So, a friend of mine asked me the following question:
Do cis women deserve a space to talk about the ways in which misogyny and issues that uniquely affect FAABs (like reproductive rights) intersect?
Yes. If you ask if any marginalized group deserves space to discuss issues specific to them, yes. Absolutely. So long as we live in a society in which patriarchal structures leave a pregnant or potentially pregnant person’s control over their own body as an open question fit for debate without them present, there is absolutely reason to create and maintain spaces to discuss ways in which they are affected by that control and organize the means to unravel that system away from interference by that system.
However, I want to ask a question of those who would specify that this hypothetical space is for cis women only: what purpose is being served by making that that explicit declaration?
Would you also make an explicit declaration that cis women who, for whatever reason, are known to be infertile are similarly not welcome to share stories about how presumptions about their fertility have led to misogynistic treatment; or stories about how learning they were infertile led them to question core assumptions about their womanhood; or raise the issue that their body autonomy is in jeopardy because men have already made laws blackmailing pregnant people into allowing themselves to be forcibly penetrated in a twisted caricature of medical care, and they show no signs of stopping at that law?
Would you declare any infertile cis woman to be out of bounds for raising those topics? Would she be accused of imposing herself on the group, of centering the debate on infertile women and distracting from the conversation, of triggering participants by reminding them that they can become pregnant (possibly against their will)?
Or would she be thanked for sharing her struggle, welcome in the knowledge that everyone there understands that when women are reduced to their presumed reproductive ability, when they are reduced to their parts, the misogyny catches all women in the blast regardless of their ability to reproduce?
When laws about marital partnerships are intended to reduce women to chattel for birthing children, where does the issue of reproductive rights stop affecting all women and start affecting only those who know they can become pregnant?
Fertility is a presumptive quality, not an inherent trait. No one knows they are fertile (or virile) until they succeed in producing a viable zygote that is carried to term and born live. Even then, we only know in retrospect that they were fertile; there is no biological mandate or metaphysical certainty that their body will ever be fertile again. All qualities associated with fertility are presumed based upon having anatomy that appears fully functional and has not been proven otherwise, or removed or altered by surgery or medication.
I am not demanding the floor at a reproductive rights rally, nor am I demanding a seat at a support group for people who have chosen to abort a pregnancy. I will never know the fear of having control over that aspect of my body taken away by men I will never meet. But I am questioning the true intentions of any meeting that must explicitly declare it is for cis women only on the premise that there are some issues that only affect cis women. Unless the issues discussed are firmly restricted to only those people who are, have been, or have no reason to assume they could not become pregnant, then I put forward that the space’s organizers are being disingenuously cissexist at best, and openly transphobic at worst.
If someone expects infertile cis women to either: A) not be interested enough to attend, or B) behave appropriately if they do, or C) leave when the moderator asks anyone who is unaffected by the issue at hand to please leave; and if you would not attribute to their infertility any hamfisted attempt to center the conversation on them, then that expectation ought to extend in the same manner to trans women, as well as trans men and non-binary CAFAB people. When the sign on the door preemptively declares an event is for “womyn born womyn living as womyn”, it advances a biologically essentialist standpoint. When that standpoint is defended on the grounds that there exist some topics that are only relevant to CAFAB people—reproductive rights, menstruation—the space had better be dedicated to those topics or else it shamelessly exploits people who need space for those topics as human shields on the front line of a woman-on-woman war that doesn’t need to be fought.
I want to be clear about something: if you have a space dedicated to survivors, no one ought to be trying to recenter it on how hard the abusers have it in the justice system; if you have a space dedicated to queer issues, no one ought to be trying to recenter it on how hard it is for them as a straight person to accept their bisexual child; if you have a space dedicated to people of color, no white person should be trying to recenter it on how awesome of an ally they are. Those are actions that drip with patriarchal, colonial entitlement and are rightfully condemned as such when someone has the gall to do them.
So it is with that understanding in mind that I ask fellow feminists to ask themselves whether they are being honest with themselves about the intentionality behind a space that supposedly has a built-in need to exclude trans women.