How Do I Know?



By Colette Colfer (above)

I am a woman, how do I know?
Because my body tells me so
I’ve a womb and ovaries, a breasty chest
I’ve carried a baby in my belly nest
I am milk, I am blood
My diploid cells are double X

But what is a woman?
Can we illuminate the detail?
Would you agree that it’s a noun
Meaning adult human female
Where female is a basic
Biological distinction
That’s used in both the plant
And the animal kingdoms.
The female produces
The larger gamete
But these need the male
To make reproduction complete

So female and male
Are a complementarity
A holy grail
Of unity, polarity
As day is to night
And yin is to yang
As black is to white
Woman is to man

Oestrogen testosterone
X and Y chromosomes
Each cell of our body
Is stamped with our genome

These cellular differences
Have a wider significance
Influencing personality traits
Life experiences, interests.
Less women than men
Are in engineering and mining,
Bin collection, construction,
Fishing, truck driving

It’s only women who’ve experienced
Down through the centuries
FGM, menstruation huts,
Magdalene laundries.
In countries where fornication
Is still considered a crime,
It’s the woman who’s punished
Far more of the time
You can never tell by looking
If a man has had sex

But you can with a woman
Because she carries the egg
And pregnancy is a visible sign
That can result in honour killings,
Imprisonment, honour crimes
Meanwhile the man has to deal with
Paternal uncertainty
So the pressure’s on the woman
To be a virgin, to live chastely

There have been changes
With industrialisation
Contraceptives, technology
We now have gender quotas,
Women’s toilets, changing rooms
Women’s sports and awards
And all-girl schools
At the same time we have feminism
And hashtag me too

Does it really matter
About the words that we use?
Some say woman
Is not about biology
That a woman can be a woman
Regardless of physiology
That it’s nothing to do
With the production of eggs
And it’s completely independent
Of what’s between a person’s legs

That ‘woman’ is identity
And how a person feels
It’s femininity, hair styles
Mascara, high heels
Manicures, blusher
Lipstick and dress.
Can you still be a woman
If you don’t shave your legs?

What’s the point anymore
In sex-segregated spaces
When males can now access
Women-only places?
This year a male won a women’s
World championship cycling race
A female boxer fought a male woman
And ended up with 7 staples in her face

Males can use women’s shelters
A male has won ‘Woman of the Year’
But women are being told
There’s nothing to fear.

Languages evolve
And meanings can change
But biological differences
Can’t be erased

People will just come up with
Different words and labels
To distinguish the differences
Between males and females
Some say we should say ‘womex’
To get rid of the men
Some say ‘people with a cervix’
Or there’s ‘pregnant people’ as well

There’s also ‘uterus havers’
‘Birthers’, ‘gestators’
‘Ovulators’, ‘bleeders’
Or my favorite – ‘menstruators’.

I am a woman, how do I know?
I am
Because my body
Makes it so

Colette Colfer

Thanks John Gallen

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88 thoughts on “How Do I Know?

    1. catsiglierie

      This, coupled with the uncontested promotion of Gemma O’Doherty (who certainly has done work of merit, but which is clearly outweighed by horribly conservative and uninformed opinions expressed on Twitter), raises concerns about the editorial direction of Broadsheet. The post isn’t contextualised at all, the author without description. The absence of background material renders this piece little more than a Facebook post. And while Broadsheet is at pains to provide such material for other posts, its absence here suggests this is intentional.

      I honestly can’t see the point in this post, other than to promote anger, discord, and even hate.

      I don’t know, I think it might be better to give this site a miss. Time for change, and all that.

      Best wishes everyone!

      1. eppur si muove

        So women are genetically disinclined to work in engineering or construction, thanks for that little nugget of information. Terfs strike another blow for womens’ rights!

        1. Fact Checker

          If you can find a good study that says it’s exclusively down to socialization – please share!

          1. ____

            It’s extremely difficult/maybe impossible to say for sure because you’ll never a have a control group – a cohort of women who have been raised without social influences.

          2. Fact Checker

            You can start with identical twins raised apart.

            Their personalities and interests are much more similar than with adoptive parents and siblings.

            You would expect variation in culture or parenting style would alter this. But it doesn’t.

          3. Fact Checker

            Read Greg Clark’s ‘The Son Also Rises’ if you think you’re really ready for the nature hypothesis.

      2. Dub Spot

        “raises concerns about the editorial direction of Broadsheet.”

        In fairness, there has been no change of direction. If I’d backed Gemma O’D with a platform I would probably shut up and wished everyone would move on, too.

        Bodger and Co don’t get it right all the time. They’re not the Irish Times.

  1. Eoin

    How does she figure the Virgin Mary behind her there begot Jesus Christ? And could she show her workings, preferably utilising chromosomes, cervixes and gametes please.

  2. catsiglierie

    Definite essentialism on display here. Plus, it’s just a very poor poem. Very little to recommend it artistically, aesthetically, or formally.

  3. missred

    This cannot even be accused of being subtly terf-y or sort of dog-whistle to her fellow terfs. It is so cringe-makingly obviously TERF that I cannot believe she isn’t being either disingenuous or really is that oblivious. Scarlet for her. Terrible poem either way.

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      It’s not even poetry
      It’s differently punctuated
      Relying on an accident of
      assonance and alitteration to
      make it
      look like a poem

  4. Gabby

    The woman and her poem express an ideological Standpunkt at variance with the aspirations and ideas of many regular readers of Broadsheet. So what? Celebrate diversity and don’t get plastered during the Christmas-New Year holiday period.

    1. millie st murderlark

      Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist

      It’s one of those things which are tailor made to send the twitter and tumblr type crowds into paroxysms of discourse.

      It’s one I try to stay well away from because I really don’t know how I feel about it at all. And not because I have an issue with trans people.

      1. Fact Checker

        ‘TERF’ is a term like ‘neoliberal’ or ‘feminazi’ or or ‘anti-abortion’ or ‘politically correct’.

        No one uses it about themselves, it’s exclusively used to describe people who other people don’t like.

        Polite and sensible internet users avoid such inflammatory language.

        ‘Gender critical feminism’ is a less loaded term, although not ideology-free either.

      2. Nigel

        The idea that trans women were really men trying to invade female spaces was a successful bit of alt-right rat-fupping, a bit like Qanon and Pizzagate, or there was an unsuccessful effort to make a thing about pedophiles wanting to get P added to LGBTQ or something like that, vile stuff they throw out there to see what sticks, that some people picked up and ran with, creating even more hostility and danger for trans people.

        1. Clampers Outside !

          Your comment is all over the place, with “some people picked up” and “something like that”… pure out of your hoop gossip.
          And you take an obvious line to discredit by association, by saying this was like X or whatever. You’re transparent in your efforts.
          Seriously… who wanted to add ‘P’ to LGBTQ? And how have you associated that with calling people TERF? You’re talking laughable drivel pet. Beggars belief the nonsense out of you sometimes.

          1. Fact Checker

            It’s a pity.

            There is a trade-off between the rights of cis- and trans-people. Not always, but in certain circumstances.

            These are hard questions with no easy answers.

            It’s a pity the debate is so toxic.

          2. Clampers Outside !

            Are they? Why? What have they done?

            And more specifically to this Broadsheet post, what has the rhyme writer done that is so “scummy” she deserves to be called a TERF, as you have at the least implied it, why so?

          3. Clampers Outside !

            True Fact Checker.

            But, Nigel seems to know quite well what is and is not a TERF. This is not the first time Nigel’s thrown the slur around.

            But it appears it’s all based on nonsense, which Nigel has as much as admitted to just there at 10.45.

            That’s why it is toxic. Because of ideological claptrap and the self righteously deluded.

          4. Clampers Outside!

            You used it to describe the piece, can you explain how it is terf ?

            If not, and believe you cannot, then you’ve used the term to slur.

            Another commenter below already rubbished the feminism bit, in t e r f… you already said it’s not radical yourself…

            All in all, you’ll have quite the job to prove you weren’t trying to slur…

            Good luck.

          5. Nigel

            What’s the point anymore
            In sex-segregated spaces
            When males can now access
            Women-only places?
            ‘This year a male won a women’s
            World championship cycling race
            A female boxer fought a male woman
            And ended up with 7 staples in her face

            Males can use women’s shelters
            A male has won ‘Woman of the Year’
            But women are being told
            There’s nothing to fear.’

          6. Clampers Outside!

            On the first bit about sex-segregated spaces, a man can simply say they ‘self identify’ as a woman to gain access to these spaces. 

            So, I take it you think this is OK, yeah, or am I wrong?

            Regarding the boxer, Fallon Fox were a man for 31/32 years, at which age they get surgery and hormone treatment to become a woman. The becomes a boxing / mma contender with all the advantages of growing up a male. 

            Are you going to say that had nothing to do with her first five fights being ko’s in the first round… as well as the fight mentioned in the rhyme. The physicality being fought is that if a make boxer/MMA fighter, not a woman’s.

            Regarding the cyclist, the same physical advantage is clearly visible in the pic with this story –

            With regard to rules in sport, there are many different rules for appriving transgender persons to compete.

            More importantly, with regard to those rules – it is admitted that “anatomical equality for transgender athletes was simply not feasible, and thus, it was not a stated goal of the NCAA’s rules.” From Velo News.

            Also from Velo News… “Can you turn a man’s body into a woman’s body? The short answer is ‘no,” Vilain said. “I think we need to move past that idea completely.”

            That said, the rhyme piece can be said to be accurate on those points it raised. That self identity can give a man access to sex segregated spaces, and that female athletes are, for all intents and purposes, competing against a “male” physicality.

          7. Clampers Outside!

            And there it is, “so what you’re saying is”… typical. Can’t engage the discussion, so you muddy it…. pffft!

          8. Nigel

            Why do people who work so hard the exclude trans hate it when they are described as trans exclusionary? That they don’t have the honesty to own what they’re doing shows exactly how nasty the movement really is.

          9. Clampers Outside!

            Because it is an all encompassing term used to stifle debate, as you have. And it is completely devoid of any nuance required for a debate. It is also juvenile.

          10. CO2 Rocks

            Biology is not bigotry – it’s fact.

            Facts scare Nigel because they contradict and invalidate his dogma.

            Transgender ideology is a pernicious lie and its application to children is child abuse.

            Anybody who tells you otherwise is a lying prevert.

            The next scam they are selling is that boys can menstruate too!

            Bullets are too good for these ideologues who prey on emotionally confused children.

            Imagine if they fetish-ised eating disorders…

          11. CO2 Rocks

            Lies Nigel, that’s all you insane lefties have left.

            Lies about man-made climate catastrophe, lies about the life giving nature of atmospheric CO2, lies about biology, lies about how men too can be women (even though they can’t), lies about those who point out your lies (show me where I ever denied that climate changes?).

            Lying Nigel lies literally every day. And he is proud to call these lies his “work”.

  5. Darren

    The poem is a poem. It is an expression of its writer. Does the poem have an agenda. It would be fairer to say it holds the writer’s inspiration to a degree. Would it be fair to say that this poem is feminist because it speaks from a woman’s pov? Hardly. So how can it be politicised to the extent that the writer is labelled by some as a TERF? I had to look it up but it seems to mean by creating a division all voices are silenced. So the poem here by a woman acquires this abreviation and so appears to lose some of its rightful character, incurring instead an identity which it does not accept as it’s own and more curiously this is true no matter what the poet says because it is after all a form which necessarily exists as separate from its author. ‘Trans exclusionary radical feminist’ is a tool that helps no one.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            Would I be correct then that you would be in agreement with the TRAs/Trans Rights Activists that there is such a thing as a woman’s penis, or “lady-dick”? Correct?

          2. Nigel

            Yes and how her experience defines womanhood and excludes trans.

            I have never heard of that term but presumably trans folk are allowed to have terms to use for themselves when they haven’t fully transitioned without transphobic sods jumping all over them as proof of something or other? No, I forgot that’s not allowed.,

          3. Clampers Outside !

            Majority keep their penis. Anyone who has looked at this subject properly should know this. That leads me to believe you are just shouting slogans, or slurs in this case, and have not looked at this subject in any detail…. which explains your last line where you continue to call any challenge to your slur to be abusive of people who are trans.
            You are ridiculous.

          4. Nigel

            You are arguing that trans women be excluded AND that describing you as trans exclusionary is a disgusting slur. That Is the contradictory stance of someone who either knows or is too stupid to know that their position is deeply flawed and probably highly immoral. Fortunately I know you well enough to know which applies to you. The obsession with the precise state of trans women’s genitalia is a common feature of transphobia. Luckily for you I’m aware of how deeply credulous you are to particular kinds of cultural warfare

          5. Clampers Outside!

            I am arguing, with regard to physical sports, that they are at a “male” advantage as they are still, as per the NCAA rules maker, anatomically male.

            You on the other hand, are ideological in your argument avoiding all nuance on a difficult discussion, throwing terf around to stifle conversation.

            Your ridiculous assertion of an obsession about genitalia is another example of trying to avoid the discussion of the realities of the topic, and creating another faux avenue for you to throw about accusations of transphobia. 

            You then say, “Lucky for you I’m aware…” – you are demonstrably not aware of anything in this discussion. 

            And it is these beliefs of yours that show you are the one being credulous taking a stance on ideological radical TRA positions, with knowing little to nothing of the detail behind them.

            As I said, you are being ridiculous.

          6. Nigel

            If you are arguing that these are reasons to exclude trans women from women’s sport you are being trans exclusionary. If you are arguing that trans women are not women you are being trans exclusionary. It’s quite straightforward. If you are not arguing these things then why are you so worried about other people who are trans exclusionary getting called trans exclusionary? Pretending it’s a slur is a performative diversion.

          7. Clampers Outside!

            I am being exclusionary on grounds of a demonstrable scientific difference in physical sports, only. This is what you are missing.
            I’m not all out to exclude trans women from all female activity, but when their “anatomically male” body which cannot change puts trans women at an advantage over anatomically female competitors, that is unequivocally unethical, plain and simple.

            I am happy to see that you use the qualifying phrase ‘trans woman’ and at least we can agree there is need for that qualification of difference from simply ‘woman’.

            To come back to the original discussion, the writer of the rhyme did no such thing, and you used terf as a slur against that person because you are a bully like that regularly on this site.

            You can label me a terf if ya want, but I’d have to be a feminist for that to mean anything or even be an insult, but I’m not, so it is meaningless to me, as I’m an egalitarian.

            Thanks now lass, but I’m off, stuff to do, it’s been fun.

  6. Clampers Outside!

    The usual illiberal lot throwing “terf” around…. intolerant to the core of even a discussion, as is opened by this writer of a verse in rhyme*.

    * she says it’s not a poem.

      1. millie st murderlark

        Well that came out far ruder than I’d intended.

        I meant, I agree. And I shall join you on your bargepole.

  7. jimmey_russell

    can we get this “poem” taken down please?????? this is vile transphobic hate speech, she needs to be brought in for questioning immediately if not sooner

  8. Clampers Outside !

    Martina Navratilova has become embroiled in a Twitter row after saying: “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women”

    “Transgender campaigners have insisted that biological males should be allowed to compete against women if they identify as female. Critics say it gives male-to-female transgender athletes an unfair physical advantage and, in some contact sports, could threaten their safety.

    Expressing her concern, Navratilova tweeted: “Clearly that can’t be right. You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard.”

    The comment prompted a series of hostile responses from Dr McKinnon”/

    Navratilova replied: “Rachel — you might be an expert on all things trans, but you are one nasty human being. You didn’t engage, you bullied. I regret nothing.”

    Good for you Martina

  9. Royal M

    I first heard the term TERF when randomers on the interwebs used it to describe Germaine Greer. A meteorite hurtling towards earth doesn’t sound too bad anymore.

  10. Ben Redmond

    There are lots of poetry buffs on this thread, I see. May you all have a poetic Christmas and metrically-enhanced New Year.

  11. millie st murderlark

    Well bodger, I hope you’re happy.

    There’s wrapping paper all over the floor
    floor, the kids have clearly eaten too much chocolate again, and the adults are too drunk or indifferent to care.

    The broadsheet Christmas party has been another smashing success.

  12. Termagant

    Whatever about being a trans-exclusionary radfem, I can tell for certain she’s guilty of the crime of writing overly-long poems

  13. Lilly

    The clocks ticked down, the men debated
    the Proclamation and celebrated
    while, silently, the women waited

    a hundred years to be placated,
    a body, sovereign, emancipated –
    the clocks ticked on, the men debated –

    and by the roadside Virgin, consecrated,
    and on ferry crossings, expediated,
    silently the women waited

    in convent laundries, incarcerated,
    their ‘fatherless’ children emigrated –
    the clocks ticked on and men debated

    a beach and the infant excavated,
    a corpse and the fetus incubated,
    still, silently the women waited,

    mental acuity checked and rated,
    septicemia equivocated:
    the clocks ticked on, the men debated
    and, silently, the women waited

    – Angela Carr

  14. D

    Ah TERF on the fire, I heard Bord Na Moana were going out of business.

    People should be allowed call other people names, call someone TERF. Fine.

    Call someone fat, fine.

    Call someone a sauce pickled paddy, also fine.

    “Oh, it’s not nice they are terrible people on that internet, they hurt my feelings”

    Tit for tat.

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