What is a Woman? - Deepstash
What is a Woman?

What is a Woman?


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What is a Woman?

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What is a woman?

Is being a woman a matter of biology, a product of an inner identity—or something in-between?

A range of women, including a former Supreme Court judge, a biologist, an anthropologist, a linguist and a feminist campaigner give us their verdicts.


82 reads

Brenda Hale, former president of the Supreme Court

I am a lawyer, and in law there are two sorts of woman: a person who was born a woman and has not transitioned to become a man under the Gender Recognition Act 2004; and a person who was born a man and has transitioned to become a woman under the same Act.

But in practice there are people who were born either a woman or a man and experience gender dysphoria but have not yet completed the legal transition to the other gender.

The current law requires them to live in the other gender for two years before their transition can be recognised in law.


40 reads

Deirdre McCloskey, professor of economics, history, English and communication at the University of Illinois

First, get the science right. Most born women have XX chromosomes, men XY. Intersex individuals can have other combinations.

In the US, it is estimated that 1.4m people—or around 0.6 per cent of the population—want to change in social role from male to female or from female to male, though all the political excitement is about males to females. A little girl who says “I’m a boy” from age three onwards, refusing to wear dresses, is probably going to be happier as a boy. If he changes his mind, he can transition back.


15 reads

Pragna Patel, former director of Southall Black Sisters

I believe that what defines a woman is her biological sex.

The binary biological categories of male and female are a material reality even if there are variations of sexual development in-between.

Throughout the world and throughout history, women have been and are subject to systematic subjugation on the basis of their sex; a subjugation that is legitimised through patriarchal power embedded in the institutions of the state, community and family.

In many cultures, a woman’s destiny is mapped out the day she is born and, in some cases, while still in the womb.


8 reads

Sarah Ogilvie, linguist, University of Oxford

A woman is someone who identifies as an adult female human being. The word is in flux so no wonder politicians, who want to be all things to all people, find it so tricky to define.

Usually language evolves gradually. But “woman” is changing fast, helped by social media, meaning we can watch its morphing definitions in real time.


8 reads

Emma Hilton, developmental biologist, University of Manchester

It is uncontroversial to name an adult female sheep a “ewe” or to know that our scrambled eggs come from “hens.”

Humans have long used nouns that denote individual animals by their species and sex (and often stage of maturity), including in relation to our own species: a “woman” is an adult female ­human.

The least controversial of this triplet is “human.” Nobody disputes that the word “woman” applies uniquely to humans. And (almost) equally uncontroversially, “adult” denotes an individual who is fully developed and no longer dependent on others.


7 reads

Dawn Starin, anthropologist

 What is a woman? What makes someone a woman? I should know. Shouldn’t I? I’m a cisgender, straight woman.

My birth certificate says “female.” Is that what makes me a woman? No, it’s not that simple. A six-letter word—female—on a birth certificate or any other official document does not always determine womanhood.

My reproductive organs played a large part in gifting me two children, and my breasts serviced them for months on end. But reproductive organs, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause, breasts and breast-feeding don’t always define womanhood or make one a woman.


5 reads

Anne Phillips, professor of political theory, London School of Economics

In most cases, the question that troubles people is not what is a woman, but what is a “real” woman. "Real” women are defined very differently in different periods and places.

It is one of the paradoxes of gender that we are so often told it is in our nature to be women, as if biology is indeed destiny, and yet an enormous amount of effort is put into getting us to conform to whatever is the current paradigm.

Others find the labels so incompatible with their sense of themselves that they choose to live in a different gender, undergo surgical or hormonal interventions, or redefine themselves.


4 reads


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