German ‘Lady*fest’ declares clitoris ‘exclusionary’


Lady*fest, a feminist festival scheduled to take place June 22nd – 25th in Heidelberg, Germany, has declared the clitoris “exclusionary.”

The festival, which features workshops, lectures, and art, had initially planned to include topics like, “clitoris/glitzoris” and “masturbation” as part of their art exhibition, but protocol documents from the last planning meeting now explain that the clitoris is “problematic,” because it refers to female anatomy.

The festival organizers have stated that, due to being a “queer Lady*fest,” it shouldn’t empower “only certain groups,” such as those with clitorises, and that the festival will not be “excluding any groups” by referencing female anatomy. Lady*fest claims these actions embody their policy, which translates to, “be tender to all genders,” and that being mindful of how female anatomy offends people will provide “a safer space to all human beings by applying awareness.”

Naida Pintul, a radical feminist and former organizer of Lady*fest who lives in Heidelberg, is critical of the decision. She told me via email, “Female anatomy has become a taboo.”

“This is a postmodern version of the same old hatred of female bodies and their biology. Once again, we are not supposed to talk about the reality and the consequences of having our female reproductive organs.”

Initially, the decorating of “vulva cupcakes” was planned as an activity to celebrate and destigmatize female anatomy. This event was also cancelled by festival planners on account of vulva cupcakes not being “inclusive” of everyone’s identity.

“Maybe vulvas and vaginas would be seen as less disgusting/offensive if we called them non-penises,” Pintul quipped.

Similarly, Scripps College was compelled to shut down their “project vulva” last year, an event that invited women to decorate cupcakes to resemble vulvas, as the cupcakes were deemed “violent to transwomen.”

Lady*fest is now considering having “gender star” (*) cupcakes available to replace the vulva cupcakes. (A “gender star” refers to an asterisk placed after gendered words in order to convey that the category includes anyone who identifies with it.)

Lady*Fest itself uses an asterisk in its official name. But, under the circumstances, the asterisk doesn’t feel all that inclusive. Rather, it feels more like a disclaimer that reads: “Lady*Fest (*Not actually for ladies with gross, offensive vulvas and clitorises).”

Susan Cox
Susan Cox

Susan Cox is a feminist writer and academic living in the United States. She teaches in Philosophy.

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  • Kendall Turtle

    So where can we talk about female anatomy?

    Can we hold a “female fest”? Or will that be transphobic too?

  • Hornet Show

    I live there and it hardly seems like it. 🙁 See a lot of madonna/whore complex. I get so sweaty here from the humidity (totally confused how they dont) and wearing shorts and spaghetti straps I get stared at by men and women as if I had 3 arms. Get the up and down from old ladies who sometimes tell me to put on more as others can somehow get through the day with pants, sweaters, and scarves.

  • Wren

    How are clitoris (WTF is the plural?) and vaginas offensive to men when they go home, turn on the computer and gaze at them for HOURS, wanking off till their dick is raw??


      As a heterosexual male I’ll say: it’s not us. My understanding of the vulva cupcakes was that trans women objected.


      According to Wikipedia, the plural is clitorises.

  • Cassandra

    Can you imagine asking men not to glorify their dicks? Can you imagine if women asked men to stop talking about or showing or wielding their dicks? And dicks actually ARE violent to women!! We’d have to tear down half the monuments and skyscrapers around the world.
    In the words of Lorrie Moore, Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

  • Cassandra

    It’s totally a men’s right’s movement, blatantly so. We here see it. I wonder at point the liberal women will see it? They’re just like economically disadvantaged religious people who vote Republican.

  • Melanie

    Pornography and prostitution are harmless. Cupcakes are violent.

    • will

      Yes, cupcakes are violent, but porn and prostitution are more than harmless, they are FREEDOM and LIBERTY.

  • BrianSheller

    There must be an MtT on that organizing board.

  • Cassandra

    That is exactly right!!

  • Cassandra

    Unfortunately the point of all of this is to bring feminism/places that women flourish down while selling it as being feminist. That’s what I think at least.

  • This is fantastic in an awful sort of way. We’re watching the emergence of a whole new class of oppressors of women, a historical rarity, and seeing how women, after waves of feminist consciousness-raising and decades of fighting for change, respond. How do we? We lie on our backs and spread our legs. We do it to ourselves. This is the terrible power of cultural brainwashing. Those among us who can see what’s happening have no choice but to fight back, hard. This cannot be permitted.

  • Jasper Martin

    Let’s see… my anatomy is offensive to them, okay. And my talking about my anatomy is offensive to them, okay. But if they hate women’s anatomy so much then why do they work so hard to look like a biological female? It’s exactly as if they are suffering from a major delusional disorder and cannot handle any reminder that they are born male.

    But most importantly — why is managing their emotions supposed to be my responsibility??? If they can’t cope with the material reality that female humans exist or the fact that women have the right to talk about our anatomy then they need a cosy room under doctor supervision where they CAN learn to deal with reality.

    I’m actually not being sarcastic. Think about the depth of delusion and fragility required, to be so triggered by the mere reminder that female humans exist — in no way shape or form is that reaction within the range of sanity. The medical establishment has much to answer for, and I hope that a class action lawsuit against them is forthcoming. These people need a rubber room, not for doctors to sanction their delusions.

  • Delilah

    So preposterous I can’t even…..

  • lk

    From the lady fest website: “but equating femininity/womanhood with vaginas and clitorises is definitely problematic…With our queer-feminist background it is clear that not all women* have vaginas/clitorises.”

    Yes, equating femininity with vaginas is problematic; having a vagina does not make one feminine.

    Women/female=human beings with vaginas,uterus,ovaries, xx chromosomes. Acknowledging this is not transphobic, violent,exclusionary or hateful. This is biological fact, reality, science.

    • Sci

      What useful purpose does it serve to socially exclude trans and intersex people who ID as women from the category of “woman”? Categorizations, even if “scientific,” are not “objectively true” in a sense that they exist outside of society. Categories exist to serve a useful purpose. In science, the broad categories of “male” and “female” serve useful (albeit sometimes oversimplified) purposes. But nothing says we need to use scientific definitions in day-to-day life; after all, a casual “theory” is much different from a scientific “theory.” So what useful social purpose does excluding intersex and trans women from “womanhood” serve?

      • Meghan Murphy

        This is an oversimplification and I’m sure others can help fill in the blanks here, but I think it might make more sense to think about the challenges, within feminism, with regard to transwomen, not about ‘exclusion,’ but about understanding women’s oppression as class-based and attached to our female biology. We need to understand the cause and history of women’s oppression, in order to fight it. When we start to see women’s oppression as not attached to being born female but instead as being attached simply to performances and identification of femininity, we naturalize gender and risk treating oppression as a choice (i.e. you CHOOSE to behave as or present in a ‘feminine’ way and that is why you are oppressed). But it isn’t a choice, it’s about socialization from birth and the fact of being born into an oppressed class, as females…

        • Sci

          “Performances and identification of femininity” is frankly a misrepresentation of trans feminists’ views, and if your argument is that we should not “naturalize” gender, then arguing gender is based on physical sex characteristics is counterproductive. Gender isn’t innate, either on a physical or a mental level, but an amorphous construct that changes based on setting (the society and time in question). I am definitely anti gender-essentialism.

          From a materialist point of view, trans women, despite being assigned male at birth, do suffer from misogyny, often in amplified ways, e.g., it’s well known they’re at higher risk of overt violence. That said, of course there are some aspects of misogyny trans women don’t face; e.g., anti-abortion legislation does not affect them. Socialization is incredibly complex, and definitely a contributing factor to gendered oppression; trans women’s childhoods are naturally much different than cis women’s, but then, so are the socializations/childhoods of very poor and very rich women, or of white and Black women. You can definitely find a few aspects of misogyny trans women do not face, just as you could probably find a few specific aspects of misogyny that rich women face but poor women do not.

          By the way, I followed the link to Lady*fest, and they posted the following:
          “To all our fellow English-speaking feminists out there: You might have received some wrong information/impressions about our Lady*fest in Heidelberg.

          Just to clarify: Our feminism is intersectional, queer and trans*-inclusionary which means that we won’t exclude anybody based on their anatomy, >>>but it does not mean that there won’t be any vaginas or clitzorises on display at our art show.:) <<< [emphasis mine]

          We were appalled that our leaked internal protocol was clearly misinterpreted and misquoted,the content was taken out of context and wrongly reproduced.

          We do not think that the subject of female anatomy is problematic at all, but equating femininity/womanhood with vaginas and clitorises is definitely questionable.

          With our queer-feminist background it is clear that not all women* have vaginas/clitorises. (Btw this will be subject and part of our art show/exhibiton.)

          P.S. All Bodies are BEAUTIFUL!"

          I think the article here definitely misrepresents what Lady*fest is doing. They aren't censoring anything, but merely trying to take into consideration that there are women (who experience misogyny and are oppressed, even if their experiences differ) who do not have typical genitalia, whether because they are trans or intersex or some other reason.

          I think it's nice that they're being more inclusive, but not letting it get in the way of important things. Celebrating vulvas is fine and good! It's definitely true that female anatomy is stigmatized. Trans and intersex anatomy are also heavily stigmatized, but in different ways. It's worth recognizing that, I think.

          • Meghan Murphy

            You’re misunderstanding how gender works and what a feminist analysis of gender is… I’m not arguing in favour of gender being ‘based on physical sex characteristics,’ I’m saying that the gender hierarchy exists specifically to oppress women/females. That doesn’t mean that trans women don’t experience misogyny once they’ve transitioned. It means that, when talking about the purpose and function of patriarchy, biology matters.

          • Sci

            Oh, well in that case, definitely, at least to some extent, biology matters (I say “to some extent” because biology is not the only factor). And I don’t think Lady*fest has done anything to indicate otherwise, which I didn’t realize when I read this article and posted my initial comment. This article is misleading (or misinformed, not up-to-date, at the very least).

            However, my original comment was a reply to Ik, who plainly stated that “Women/female=human beings with vaginas,uterus,ovaries, xx chromosomes.” Which, if we define a woman as “the target of misogyny” or “a member of the class ‘woman’ who is placed in the gender hierarchy below men”, is not true (although it is true in many cases, of course! Cis, non-intersex women make up a majority of women, over 95%… but there are a few percent who don’t, and they tend to be especially marginalized. I think that’s what Lady*fest was trying to recognize but I’m not sure).

          • Who is defining a woman as “the target of misogyny”? A woman is an adult female human being. Women as a class are targets of misogyny, but that is the outcome of being a woman, not the definition of it.

          • Wren

            His definition is very telling, isn’t it? We women are not real, actual people, just targets for hate. He thinks we just whine and whine about being victims, and he wants in on the fun!!

          • Sci

            I don’t think that at all. The definition I provided might be bad, but it in no way was meant to dehumanize women. This is probably not a great comparison, but the definition of a “victim of a crime” certainly requires being a target, but it in no way implies that “victims” of any crime are not full human beings.

            I was going off of the idea of a gender hierarchy, as Megan Murphy put it; perhaps I misunderstood. I thought that gender hierarchy is somewhat analogous/comparable to class hierarchy. The class hierarchy itself is what causes “class” to exist as coherent groups; if we lived in some ideal Marxist post-class society, for instance, there would be no more “proletariat” or “bourgeoisie” as coherent groups; they wouldn’t really mean anything except historically. Although in retrospect defining “working class” as “people oppressed under a class hierarchy” is a pretty inadequate definition, so I made a blunder there.

            Obviously economic class and gender are different, but that was sort of what I was getting at. If we lived in some sort of post-gender (or post-gender oppression) world, I don’t think “man” and “woman” would mean the same thing they do now, if we still even grouped ourselves as “men” and “women.”

          • Morag999

            Yes, Anemone! Well-said, and it bears repeating:

            “Women as a class are targets of misogyny, but that is the outcome of being a woman, not the definition of it.”

            The only definition of woman/girl is “human female” or “female human.” That’s it. Very simple.

          • Wren

            So then I guess you agree with Rachel Dolezal that getting a weave and a spray tan makes you black? Or cause she says she’s been the “target of racism” and cause she FEELS black? You better say you agree, or you’re a hypocrite.

          • Sci

            No, because race and gender by their nature are quite different. I have mixed feelings on that case, but I don’t think the cases of Trans people and Dolezal need have the same judgment at all, necessarily.

  • DeColonise

    Jesus Christ its going over board. Is there any place left in western society where we men–adult human males–and our feelings are not centred these days?

    If this passes as a ‘leftist’ thing, then there certainly is no left any more.

  • Meg Sassenach Provance

    Oh ffs, this is ridiculous, so now having a vagina is unfair and could be violent against those who don’t have one because they perceive their gender as female but lack a vagina? WTF

    • sabelmouse

      yet another reason for women to not talk about their bodies. because of a few ex men/wanna be women. fair enough if people have gender issues but this is beyond ridiculous.
      think you’re a woman? don’t hamper women.


    Sorry, I guess I don’t know them.

    • sabelmouse

      do you know all of them.


        Perhaps I should have said cis heterosexual men.

  • Morag999

    As they say: everything old is new again.

  • Morag999


    The answer to that question, however, is decidedly not funny. For each time a woman callously mentions her unmentionables, a transwoman loses her wings. Very sad.

  • sabelmouse

    they sure complain enough on tumblr.

  • sabelmouse

    but what part are you addressing?

  • rosearan

    This is nothing new. The clitoris has been traditionally excluded from human sexuality. It’s still assumed that the almost impossible anatomical ability for women to orgasm through intercourse alone (with no clitoral stimulation) is deemed a general ‘failure’ for women to orgasm at all. Millions of words have been published on women’s ‘failure’ to achieve orgasm through sexual intercourse, but little has been written about the almost 100% ability of women to orgasm through clitoral stimulation alone. The ‘penis friendly’ research of Kinsey et al. is still the benchmark of human sexual research, while the ‘clitoris-friendly’ research of Shere Hite and others have gone by the wayside.

    Deeming the clitoris as exclusionary to sexuality is equivalent to deeming the penis exclusionary to sexuality.

  • Hannah

    I guess it’s not a coincidence that a lot of men who think they’re women are in IT (of course they transition after they’ve built up a career using their male privilege and they’re mostly white). Thanks for that info, I always wondered why people put the asterisk after trans.

  • Tobysgirl

    They failed high school biology, they failed evolution, they failed critical thinking, and they failed reading (unable to read information on the internet related to men putting on dresses in order to access women’s sex-segregated spaces). And then they tell us how educated they are.

  • Cassandra

    They love to talk about their female penises. They say the word “penis” every chance they get. Same old.

    Funny how you don’t really hear many transmen going around saying “this is my male clitoris.”

    • Kendall Turtle

      Always hearing about lady dicks but never man vaginas…

  • corvid

    I know this is a little off-topic, but the “vulva cupcakes” thing pisses me off royally. No, I do not believe that decorating a consumeable food item like our vulvas is activism. It’s self-objectification. It’s yet another pomo/”ironic” iteration of woman-as-consumable-object. I refuse to align with this. And what the fuck is a “glitzoris”?

    • Wren

      I’m thinking it involves a bedazzler.

  • Alienigena

    Ah, the Ladyverse. A very ‘ladies against women’ (htps:// kind of place. It makes me think of comedy sketches featured in the UK show “Little Britain” where there a ‘cross-dressing’ man (in Victorian garb) who insists on being called a ‘lady’. I know humour is subjective but … it still makes me laugh.–k4

    • Wren

      that’s a good one.

  • corvid

    That’s an excellent reference!
    I was once Facebook “friends” with a pornographer, and he LOVED sharing the vulva cupcake meme… that just about sums up the relevance of this project.

    • Morag999

      Yup. Whenever a pornographer or John or pimp celebrates women’s sexual “empowerment” it should give us pause. If they are cheering, it’s time to re-evaluate the idea.

  • corvid

    Yes! Female anatomy = violent, the system of prostitution = not violent. Liberal “feminist” non-logic in a nutshell.

  • Alienigena

    Not just clitorises. No doubt periods are also exclusionary. An endocrinologist points out that ‘women are not just men with boobs and tubes’ and that they need to be included in medical research and clinical trials of drugs prescribed to both men and women.

    Even menopausal and post-menopausal born women (women with eating disorders can lose their periods, but that is a result of diet, not a natural occurrence) have had the experience of having periods so equating them to trans women is also not accurate.

  • Morag999

    Yeah, but if you had a Red Hair conference (there’s such a thing, I saw a TV documentary about it) it would, by definition, exclude people with black, brown and blond hair.

    People with their hair dyed red, or who felt like they were really meant to have red hair, because their minds or spirits better “match” being red-headed would still be unwelcome. And if they — the red hair fakers — cried about it, and clamoured to get invited, they’d be ridiculed for being stupid and offensive. All justifiably so!

  • Sci

    As someone born intersex, I think that small percentage matters quite a bit. I generally am read as a man, and was raised as such, I’ll admit to. It makes me uncomfortable and I’d rather not be “a man,” which I suppose makes me Trans, too, although I don’t particularly think I am a woman, either. If biological sex is a spectrum I’m closer to male (few intersex people are “right in the middle” as it were). I wouldn’t personally attend Lady*Fest or enter any space meant for exclusively women. But I do question definitions of “woman” that exclude all intersex people, and Trans women as well, although the groups are quite different. Certainly, biology contributes to facets of women’s oppression (and intersex oppression), but it’s hardly the be-all end-all. Gender is weird and complicated… or at least I think so.

  • Sci

    Women are still to this day very heavily marginalized… I would not bother going to a site like Feminist Current if I didn’t believe that. Emphasizing the marginalization of a few percent of the population can be very important, if those few percent don’t have a very strong voice in our culture. Your historical examples are important, but I do think what’s going on in the here and now is more important. Just because the oppression of intersex people does not date back millenia as the oppression of women does, does not mean it is unimportant.

    All of your MRA examples in the 2nd paragraph, I would agree with you on; women advancing is not “oppressing” men.

    • Tangelo

      People living with intersex disorders have been treated in varying ways over the centuries. In some places and at certain times, they were either treated as normal or given special status. At other times and places, young babies with ambiguous genitals might be killed at birth, or later exhibited as freaks or cast out from the community.

      However, the treatment of people with intersex disorders has very little to do with people who identify as transgender. Most people who live with intersex disorders do not identify as “transgender” and almost all people who identify as “transgender” are not living with an intersex disorder.

      • Sci

        OK? I knew this about intersex people. For the most part, intersex people were left alone prior to the 19th century, because most of them went undetected/diagnosed, but what you said is also definitely true. I was referring specifically to intersex people, not trans people, with that comment. Since “biological” definitions of “woman” and movements focused on glorifying typical female anatomy do leave them out to various extents, and Lady*Fest’s recognition that not all women have the same anatomy (read their actual updated post) is inclusive of both Trans women and intersex women.

        • will

          “Lady*Fest’s recognition that not all women have the same anatomy (read their actual updated post) is inclusive of both Trans women and intersex women.”

          The way you breezily lump people with ambiguous sex organs, who may or may not – depending on the degree of meddling and traumatizing medical and social intervention – identify as one of two genders, with men who “identify” with high heels and the colour pink is manipulative and insulting.

          You are telling us that there are intersex persons signing up for this event who will be traumatized by vulva cupcakes. Stop it.

  • Sci

    But Lady*fest isn’t promoting the tabooisation of female genitalia… they explained that in their updated post. This article seems to seriously misconstrue the intentions of the organizers of Lady*fest, whether purposefully or not.

    Quote from Lady*fest’s site:
    “Our feminism is intersectional, queer and trans*-inclusionary which means that we won’t exclude anybody based on their anatomy, but it does not mean that there won’t be any vaginas or clitzorises on display at our art show.

    We were appalled that our leaked internal protocol was clearly misinterpreted and misquoted,the content was taken out of context and wrongly reproduced.

    We do not think that the subject of female anatomy is problematic at all”

    • anne

      Just because they ‘splained something in order to deflect justifiable criticism, and regretted being caught in the first place, doesn’t mean they are being honest or that they didn’t tabooise female genitalia with their incomprehensibly misogynistic comments, or that anyone here ‘misunderstood’. All you are doing is attempting to gaslight grown women and that’s as misogynistic as it is unoriginal.

      I am yet to see any instance where trans men are behaving like aggressive dopplegangers towards actual men, taking over their identity, redefining what men are and forcing public statements that ‘penises are exclusionary’, so I’m not buying it and I sure hope the world at large stops buying it very soon. And lets face it, people who side with your views know full well how hollow and irrational their reasoning is, that’s why they are so aggressve. Nothing new here, we women have been dealing with hysterical men in dresses who consider our vaginas and clitorises objectionable and try to remove us from public life since the dawn of time. Not going to work.

      • Sci

        I have yet to see where Lady*Fest says any of the objectionable things claimed in the article. Where’s the evidence?

        And no, criticizing a piece of journalism that attacks a feminist festival isn’t “gas-lighting.” Gas-lighting is a serious abuse tactic, but calling into question the accuracy of a news article is not “gas-lighting.” I don’t know why you think criticizing a news article for its factual inaccuracy is misogynistic. Maybe the writer didn’t misunderstand, even though it’s entirely possible, especially since a language barrier might exist (I do not know the writer personally and don’t know if she speaks German). Maybe she just intentionally misinterpreted what Lady*Fest was saying, or made up lies outright. Either way, I don’t really care, the article is inaccurate.

        “I am yet to see any instance where trans men are behaving like aggressive dopplegangers towards actual men, taking over their identity, redefining what men are and forcing public statements that ‘penises are exclusionary'”
        Trans men are the main ones who have been pushing hospitals to take on gender-neutral terminology when referring to abortions and pregnancy (“pregnant people” and whatnot), which trans-exclusionary feminists seem to be quite angry about. Somehow that got pinned on Trans women, too, even though it’s only Trans men (and some AFAB nonbinary people) who would conceivably care about being pregnant and not being called a “woman.” Some trans-exclusionary feminists seem hellbent on blaming everything on Trans women.

        • anne

          Just because you keep gaslighting, pretending that there is no evidence, doesn’t mean that there actually is no evidence. If you have issues with comprehension, I do feel sorry for you, but I’m not obliged to keep repeating myself.

          • Sci

            This article doesn’t even quote anything objectionable from Lady*Fest. It quotes single words or small phrases and intersperses what I guess is supposed to be paraphrasing. But the planning documents aren’t released. The details of the planning documents aren’t even shared. Nothing on Lady*Fest’s website indicates anything the article claims, from what I can tell. If there actually was evidence, you’d point it out instead of claiming I’m “pretending there’s no evidence.” The article certainly doesn’t provide any.

            Instead what I see is an attack on a small feminist festival for making a statement of inclusivity, and people refusing to believe the clarification that was made… there’s no indication that anyone is “offended by female anatomy”, nor that they’re banning/removing events/displays celebrating it, which is what the article seems to imply.

      • will

        Well said.

  • Meghan Murphy

    Moreover, trans ideology says that “woman” = femininity. Which is, of course, why so many feminists are troubled by the discourse.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I agree! Definitely not all trans people believe this. But I do think the discourse that is front and center, w/r/t trans ideology does very much push the idea that woman = feminine.

    • Sci

      It is hard to know how most trans folks think, of course, especially because we don’t know how many just remain hidden without becoming active in politics or activism. I honestly think the characterization of “woman = feminine” is more of something non-trans people frequently think trans people believe than something they actually believe, which is why it’s front and center.

      But then, I’m mostly familiar with trans women I know personally (quite a few, but still a small number), and some far-leftist/communist theorist blogging trans women, who have pretty complex theory with respect to gender and are probably not representative.

      • Meghan Murphy

        Fair enough. Certainly women=feminine was not an idea invented by trans people. I think the discourse can reinforce that idea, though, which makes it strange that so many ‘progressives’ support it.

  • Sci

    But biological sex isn’t simple. What qualifies as “intersex” and what as “male” or “female” isn’t something inherent, but a fairly arbitrary standard that can vary based on differing standards throughout time and space. As someone who has taken an extensive look at the literature for estimating the number of intersex people, I can tell you… people have widely different ideas of how “different” someone has to be before they’re “intersex”… which is how we get population estimates ranging from 0.05% to 4%, with some very niche people claiming even lower or higher numbers with less reasonable definitions of intersex. One could even reasonably view sex as a continuous spectrum (albeit not an evenly-distributed spectrum, more of a “Bell valley”), which is a view I’ve heard that at least some biologists support. Categorizing people is never really “simple.”

    While identity politics has taken over a lot of liberal LGBT+ thinkers, leftist/communist trans women I know of hold materialist/non-essentialist views. They understand femininity is socially constructed and not innate, and that systemic violence against women is important… and hold that trans women experience that systemic violence, as indicated in their treatment in mainstream society. Like many marginalized sub-groups of women (disabled women, Black women, poor women, elderly women, intersex women, etc.) they experience patriarchal oppression in different ways, but nevertheless they do.

    Re: women’s oppression being “inextricably” tied to biology: In a way I think this idea reproduces the same discourse used to justify women’s oppression in the first place; that women are “inherently” different in some deeply important way (typically biologically) that explains their second-class status. “Women get hysterical, women aren’t good at math and science, women are ‘meant’ to have babies, women are ‘meant’ to be caretakers”. In modern times (the last century or two at least) these justifications have been biological in nature, relying on a discrete biological sex binary. Prior to that, religion played a role (“God created woman to serve man”), and I’m sure there were other justifications.

    It’s certainly possible to reject each of these patriarchal suggestions while maintaining that women are somehow inherently different, but I believe the underlying premise, that women are deeply “inherently” different, that women (or men) are some sort of prediscursive and fundamentally discrete class, is wrong. I’m not denying biological differences exist among the human species; that would be absurd. But the traits we call “biological sex” are not some sort of inherent, prediscursive grouping of traits, and patriarchal discourse has inflated the importance and the degree of these biological differences to create the classes of “men” and “women” and to justify men oppressing women.

    As a side note, this problem isn’t unique to feminist theory that enforces strict idealist “biological” standards. Liberal identity politics popular with some in the LGBT+ scene frequently reproduces a similar discourse through viewing “femininity” and “masculinity” as inherent, too, and it has similar problems with excluding people deeply affected by the oppression it is attempting to describe.

    • lk

      “Re: women’s oppression being “inextricably” tied to biology: In a way I think this idea reproduces the same discourse used to justify women’s oppression in the first place.”

      Acknowledging material, biological reality does not cause female oppression.

      There are issues and concerns that face women (and not men) because of their biology not because of how they feel or identify like: periods, abortions, pregnancy, cervical cancer, birth control.

      I think this quote from gets at the point I’m trying to make: “Women’s oppression has its historical roots and its ostensible justification in female biology and the exploitation of female reproductive labour. Altering the definition of the word ‘female’ so that it now means ‘any person who believes themselves to be female’ is not only conceptually incoherent….it also removes the possibility of analysing the structural oppression of female persons as a class, by eradicating the terminology we use to describe the material conditions of their existence.”

  • lk

    “So are all infertile women, and women who do not have periods (incl. many intersex women), not women? Should they not be welcome in women’s spaces because of biological differences?”

    Obviously, infertile women are women. Men, including transwomen, are not women. Women need women-only spaces for our safety, mental health, healing and bonding. Women need women-only spaces for political purposes to organize and to figure out how to survive and liberate ourselves in a world that says woman=subhuman.

    “Because that is the implication of linking womanhood “intrinsically” with these things, and attacking those who would include such people as women.”
    I’m not talking about attacking anybody. I’m talking about acknowledging the biological, material reality of billions of women in the world. I’m talking about the fact that the class of women is not the same as the class of men.

    As I said before, women have nothing to gain by denying reality. Denying that sex exists will not make sexism go away.

  • Meghan Murphy

    A female as opposed to a male?

  • Meghan Murphy

    I just don’t really think it’s as complicated as you’re trying to make it out to be… Everyone knows what a female cat or a male cat is…

    • Sci

      And yet… you’re refusing to define it. I really hate referring to dictionary definitions because they are typically inadequate for this sort of discussion, but here you are. The dictionary definition of “female” according to Merriam-Webster is:
      : of or relating to the sex that can produce young or lay eggs
      : characteristic of girls or women
      : having members who are all girls or women

      The second definition is circular (women are female are women), and the third does not apply. The first excludes infertile people from being “female”. So what is “female”?

      • Meghan Murphy

        “Female (♀) is the sex of an organism, or a part of an organism, that produces non-mobile ova (egg cells). Most female mammals, including female humans, have two X chromosomes.”

        • lk

          Meghan, You must have a limitless supply of patience….

  • Meghan Murphy

    I am pretty sure the biological/scientific definition of ‘female’ understands that women who have been through menopause are still female. Like I said, you’re overcomplicating something that isn’t really that complicated. We understand what ‘male’ and ‘female’ are. In general, it has to do with reproductive organs and chromosomes. Females are the sex that can get pregnant, despite the fact that not all females can get pregnant. Men generally have penises. That doesn’t mean that the odd man who doesn’t have a penis isn’t male, but it is true that females do not have functioning penises. Like, come on….

    • Sci

      And yet, there is no specific definition of “female” that really makes sense. That’s what I’m driving at. “Female” (and “male”, of course, and “intersex”, although in a different manner) is a social construct, not an inherent prediscursive quality, even if it is based roughly on observable characteristics that generally don’t vary with culture.

      While there is a physical reality reflected by sex (unless you want to get into some really extreme pomo cultural constructionism), the association of these traits and grouping into sex categories is itself is only seen as neutral or “obvious” because it is so enmeshed in our culture, tightly bound up with oppressive notions of gender.

      Sex and gender are two sides of the same socially-constructed coin, and until very recently, were largely thought of as the same thing. While their conceptual separation can be a very useful tool for analysis (and has been in the feminist movement for a few decades, from my understanding), they are still tied together. Both are socially constructed categories, and neither is truly inherent.

      And I think trying to police who is and who isn’t this or that gender/sex is, at best, a waste of effort, and at worst, actively contributing to harming marginalized people. Patriarchy polices what does and what doesn’t make a woman, hurting both those who conform and those who don’t in different ways. When feminists practice similar policing, it ends up harming women who are already especially marginalized (mainly trans women, who are generally the targets of feminist policing, but non-trans intersex or butch women, among others, can be hurt as well, whether accidentally or not).

      • Meghan Murphy

        I don’t think ‘female’ and ‘male’ are social constructs… I think they are biological facts mostly related to reproduction… Gender is a social construct as it assigns characteristics to males and females based on stereotypes. But having a womb is not a stereotype, it’s a biological fact.

        • Sci

          But “female” is not “the state of having a womb,” or women with hysterectomies would stop being female. What we call “biological sex” is not a single trait but a large grouping of traits which has changed somewhat throughout time and would not exist without society; that is, the components of biological sex would exist, but their grouping would not. What we decide to count as “female”, especially what separates “female” and “male” from “intersex”, is arbitrary, and based on common trends rather than exacting criteria.

          You can be a woman without a womb (hysterectomy, among other causes). You can be a woman without breasts (mastectomy, among others). You can be a woman without a “feminine” body shape (natural variation). You can be a woman without a vagina (MRKH syndrome, etc.). You can be a woman without ovaries (various causes). You can be a woman without two X chromosomes (Turner syndrome, etc.). You can even be a woman with testes and XY chromosomes without being trans (CAIS).

          When biological sex is used to police, it is indistinguishable from gender. Patriarchal beauty standards demand all women shave, but in medicine, facial hair and “male” patterns of body hair in women is considered pathological; even if there is no underlying problem, it is called “idiopathic hirsutism.” Clitorises that are atypically large are deemed “clitoromegaly” and regularly reduced by surgeon’s scalpel (or completely removed, although full medical clitorectomies have become less common). Other examples of medical abuse (related to various intersex traits, whether they are sufficient to classify the individual as “intersex” or not) abound.

          These pathologized traits are clearly biological, and it isn’t a patriarchal lie than women tend to have no noticeable facial hair or that women tend to have a clitoris below a certain size, etc. That certain combinations of traits are not considered “biologically female” has lead to the shame, stigmatization, and abuse of countless women (and “biological male” for men, because patriarchy requires the maintenance of two coherent sex/gender categories–although to a somewhat lesser extent, of course).

          That women have wombs might be called a biological fact, but it is not true of every individual. Certainly, if you were speaking among a group of friends and mentioned off-hand that “women have wombs,” and your friend who had received a hysterectomy spoke up and said “well, most women,” I’d hope you wouldn’t retort with “well it’s a biological fact that women have wombs” or “I’m sorry my anatomy *offends* you.” And if a group of feminists began insisting that to be a woman requires a womb and that any so-called woman without a womb is not welcome in women’s spaces, you might expect some backlash, particularly from those affected.

          If such a movement grew popular enough, you might even expect more inclusive feminist festivals that plan on celebrating women with art of uteri and celebrations of giving birth and conversations about how patriarchy tries to control women’s wombs to have a disclaimer that they are inclusive of all women regardless of their internal reproductive organs.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Do females have penises? Do males have vaginas? Do males have wombs? Do females produce sperm? I think these questions are fairly easy to answer…