The ways of talking about the “war on women” that leave people out

There’s been a lot of talk lately on the feminist internets – everywhere, really – about the Republican “war on women.” The bevy of anti-choice legislation is absolutely that – Republicans intend to go after women. But I’m finding much of the feminist response hurtful in its conflation of “women” and “people who can make babies.”

There are plenty of women who don’t have what you call a uterus or vagina (though they might use those terms). There are plenty of women who can’t get pregnant or deliver a baby, for tons of reasons. Including cisgender women, intersex women, and transgender women. Being able to make a baby and being a woman are not the same thing.

There are also plenty of people who are not women and who do have what you call a uterus or vagina. There are plenty of people who are not women who can get pregnant and give birth. Lori and I have talked about this topic a good deal on this blog.

I am fucking pissed about the anti-choice attacks. I am personally offended as a woman and as a person with a body that has a relationship to reproduction. At all. Cause we all do. So we should all be pissed. But every time I read an article that conflates “woman” and “person with a uterus” it gives me pause. Every kick ass, funny, or moving International Women’s Day post that conflated “woman” and “person with a vagina” was something that gave me a sour taste in my mouth. An otherwise great piece I just couldn’t post on Facebook or tweet.

I feel similarly to how Tobi Hill-Meyer describes hearing the word “tranny” in queer space. It’s not that I’m so offended by inaccurate terminology around gender and reproductive organs that I crumple into a little ball. Trust me, I’m used to living in a world that’s constantly trying to erase my existence. I can hold my own. And it’s not that I want to silence anyone. It’s just that I know the space where “woman” and “uterus-haver” are considered the same thing is a space that’s not really for me.

Feminist writers and activists have the best of intentions. I’m sure of that. It’s just that if you talk like this you erase whole groups of people who are on your side. Who are personally impacted. Who are actively engaged in this fight. But who feel just a little bit more unwanted, a little bit more pushed out every time we hear language that suggests we don’t exist.

The anti-choicers are absolutely deploying gender essentialism. We don’t have to respond on their terms, though. (unless we, like, really really want to lose. Cause that’s what happens if we let our opponents determine the terms of the debate.)

There are ways to get it right. Did you see that Personhood Amendment for women and other people with uteri that Shakesville posted? That’s pretty awesome, and it’s inclusive. And also, you know, accurate about how gender and bodies work. Keep Your Boehner Out of My Uterus consistently uses inclusive language. It’s not super hard.

When I read language that erases me written by people who I want to be allied with I feel a little less fire for the fight. Lately, a lot of my activist energy has gone to thinking about ways my community is being kept out of reproductive justice work. I don’t want my focus to be on issues of exclusion in reproductive rights organizing. I want to be going after the antis, not thinking about whether I can function in a movement that talks like I don’t exist.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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