sex ed

What’s the Harm in “Female-Bodied”?

Guest post by America Yamaguchi

[CN: sexual assault]

 

“Female-bodied” is a term that is endlessly harmful.

It reduces cisgender women to their uterus. While childbearing is a massively important component of patriarchal harm, it goes far beyond that. It is also harmful to insist that childbearing or a uterus is what makes a woman a woman, both to trans people of all genders, and to cisgender women who are infertile for any reason. It compounds a major source of psychological distress to cis women who cannot have children. By the standards of “female-bodied” to mean the uterine body plan, a cisgender woman who is missing any aspect or has a dysfunction by any part, is bound to feel like less of a woman. Thus, this term directly attacks the womanhood of a variety of cis women as well as trans women.

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Crack in the Womb

[Spoilers for the Season 1 finale of Steven Universe follow.]

The moment that sealed Steven Universe into richly-deserved fame and a place in future discussions of the evolution of pop culture was the 52nd episode, ”Jail Break.”  In addition to pointedly and thoroughly burnishing the show’s credentials as queer-inclusive and emotionally complex, it provided viewers with a beautifully-composed song-and-fight sequence, from the only one of the four main characters to have avoided a musical number until then:

The words of “Stronger Than You” are poetic and poignant, particularly these:

I am a conversation.

I am made

O-o-o-o-of

Lo-o-o-o-ove o-o-o-o-of

And it’s stronger than you.

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Yams for All

We need to change how we think about childbearing.

Having a child is probably the single most expensive decision someone in the developed world can make.  Once a child is born, one becomes responsible for that child’s food, shelter, emotional support, education, and a thousand and one other needs harder to anticipate and describe, sometimes through socialized systems that ease access to various goods.  The guardians of children become their first and fastest path toward accumulating the possessions that they will then use to gain their first taste of independence.  Parents and other caretakers and among the most important fonts of culture, moral growth, and personal development that any person will ever have.  The enormity of the caretaker’s role is so well understood that it routinely features in sexist writings that insist that women should be content with that specific influence on the future and desire no additional option or greater agency than that.

But there is one situation in which that understanding is ignored: the decision to have a child.

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A Sex Ed Manifesto

We are here to inform you that consent is an ongoing negotiation that can be withdrawn at ANY time and that if you EVER ignore that withdrawal, you are a rapist. We are here to inform you that a rapist is not something you want to be. We are here to inform you that you are never, ever, EVER “entitled” to any kind of sex with ANYONE, no matter what they say or don’t say, do or don’t do, drink or don’t drink, if they do not enthusiastically consent to it. We are here to inform you that, no matter what gender you are or what gender your partner is, YOU have the option to say no, and they have the OBLIGATION to acquiesce to your refusal, and they are bad people if they do not.


We are here to inform you that how often you have whatever kinds of sex you like having is between you, your partner(s), and whoever controls the spaces where you’d like to engage in this amazing and wondrous facet of the human experience. We are here to impress upon you NO ONE–not your church, not your parents, not even the rest of this entire society–gets to decide that for you. We are here to inform you that other people will have opinions about the hows and whys and whos of your sex, and it is up to YOU to decide which ones you take seriously and which ones you discard. Nothing about your preferences, interests, and tastes indicates that something is wrong with YOU. Not one thing. Your value is not dictated by what kinds of sex you have, how many partners you have, the genders of those partners, or anything else related.

We are here to inform you that some partners actually are bad news, and will do things that make you feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Some partners will try to isolate you from your friends and family or control your life in other, stranger ways. Some partners will try to use their positions of power over you–teachers, police officers, bosses–to get you to do things with them that you don’t want to do. Some partners will try to use violence against you to make you do what they want you to do. Sometimes, your friends or family will notice these patterns before you do. We are here to inform you that you do NOT have to tolerate that, that being in that situation does NOT reflect badly on you, and that there are places for you to go in order to escape that horror.

We are here to provide information about every intervention you might take to avoid becoming pregnant, avoid acquiring STIs, avoid getting your partner pregnant, avoid giving your partner STIs, stop being pregnant if you desire to not be pregnant anymore, and get rid of STIs. We are here to enthusiastically recommend any and all of those options that work for you. We are here to remind you that NOT ONE SINGLE THING IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE can make a claim on your body that supersedes YOURS, regardless of what properties that thing has or doesn’t have. We are here to remind you that the most effective way you will ever have to make sure you mire your family in poverty for a generation is to have a baby before you finish high school, and the second-most-effective is to have a baby before you finish your first post-high-school degree. We are here to remind you that you have the option to seek child support from your partner if you have a baby and they refuse to be part if its life. We are here to remind you that there are other resources available for people with children in difficult situations, some of which are provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood that are most famous for other services.

We are here to provide information on how to engage in sex acts safely and pleasurably that has nothing to do with STIs. We are here to give you the tools you need to understand your body and to know whether a partner has your safety appropriately in mind. We are here to encourage you to explore that body on your own and understand how it works and what YOU like, ESPECIALLY if you are a young woman and virtually everyone else in your life has been telling you the opposite. We are here to make sure that you do not think you are defective or weird or at all unusual if you need to add clitoral stimulation to your PiV sex to reach orgasm, if you need extended foreplay to reach the point where PiV is not painful for you, or if you find that you enjoy stimulation of your prostate. We are here to make sure you understand that paraphilias exist and are not shameful or signs of mental dysfunction or indicative of abusive tendencies or whatever other nonsense people have fed you. We are here to make sure you understand that sexual pleasure, whatever form it takes for you, is something wonderful, and not something about which you need to EVER feel shame.

We are here to provide information on the ways that the sex depicted in pornographic materials can differ from the sex you’ll be having. We are here to provide information on the ways that porn actors and sex acts in porn are optimized for viewing, not for the pleasure or enjoyment of any of the participants, and that porn actors (and regular actors, for that matter) are held to standards of attractiveness that are impossible, unhealthy, or both for the vast majority of the human race, including most of you. YOU will have to navigate that space and assert your place in it in order to have one that isn’t dictated by the wishes of those around you.

Your and your parents’ patriarchal, probably-religiously-motivated attitudes about sex, sexuality, and any ‘morality’ associated therewith that has nothing to do with consent have no place here, and if you retain them by the time we have finished providing this information, we will regard ourselves as having failed you.