Gender is irrelevant to accomplishment.
Except when society decides to make gender relevant to accomplishment, as when we elect “Woman of the Year.” In that case, and even though I’m not a fan of Women’s History Month and Women’s Studies syllabi and all that stuff, I think that the person being picked as an exceptional woman should actually be a woman.
You might say that trans women are women, and according to the most enlightened standards of society you would be right. But a man who decided he was actually a woman trapped inside of a man’s body is very different from a woman who did the heavy lifting all of her life and scaled a mountain in stilettos, and backward (with apologies to Ginger Rogers.) If you are going to reward womanhood, please find a woman.
The fair thing would be to have “Trans Person of the Year,” if we really want to make gender a part of accomplishment. I don’t think anyone would have a problem with that, and I also believe it would honor trans individuals a lot more than lumping them in with the gender they ultimately embraced. After all, it takes courage to say that you are unhappy in your own skin, and then try and do something about it.
But you don’t get to erase me, a woman, because you did something about it. I am woman, and you damn well better hear me roar.