Blood Feud

It’s been 30 years since radical feminist Andrea Dworkin coined the phrase “war on women” in Beaver Talks. Later, she would revisit her thoughts on this imagined war, and expound on what were her then-controversial opinions regarding men and women in her 2002 collection of writings on domestic violence, rape, and pornography, Life and Death. What Dworkin could not have predicted was that the historical line in the sand in that conflict would turn out to have nothing to do with those undeniably important issues.

The war Dworkin  described has arrived, but the battlefield is a very different one than she imagined. Feminist culture is not consumed with Dworkin’s nemeses. While Dworkin articulated the importance of women exerting self-control and ownership of their own bodies, she did not foresee a need for a confrontation from dominant men appropriating female identity for the expressed purpose of supremacy we now face. 

It was impossible to see, even 17 years ago, that a strategic victory on the question of menstruation would become necessary to retain our biological integrity. Menstruation, once a private topic, is now the front line of a critical cultural battlefield. This is a political battle between the needs of biological women and the competing interests of transgender activists over what is tantamount to identity theft . . . and it may very well represent feminism’s last stand.

If women do not exert proprietary rights over the definition of menstruation as a definitive part of femininity, we will lose everything that women worked for and achieved since the parading suffragettes of the early 20th century.

Universally possessing two X chromosomes, female mammals menstruate. That is, they shed unfertilized eggs from their bodies. This is basic biology, not rocket science. While the length of time between menses varies from species to species. Menstruation unites and defines that which is female: Women are egg-bearers and breast-feeders. Together with males, we procreate and nurture life. The Thinx ad depicting a world where men can menstruate is deeply offensive to real women for this reason.  

If is accepted, contrary to all evidence and reason, that men can menstruate, then the cultural recognition of the respective values, contributions, and protections attributed to, and given for, sexual differences can be removed. In effect, biological sex would no longer be recognized or protected in our culture, and the place that it formerly occupied in our civilization would be erased to be replaced by the vague category of “gender expression.” That eclipse of biological femininity would logically presage the eradication of those protections that are afforded to women as women.

Just two days before National Period Day was touted as the latest social justice cause célèbre on October 19, Rachel McKinnon, renowned athlete and transgender activist, won the Masters Track Cycling World Championships. McKinnon, who was born male, claims she is the same as a biological woman. Yet she uses the advantages of her Y chromosome to defeat biologically female competitors, and then loudly proclaims that this is fair, and that claims she used her biologically masculine strength and size to catapult herself to the finish line are bigoted and intolerant. McKinnon’s crowing about her athletic prowess as a “woman” seems almost Freudian in its regression.  

No one wants to be a bigot or appear unfair. But the headlines are disingenuous. McKinnon, who towers over her biologically female competitors, gloated over her win. “I have yet to meet a real champion who has a problem with trans women. Real champions want stronger competition. If you win because bigotry got your competition banned . . . you’re a loser,” McKinnon said. 

It is striking how incredibly sexist and schoolyard-bully-like McKinnon’s statement is: not only unsportsmanlike, but stereotypically masculine in the worst way. McKinnon embodies both gender stereotypes: the intimidating, obstreperous jock, and the “bitchy-broad” seen all too often in clichéd television sitcoms.

McKinnon’s justification of her gender expression, an ill-defined and personal articulation of self as equivalent to physical female sex, then capitalizing on the natural sex-specific difference of the Y chromosome to dominate those with whom she claims equivalence, is morally wrong and unjustifiable.

Proctor and Gamble, manufacturer of the Always brand of sanitary napkins, found itself in the corporate equivalent of this no-man’s-land earlier this week. Pressured by trans-activist Ben Saunders and her popular UK-based boycott, the company dropped the Venus logo and the symbol for femininity from its merchandise, which resulted in biological women flooding the company’s customer care line to voice their outrage at being summarily erased from a class of products created for them.

An unofficial counter-boycott was threatened by several Twitter and Facebook users. One poignant comment garnered over thirty thousand “likes” and more than one hundred thousand retweets! A woman using the twitter handle “Sydney Watson” concluded that “Being FEMALE is not a ‘feeling’ . . . I’m sick of seeing my sex erased & trivialized to accommodate everyone else.” Clearly a nerve had been struck.

The legal push to exclude women from their rightful, unique status was drafted into the Menstrual Equity Act. This bill, stalled in the House of Representatives since last March, is careful to use gender-neutral language. Controversially, the bill would compel taxpayers to provide hygiene products not only for women, but for men who “menstruate” by choice and artifice. 

Most women will help out a friend or colleague in a fix: the shared biology makes women sympathetic, and we’ve all been caught by surprise at some point. But this is different.

The argument over whether hygiene products should be provided to the poor may be appropriate for congressional debate. But the demand that taxpayer generosity be stretched to encompass those who wear mechanical apparatus for the purpose of pseudo-bleed is something else entirely. It is more akin to gifting such people a vanity product, like perfume or lipstick, than it is to fulfilling an undeniable physical need. Demanding that taxpayers indulge that conceit with their own all-too-real earnings is ridiculous. Menstruation is not gender expression. It is part of biological definition.

For real women, it is important that the difference between physical gender and gender-expression remain clear-cut. A pending Supreme Court case, R.G. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is as sensational as it is misleading. The case is not about protecting gays and transgender individuals from unjust firing. The case hinges on the definition of the word “sex,” both scientifically and socially. The case is so important that a great number of amicus curiae briefs have been filed on behalf of the funeral home, and disproportionately more on behalf of the respondents—in this case, the EEOC and Aimee Stephens. 

In one of the strangest “bedfellow” paradoxes ever, The Women’s National Liberation Front (WoLF), joined a handful of conservative think tanks and women’s groups to uphold this distinction as having a specific and limited definition. Like the Alliance Defending Freedom and several other conservative legal PACs, WoLF makes a clear and compelling case that changing the scientific definitions used by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act from sex to include “gender” will unequivocally harm women and girls. 

Aimee Stephens is not suing because she is transgender. Stephens claims she is already covered under the 1964 definition of sex, because it is her personal belief is that she is female and is therefore entitled to the same protection afforded to biological women.

WoLF’s argument is clear:

Legally redefining “female” as anyone who claims to be female results in the erasure of female people as a class. If, as a matter of law, anyone can be a woman, then no one is a woman, and sex-based protections in the law have no meaning whatsoever. The ruling below effectively repeals the sex-based protections in Title VII—a ruling that Congress surely did not intend.

WoLF is referring to another infamous Supreme Court case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins  (1989). The Price Waterhouse case concerned sex-role stereotyping. WoLF argues that to rule against the funeral home in the present case would compel employers to engage in such stereotyping, as it once existed for women, decades after this was outlawed. Again, from WoLF’s brief: 

It proclaims that women and girls are no longer recognized under federal law as a discrete category worthy of civil rights protection, but men and boys who claim to have a female “gender identity” are. If allowed to stand, it will mark a truly fundamental shift in American law and policy that strips women of their right to privacy, threatens their physical safety, undercuts the means by which women can achieve professional and educational equity, and ultimately works to erase women and girls under the law.

Recognizing that Stephens’ behavior involves what she believes a woman “is” does not make her a woman. Forcing an employer to treat her as a biological woman based on her preference for women’s clothing is detrimental to real women who must fight such stereotypes in the workplace every day.

If women truly want to reclaim the feminine as their own, and not fall prey to the “best women are men” notion underpinning in the pro-trans arguments, we must be completely honest about the role that menstruation has in defining womanhood. I was just about 12 when my first period came, and even though I had been well prepared by my Army nurse mother, I was still embarrassed by the stain and the loss of control. All children are taught bleeding is bad and distressing, and it was tough to understand what my mother meant in 1974.

My mother squared my shoulders as she spoke. She said periods were messy, sometimes embarrassing, and smelly. Yet like children they eventually promise the recipient some incredible potential: “On your worst days, try to remember what the bleeding means. It means you play a crucial role in humanity. You can bear children. That is a gift, and in time a responsibility. A man can share in it, but not in the same way. It’s a unique power.”

No matter how much Rachel McKinnon “wins” or Aimee Stephens may wish, they can never possess that gift. 

We are at a crossroads. If we cede the rightful claims of the female sex to men whose femininity is a self-serving fantasy, we do natural women a terrible injustice. Our strengths and gifts are unique, and they must continue to be recognized as such. The time is now. Natural menstrual periods are the “bottom line” evidence of unique feminine power. No amount of male dominance can appropriate that unique trait, nor should such dominance be culturally or legally allowed to pretend otherwise. 

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About Elizabeth Fortunato

Elizabeth Fortunato is a wife and mother from New York. She has a background in liberal arts and philosophy.

Photo: (Getty Images)

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