I don’t want to derail a blog post about reproductive rights, so I will despair about this on my own blog

EDIT 25/June/2013: After being contacted by the blogger I critiqued in this post I have decided to make a few alterations to the text. I am taking out the ‘special effects’, and some of the more florid language, and changing the first paragraph to make my intended point clearer.

This isn’t about any individual blogger, especially not one who’s only ‘crime’ was to be ignorant of the scope of debate around trans issues.

What matters is that her blog post was indicative of a whole generation of young women who have been so bamboozled by queer/trans/post-modern ‘thought’, that they can imagine that a foetus develops its ‘gender’ at some point in the womb.

Gender is a social construct, and a hierarchy, and it is harmful to feminism and to all women. I have written about this before, and I highly recommend this post from Liberation Collective on the subject.

The blog Generation: Handmaid reblogged a recent post of mine, they seem like a rather nice group of equality feminists who’s main concern (understandably, since they are based in the US) is reproductive rights, specifically access to safe, legal abortion (and there are no posts tagged with pornography, prostitution or ‘sex work’ etc to suggest that they are pro sex industry).

Their latest post is on the newly passed Pain-Capable Infant Protection Act, which reduces the abortion time limit to twenty weeks, and the junk science that has been used to justify the act.

As I said in the title of this post, I don’t want to go over to their blog and derail a post about what is a really really important subject, but this:

To start, you cannot accurately tell the sex of a fetus until about twenty weeks, which is currently the widely accepted cutoff time to terminate a pregnancy. This is because a fetus initially develops a sort of hermaphroditic male sex organ, which later is shredded and female sex organs grow when the chromosomes begin to develop. This means that the sex organs, and the fetus’s cisgender, have not reached a critical phase in development for this argument to truly hold up.

I’m not even talking about how poorly they interpreted their source data, or that they don’t understand what chromosomes are (they are all there to begin with, they are the blue print, they don’t ‘grow’), I mean the phrase “the fetus’s cisgender”.

What does that even mean? What has any of this got to do with gender in the first place? How does a foetus express gender? Even if you believe that gender is hard-wired into the brain, why would it develop at 20 weeks? Isn’t implying that it develops in tandem with the genitals basically saying it’s the same as sex? Is this why they tagged ‘cis’ to the front of ‘gender’? When does a foetus’ ‘transgender’ develop?

I can see why they said ‘cisgender’, because the whole junk science of the anti-abortion act is based around when a foetus is capable of feeling pain, and a GOP Representative made the claim that abortion should be banned after fifteen weeks, and said: “Watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful […] They stroke their face. If they’re a male baby, they may have their hand between their legs. If they feel pleasure, why is it so hard to believe that they could feel pain?”

So the whole ‘cisgender’ thing is because this is about male foetuses (theoretically, allegedly) enjoying their male sex organs. Now, masturbation itself isn’t a gendered thing in the first place, not really, it’s mechanical, and the mechanics of it depend on the mechanics of the genitals being manipulated. But implying that all male … beings? existences? enjoyed their male sex organs would have been ~transphobic~ (because a ‘trans foetus’ would feel dysmorphic in utero presumably), so we are left with the ridiculous sentence “the fetus’s cisgender”.

13 responses

  1. Oh lordie, how daft can you get?! I daresay the syllable ‘cis’ has been bunged in there just in case the blog gets attacked by angry transactivists complaining that the word ‘gender’ (like ‘woman’ and ‘uterus’) is inherently transphobic.
    I note too that the GOP Representative has never heard that women masturbate, but that’s just … normal for the Republicans, I suppose.

  2. Yes, I imagine that’s probably the case; my guess is that whoever is writing that blog, they are fairly new to feminism, and they were brought into it by the wholly reasonable assumption that women are fully human and don’t deserve death, disability or a lifetime of poverty and dependency on a violent man or a violent state, just for being pregnant.

    Just the fact that they reblogged something from me, after my trans-critical post, suggests that they are new to all this, and simply trying to navigate it all.

  3. “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one…just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
    – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

  4. All foetuses are at conception female and only become male if and when certain genes are enacted. So it is nonsensical to claim this: a fetus initially develops a sort of hermaphroditic male sex organ, which later is shredded and female sex organs grow when the chromosomes begin to develop. This means that the sex organs, and the fetus’s cisgender, have not reached a critical phase in development for this argument to truly hold up.’

    A foetus doesn’t have a hermaphroditic male sex organ which is later shredded. More on male pseudo science can be found here and kudos to Witchwind for uncovering mens’ deliberate hiding of the real scientific facts.


    Cisgender doesn’t exist it is a myth homosexual males created as a way of dividing all women. Oh and by the way anti-porn is 100% right foetuses don’t have a gender – they commence conception as female and later some foetuses change into male but all foetuses are initially female not gender!

    GOP representative is another male obsessed with phallocentricism which explains why many males are incapable of intellectual abilities!

  5. Hecuba,

    My criticism of the blog post’s science is nothing to do with “male pseudo science”, just a piece of poor interpretation by the (female) blogger(s).

    This is the original paragraph:

    As an embryo develops, it acquires both Wolffian and Mullerian ducts. Wolffian ducts develop into male sex organs, and Mullerian ducts develop into female sex organs. Which sex organs develop depends on the presence of a Y chromosome and the male hormone testosterone and anti-Mullerian hormone (AMH). At eight weeks, the internal genitalia will begin to form. If the embryo has both an X and a Y chromosome and produces the two hormones, then the testosterone will stimulate the Wolffian duct to develop male sex organs, including the vas deferens and the seminal vesicles. If there’s no Y chromosome, but two X chromosomes instead, then the embryo is female. The Wolffian duct will degrade, and the Mullerian duct will develop into female sex organs such as the uterus, fallopian tubes and part of the vagina. Rarely, the embryo will have an X and a Y chromosome, but will fail to produce testosterone or AMH; such an embryo is termed intersex, as it has both male and female sex organs.

    The fact that mitochondria are inherited from the mother is not hidden, if people don’t know about it, that’s because science teaching and science knowledge is poor quality generally. There’s no conspiracy here, we have enough real problems to deal with without inventing new ones.

    The term ‘cis’ comes from the trans community, not the gay male community, the trans women hassling lesbians for sex started out as heterosexual men, not gay men – that you can make such a claim against gay men is more than a little bizarre.

    “but all foetuses are initially female not gender!”

    This makes no sense Hecuba, most of the time I can guess what you’re trying to get at, even given your … idiosyncratic writing style, but I can’t even begin to guess what you were trying to say here.


    Well aren’t you a smarty-pants then!

    We learn through experience, and the internet is full of experience, maybe I could have been nicer about it, but I’m not telling anyone to die in a fire.

    Or are you saying nobody should be critical at all ever? In which case we’d all be stumbling around like overgrown toddlers, knowing nothing, learning nothing, achieving nothing.

    But at least nobody’s feelings would get hurt, assuming they were in the first place of course, but nobody has come here to say anything.

    Do you think that you are entitled to speak on behalf of those bloggers? Do you think that they are helpless little girlies who can’t stick up for themselves?

  6. Turns out the blogger can speak for her self, and has contacted me by email.

    She has re-worded the paragraph slightly, and taken out the ‘cisgender’, but not the claim that foetuses have genders in the first place.

    As I included in my reply to her, this isn’t about the poorly relayed science in her blog post, or about her as an individual, it’s about how queer/trans theory has bamboozled a generation of young women.

    I could, and maybe should, have responded in a more restrained manner. I have nothing against this blogger or her blog, and I would hope that nobody is attacking her personally because of what I wrote.

  7. Obviously a foetus doesn’t have a gender, but… “the foetus’ CISGENDER”??? I can’t make any sense of that. That is incredible. Kudos to the Handmaiden for writing the stupidest thing I’ve read in quite a long time.

  8. Chocolattruffaut

    I just want to voice my support for this post, and to say that you should never ever apologise for your awesome critiques! That whole “female cisgender” line didn’t make any sense at all. If I have to hear one more time that “oh not all women have vaginas” and “not all men have penises” I’ll scream!

  9. Thanks, but I have genuinely upset someone, so I don’t feel great about it.

    I’m going to have to have a think about what I want do with this post.

  10. She deserves to be upset for saying such a stupid and bigoted thing.

  11. That’s not exactly constructive, and I don’t think she’s a bigot, just naive and ignorant.

  12. […] At some point I made an uneducated and confusing statement about fetal gender, and was…well, called out by another blogger regarding that statement.  While the blogger and I exchanged a few words about her initially less […]

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