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Celebrating International Women’s Day

How far we’ve come and how far we need to go...

In 1777, just one year after the United States declared its independence, every state in the union passed a law taking away a woman’s right to vote.

It took 143 years to establish women’s democratic power in our country with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. Last week, President Biden’s first inaugural address was the first to be given with two women seated behind him.

The winding path to women’s liberation.

Globally, some 2.5 billion women face unequal economic opportunities, and 178 countries maintain legal barriers preventing women’s full economic participation.[1]

Back in the USA, as recently as 1988, a woman couldn’t get a business loan without a male cosigner. Today, women own 31% of small businesses and franchises in the USA.[2]

Of course, many women still struggle to have babies and get to work yet, tragically, the USA offers no federally mandated paid maternity leave. Estonia does though — 82 weeks of it. Japan gives women a full year and Sweden, 68 weeks. Exactly how the basic human right for a mother to fully tend to her newborn child continues to remain controversial for the GOP is baffling.[3]

For women who don’t want to become mothers, dozens of US states are moving to restrict abortion rights, while Colombia and Argentina —traditionally staunchly pro-life countries— have recently decriminalized and codified a woman’s right to choose.[4] Our Latina sisters' effective organizing in this area pierces the looming darkness with a powerful ray of hope. 

Working to expand women’s rights globally clearly remains critical, so that brings us to another controversial topic: a growing tendency, in some circles, to stop using the term “women” at all.

Many of the businesses and media providers we follow in the realms of menstruation, maternity, and sexual pleasure, are opting for terms such as “uterus owner” or “birthing parent” while omitting entirely the words “woman” or “mother.”[5]

We all deserve a place at the table — trans, nonbinary, men, and women alike.

The terrible backlash against transrights in Texas (and other states) is deeply troubling. We agree that women’s liberation is inextricably woven together with urgently needed transrights. Necessary legal protections stemming from the fundamental concept of bodily autonomy are essential to protecting both trans and women’s rights.

So it’s vital that we work together to establish and protect transrights and to support children —and all of us— in breaking free from patriarchal ideas of gender. Is it possible, however, that by enforcing a gender-neutral language, we risk losing focus on the unfinished work of women’s liberation around the world?

Transwomen are, indeed, women, yet are women’s rights completely synonymous with transrights? We think not. There are distinct medical and political/social protections for each group which need to be articulated, established, and upheld.

That's why we stand for both the end of gender policing and the end of language policing (evident in a brittle "orthodoxy of language" in public spheres, a concept we first heard from the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie).[6]

We see the complex unfolding of gender identity, as well as the overarching imperatives of human rights in the 21st century, as opportunities to break free from either/or thinking. For Venus Matters, this is a “both and” situation: for example, we often use phrases such as “women and menstruators” or “girls and womb-holders.” 

Culturally prescribed and deeply-held values and skills have, for centuries, led women to put others’ needs before their own. Despite some trepidation in taking this stand at a time where verbal missteps can lead to online pile-ons or full-scale cancellations, we believe that no one should be required to stop using the terms woman/women in order to be inclusive.

Language is nuanced and ever-changing. It is essential that we continue to refine and expand language in delineating the diverse pathways towards freedom and justice for all— be they man, woman, gay, trans, or nonbinary.

We celebrate every human being’s right to shape their lives according to their innermost truths. So today, and every day, please join us in shining a light on the particular plight of the female sex deserving our brave and continued commitment to creating a world of equality, autonomy, and empowerment for girls and women everywhere.

 

[1] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2022/03/01/nearly-2-4-billion-women-globally-don-t-have-same-economic-rights-as-men

[2] https://smallbiztrends.com/2018/08/progress-for-women-entrepreneurs.html

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/11/11/global-paid-parental-leave-us/

[4] https://www.thenation.com/article/world/latin-american-abortion-rights/

[5] https://www.shethinx.com/pages/thinx-giverise; https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/aclu-ruth-bader-ginsburg-abortion-gender-neutral-b1928809.html; https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/10/02/why-the-word-woman-is-tying-people-in-knots

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/28/trans-cis-left-language-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie

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