Friday, 8 March 2013

International Bright Young Thing

I think this is probably OK:
(Click to tweet: http://clicktotweet.com/85U78 ).  Here is a group of women.  By no stretch of the imagination could the gender of any of these people be described as anything other than female, based solely on the evidence before your eyes.  However, without wishing to cast aspersions on any of them, i want to present you with a counter-intuitive scenario.

Suppose one of these women cut her hand on some broken glass when she broke into a house.  Forensic scientists take the blood and do DNA fingerprinting on it and based on that evidence, they look for a male burglar.  Why has that happened?  Well, it's because all of these women are chromosomally male.  They all have one X chromosome and one Y chromosome in each of their body cells.  The difference is that their bodies do not respond to male hormones.  They have total androgen insensitivity syndrome.  Note the words "total" and "syndrome".  There are degrees of this and someone with the least pronounced form is indistinguishable from a man to the eye.  However, internally, these people have male gonads, no womb and so forth. So far as i know, i don't know anyone who does not respond at all to male hormones, including women.

Here's another woman.  Clearly also female.  These are photos taken before and after the cosmetic surgery she had on her neck.  This woman has a life, does various things, i dunno maybe she enjoys chess and works in a fish-gutting factory, and so on.  I don't want to reduce her to a syndrome.  However, once again, if you were to look at her chromosomes, it would turn out to be possible to label her as having Turner syndrome.  This is where there is only one X chromosome per cell.  As a result, she may have various health problems and it's difficult to see a situation right now where some of the problems associated with being a Turner individual would not be problematic, unlike total androgen insensitivity syndrome.  Nonetheless, she is obviously female.  Again, i don't know anyone personally with this, but i do see them occasionally.

Left to themselves, something both of these groups of people have in common is that they cannot get pregnant by having sex, something they have in common with me.  Another thing that makes it harder to get pregnant by having sex is this.  This is a situation where instead of the outside looking different from the inside, the inside is different.  Nonetheless, people who have this condition can get pregnant if they know they've got it.  It's called uterus didelphys bicollis.

Some people have unusual looking kidneys.  Their appendices go in various different directions and so on.  But we don't have special pronouns to refer to these people, or to the people with didelphys bicollis, just because of that.  This is partly because we don't consider it significant in that way that these people are different.  If the genitals are different on the inside, it doesn't make us call a "she" a "he".  If they're different on the outside, all of a sudden we do start to hesitate about what pronoun to use.  And in a sense, so we should.

What these people help illustrate, though, is that everyone starts off female, and that female is the default form of the human species.  In a way, we're all female inside, but some of us are also male.  Those of us who are male are less likely to be aborted early because of our gender, less likely to worry about sexual assault, more likely to lead certain world religions and more likely to be paid more, even if we hate being male.

Today is International Women's Day.  As a man, i can look at that and think, yes, right, they've got a point, but i'm doing that thoroughly as an outside, and that's fine.  But suppose i look at it this way.  Rather than women being the Other, you are in a sense us, and the reason i think this is a helpful perspective is this.  Were it not for the fact that a certain sperm took a wrong turn many years ago, it could be you who was being paid less, feels the need to take major precautions against sexual assault and could never be Pope.  That could be you but for a tiny quirk of fate.  So it's not about helping them in a patronising way so much as recognising that they are THE people and since we are also people, with certain malignant growths between our legs, we understand that we could be them.  So, Happy International Women's Day to all of you, including the men.

Images licenced as follows:  First and second images licenced under Creative Commons with appropriate attribution text included on images - see Wikipedia.  Image of appendix from early twentieth century edition of Gray's Anatomy - public domain due to age.  All other images my own work.


This is one of those videos which took a lot longer than it looks, mainly due to the stills at the start and trying to suss out the intellectual property issues.  It was also difficult to word tactfully, which might be why it isn't, if it isn't.  In fact, most of my stuff probably looks a bit poor because of the short time frame, although i could deal with this by having more meticulously organised videos at the same time as the daily ones, which come to fruition once a week maybe.

Something interesting which has come up in the last couple of days - i have discovered what seems to be a very small YouTube community in Leicester consisting of DMU students.  These are Peter Hutchinson, Demon TV (which really should've been obvious), Rhys Davies (another one, which is odd) and Holly Holdsworth.  The last in particular is only two degrees of separation from me via Facebook and Theintrostealer recognises her "from the Clocktower", unless that's a strange brainfart.  So that was interesting.  It also made me think about Leicester University Student Television, and they indeed have a channel.  It's odd seeing videos of this area of Leicester which are not made either by me or members of my family.