Confession time: In daily life the pronoun thing is off my radar. I live in the land of Ma’am and Sir, so everyone gets “gendered” constantly. I’m not bothered if someone calls me Sir (whether by slip of the tongue or genuine mistake — I’m not always the picture of feminine stereotypes, thanks), and like all the rest of the world, in my own routine courtesies I don’t ask to see paperwork, I just roll with whatever sex the person I’m speaking to looks or sounds like.
That’s normal life.
There are times, though, when sex matters. Here’s one of the less offensive reports on the latest crimes of serial killer Harvey Marcelin, a man who murders and dismembers women. The New York Post at least explains at the top of the article that Mr. Marcelin identifies as a transgender woman; I’ve seen other articles where “she” and “her” crimes are described at length before only mentioning at the very end of the story that we aren’t speaking of a woman at all, but a man. Because there are significant differences in the patterns of male and female homicide, sex matters.
Another time sex matters is when speaking of reproductive systems. Only women menstruate, conceive, and give birth. Men do sometimes lactate, but not as the means of nourishing newborns. In the effort to somehow prove that sex is a mutable characteristic, it’s become a fad to describe sex-specific physical traits rather than naming the sex those traits belong to. Men and women cease to be persons with lived experiences and instead get named by their genitals. Classy.
This desperation to divorce human beings from their bodies leads to some ridiculously unscientific terminology. Chestfeeding? You can just say breastfeeding. Men and women both have breasts, and any lactation that occurs comes from that breast tissue.
Lately I’ve been seeing bleeder to refer to women who menstruate. Again, terrible science. There are woefully few animal species that don’t have a circulatory system. Men bleed. Women bleed. Dogs and cats and goldfish bleed. We sometimes even refer to trees bleeding. It’s difficult to be any less specific than to use the term “bleeder.” In the desperation to erase distinctions between men and women, we’re now lumping together menstruation, paper cuts, and maple syrup?
Something else that matters is the differences between male and female patterns of cardiovascular disease. Here’s an explainer that does indeed drill down to XX vs. XY, which in this case is the relevant distinction.
When you, a man or a woman, try to get your disease diagnosed and treated, though, it’s not just your chromosomes that will protest if your physician ignores the sex-based differences in this area. You as a man or a woman may experience unnecessary suffering because of your sex, due to ignorance about the genuine physical differences between men and woman in this aspect of human physiology.
We cannot separate the experience of being a man or a woman from the experience of living in a male or female body. That’s what being a man or woman, male or female, is. I repeat: That’s what it is. Because of this, yet another area where sex matters is in sports.
In order to provide fair competition, all competitive sporting events categorize people by their capabilities. Depending on the sport, we use age categories, weight classes, years of experience, skill-based handicap scoring, or disability classifications in order to create as fair of a playing field as possible. The value of competition derives from playing someone as equally matched to yourself as possible, so that you and your opponent are both striving to perform at the limits of your ability.
Another way we usually (not always) categorize athletes is by sex.
We might do this for social reasons, regardless of whether there are significant differences in typical male and female performance capacity in a given sport. We might do it out of modesty in sports where players have intimate physical contact with each other’s bodies, recognizing that we are sexual beings who rightly place limits on physical contact with the opposite sex.
We also create sex-segregated sports because men and women do vary in their physical abilities, but both need opportunities for fair competition at an intense level. Because humans are not just pieces-parts but men and women, there is genuine need for men’s-only and women’s-only sports.
The recent fad for attempting to desexualize human beings — reducing women to bleeders and chestfeeders — is a process of dismembering womanhood. Rather than womanhood being the sum of all the many, diverse experiences of female humanity, “womanhood” becomes a disembodied abstraction built on stereotypes and labels, disconnected from the reality of being the female half of a sexually-dimorphic species.
And into that vacuum, men claim a “right” to female spaces. Protected spaces. Spaces women need in order to develop and thrive as women. Women who have spent generations fighting for equal access to education and to athletics are now told that our womanhood is whatever men decide it will be.
A woman who objects to men taking over women’s sports, or a man insisting on undressing in the women’s locker room, is told she needs to hush-up and obey her betters, or she can expect to be punished.
It’s not really a surprise, then, that our culture goes along with the fictions of a male serial killer who murders and dismembers women while claiming “womanhood” for himself.
Photo: Canadian women’s ice hockey team with gold medals, 2010 Winter Olympics, via Wikimedia, public domain.