Define Woman

Define Woman

Content advisory: queer used in reclaimed sense, brief mentions of sexual violence - including between chickens.


It’s one of the favorite demands of gender critical types.

And the reason is because this is an argument they think they can easily win. They have a short and pithy response: “Adult human female.” And they have well-honed tools with which to make anyone arguing against that either sound delusional, ignorant (transphobic trope), or make you type out a thoughtful response that they’ll then ignore anyway. This is because they’re not actually interested in hearing anyone else’s point of view. All they want to do is waste your time and make themselves look strong, and possessed of moral certainty to draw people to their side. Basically, the same way that the alt-right approaches debates - see Ian Danskin’s video “Never Play Defense.”

I repeat, they’re not here to learn or find truth! They’re here to waste your time and *look like* they’re winning. And so, my friends, enemies, frenemies, and everyone else, I have composed this video so you can just hand it to them whenever they try to waste your time with the thought terminating cliche, “DEFINE WOMAN.”

Part 1: Is a hotdog a sandwich?

In the year I-don’t-know-doesn’t-actually-matter, some wokebros were sitting around in, like, 4-chan but in person or some shit, and they said to each other, “What is a man?”

(We’ll pretend they meant ‘human’ and talk about their sexism later.)

And they tried a whole lot of debate before Plato, the dude with the most reddit karma equivalent, spoke up and said “I’ve got it, a man is a featherless biped since we humans are the only creatures to walk on two legs but not have feathers!”

This prompted one of the trolls, by the name of Diogenes, to go to the market, buy a chicken, pluck every last feather, and he threw it into the gathering, shouting “BEHOLD! A MAN!” And in a staggering flex of just how hard one can miss the point, they added “With broad, flat nails.”

It’s been at least 4 or 5 years since that famous demonstration, and yet, transphobes still have not gotten the point.

The point is that essentialism, as a linguistic function, is both pointless and doomed to failure. Reality doesn’t give a shit about how we describe it. So when we set a definition for anything, that definition is on some level arbitrary - and in this sense, I mean in that it ultimately comes down to “just because.”

You see, there’s no mathematical truth that a sleeping surface should be called a bed or “una cama” or “un lit”, nor any laws of the universe about what should and shouldn’t be called a bed. Or a hill. Or a cloud. Or a dog. Every definition has edge cases, exceptions, and variance in how it should be applied, with the arguable exception of mathematical terms, and all of that is before accounting for polysemy, which is the property of a word to mean multiple different things in different contexts.

One of the common responses to “Define woman” is “define chair” to try to point out how language can’t even capture hard lines about what is and isn’t… well, anything at all. This example works because most of us feel that we have a pretty good sense of what is and isn’t a chair. But is a stool a chair? What about a chair that is broken into pieces? What about one of those funny artsy-ass chairs that’s a single piece of bent metal. What about a rock that happens to look like a chair?

One of my favorite interactions was Graham Linehan, famous terf and self-proclaimed king of lesbians, when asked to “define chair,” he responded with “Something with four legs, a seat for one person, and a back.”

To which, someone replied with a picture of a horse. “Chair.”

Also, here’s a picture of the chair I’m literally typing from. Like, just the model, not the instance of said model that I own, otherwise some weird transphobe would zoom in on the imprint on the seat and use ass-phrenology to guess my real-life sex. Which, for those of you keeping up with the CritFacts Cinematic Universe, I’m not disclosing.

Anyway, if you look at this chair, you’ll notice that it has either 1 or 5 “legs” depending on whether you count by the pneumatic column or by the arms that branch out from it, in which case you’ve just called an arm a leg, literally. Kind of. Look, the point is, language is fucked. And whenever we try to assign qualifiers for what ‘counts’ as something or not, we should have a good reason for doing so, like regulations, branding, and authenticity. For example, in order for an alcoholic, carbonated beverage to be ‘properly’ considered champagne, it has to be made out of white grapes from the Champagne region of France otherwise it’s simply sparkling wine. Similarly, a TERF has to come from the region of thinking they’re a feminist, otherwise it’s just sparkling transphobia.

Point is: IT’S ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE for any kind of thing for us to create a definition in words that neatly and completely encompasses all things that ARE said thing and excludes everything that is NOT said thing. Like, just looking around my desk, what counts as lip balm? Is it still lip balm after my cat eats it? At what point in my cat’s digestive tract does it go from lip balm to fuel for zoomies?

And when it comes to classifying PEOPLE, or the definitions of highly social and emotionally-charged words, that’s where things get even more complicated, and I hold also where policing definitions gets to be even more harmful.

Consider the word “family”. We’ve all been taught some version of what the word means, yes? You might fumble a bit if asked to put it into words on the spot, so here you go,

Hey wait a minute, that’s probably not what came to mind…

Oh god dammit.

Okay, look, here’s the definition that you probably thought of:

Wait, that’s actually four definitions…. And these things broadly overlap, but have very significant differences.

So by one definition, me, my mum, my dad, and my siblings are all one family. As well, my mum, her parents and siblings are all a different family. But also, I consider pets family, as do many people. We love them with familial love, we care for them, we stick together, we grieve with intense sorrow when they pass on. So should we add “and animals under human care”?

Except farmers have animals under their care that they might not consider family. I mean, an artist that I admire tweeted the story about how she and her husband raise chickens, and they had to kill one of the roosters because he was getting rapey on the hens, and if those chickens were considered family then that’s one HELL of a soap opera right there.

(pause to let that sink in)

Or what about Found Family, also called Chosen Family? Particularly among queer people, there’s a high frequency of being cast out or just not understood by members of your birth or even adoptive families. So often, these people forge those emotional bonds with other members of the queer community who do understand on a level others just don’t.

Or just people who are extremely close platonically to the point where it blurs the lines between platonic and familial?

The point is - why shouldn’t we let people decide for themselves what “family” means in different contexts? Maybe set parameters if there’s a good reason, such as “we’re giving tickets to Disneyland to one family.” Here you pretty obviously mean “an household - one set of parents and children,” and not an entire family tree or a product line.

Part 2: Adult Human Female

So, here we are, umpteen minutes and something seconds into a video, and I finally give my own definition:

A woman: A person whose gender identity is that of a woman.

Expanding on “gender identity of a woman”, “Gender identity is the summary of someone’s relationship to the sex of their bodies, to the sexes that exist within humans, and to the culture that has emerged from and to express sex and sex differences.” And the “gender identity of a woman” is “the gender identity typical and/or most common of female humans.”


Transphobes often respond to this by claiming that the definition is ultimately circular and cannot be granularized to a single, tangible point. They use this to claim that trans-inclusive definitions of womanhood are circular, rely on “Gender Woo Woo”, but their plithy “Adult human female” is tangible, RATIONAL, SCIENTIFIC, and acknowledges FACTS that DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR FEELINGS!

But here’s the thing - as the entire previous section illustrates, every definition or explanation ultimately boils down to truisms, going “you know”, special pleading, and hand waving if you try to examine it too closely and break it down too thoroughly.

And yes, that includes “Adult human female.”

Let’s break that down into its parts and examine those.

I’ll not contest or expand on “human” because as of current, evidence suggests that humans are the only species to exhibit gender identity in a way that I’m prepared to examine. And I’m not going to contest or try to nitpick “Adult” because I’m not a Gadsden-flag-waving libertarian. What I will point at is “female” because as much as transphobes like to pretend that it’s tangible and quantifiable, it really can’t be without being unduly invasive and - to be blunt - misogynistic.

“Define female”

“The class of people who can produce ova.”

“So, what of someone who has every other characteristic typically associated with being female, except they do not have or produce ova, such as having their ovaries removed, or having been born without them?”

“Then they’re still of the CLASS of people that produce ova.”

“How is someone in a class of a quality without having that quality?”

“They have a female body and therefore are part of the female sex class.”

“The fuck is a sex class if it’s determined by gametes but makes exceptions for people who don’t produce gametes?”


“What about someone who has anatomy that is otherwise typical of males, but instead of testes, has ovaries.”

“Male sex class.”

“What’s the male sex class?”

“Class of people who produce small gametes.”

“How can someone be part of a ‘sex class’ that is defined by a characteristic…without actually having the defining characteristic’?”

It all ultimately boils down to special pleading because, when you have 8 million living clumps of cells wriggling around at any given moment, there are going to be lots of edge cases and exceptions to the two common patterns. In the end, and I cannot stress this enough, there is no tangible characteristic possessed by all people transphobes want to call women that is also NOT possessed by ANY of the people they don’t want to call women.


Some cis women are born without them or have them removed later in life, so possession of a uterus doesn’t work.


Same problem, plus some intersex people are born with both testicular and ovarian tissue.

Not having a penis?

Some cis men are born without penises or have their penises removed. But also consider that penis transplants are on their way, and transphobes screaming about “can’t change sex” would, if they defined sex by the presence or absence of a penis, would have to concede that a person who didn’t have a penis and then received a penis had “changed sex”.

And one of my favorite - “Whether you grew wolffian ducts or mullerian ducts”

Buddy, not only do some people lack those entirely, you’re basically arguing that we should sort people into bathrooms based on the structure that connects their gonads to the rest of their reproductive systems.

Which brings me to the next question,

Part 3: Why?

As I said earlier, every dichotomy, taxonomy, or classification system should have a good reason for existing. Back to that example of champagne and how it’s only technically champagne if the grapes come from the Champagne region of France?

Well, that’s because if the grapes come from anywhere else, then it just won’t have the same chemicals and therefore, won’t get you as high when you snort it. Or whatever you do with champagne, I don’t do hard drugs. When someone puts “Contains Peanuts” on a product package, we don’t fuck around with what ‘counts’ as a peanut because the important thing is that the product does or potentially contains peanut allergens which could put someone’s life at risk if they have an allergy.

When we joke around about whether or not a hotdog should count as a sandwich, they’re not doing it for any real reason, just to goof off. There’s nothing at stake in determining if a hot dog counts as a sandwich. Nor whether or not a poptart is a ravioli - it’s not, by the way. Ravioli are boiled. A poptart is a calzone as it is *baked.*

But why are transphobes so insistent on defining women, defining female? Why do they see it as so unreasonable to let each person decide for themselves what the different gender labels mean on a personal level and use them as voluntary self-description instead of asserting that there’s a single, tangible definition of womanhood that we all *must* use?

The short answer is biological determinism - the eugenical notion that what we are inclined to do, capable of, and how we “should” be is determined for us by our birth and our biology. It’s antithetical to this neat thing I call “Free will.” (picture of the cover of Free Willy)

And the long answer is beyond the scope of this video.

For now, it’s enough to say that the reason for demanding that only “Adult human females” get to call themselves women boils down to transphobia. This almost always stems from the belief that trans people are delusional, ignorant, deceptive, or dangerous. And for that, I refer you to my other video, “What Is Transphobia?”

And again, I remind the audience - if you’re being asked to “Define Woman” - they’re not actually interested in your answer, with understanding you, or with coming to a more inclusive and better position, they just want to waste your time. So I suggest you either link this video, or another like it, or answer accordingly:

“What is a woman?”

A featherless biped.

“What is a man?”

A miserable pile of secrets.