Data follows reality

[Going back to writing a post a day regardless of quality, because apparently everything else just gets me stuck not writing anything.]


My mother has big feet.

She used to jokingly refer to her shoes as “children’s coffins” (and probably still does). Few stores or catalogues or even online shops carried women’s shoes that fit her, and the models they had were often very unflattering: drab and clunky, or impractical, or both. Any time she found shoes that fit her and that she actually liked, she got super excited, and made sure to remember the brand and check out more of their models and/or come back to it when she needed new ones.

A while ago, I came across some recommendations for where to buy shoes as a trans woman – a list of stores and brands offering shoes in big sizes. Amidst the many excited comments by women happy to finally find shoes in their size, there was one that said something along the lines of “Women’s shoes in your size don’t exist because actual women don’t need them.”


A classmate of mine in high school was a passionate basketball player.
And she was worried about that. She already had a crooked nose, a narrow, angular face, and a broad chin: all attributes more commonly associated with male than with female faces. If playing more and more basketball, throwing herself into it, and becoming better at it now also gave her a more athletic, muscular build, would she look “too masculine”? Would she look “like a man”? What if everybody else thought so? What if the guys she was into found her too unfeminine, too manly? We reassured her as best as we could, but her concerns persisted.

Last fall, H&M released an ad featuring (among many others) a trans woman. Conservative Christian group One Million Moms was outraged at “what appears to be a man dressed as a woman” and called for boycotts.

The woman they were up in arms about was Fatima Pinto, a muscular, broad-shouldered Muay Thai fighter. Who also happens to be cis.


It’s easier for me. Strange, considering that maleness is culturally largely considered “better”, but somehow being unmanly does not seem to make one automatically womanly: people might scoff or sneer at my more feminine features, but they consider me a failed man rather than a woman, and often not even that: the only time someone offhandedly mentioned my face being feminine in my presence, his wife was quick to assure me that “girls like that anyway”.

But it’s fucked up.

Muscles are not male or female, they just are. Feet and hands and hips and eyebrows and skin and hair and livers and erythrozytes and cerebella are never male or female. Even by the (simplified, incomplete) tales told by biology textbooks, these are not sexual characteristics, neither primary nor secondary. (Well, some hair is: beards are a male secondary sexual characteristic according to textbooks, so bearded women could be said to have some male characteristics. It probably shouldn’t be, though – it would serve no purpose and very likely be deeply annoying to bearded women at best and hurtful at worst.)

Many human features, height, shoe size, hip circumference, and others among them, are roughly normally distributed. (Very roughly, actually: a true normal distribution extends limitless into both directions, but a person cannot have a height of less than zero. But modelling it as a normal distribution still yields pretty good predictions for the distribution of actual data, so this flaw is usually just kind of ignored.)

Modelling them separately for men and women yields slightly different distributions with slightly different means. So does modelling them separately for people of different countries, people of different colors, people of different ages (duh), and many other characteristics. If you just gather data from enough people of any two categories, it’s even likely that all of these differences will be statistically significant.

A woman who is 1.90 m tall is statistically less likely than a man who is 1.90 m tall. An Asian woman of that height would be less likely than a white one. However, a white man with achondroplasia, despite being white and male, would be much less likely than the Asian woman to be this tall. (And a 1.90 m tall three-year-old, regardless of gender, is nigh impossible – so much so that I’m quite confident such an individual has never existed.)

But for fuck’s sake, people, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for a woman to be 1.90 m tall, or that being 1.90 m tall means you can’t be a woman. There are women who are 1.90 m tall. There are women with big feet, and big muscles, and narrow hips, and angular jawlines. No matter how unlikely something is given statistical distributions, if it exists, it exists anyway. Data must follow reality, not the other way around.

And I want to write this sentence on a pool noodle and use it to bump the heads of everybody who ever uses statistical distributions to deny someone’s womanhood, to make her feel like she has to fit herself to the data, like her body is wrong just because it’s statistically unlikely. (And the same goes for manhood and nonbinary-hood.)


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