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Why Gatekeeping Womanhood Oppresses Women

On June 8, Josef Tesar, a 67-year-old man, stopped an elementary school track-and-field meet to accuse a 9-year-old girl of being a boy. He demanded that her mother provide a birth certificate to “prove” that she was just a girl with short hair (Washington Post). That same month, Michelle Dionne Peacock, a 59-year-old cisgender woman, was murdered by her neighbor who believed she was “a male acting like a woman” (them). And for years, anti-trans bathroom hysteria and bills have exposed trans people and cis women to increased harassment and violence from cisgender people (Vox). Transphobia and anti-trans discrimination is sometimes disguised as defending “women’s rights.” In reality, trans and nonbinary people and cisgender women are losing rights, being harassed, and literally dying under a system of oppression.  


• Contribute to organizations like TENTTrans Empowerment ProjectTwo Spirit Nation, and Black trans organizations supporting trans and queer people. 

Donate to the funeral expenses of trans women and other victims of transphobia.

• Use gender-inclusive language, including when discussing Roe v. Wade, abortion access, and reproductive health.

Transgender describes someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. And cisgender describes an individual whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth (Trans EqualityCDC). In lay terms: trans women are women, though they were not assigned female at birth, and trans men are men who were not assigned male at birth. Discourse aimed at denying trans women their womanhood has reduced what it means to be a woman to “gatekeepers for periods” and wombs (The Grio), feeding into the same patriarchal and colonial systems used to oppress and repress women.

But what it means to be a woman is not a monolith because women are not a monolith. Here’s why:

    • More than two gender identities and expressions existed globally before colonialism (PBS), before Christian colonial society enforced binary gender identities, roles, and expression and heteronormativity throughout African and Indigenous societies (JSTOR DailyHRC).


    • Societal concepts of femininity and womanhood have always been taught through a white colonial European lens, which has been used against cisgender Black women, including Michelle ObamaSerena Williams, and Meg Thee Stallion, who are called men because they don’t exhibit the facial features or physique as that of “ideal” white women.

“Blackness, especially when attached to a black woman’s body, is overwhelmingly gendered masculine. ‘When antebellum middle-class white women were ‘angels of the house’— beautiful, pious, chaste, and delicate — black women were thought to be the beasts in the fields, who did not need their bodies, sensibilities, and virtue protected. While the 19th-century slavery-based American economy depended on this distinction, the bestial view remained long after black bondage passed away, writes [author Tamara] Winfrey-Harris. The tenets of white femininity fail to stand on their own unless we are constantly reminded of their shadow: the strong, masculine black woman.”

Writer Hannah Eko (Buzzfeed News).

    • Advancements in reproductive health that were vital in expanding women’s rights were done for the betterment of wealthy, white women, often at the expense of marginalized women. Even in a Roe v. Wade world, abortion access wasn’t accessible for all.


    • This stance alienates and invalidates the experiences of cisgender women who—for health or fertility issues, or by choice—don’t have periods, can’t have children, were born without a uterus and/or cervix, had a hysterectomy, and/or are intersex (Self).  

Women who don’t conform to a narrow view of femininity and whose mere existence thus “disrupts the status quo” (Harpers Bazaar) are penalized and met with violence. Olympic champion runner Caster Semenya, Namibian athletes Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi, and other cisgender female athletes with naturally elevated testosterone levels are forced to either medically lower their naturally occurring hormone levels or be barred from international competitions (ThemThe Guardian). Such discriminatory policies mimic the “fairness” language of anti-trans sports bans, which are spreading despite there being “more laws banning transgender girls from playing K-12 sports than there are transgender girls playing K-12 sports” (them). 

This isn’t to say that periods and pregnancy don’t shape or play a major part in the lives of some cisgender women and girls, especially considering the societal pressure, significance, and stigma placed on them. But not all women experience them, and not all the people who experience them are women. Periods and pregnancy are not exclusive to cisgender women, nor do they define us. And issues like reproductive health, abortion access, sexual violence, and misogyny don’t just impact cis women but also affect women, cisgender or transgender, in different ways when we factor in differences based on race, class, sexual orientation, etc. 

Acknowledging that trans women are women doesn’t erase cis women, just like the delayed acceptance and inclusion of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other marginalized women in the women’s rights movement didn’t diminish white women’s rights (History). Instead, it expands our understanding of what it means to be a woman and ensures that trans women receive support. There’s nothing to be gained by gatekeeping womanhood except continued violence and oppression against women.  

“If you’re someone who doesn’t feel invested in Black trans liberation, you’ve been compounding your own oppression by refusing to engage in cross-cultural collaborative efforts that yield liberation for us all,” said writer and activist Ashlee Marie Preston (Harpers Bazaar). “Anyone who isn’t an ultra-wealthy white cis-heteronormative man in America is being crushed under the same juggernaut as we are. Division has always benefited the ruling class but never those of us trying to get free.”

1200 799 Dominique Stewart

Dominique Stewart

Dominique is a writer and editor whose interests lie within the intersections of social justice and culture. She has written and edited for several outlets, including Brooklyn Magazine, The Tempest, and the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. Dominique was the managing editor for a women’s health magazine called Sidepiece Magazine.

All stories by : Dominique Stewart
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