On March 22nd, during her confirmation hearing, Judge Ketanji Brown was asked to define the word ‘woman’. The question was simple, yet the supreme court nominee struggled to form an answer. Ultimately she explained that since she was not a biologist, she could not answer the question. Set aside the absurd idea that you need to be a professional biologist to answer such a simple question. Is it possible that the judge is not able to define what a woman is?
Not likely. Rather, Judge Jackson avoided answering the question so she would not be labeled a transphobe for recognizing that women are, and have always been, adult, human, females. Why has that definition become so controversial? Much of the controversy spawned from a desire to become a society that is more accepting of people that do not conform to traditional gender stereotypes. This is a noble desire, but not when it comes at the expense of truth. To understand the controversy around the word woman, it’s important to understand the difference between biological sex and gender.
Biological sex is the more straightforward of the two concepts. Humans are generally male or female. Humans are male if they have an X and Y chromosome and humans are female if they carry two X chromosomes. Many assert that sex is a spectrum and that the binary values of male and female don’t capture all cases. It is true, there are individuals born with one X chromosome or an XXY chromosome combination. These individuals are typically described as intersex. But these individuals are incredibly rare. Only 1 in every 1666 births have a non XX or XY chromosome combination. That’s less than .1% of births. So, practically, all humans are male or female.
Gender is a more complicated topic. A persons gender is compromised of a variety of characteristics that a person exhibits that may or may not align with their biological sex. These characteristics include how a person acts, the clothes they wear or their interests. While biological sex is determine by your genetics, a person’s gender is a product of their genetics, psychology and societal perceptions.
Some more conservative members of society might try to deny the nuance of gender, but society has always acknowledged the existence of individuals whose sex do not align with traditional gender norms. There have always been women that exhibit more masculine traits and men that exhibit more feminine traits. Since gender is influenced by social constructs, how they manifest can change over time as societies views change. For example, a man wearing high heels today would be labeled feminine, but in the 1700’s high heels were a masculine status symbol.
Certain gender expressions might be more prevalent in men vs women or vice versa, but there are no gender expressions that are exclusive to men or women. For that reason, I think evolving into a society that does not stigmatize people because their gender does not align with their biological sex is a worthwhile endeavor.
The conflating of gender and sex is what is leading to much of the controversy surrounding the definition of a woman. Men who express a more feminine gender don’t want to be excluded as being labeled a woman because that’s who they believe they are. But while we should not demonize men for wanting to be more feminine (or women for wanting to be more masculine), we should not delude ourselves into believing that men (adult, human, males) are women (adult, human, females).
Women’s female biological sex distinguishes them as unique humans with unique characteristics you cannot find in male humans. If we remove the female qualifier from the definition of ‘woman’, then what actually distinguishes women from other adult humans? The word woman becomes meaningless. This is why when people that aim to erase the distinction between men and women are pressed to define what a woman is, they are unable to provide a definition. It’s also a bit self defeating because if the word woman becomes meaningless, then what exactly are trans-women trying to become? What exactly do they identify with?
As a society, it is important that we anchor our perspective in reality. Allow people the latitude to indulge their delusions for the sake of personal happiness. But let’s not play the game where we have to all accept everyone’s personal delusions as reality, it’s a game we are all bound to lose.