My Uterus (or Lack Thereof) Does Not Define My Womanhood
Recently, especially in our current political climate and in light of the #metoo movement, there has been an upsurge in those embracing feminism. However, there are still some critical pieces to the puzzle that are missing in this quest for empowerment, equality and liberation. One piece includes that stigmatizing notion, which has even been used as a symbol of women’s rights in recent marches, that the uterus or a vagina defines womanhood.
A true women’s rights activist will tell you that having a uterus or even a vagina for that matter should not be a “requirement” for being a woman. It does not invalidate the fact that women all over the world with varying experiences live without these anatomical components, and anatomy should not be be a cause for stigmatization.
There are women who were born without a uterus or what would be considered “female body parts.” We are not defined by our body parts. In fact, the term “biological sex” isn’t even as accurate as most think. Many use the phrase “assigned male/female at birth.” This acknowledges the fact that doctors (and parents) often make the decision for the child. The assignment of sex may or may not align with the person’s body as the decision is made based upon chromosomes, hormones and body parts. It is not as cut and dry as many think; for example, you can have folks that are intersex. Furthermore, that assigned sex may not align with how the person feels or how they identify.
There are trans women all over the world. They are women. While I am not here today to have this argument with people because this is about my personal story (and I myself am a cisgender woman, so I cannot speak to the experiences of trans women), I want to make something clear because it speaks to the ass-backwards rationale of why many people believe that trans women aren’t considered women. Living as an anatomical or a “society-perceived woman” has a set of challenges. Trans women still do endure many of these same exact challenges in addition to the challenges associated with being trans (see trans activist Janet Mock’s Allure article on “pretty privilege”). Anatomy does not determine identity or experience.
There are women, like myself, that for medical reasons, have hysterectomies.
Multiple times, as I’ve prepared for my own upcoming hysterectomy, I’ve heard some version of the phrase, “you are not a woman without a uterus.” This hurtful and damaging statement has torn relationships apart. Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, I heard this judgment. Texting a friend hoping for support in my upcoming surgery, I heard this judgment.
I don’t want to say the feelings of those women who do feel this way (especially after a hysterectomy) aren’t valid. Every person has the right to feel their own way. For me personally, this statement is as hurtful as they come. It hurts in indescribable ways, because that phrase attempts to diminish my identity.
Identity can be defined as who you are, the way you think about yourself, the way you are viewed by the world and the characteristics that define you. My identity is who I am and the limitless opportunities of who I can become or who I can be. I will not be put into a box for the suppression and oppression from others. My identity cannot be taken away from me. Anatomy does not indicate identity or experience.
Being a woman is a social construct, or basically a made-up set of expectations by society, that includes standards and characteristics for how someone is supposed to act. So because society tells me that I need to have children to be a woman, and you need to have a uterus to bear a child, some people believe I am less of a woman without a uterus. This is far from my personal belief.
I have been considered less intelligent and strong than my male counterparts. I have been considered assertive, aggressive or emotional, when my male counterparts would just be considered “being a man.” I have been judged or considered a lesser voice when I was the only woman in a business setting. I have been called emasculating when I wanted to pay for a date. I have been told by someone that he would not date me because I made more money than him as a “man.” I want to be able to walk down the street without being sexually harassed. I want to wear whatever I want without fear of being sexually assaulted for “giving the wrong impression.”
Do all of the experiences in my 28 years of life negate the fact that I am a women, just because I am missing a few parts? No. Anatomy does not denote identity or experience.
Curled up in the fetal position day after day due to severe pain, monthly scenes from the movie “Gone Girl” in my bathroom, and over four months of nonstop bleeding. I would say that the strength it takes to endure the painful effects of medical problems and having to make the decision to have this surgery, makes me more of a woman than my actual uterus does.
My uterus began to ruin my life. I don’t have to worry about carrying extra clothes because I’ve bled through the tampon, pad and clothes I was wearing. I don’t have to constantly pop narcotics like candy because of the severe knifelike pain in my pelvis. My uterus began to dictate my life and most importantly, my quality of life. I am not less of a woman without my uterus. I am a healthier woman without my uterus. I am a happier woman without my uterus.
Getty Image by P_PHOTO