With all this talk of private parts, the political has now gotten very personal. Recently, I was having an argument with a male transgender rights activist over Labour MP Rosie Duffield’s claim that 'only women have a cervix'. I huffed and puffed and pontificated about the 'undeniable facts of biology and female anatomy' when it suddenly occurred to me: I haven’t the faintest idea what a cervix is.
Yes, I know that only women have them. But what are they? Where are they? What do they do? Can you implant a cervix? Create an artificial cervix? Have cosmetic surgery on your cervix? Search me.
Clueless men like me are all gung-ho when it comes to joining these gender war debates and igniting controversies. After all, it was a tweet by Piers Morgan pointing out that women are the ones with a cervix — and which Rosie Duffield liked — that got her into trouble. While on the other side of the debate we had Labour leader Keir Starmer on the Andy Marr Show appearing to deny the validity of the women-only-cervix claim — which got him into trouble.
This week it was the turn of Boris Johnson to make his position clear. You would assume that plain-talking, brave Boris would just say: yes, only women have a cervix. But when asked if he agreed with Starmer’s comments, he told a GB News interviewer that, 'biology is very important but...' and then copped-out from answering the question by saying he believed in treating everyone with 'dignity and respect'.
The question that no one is asking is: do Morgan, Starmer or Boris know what a cervix is? (At least Morgan knows that only women have them.) The assumption is that men who talk about these issues know what they’re talking about. But my experience is that when it comes to the bits and bobs of female anatomy we’re embarrassingly ignorant. When I asked three male friends what a cervix is, they all said what you’d expect: it’s a female thing. One asked, 'is a cervix like a survey?' He was joking. I think.
And I learned later that my male transgender champion didn’t know anything about the cervix either. How ironic — here we were, two men debating what defines a woman based on a bit of female anatomy that neither one of us knows anything about.
Does it matter that most men don’t know the difference between a cervix and a prefix? If you’re the kind of man who has strong views on the issues and debates raised by transgender rights, then yes. It’s like criticising capitalism without knowing what capital is. You have to know the basics of Marxism to critique Marx.
Thanks to feminism, men of my generation didn’t have to understand anything about female anatomy because in the 1970s feminists and sociologists told us that being a woman had nothing to do with anatomy or biology. That was just 'patriarchal sexist claptrap' designed to oppress women. The very idea of a woman was just a 'social construct'. Women were socially, emotionally and psychologically conditioned to be women. As Simone De Beauvoir put it, 'one is not born, but rather becomes a woman'.
Progressive minded men and women — once believed in nurture and not nature. But now nature is making a big comeback thanks to the debates between anti-gender feminists and pro-transgender rights. Anatomy may not be destiny but it is now a basis of defining the difference between men and women. The whole language of the feminist debate is changing. Out goes talk of 'autonomy', 'equal rights' and 'empowerment' and in comes talk of 'wombs' and 'menstruation' and the 'cervix'.
By the way it’s not just the cervix that’s a mystery to most men, it’s the whole female body. For example, most men think they know all about the vagina. Especially the younger generation of teenagers raised on the gynaecological gore of pornography. But that bit they call the vagina is not the vagina, it’s the vulva. A 2019 YouGuv survey found that 59 per cent of men couldn’t label a vagina correctly.
When I first heard the term vulva in my teens I thought it was a car from Eastern Europe. But then we children of the 1970s thought we were so sexually liberated and knowing that we didn’t have to know anything about women’s bodies — except how to gain access to them. We were the do-everything and know-nothing generation. I fear that nothing much has changed.
It won’t be long before someone in the transgender debate declares that only women are born with a clitoris — and only women have them forcibly removed. But if my young female friends are to believed the men they know have very little understanding of that bit too. They know it’s the pleasure bit but where exactly it is and what do you do when you stumble across it is a mystery. That YouGuv survey found that 31 per cent of men didn’t know what the clitoris was.
Men are not just ignorant of women’s anatomies but also their own. A female lawyer friend of mine told me of a man who wanted her to deal with his probate. When she said she’d take a look he dropped his trousers.
Mention the urethra to the average man and he will probably come back with the old joke: you mean Urethra Franklin? Men like me use humour to cover up our ignorance. But then many women are just as clueless about their bodies. When I posed the cervix test to an old girlfriend the best she could do is that 'it has something to do with supporting the vagina?' She shouldn’t feel embarrassed. Lots of women don’t know the basics of their bodies. Fiona Reid, a consultant urogynaecologist at St Mary’s hospital, Manchester, said: 'We do see women... who seem to think that the urethra and the vagina are the same thing'.
To think of all the time I spent reading Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan and Naomi Wolf when I should have been reading medical books of clinical anatomy.