The simple answer to this question is that a woman is a person who says that she is a woman. That she identifies as a woman. That she would like people to use female pronouns when referring to her. A woman is a Miss, a Ms., a Mrs., a Lady, a Dame, a Countess. A princess, even. Conversely, a person who says that ou is not a woman is not a woman, no matter what ou looks like.
This question, “what is a woman?,” seems to be fraught with meaning these days, though. My simple answer, which is the right answer, is dodged and twisted and corrupted to serve agendas every day. The thing about gender identity is that it is defined by the people who live within that identity, not the people outside it, and yet people seem to feel compelled, every day, to change the definition of what a woman is to suit their needs. Indeed, some people who identify as women work especially hard to exclude other people who identify as women, which sort of boggles the mind, if you stop and think about it. I mean, really, think about it.
I’ve been thinking about this lately in the context of “women only spaces,” which are presumably spaces in which only women are welcomed. The naive among us might assume that this means that anyone who identifies as a woman would, thus, be welcome in such a space. After all, it’s a space which is designed for women which means that women ought to be able to join it. Sort of how like you would expect to find cranberries in a bag of cranberries.
The problem, unfortunately, is that some people who are in charge of these spaces think that they get to decide who is considered a woman and who is not. And this judgment is most commonly levied against trans women. This is called, incidentally, “transmisogyny,” and it’s only one form of transmisogyny. You might also call it “gender policing,” which it also is, with certain people thinking that they are allowed to determine who is allowed to belong to their gender, and who is not. As though gender is some sort of exclusive social club with blackballing privileges.
This is bullshit. It is bullshit of the highest and stinkiest order, and it is especially repellent that it is tolerated and in fact actively encouraged in some feminist circles. If feminism is advancing the cause of women, that, to me, means advancing the cause of all people with a female gender identity. This means that you must simultaneously consider a lot of issues; the needs and wants of one woman are not the same as another, the priorities of one group of women are not those of another. This in fact reflects the huge diversity of humanity as a whole, but apparently it’s a little bit hard for some women to grasp. And those women are usually cis women.
Why act like 50% of humanity is uniform when you are talking about half of the human population?! And why act as though you are the ultimate arbiter of gender identity?
Gender identity is not about which chromosomes you have, and how many of them you have. Gender identity is not about what your genitals look like, or how they are laid out, or even if they were the genitals you were born with. Gender identity is not about the hormones your body produces, or the hormones you take. Gender identity is about your identity.
If you say you’re a woman, you’re a woman. It’s that simple. Your physical presentation, your appearance, are not relevant. You may choose to express your identity through your physical presentation, but you are not required to. And you should not be subjected to scrutiny and humiliation by people who think that they have a right to inspect your karyotype, the contents of your pants, the contents of your medicine cabinet.
This policing from within the feminist community has very real world consequences. The exclusion of trans women from so-called “women only spaces” deprives trans women of services they need. Of support they need. Of friends they need. And it means that society in general can continue to marginalize trans women, because, well, if the feminists do it, why shouldn’t society?
And, of course, many of these exclusive “women only” spaces welcome trans men. Which is truly astounding, because what this suggests is that these spaces are actually highly committed to gender essentialism, believing that someone’s assigned sex is someone’s gender. Forever. (Setting aside the fact that sometimes “assigned sex” turns out to be wrong, speaking in a strictly biological sense, mistakes are made, and sometimes “sex” is not as apparent as you might think it is. And, of course, sex is not gender.) Basically, this reinforces the idea of trans folk as “fakers” who are “masquerading” for unclear reasons.
As opposed to, say, accepting the fact that trans people are people with a gender identity which does not match their assigned sex at birth. Which means that people, in general, are whatever they say they are: If someone says that he is a man, he’s a man. If someone says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. If someone says that ou is neither of these things, then, well, ou is neither of these things. This is identity 101, people.
When the news lasciviously dwelled on the details of the Caster Semenya situation, it was a terrific example of the fact that most of society does not understand what a woman is. Not really. This seemingly simple term which people think is obvious and which people assume that everyone understands must actually be a little bit more complicated if the media can publish headlines which attempt to suggest that a woman is a man. The media routinely engages in gender essentialism and confuses the difference between sex and gender; is it any wonder that most of society does too?
People, this is simple, and we all can do it: Respect someone’s gender identity. Get over yourself. Take your mind out of the gutter society has been dragging it in, and recognize that a woman is who she says she is. You don’t get to make decisions about someone else’s gender.