Why We Need to Stop Associating Womanhood With Pregnancy

July 14th 2017

Tiernan Hebron

What does it mean to be a woman? The answer to that question has changed over time. A woman used to be anyone that was born with a vagina. That meant that anything related to having a vagina was filed under womanhood, such as getting a period or getting pregnant. This is no longer the case.

We now know that biological sex and gender are not the same thing. A person’s sex is defined by the biological traits they are born with, making them either male or female. Gender, on the other hand, is a cultural concept. The Human Rights Campaign defines gender as "one's innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves, and what they call themselves. One's gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth."

In other words, gender is not necessarily defined by a person’s biological sex, and that means that not everyone who has a vagina is a woman. It also means that gender does not need to be defined by any traits related to biological sex.

With this new understanding of gender, it is imperative that we reject the claim that it is necessarily and forever determined by one's biological sex. With regards to being a woman, this means that we must abandon the belief that only women can get their period or get pregnant. Associating womanhood with pregnancy reflects outdated science.

Accordingly, while male pregnancy as perceived as rare, if not impossible, a recent study estimated that the number of transgender men who get pregnant every year is easily in the thousands. But these men continue to face prejudice. As NPR reported, "the study participants said they were often greeted with double-takes, suspicion and even hostility from strangers and health care providers." One participant even reported that "Child Protective Services was alerted to the fact that a 'tranny' had a baby."

Assaults on these men takes their toll. Another study, "Transgender men and pregnancy," found that throughout their pregnancy many men report a crisis in their gender identity, feeling the pressure to live up to ‘‘social norms that define a pregnant person as woman and a gestational parent as mother.’’ Additionally, they reported feelings of constant tension about needing to ‘‘manage others’ perceptions and either disclosing or not disclosing what they were experiencing.’’

Jennifer Kerns, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, found similar stress in her study. "And we have some indication from our qualitative results that depression might be exacerbated for folks who are transgender, both during pregnancy and after." 

Another factor caused by the deep-seated belief that pregnancy is only for women is the lack of representation of pregnant men or male pregnancy. After interviewing eight participants, researchers who worked on the "Transgender men and pregnancy" study reported that ‘‘the unique finding was that participants experienced significant and persistent loneliness’’ and felt that ‘‘the process of navigating identity required considerable energy and attention."  A key problem these men identified was ‘‘a lack of clear role models of what a positive, well integrated, gender variant parental role might look like.’’

By holding on to beliefs that dictate specific traits for gender based on biological sex, we are causing incalculable harm to anyone who deviates from the "norm." Men who become pregnant exist, and they will continue to suffer unless we forgo our association with womanhood and pregnancy.