The Trouble With “Lady Parts” 

Cutesy euphemisms can be damaging.

vladimir salman / Shutterstock.com

Last week, Lizz Winstead, a writer, comedian, and activist, launched Lady Parts Justice, an organization with a mission to educate the public about the ongoing assault on reproductive rights in America. The group’s cause is both noble and needed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5–4 decision affirming Hobby Lobby’s right to decline covering certain forms of contraception in employee health insurance plans, which came at a time when an increasing number of states are limiting abortion access and the far right continues its misinformation campaigns.

Despite my support for all of the issues Lady Parts Justice stands for, I have one big problem with Winstead’s new project: Its name.

I understand that Winstead and her colleagues are using the term “Lady Parts” as a playful euphemism for much more clinical-sounding terms like “uterus,” “vagina,” and so on. The problem with this name—and with use of terms like “lady parts” or “lady bits” more generally to refer to reproductive organs that have been typically associated with women—is that it reinforces biological essentialism, tying gender to genitals.

Not all women are the owners of a uterus, and not all owners of a uterus are women. A transgender man—that is, a man who was assigned female at birth—may very well have a uterus, may become pregnant, and may very well need the same access to reproductive health options as your average cisgender woman. The same can be said for non-binary individuals who were assigned female at birth. As people who don’t identify as a woman or a man (though they may identify themselves as both, neither, or a combination of the two), some may feel that this language erases their identity or leaves them out. Yes, these people may have a uterus—but it’s not a “lady part.”

To her credit, Winstead acknowledges that trans individuals have reproductive health needs, too, telling Out magazine: “This is about all of us, it’s about women, men, trans men, trans women.” So why, if she acknowledges that this fight extends beyond the realm of “lady parts,” would she name the organization that?

While there’s little doubt that women make up the largest segment of uterus-owning individuals, this name further ostracizes oft-overlooked members of society like trans men and non-binary individuals who were assigned female at birth. To exclude them in this, an organization aimed at educating the public on the issue of reproductive health, would seem to negate the organization’s stated goals by erasing identities and perpetuating the already stressful and exclusionary culture these individuals are forced to inhabit.

According to a 2010 Lambda Legal report, more than a quarter of all trans people have at one point in their lives been denied treatment as a result of their gender identity. The study shines a light on some of the struggles trans men are often faced with when seeking reproductive care.

“I called a gynecologist’s office trying to schedule a hysterectomy,” one man’s testimonial began. “I told the receptionist that I was a transgender male. Two days later, I received a phone call telling me that the doctor did not take cases like mine and referring me to a hospital. I remember feeling like a freak. I called the second number. The receptionist told me they didn’t deal with transgender men either.”

“Lady parts”–along with other terms that tie gender to genitals like “man meat” or “boy bits”—serve not only as cutesy names for reproductive organs, but also reinforce the false “common sense” that biology is destiny. Many forms of feminism, however, push back on this very principle, arguing that biology is not destiny, and that the concept of gender roles and gender norms are nothing more than social and cultural constructs.

A person should not be defined by what reproductive organs they have or don’t have. There are many women who don’t have a uterus; whether this is because they were assigned male at birth, had to undergo a hysterectomy, or were born with a condition like Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome is beside the point. They are still ladies, and by extension, they have “lady parts.” Conversely, there are a number of men who do have a uterus. They are men, and by extension, their parts are not “lady parts.”

There is an assault on reproductive rights in this country. As family planning options are becoming more and more limited for women, men, and non-binary individuals alike, we should be looking for ways to include all uterus-having individuals in our fight to restore these rights, and we should avoid reinforcing tired, biological essentialist notions of gender. Because everyone’s “parts,” regardless of where they identify on the gender spectrum, deserve quality health care.