Okay, I’ll Bite: Let’s Define What a ‘Woman’ Is

Republican politicians are tripping over each other to define the word "woman," and I, a noted woman, thought I should weigh in.

Okay, I’ll Bite: Let’s Define What a ‘Woman’ Is
Photo:Win McNamee (Getty Images)

There seems to be some confusion among Republicans in Congress as to what exactly a woman is—perhaps because there are so few women among them.

It’s a bit surprising to see this debate proliferating now, as human women have existed on Earth for at least five million years, but for whatever reason, last week Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) felt the need to ask Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Jackson Brown to define the term “woman,” once and for all.

Jackson declined to answer the question because 1) it’s not her job to do so, 2) the question seemed to arise from the latest wave of bad-faith, anti-trans hysteria, and 3) it was a gotcha moment designed entirely for the purpose of producing video clips for right-wing media to galvanize Republicans ahead of the midterms. Of course, Jackson’s lack of response in itself gave Republicans fodder to claim that she (aka all liberals) have no idea what a woman is.

HuffPost brilliantly turned this tactic back on Republican politicians themselves by asking them, on the spot, to define the term “woman.” And they predictably sounded like idiots trying to do it.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) described a woman as “an adult female of the human species” (we love to see a sitting U.S. senator describe women like members of a puppy litter). Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told HuffPost a woman is “someone who is biologically a woman,” and specifically, “the birds and the bees stuff”—very insightful! Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), perpetually the most punchable nerd in the room, chimed in that a woman is “a homo sapien with two X chromosomes.” And Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), now impressively the most annoying of Wife Guys in a deeply competitive field, told the outlet: “I have more of a traditional view of what a woman is: my wife.” We like to think he said it in the Borat voice.

Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and John Kennedy (R-LA) notably declined to offer definitions, but curiously aren’t receiving the same pushback as Jackson did for doing the same thing. And Sen. Josh Hawley unfortunately took it upon himself to go into more detail, defining a woman as “someone who can give birth to a child, a mother, is a woman,” and “someone who has a uterus.” If that someone has their reproductive organs removed by, say, a hysterectomy, what then? “I mean, a woman has a vagina, right?” Hawley asked the HuffPost reporter. We regret hearing the word “vagina” come out of Hawley’s mouth.

If the notably pro-insurrectionist senator’s sprawling thoughts on motherhood as the equivalent of womanhood sound familiar, you’re probably thinking of government propaganda from fascist Italy’s Battle for Births campaign of the 1920s. The campaign impressed upon Italian women that it was their sole existential purpose to give birth, and bring glory to their nation by expanding its population. In any case, it seems worth noting Hawley’s definition isn’t just inaccurate—it’s also deeply offensive to trans women and cis women who may struggle with fertility issues.

I must acknowledge that like Jackson, who declined to answer the question because she is “not a biologist,” I, too, am not a biologist. But seeing as none of the Republican men currently weighing in are biologists either, I will go ahead and insert myself into the dialogue to say that I identify as, and therefore very much am, a woman. It’s really not complicated.

I share many commonalities and experiences with other women, in that I apologize to chairs and tables that I accidentally walk into and I am oft told to “smile” by random men. I am also coincidentally a “homo sapien with two X chromosomes”—thanks Ted! But ultimately, I’d like to think that if I lose my reproductive organs due to some medical tragedy or choose not to procreate, I will still be a woman, because, again: I identify as one. I feel like one; I want to be one. That’s all that needs to be said.

Look, we all know what this is about. Conservative politicians have chosen to rally around dehumanizing trans people and obsessing over trans children’s genitals as a winning political strategy to mobilize an increasingly and unapologetically hateful base. Florida’s new so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which would essentially cut off LGBTQ students from crucial support systems at their schools and prevent basic teaching about gender identity and sexuality, is already spreading to legislatures in states like Ohio. And Republicans (notably Cruz) are losing their shit over trans swimmer Lia Thomas succeeding at a women’s sport, despite otherwise not giving a good goddamn about women’s sports. Narrowing the definition of “womanhood” to a conservative idea about what women should look like and behave like has become a galvanizing issue for Republican voters, who are terrified, in general, of social progress.

So long as Republicans persist in their quest to provide the dumbest definitions of womanhood they can think of, might I direct their attention to this optical illusion, which supposedly “reveals if you have a female or male brain.” Females, you will see the silhouetted figure as running away from you; males, you will see the silhouetted figure running toward you. Hope that definitively clears things up!

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