Monday 8 April 2024

What is a woman?


The biggest question of our age is apparently “What is a woman?” The Labour Party is unable to come up with a definition. I think also J.K. Rowling’s recent attempt in terms of DNA and large gametes fails on the grounds that we have only known about such things for a short time while we have know what a woman is from when time began.

The question in fact is much simpler to answer than anyone realises. The answer to “what is a woman?” is the same as the answer to “what is grass?”, “what is the sky?”, “what are bricks?” and what are any number of other things we talk about.

We have a shared language which we learn as children by being corrected. If as a three-year-old I call a man a woman I will be corrected just as if I call a tree grass, the sea the sky or slates bricks. What this means is that we define words objectively by means of their shared characteristics that can be viewed both by a three-year-old and by the person who corrects its language. If this were not the case, we could not learn a language at all.

So, the answer to the question “what is a woman?” is those human beings that competent English speakers call a woman.

When I interact with other human beings, I don’t normally have access to a view of their genitalia, but this doesn’t stop me describing other people as men or women, boys or girls. I certainly don’t have any access to their DNA or their large or small gametes. This is not how we learn the words “woman”, “man”, “girl”, “boy”.

Because sexual difference is real and objective human beings have different appearances according to whether they are men or women. This means that in nearly every case we have no difficulty identifying a woman based on what she looks like. This is how we learn the word.

On rare occasions we might make a mistake. This person who looks like a woman might turn out really to be a man. But this is no different to this grass turning out to be artificial turf, or these bricks really being painted on a stage set.

We have the concept of someone pretending to be a woman, which implies that there is a distinction between pretending and being. Someone might construct an elaborate disguise in order to go into the women’s changing room, but when other women see this person in a swimming costume, they are liable to conclude that he is not really a woman.

So too if an unidentified body goes to the pathologist, he may resort to medical tests to determine the sex of the deceased. Archaeologists may use science to determine the sex of some bones. In each case they can do so because both sex and gender are objective characteristics that are intrinsic features of human bodies that cannot be changed.

Here we come to the issue of people with gender dysphoria. Being unhappy with your gender in previous ages would have been treated by being told to accept it as there was no choice. Now it is treated by men trying to become women. But of course, this normally fails the linguistic test.

Even if a man dressed up as a woman, even if he has surgery, in nearly all cases he still looks like a man. This is because we judge who is and who is not a man by appearance. The physical appearance of men and women is different.

Normally we have no problem using English third person pronouns. We call people “he” if they look like men, we call them “she” if they look like women. We don’t need to see their genitalia or their large or small gametes. Using pronouns has nothing to do with choice. If everyone could choose their pronouns, we would never be able to learn them, nor would we be able to use them without asking, but this would make the language of pronouns impossible.

“I saw a robber and he or she or ze ran that way, sorry I wasn’t able to ask him what his pronouns were.”

The reason why transgender people are so insistent on pronouns being a matter of choice is that a transwoman invariably does not look like a “she”. I don’t need to be told to use “she” about women, I do it automatically, I only need to be told when a man tries to become a woman, which of course is impossible, for which reason he is so insistent he must be called she. If he really were a woman he would not need to insist.

There may be some transwomen who can so successfully change their appearance that everyone automatically calls them women. In which case I would be as happy to use words like “she” and “her” as about anyone else. I wouldn’t have any choice because I wouldn’t know.

There have been throughout the ages women who successfully pretended to be men in order to do certain jobs or fight as soldiers. They would undoubtedly have been called men by their colleagues. But there is a distinction between pretending to be a man and being a man. This is the problem with transgender ideology as it collapses the distinction. What is the difference between an actress who convincingly plays the part of a man and a woman who claims to have become a man? But if there is no objective distinction (only a feeling in head) then we have to conclude that the person who claims to have become a man is pretending or deceiving herself.

We don’t learn words based on feelings in our heads. To claim that you are woman based on a feeling in your head is to have two definitions of “woman” one that you learned as a child based on shared objective characteristics and one based on feelings in your head. But why should anyone else accept your private definition of what a woman is?

But in the case of a woman who pretended to be a man in order to be a soldier, the truth is revealed when she is wounded, and the surgeon discovers to his horror that she is not a man. The truth is discovered even centuries later by an archaeologist who realises the bones of this warrior are the bones of a woman.

In nearly all cases we use words like “woman” without hesitation based on the physical characteristics available to view. This is the fundamental problem with transgender ideology. Transgender women don’t look like women. They look like men in dresses. To pretend otherwise mangles our shared language.

We don’t normally base who is or who is not a woman on genitalia but imagine the case of a transwoman in Victorian times successfully deceiving a man that he was marrying a woman. Perhaps he was blind or perhaps the dress code prevented him judging correctly. But on the wedding night he would to his similar horror discover that he had married a man. This likelihood of him saying heterosexual men love penises is vanishingly small.

This is the problem with transgender. We may go along with your pronouns. You can perhaps force us by law to call you the sex you think you have become, but none of us believe it and while you may be able to force me not to write this, you won’t be able to force me not to think it.

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