‘Bodies with vaginas’ is a deeply creepy and dehumanising substitute
It’s been a bumper week for disappearing women. First, the ACLU memorialised iconic feminist judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg by posting a quote, in which every mention Ginsburg made of ‘woman’ had been corrected to ‘[person]’.
Secondly, medical journal The Lancet lamented the historic neglect of the female body in medical science by stating that “Historically, the anatomy and physiology of bodies with vaginas have been neglected”.
Then, over the weekend, Keir Starmer’s effort to contain the Rosie Duffield controversy failed spectacularly. Viewers watched Starmer squirming as Andrew Marr asked him what was wrong with saying ‘only women have a cervix’. “It is something that, er, shouldn’t be said”, Starmer replied; other senior members of the Shadow Cabinet have since flailed over the same point.
Feminists are right to call out the replacement of ‘women’ with the deeply creepy and dehumanising ‘bodies with vaginas’. Doctors’ historical blind-spot in relation to female physiology and medical needs might well be connected to a tendency to regard women as less than human, and this is unlikely to be fixed by re-defining female humans based upon individual body parts.
These same feminists also routinely point out that this ‘inclusive language’ is often asymmetrical, seen through the example of when Macmillan removed all mention of ‘women’ from its cervical cancer page but continued to use ‘men’ on its prostate cancer page.
But it’s not enough to challenge this shift only when it’s applied to women. After pressure, Macmillan updated both pages; but this is an ambivalent victory, because now both pages have unmoored identity from physiology.
And it’s clear from the latest round of controversies that this detachment of identity and physiology is now the consensus position on the establishment liberal-Left. That is, a majority of the people who publish magazines, staff universities, run NGOs and form the upper strata of the Labour Party think bodies and identities have nothing to do with one another.
Pushback from the great unwashed is unlikely to dislodge this easily. And this should trouble us. In the new ‘inclusive’ worldview we’re all beings of bodiless identity, piloting a contingent meat puppet whose properties we’re entitled to remould at will to suit our personal sense of self. And while this may sound liberating at the individual level, the corollary is that there’s nothing sacred, normative or natural about human bodies and no attendant human needs that merit defending on their own merits.
The large-scale political implications of this vision are disturbing. This is a worldview in which bodies have no normative or ethological needs; where children have no normative developmental pathway; where biologically-rooted drives such as attachment have no purchase on us. From that perspective, it’s difficult to argue against (for example) forcing toddlers to wear face masks, staffing a care home with robots or growing human/monkey chimeras in a laboratory.
What looks like a liberatory drive to free us from coercive cultural norms speciously rooted in an idea of the ‘natural’ becomes, at scale, a methodical stripping-away of any defence we have against techno-medical tyranny. That this comes disguised as ‘inclusion’ should fool no one.