Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

What is a woman? (In partial defense of Ketanji Brown Jackson)

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Disclaimer: This defense notwithstanding, I am highly skeptical to her suitability, and I suspect that the true reason for her answer is an attempt to dodge any gender-controversy.

Apparently, during confirmation hearings, SCOTUS-nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson was given the question whether she could define what a woman was. She is now being criticized for answering in the negative—even ridiculed by some (e.g. in [1]).

But is this wrong? My immediate own reaction was that I, too, would be hard pressed to give a good off-the-top-of-my-head definition. (How do you define a sandheap?) Let us say that we go by the general idea that a woman is a human biological female (more on that assumption below). Without controversy, we could then say that a human biological female who is forty years old is a woman. But what about the same female when she was four? Was she already a woman by dint of being a human biological female—or do we have to consider her youth and physical immaturity and call her “girl”? If we conclude “girl”, which seems more reasonable to me, when and where do we draw the line? At first menstruation? When she turned eighteen? When she first had sex? …?

Next, what makes a biological female? Double X chromosomes?* If so, do we only consider XX or do we include combinations with more than two sex chromosomes (as happens on occasion)? Do we require a female phenotype for such combinations? (I am under the impression that XXY presents as male.) What if we have a pure XX who, for some reason, maybe some variation of estrogen insensitivity, has a male phenotype? (Vice version, should we exclude an XY who appears female due to androgen insensitivity?) What about a male/female genetic chimera, which could have XX and XY in different cells within the same body?

*Even discounting that sexual differentiation is not universally based on X and Y chromosomes. This is safe, as human differentiation is (approximately; cf. above) based on this system and as we could go back and replace “biological female” with “has two X chromosomes” or something similar.

Even a biologist might need to tread carefully—which brings me to the next point:

Apparently, she based her inability to answer on not being a biologist. This is interesting, as it implies that being a woman is a matter of biology. She could have said that she was not an expert on e.g. gender-studies or anthropology, but did not—she spoke of not being a biologist. (A very positive surprise.)

Then we have the issue of what questions are appropriate/valuable/whatnot in proceedings like these (also see excursion). Under somewhat normal circumstances, asking a nominee whether she can define “woman” would be absurd, and she might have been justified in outright refusing to answer. In the current climate, of course, we have the problem of various “gender issues” that would have been near unthinkable just a few years ago, e.g. whether young children should be encouraged to begin sex-change programs, whether biological males (i.e. men) should be allowed to compete with (real) women on the grounds that they would have preferred to be women (or claim so, to win in a weaker field), etc. This does give the question some justification, but a more direct question, e.g. regarding the importance of biological sex vs self-perceived gender or who should be allowed to compete against whom, would have been better.*

*Disclaimer: I have not followed the hearings in detail. Such questions might have been asked without my being aware of it. If so, however, the wish for a definition, in addition to other answers, seems misplaced, except to the degree that it might have been needed to clarify some detail of another answer. (Then with a more reasonable question being “How would you define [this-or-that]?”.)

Excursion on what to ask:
If I were a participant in the confirmation hearings, my central question would be a check for the right general attitude, through something along the lines of* “Do you swear to forego all judicial activism, to rule according to law and constitution as they are, not as you wish them to be, and to work to fulfill the Supreme Court’s role within the established division of powers, serving as a check-and-balance without attempting to usurp the authority granted to the other branches?”. Any candidate unwilling to do so, I would deem unsuitable. Among those willing, I would likely have no objections unless there were major problems with e.g. qualifications or personal character. Of course, an analogous question should apply to lower courts too. Indeed, I would favor making it an official oath as prerequisite for the respective office, not merely my own personal question. (The formulation is not accidental.)

*Chances are that something better around the same general idea can be found.

Excursion on the need for a differentiation in terminology, etc.:
I stand strongly by the idea that (with reservations for special cases, as mentioned above), we should use “woman” to refer to biological women and “man” to refer to biological men. This is what these words have meant since time immemorial. If e.g. the PC crowd wants to have a word that implies “biological woman or biological man who wants to be a woman”, this is fine—but they must then find another word. It is not acceptable to take a word with an established meaning and one-sidedly give it a new meaning, let alone condemn those who use the correct meaning. For instance, even if the infamous Lia Thomas should be allowed to compete in (what hitherto was) the women’s category, he* still is and remains a man—and, notably, a transgender man, not a transgender woman. He might also be something else covered by this new word, but that does not remove him from the category of men or add him to the category of women. Of course, his hypothetical right to compete should not be forced on the rest of the world by the right of women to compete, but, then, be achieved by a change of classification that replaces a women’s category with a whatnot category that explicitly (!) covers both women and wannabes.

*The same applies, obviously, to pronouns.

In a bigger picture, this is yet another example of a Leftist inability to understand that concepts matter more than words and/or of Leftist attempts to control thoughts and beliefs through abuse of words. If, e.g., a man is allowed* to live as a woman, wear women’s clothes, use make-up, etc.—why would it matter to him whether he is referred to by “he” and “man” or by incorrect labels like “she” and “woman”. I do not flip out on those occasions when German language rules cause a feminine (grammatical gender) noun or pronoun to be used about me, say, “die** Person”, nor do I insist that the rules are bent out of shape to allow e.g. a “der*** Person”. The obsession with forcing such a mislabeling points strongly to agenda pushing instead of a legitimate interest or benefit.

*Why he, even if transgender, would want to, puzzles me to some degree—just like it puzzles me why a woman would want to do quite a few things that women do.

**Female-gender article, as is always the case with female-gender nouns like “Person”.

***Male-gender article, as is never the case with female-gender nouns like “Person”.


Written by michaeleriksson

March 25, 2022 at 8:10 am

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