It's all about that semantic space map.
I don't necessarily have a strong attachment to the word "woman" itself, but I do have a strong desire to have a word to refer to the set of adult female humans. There may be a few edge cases here and there (though not as many as you think; women who've had hysterectomies are still female, since sex is defined according to the body plan by which you develop, not the gametes you actively have). But overall, being able to refer to this class of humans, who in the vast majority of cases are easy to classify, is useful for many reasons. I can outline them for you if you'd find it enlightening, but the real reason I wanted to comment was to explain my frustration with the attempts to suddenly alter the definition of a word that previously had a clear meaning.
You acknowledge the potential for deceit, whereby dishonest actors pretend to be using one definition of a word but are actually using a different one. I've observed the same thing (https://andifortruth.substack.com/p/operator-overloading-and-the-culture), but I see that deceit as part of a broader pattern that prevents women from coming together as a class with shared interests. I don't think there's some evil sexist behind the curtain aiming to prevent women from coming together, but I do think our culture tends to encourage women to elevate men's comfort over our own. That socialization makes women in progressive circles, which dominate the social scene in which I move, worry so much about upsetting transwomen and non-binary people that they move away from organizing on behalf of women as a class.
This foregone organizing doesn't always have to be a mass movement to affect my life. For example, consider how few lesbian bars remain in the US. (Even many of the remaining establishments calling themselves lesbian bars are actually all-inclusive queer bars.) Sure, there are other factors working against the success of these establishments. But the owners being in a pickle where they don't want to risk ostracism for being non-inclusive of males identifying as women while also wanting to please lesbians who'd prefer lesbian-focused spaces doesn't help them. It's hard for me to form friendships with other lesbians/bi women, because there are so few spaces left for us after this pressure to be inclusive. Even Reddit has banned two different lesbian subreddits for being insufficiently inclusive. I still have straight female friends and male friends of various sexual orientations, so I don't want to sound like a hermit. But sometimes I wish I could meet more women who'd instinctually understand what it's like to be a same-sex attracted female and have an instinctual understanding of certain experiences that these other friends don't share.
You should consider having Bogardus on the podcast, he was influential to me. I think that when someone says "What is a woman?" they are asking "what does the term woman ordinarily mean?" And I believe that people ordinarily mean "adult human female." The specific components adult, human, and female are not perfectly unambiguous, but collectively they align very well with what people ordinarily mean when they say they word "woman." An adult human female who has removed her uterus is still female, and thus still a woman. We use the term female to describe animals, so if it is acceptably unambiguous in those contexts, I am unsure as to why it is not in the human context. I think sex regards gamete production. If you have the organs which produce sperm when ordinarily when functioning properly, you are a male. If someone produced both sperm and egg, we could regard them as both male and female. I think this description describes how we use language ordinarily. If we want to create stipulative definitions, that's fine.
I think that transwomen want to be referred to as women because they find is psychologically beneficial and it makes advocacy for full integration into society easier. Why would I spend the time arguing for one definition over another? Well, first, I think it is because it's true. I think that Bentham, Alexander, and Aella's definitions aren't even that good because they are both inaccurate in terms of ordinary use and they fail the trans inclusion problem. I tried to propose a constructed trans inclusive definition and a ordinary use definition in my article which accomplish these tasks seperately. Which definition you use will likely depend on your ethical beliefs.
My personal ethical stance is that the propagation of the idea that males can become girls and women and females can become boys and men is socially harmful because dysphoria would not exist without this belief. My primary concern is not women's spaces, but irreversible hormone treatment and surgical interventions. I think it would be better if these feelings (which I genuinely believe exist and are real) never arise in the first place. I don't think that being trans is genetically determined, and that many trans people would not be dysphoric or have to undergo procedures in a different culture. At the same time, I don't want to make trans people's lives terrible. I think people should continue to be respectful and use the appropriate pronouns when interacting with trans people.
I have just discovered your writing, and am really enjoying it!
I definitely recoiled at “wanting to throw ‘woman’ in the garbage”. I don’t think this debate is ever covering the full picture (particularly of why the word is such contested territory) without exploring the reason this debate falls on the word “woman” and not “man”. I think this is central to why the word “woman” should not be thrown in the garbage.
The dream - the impossible dream - is for "women" to reach the same space as "Jewish". Observe.
Q. Who is "Jewish"
A. Anyone who either has Jewish ancestry, or identifies with Jewish customs.
Q. So are Ivanka Trump and Sammy Davis Jr. Jewish?
A. Yes, they are Jewish.
Q. Then Ayn Rand and Karl Marx are not Jewish?
A. They too are Jewish.
Q. So nobody can get mad at me if I use a biological definition of being Jewish?
A. No, they cannot.
Q. And I CAN get mad at them for using an identity definition of being Jewish?
A. No, you also cannot.
Q. And you think everyone is happy with this arrangement?
A. Some extremists are not happy with it.
Q. What do the extremists want?
A. To complain. They want to complain.
1. Speaking of the French and the national identity, the saga of Groupe Bull is most instructive. The idea was to create a French national champion to rival Microsoft - the idea was that Microsoft wasn't big because it was successful, rather, it was successful because it was big. Actually, there is some truth to this (network effects) but the execution proved a money pit.
2. Speaking of definitions - if you ever have caught a bat, are they categorized as mice with wings or are they birds with fur? How does Confucius and the Rectification Of Names Play into all this?
I really appreciate you reading me and linking to my article. Thanks a lot.
> For example, as the word email became more widespread, the Immortals endorsed the clever patriotic alternative by concatenating the French words courrier (mail) and electronique to come up with courriel. The government tried to get everyone to use that pronunciation gallop, but outside of bureaucrats who had no choice, it hasn’t caught on. They tried a similar gambit to combat the inescapable popularity of le weekend, but the nasally fin-de-semaine substitute hasn’t worked either.
These did in fact catch on in Québec, where we are pretty anal about the french language.
> But why put in so much effort to occupy the neighborhood? Even if you accept my uncharitable theory, what exactly do people hope to gain?
Norms are sticky, and they are communicated via words and phrases. If you control the definitions, you can maybe get a decade or two of control over the norms until a different equilibrium is established; and if you did a good job the new equilibrium might still be more favorable than the 2022 equilibrium.
> To the extent that woman is a cluster of traits, I struggle to contemplate a scenario where communicating the cluster is a more efficient or more thoughtful method of communication than just communicating the specific pertinent trait.
It's lossy compression, which is what all of language is. Ceding this ground puts added weight on everyone, but especially the cognitively-disfavored. It also establishes a precedent in that direction.
> If you identify as someone with an intense attachment to a specific definition of the word woman, my question to you is: Why does this matter to you? How does it help me not get lost in Boston? I’m listening.
The definition of "woman" has become the battlefield. This is at least as much about culture war as it is about women and womanhood.
E: am I a reply guy now? Oh no.
I dig your commentary, and I enjoy the opportunity to read your viewpoint. Your newsletter is one that I get a little shot of happiness at seeing in my inbox.
This is the first one I’ve read that I’d like to add to, if I may.
1. The traditional age of maturation has been based in biology - a girl becomes a woman at menstruation. It is only within the last hundred years or so that we’ve seen a drastic decline in the age of female sexual maturity (again, not in cultural terms, purely biologically). In the 1840’s the average age of menstruation was almost 17. (The correlation between food abundance and female reproduction is fascinatingly linked). This poses a unique cultural dilemma with the traditional definition : the average age of menstruation is so low now as to make it preposterous to utilize in defining the time of maturation for females. A 13 year old is not, and should not be culturally defined as a woman. So, yes, Aella is right in pointing out some of the biological outliers, but it is also entirely moot and annoyingly trite. Yes, the definition of a woman is now, by necessity, one culturally defined. But utilizing that necessity to cast aside ALL biological groundings, especially before a vast majority of the population even understands their own biology, is to disregard the needs of a majority portion of the population. Which leads to the next point.
2. This is an amazing encapsulation of the lefts abandonment of the poor. Just look up the amount of ignorance we have of our own bodies, especially in poor communities. I grew up desperately poor, clawed my way through a local university working full time, and still had no understanding of my own reproductive functionality until I had a baby. Like a huge chunk of poor women, I had no idea what a cervix even was, let alone that I would require healthcare for a “cervix haver”. Instead of employing mass reproductive education to ensure 50% of the female population still gets the healthcare they need even with a shift in linguistic norms, the left is using sneering ridicule, genuine harassment, and calls of bigotry as their engines for change. They leave behind women who do not speak English as a first language, and a vast population of women ignorant of their own biology in favor of a tiny percentage of people who feel an affinity to the trappings of femininity. It is elitism to the extreme, and it is undeserving of real consideration. Change, true change, is slow and unglamorous and does not make for a pithy, morally superior tweet storm, and has therefore been replaced with sarcasm and rioting.
I won’t be scrapping the word woman because our elites, so detached from everyday life, have decided to force their thought experiment into the everyday life of the plebes.
Do your clients know what a woman is? Would your female clients understand that medical messaging for “Cervix Havers” would be life saving for them?
So, the sexual binary which appears in the evolutionary timeline somewhere around a billion years ago, gets challenged five minutes ago ("well, ackshually, gender and sex are two different things, yanno") and we'll just throw out the concept of what a woman is...because....it doesn't affect you, I guess? No. And also NO.
Does the same apply to the word “man?” Are we going to flee that area too?
This was a great analysis, but I feel like you touched on a deeply fundamental point and then ignored it. You asked about the core question: *Why does it matter?*
This is crucial, and must be paid more attention to. Ignoring what gender ideologues are trying to do to society matters very much in assessing whether to concede any battles to them, even if they do at times make some linguistic sense. Not to sound too melodramatic, but this is not simply an isolated skirmish over some words; it's just one front in a coordinated and constant campaign to reshape society in drastic ways. The awareness of this context must always be present when deciding what the appropriate reaction is to some narrow issue related to this conflict.
Why does it matter? It matters tremendously because giving in on this issue is conceding important ground in this epistemological culture war.