What Is a Woman?
Definitions don't help. And this makes gender ideology even more dangerous.
Matt Walsh’s documentary What Is a Woman? is in many ways highly disturbing and important. To any sane person, the complete fall of Western culture into evil madness should be as clear as a bell after watching it.
And yet, while playing with definitions of the word “woman” and confronting gender ideologues with their inconsistencies is useful to generate awareness of the insanity going on, I think there is more to be said about all that.
The problem is, definitions just don’t make much sense in this context.
I found it interesting that the African tribesmen Walsh interviewed for the documentary—who are arguably as far removed from gender ideology as it gets—at first struggled to come up with a straight answer to the question, what is a woman?, as well.
This is completely understandable, and I suspect that some of the random people Walsh asked that question on the street struggled with the question not so much because of gender ideology (although some undoubtedly did), but because a question like this puts you off. Jordan Peterson, who featured in the documentary, wisely refused to give a straight answer as well and said instead: “What is a woman? Marry one and find out!”
Why can’t we immediately come up with an answer, a straight definition? Clearly, because the very fact of asking this question strikes us as completely crazy. Because we all know what a woman is. It’s just that we cannot pin it down, define it, and put it in a box.1 And yet we know it, perhaps as surely as we know anything.
It’s like asking someone: “What is the sky?” Of course we know. But how to define it? After some thinking, we might come up with an answer like “well, it’s space as seen from the earth.” But that in no way captures the richness, the depth, of what we mean when we say “sky.”
Questions like this leave us baffled, and at some point all we can do is helplessly point up and say: “this is the sky.” Or point to our friend and say, “this is a woman.”
“Female adult,” for example, doesn’t even begin to express what we mean by “woman.” The word woman has behind it literally the history of the entire cosmos; it runs infinitely deep; it is connected to All and Everything: to our very existence, to every experience we have from cradle to grave; to our entire past, society, dreams, drives, feelings, aspirations.
The word “woman,” just as the word “man” and other words that have a long and somewhat consistent past and are connected to the very core of life, are not mere symbols that stand for an object, as the impoverished and naive modern understanding of language would have it. They express not only a whole world, but a whole universe. They can’t be defined—a dictionary doesn’t help. And yet their meaning, to any sane person with a soul, couldn’t be clearer.
In some sense, one might even agree with Macy Grey who (in)famously said, in a mea culpa moment after having been harassed by the trans activist mob, being a woman is a “vibe.”
But only in some sense. Because clearly, what we mean by woman has to do with biology as well. It’s just that it would be ridiculous to reduce this meaning to “reproductive organs” or chromosomes. In many ways, such definitions are a crutch, a reaction to the gender ideologues. We don’t need biology to know what a woman is.
So—does that mean the gender ideologues are off the hook? Au contraire.
What I said here is the reason why the assault on womanhood by the gender-benders is even more insidious than it at first seems: not only do we lose the straight-forward, although unsatisfactory, biological answer. No, their mind games are much more destructive and evil than that.
We risk losing the bottomless richness of our intuitive, non-verbal understanding of what a woman is. The kind of knowledge that is as sure as it gets, and because of that, cannot be expressed in words.
In short, we risk losing the history of the entire cosmos; our connection to the infinite depth of our existence, to every experience we have from cradle to grave; to our entire history, society, dreams, drives, feelings, aspirations; our connection to something higher, above our whims, to true love.
We not only lose some biological definition. We lose All and Everything.
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In McGilchrist’s terms: our right hemisphere knows exactly what a woman is; but our left hemisphere needs to define it and categorize it, which inevitably means we lose the real meaning.