Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Real women

The broadcaster Jenni Murray has lashed out at transgender women, saying they're not real women, they're just acting out gender stereotypes, and surgery doesn't make them female.

Not surpri-singly, she's come in for a lot of stick for totally misunderstanding what transgender is all about and adding to the widespread prejudice that transgender women already have to cope with.

What the hell is a "real woman" in any case? It's one of the very gender stereotypes she claims to object to. The requirements are so restrictive and so old-fashioned, I doubt there's a single woman on earth who could measure up.

This is what a "real woman" would have to sign up to:
  • Doesn't go out to work
  • Belongs in the kitchen
  • Enjoys shopping
  • Enjoys housework
  • Enjoys making a home
  • Looks after her man
  • Is loyal to her man
  • Doesn't argue with her man
  • Lets her man be the boss
  • Is heterosexual
  • Is married
  • Has children
  • Looks after the children
  • Is sexy and attractive at all times
  • Doesn't let herself go
  • Is ready for sex whenever her man wants it
  • Enjoys being flirted with
  • Enjoys being coerced
  • Is the power behind the throne
  • Gets her way with feminine wiles
Now name me one woman of your acquaintance who gets anywhere near falling in with that lot. Or would even want to. Does Jenni Murray fit the bill? I doubt it somehow.

Never mind transgender women. Why should any woman have to conform to such a constricting definition of womanhood? Why can't a woman simply be what she wants to be?

Women don't need to be told whether they're real or not. They're real just as they are.

PS: After what several of you have said about the growing-up-female experience being such a crucial part of female identity, I accept that a transgender woman can never be a true or complete woman in that respect. Likewise when it comes to the things only a born woman can experience - menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, post-natal depression, endometriosis etc. Never let it be said that I don't change my mind....

PPS: The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said something very similar to Jenni Murray, that growing up female is very different from growing up male with the benefit of male privilege, and that a trans woman is therefore not the same as a born woman. I think maybe trans women have to be a bit humble, and have respect for the opinions of born women, and accept that they simply aren't the same.


  1. I do wonder whether without these stereotypes people would not find it so important to decide whioch gender they are.

  2. Who dare to judge others ? It's just a Horror list you wrote down... I think it's a question how girls are educated. I cannot cook at all , but my love is a talented cook. My parents hated to give us a "predestinated" role. As you already know I care for the person and give a shit to women or men role !
    Mia More

  3. Helen: I do agree. The rigid distinctions between appropriate male and female behaviour stop all of us from doing what comes naturally. It's absurd that people have to change their body in order to be themselves.

    Mia: Indeed, judging others is a fashionable pursuit, and a very destructive one. Why should we behave according to someone else's preconceived ideas? Girls should be encouraged to be and do whatever they're capable of.

  4. Nick, I'm a bit confused. Where did your list come from? I read the article link and it seems that the broadcaster was merely stating the obvious: clothes and make up do not make someone a woman.

    I would say that your list demonstrates things that women have had to deal with since the beginning of time. Some of us still deal with some of those items from time to time. So yes, I guess I would defend the position that unless you've dealt with that prejudice since birth, you really can't comprehend what being a female really is, surgery or not.

  5. Bijoux: No, not her list. If she had produced some explanation of what she meant by "real women", her arguments might have been more convincing. I compiled the list from all the definitions of "real women" I've ever heard.

    No, clothes and make-up don't make someone a woman, but it's such a daft idea I doubt if any transgender woman would say they do.

    Yes, someone who's taken a female identity later in life can't know the full extent of the prejudice a born woman has had to face, but I don't see that that invalidates her new identity. Isn't that like saying, for example, that a black woman isn't really black unless she's lived under an apartheid regime?

  6. Pity to hear such views are still going strong when the division between the roles of men and women is becoming increasingly blurred. Leaving aside the obvious biological differences like giving birth, what is there that either sex can't do if given the opportunity?
    Sadly, as long as those opportunities are controlled by people with such attitudes, there will always be inequality.
    Having said all that, surely there are some differences between men and women that should be celebrated? It would be awful if we ended up as some sort of androgynous species.

  7. Surprising that Jenni Murray has been saying this, not that I have read her actual words. She meets all kinds of people. I doubt very much that her aim was to be prejudiced. Not sure why she felt she needed to say it though, I must say.

  8. Dave: Absolutely, both men and women are capable of just about anything, but gender stereotypes so often hold us back. I think even if men and women became more alike, there will always be plenty of differences between us over and above gender/sex differences.

  9. "Enjoys being raped" ??

    No Nick, the very definition of rape is that you don't want it. The other things on your list might define femininity for some but not the rape thing and let's not give that idea any credence whatsoever by even mentioning it disparagingly

  10. You said it: "Women don't need to be told".

    I'd like to say that I am as confused as Bijoux states she is.

    However, on reflection, I think the one confused here is you.

    Murray didn't "lash out". She put a point of view - deserving of reflection. Anyway, what on earth would you know what it constitutes to be a woman - even if, relentlessly, you keep going on and on about women and their imaginary woes? I recently, and it's not a nice thing to say though will not apologize for saying it, came to think that you don't like women at all. Not least as evidenced (once more) by your previous post. The stereotypes you give air time to I do find, at times, creepy.

    And where does the above silly list come from? You shove it all in there, Nick. Is that your idea of titillation? Who the hell subscribes to those stereotypes? And why do you perpetuate them? It's distasteful to say the least.

    Let me give you a piece of advice: Stop going on about women. How about you writing about men? Or cats. Plants. Anything. Or is that one stretch of your imagination too far?


  11. Jenny: She's adamant that she respects transsexuals (as she still refers to them) and is in no way prejudiced. Hard to see how her withering opinions bear that out. The BBC has warned her that her opinions are not acceptable.

  12. Kylie: A lot of men seem to think that way unfortunately. But I've amended that line to avoid any misunderstandings.

  13. Ursula: I was only trying to work out what on earth Jenni Murray meant by the term "real women", which annoyingly she didn't elaborate on. All I know is that it's an oppressive term that many women have criticised.

    I hope I know quite a lot about what it means to be a woman - especially as I live with a woman. But obviously not as much as I would know if I actually were a woman. I certainly don't think women's woes are "imaginary", they're all too real. The stereotype I describe is simply that - a stereotype. It's just a list of all the negative expectations loaded on to women. I'm not making them up, I read these stupid things every day.

    I wouldn't say I "go on about women". I mention women a lot, but that's hardly surprising, since they're half the human race. I've written recently about prejudice, poshness, divorce, glamour, all sorts of things. Or didn't you notice?

    You're judging me rather harshly, but still, I can take it, I'm a big strong man (stereotype alert). I don't mind a bit of heated argument, it gets the blood flowing.

  14. I've always heard that real women don't eat quiche. uh...
    oh... wait...

    maybe someday this will all be old history to be read about in books.
    not in our lifetime of course.
    but as that old cigarette commercial said...
    "we've come a long way baby."

  15. oooh Nick, you are a big strong man with blood flowing! How very masculine :)

  16. I honestly thought she was referring to biology and women's lived experience which no man will ever "get". Truly.

    Male privilege being what it is, subtle and visible only to women.

    And that list! Seriously?


  17. Tammy: Yes, someday all this gender stereotyping will be history. Maybe in about 1000 years time? It's true, women have come a long way relative to a few centuries ago, but Jeez, there's still so much farther to go to demolish men's entrenched dominance and arrogance. The number of men who say women have achieved everything they wanted and we're now in a "post-feminist" era. Do they really expect women to believe that? Really?

  18. Kylie: Me, big and strong? You must be confusing me with someone else....

    www: Oh, I know she's referring to women's lived experience. But I think a lot of men are well aware of their life-long gender privilege and would like to remove it. The trouble is they're up against all those men who want to keep things just as they are so their hands are tied. We need more Patrick Stewarts in this world!

    I think that list very much reflects how a lot of men still see women. They're careful not to say it out loud, but secretly they want to keep women in their place.

  19. www: As far as lived experience goes, I can only say, as I said to Bijoux, is a black woman not really black unless she's lived under an apartheid regime? And is a disabled woman not really disabled unless she's spent 20 years in a wheelchair?

  20. Nick, I know that you don't mean to be dismissive to women's issues, but that's what it feels like. Your reference to Apartheid furthers that, somehow implying that African Americans wouldn't know what being black is all about either.

    Let me give you this actual example of today: If I'm exiting a store and see a man (let's say, between the ages of 16-70) standing near my car, talking on a cell phone, guess what I, as a woman, would do?

    I would turn around and stay inside the store, until I've seen that the man is a safe distance from my car. That's what being a woman is about. My point is, I don't think a transgender to female has those issues going through his/her mind. Likewise, I wouldn't understand what they face, even if we are both anatomically or same dressed females.

  21. Bijoux: Sorry if it feels like I'm being dismissive. But I wasn't implying that African Americans didn't know what being black is about. That would be absurd. I was saying that if they weren't deemed to be really black because they hadn't experienced apartheid, that would be equally absurd.

    I totally get what you say about being suspicious of men and not going to your car until the unknown man has moved away. I can see this fear every day on the faces of women I pass, and it's totally understandable and justified.

    They know what some men are capable of, and of course they ask themselves if every man they see is safe or unsafe. I hate the way women have to be on man-alert the whole time and I wish they didn't and I think those men who prompt such constant fear are despicable.

    I agree that transgender women will not know that constant fear, or at least not until they've been female for a while and had some nasty experiences. Of course those who've regendered very early in life will no doubt develop that fear and will have known it for almost as long as a born woman.

    Does that all make sense? Or have I (once again) missed something?

  22. I don't fit the stereotypes about women. I majored in physics back in the day when women were supposed to be housewives, nurses, teachers, etc. That didn't work for me so I did something else. I also don't wear makeup, high-heel shoes, etc. A bit weird? It works for me.

  23. Jean: I'm sure you're completely unorthodox when it comes to female stereotypes and don't give two hoots what you're supposed to be or not be! Nothing weird about that. In fact it's women who conform slavishly to the stereotypes who strike me as weird.

  24. I'm always uncomfortable when anyone makes an assertion about what constitutes being a "real woman" or a "real man", especially when you are dealing in stereotypes. However, I can't see that the journalist you are referencing is really talking about that. What she seems to be saying, and I think she has a point, is that if you've not grown up in a woman's body and been subjected to all those stereotypes and the more dangerous world women walk in, you are lacking a vital part of what it means to be a woman. Suddenly dressing as a woman or changing your body does not bring with it that lifetime of experience. And maybe, because you aren't a woman, it's simply not possible for you to put yourself in that place emotionally. Just as, I think that journalist would argue, it's not fully possible for a transgendered woman to do so.

    (And I agree with Bijoux about your comment about black women not being black unless they'd lived under Apartheid. What?? DO you honestly believe that black people don't experience prejudice outside of South Africa?)

  25. Agent: A transgender woman may not have grown up as a woman, with all the prejudice and misogyny that involves, but surely as soon as she becomes a woman she'll be exposed to all that and very quickly be wised up on what it means to be a woman. She'll soon learn about invisibility, being ignored, being belittled and all the rest. I'm not sure what your conclusion is. Should men stay men, even if they identify with the other gender? Or should they regender but accept they're lacking a crucial dimension of being female?

    You and Bijoux have misunderstood what I said about black women. I won't try to clarify what I'm saying yet again. Of course I don't think black women aren't subject to prejudice. That would be a moronic idea.

    Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned transgender at all. It's too sensitive a subject and it attracts so much hostility and so many misconceptions.

  26. Of course, I'm not saying that. I know quite a few transgendered people and I absolutely support people transitioning if they feel they've been born in the wrong body. But no, as soon as someone becomes a woman if they've grown up in a man's body, they do NOT very quickly have the same sense of being a woman that female-bodied women do. It's just not possible. There's something about being treated asa female from birth that shapes who you are. Can any transgendered woman really understand, for instance, what it is like to have periods? No. Can any transgendered woman know what it's like to grow up with the ever-present threat of rape? No. Can any transgendered woman know what it's like for every sexual encounter to carry the possibility of pregnancy changing her body? No. I could go on. This isn't about transgendered rights, which I support 100% - it's just about an acknowledgement that it's different. So just as I would not consider even talking about what it means to be a real man, I would suggest that it is never a man's place to talk about what it means to be a real woman.

    As for the race issue, what you actually said was, "Isn't that like saying, for example, that a black woman isn't really black unless she's lived under an apartheid regime?" And what Bijoux was arguing (as was I) was that of course she can - the difficulties of being black are not limited to apartheid. Not by a long shot.

    So, if lots of women are reacting here to your post, perhaps it would make sense to consider that you might re-think this issue?

  27. Agent: Thanks very much for taking the time and trouble to make those very detailed comments. As you say, several other women have made similar comments about transgender women not having the crucial experience of growing up as a woman, and therefore simply not being a true/complete woman in that respect. I take note of what you're all saying and I accept that that's the case and any amount of experience as an adult or regendered woman just isn't the same. And of course much more obviously biologically it isn't the same. They won't menstruate or get pregnant or give birth or get post-natal depression or get endometriosis or any of the common female ailments. So yes, they may to all intents and purposes be women but there are all those holes in their experience that mean that in reality they're very different. Goodness, I think that means I agree with Jenni Murray....

    I won't comment on the being-black thing again. I've been totally misunderstood.

  28. I assume that what Murray was getting at (and has been said in some of the comments here already) is that there's more to having a female body than mere appearance. The thing that interests me in this debate is the mind: to feel so overwhelmingly female that one opts for painful, time consuming surgery in order to change one's physical appearance is quite something. What are the differences, and similarities, between masculine and feminine minds? I wonder if someone has attempted to make a gender spectrum scale, as psychologists have done for other conditions: autism and psychopathy for example?

    Your list of stereotypes is probably outdated, most people seem to believe that everyone should work, for example. A modern update would be interesting

  29. I don't really think that much about how I feel as a woman. But the topic seems to be of consuming interest to others.

  30. Eryl: Yes, I think that's what she meant, but unfortunately she didn't explain herself properly and this led to all sorts of misunderstandings. Are there such things as masculine and feminine minds? Recent research (e.g.Cornelia Fine) suggests that our minds are basically the same, but gender conditioning from the moment of birth creates the polarised behaviour that gives the impression of different minds. In reality we're all somewhere on a wide gender spectrum and the idea of two sharply-distinguished genders is nonsense. But yes, some "men" feel so overwhelmingly female the only solution is a drastic regendering process.

    You're right, the stereotype is outdated, and a more up-to-date one is needed.

  31. Hattie: I think a lot of women would say the same. In fact they may even say they don't know what it means to "feel like a woman". But other women (and men) have a very definite sense of being one gender or the other.

  32. I think it's pretty clear after reading comments here, being a woman means different thing to different women ... and to men. I've heard some men say they only like "girly girls" -- so more terminology to define. I would expect trans people of either gender are just extensions with their own set of differences fin whatever gender they primarily identify with. I expect we share some "same" experiences, even with variations, and different ones. Same can be said for men.

  33. Joared: I think the reality is that there's an infinite variety of human behaviour, and left to ourselves we would all display endless permutations of what's possible. But instead of that we're subjected to these arbitrary and artificial gender roles that limit the possibilities, stop us being ourselves and oblige us to be one thing or the other.

  34. I am impressed that you changed your mind.

  35. Ramana: Actually I do it quite a lot. If anyone has an argument better than mine, I'm happy to take it on board.

  36. Ramana beat me to it. I too want you to know that your "PS" has not gone unnoticed. Good on you that you not only consider other people's varied, and sometimes differing, opinions but also willing and open to persuasion. It is life affirming, Nick, how we can learn from each other - and, to me most importantly, concede in discussion that the other may have a point - whether we are ultimately swayed or not.