What is a woman? The definition of this central concept of feminism has lately become especially controversial and politically charged. “Ameliorative Inquirists” have rolled up their sleeves to reengineer our ordinary concept of womanhood, with a goal of including in the definition all and only those who identify as women, both “cis” and “trans.” This has proven to be a formidable challenge. Every proposal so far has failed to draw the boundaries of womanhood in a way acceptable to the Ameliorative (...) Inquirists, since not all those who identify as women count as women on these proposals, and some who count as women on these proposals don’t identify as women. This is the Trans Inclusion Problem. Is there any solution? Can there be? Recently, Katharine Jenkins, pointing to the work of Mari Mikkola, suggests that the Trans Inclusion Problem can be “deflated” rather than solved. We will investigate this proposal, and show that, unfortunately, Jenkins is mistaken: Mikkola’s project will not help us answer the Trans Inclusion Problem. After that, we’ll look at Robin Dembroff’s suggestion that we “imitate” the linguistic practices of trans inclusive and queer communities, and we will evaluate whether this would help us solve the Trans Inclusion Problem. Unfortunately, this strategy also fails to solve the problem. By the end, we’ll have a better appreciation of the challenges faced by Ameliorative Inquirists in their project of redefining “woman,” and clearer view of why the Trans Inclusion Problem cannot, in fact, be solved. That’s primarily because, no matter what it means to be a woman, it’s one thing to be a woman, and another thing to identify as a woman. (shrink)
Maggie Heartsilver’s “Deflating Byrne’s ‘Are women adult human females?’” subjects the arguments and conclusion of “Are women ...?” to a probing and comprehensive stress test. The present paper responds to Heartsilver’s objections, and also discusses the significance of the proposition that trans women are women.
Dembroff’s “Escaping the natural attitude about gender” replies to my “Are women adult human females?”. This paper responds to Dembroff’s many criticisms of my arguments, as well as to the charge that “Are women...” “fundamentally is an unscholarly attempt to vindicate a political slogan that is currently being used to undermine civic rights and respect for trans persons”. I argue that Dembroff’s criticisms fail without exception, and explain why the claims about my motives are baseless.
Many philosophers believe that our ordinary English words man and woman are “gender terms,” and gender is distinct from biological sex. That is, they believe womanhood and manhood are not defined even partly by biological sex. This sex/gender distinction is one of the most influential ideas of the twentieth century on the broader culture, both popular and academic. Less well known are the reasons to think it’s true. My interest in this paper is to show that, upon investigation, the arguments (...) for the sex/gender distinction have feet of clay. In fact, they all fail. We will survey the literature and tour arguments in favor of the sex/gender distinction, and then we’ll critically evaluate those arguments. We’ll consider the argument from resisting biological determinism, the argument from biologically intersex people and vagueness, the argument from the normativity of gender, and some arguments from thought experiments. We’ll see that these arguments are not up to the task of supporting the sex/gender distinction; they simply don’t work. So, philosophers should either develop stronger arguments for the sex/gender distinction, or cultivate a variety of feminism that’s consistent with the traditional, biologically-based definitions of woman and man. (shrink)
Are women (simply) adult human females? Dictionaries suggest that they are. However, philosophers who have explicitly considered the question invariably answer no. This paper argues that they are wrong. The orthodox view is that the category *woman* is a social category, like the categories *widow* and *police officer*, although exactly what this social category consists in is a matter of considerable disagreement. In any event, orthodoxy has it that *woman* is definitely not a biological category, like the categories *amphibian* or (...) *adult human female*. -/- In the first part, a number of arguments are given for the view that women are adult human females; the second part turns to rebutting the main objections. Finally, a couple of morals are briefly noted: one for activist sloganeering, and one for ameliorative projects that seek to change the meaning of ‘woman’. (shrink)
The paper aims at critical reconsideration of a motif popular in Indian literary, ritual, and pictorial traditions – a tree goddess (yakṣī, vṛkṣakā) or a woman embracing a tree (śālabhañjīkā, dohada), which points to a close and intimate bond between women and trees. At the outset, I present the most important phases of the evolution of this popular motif from the ancient times to present days. Then two essential characteristics of nature recognized in Indian visual arts, literature, religions and philosophy (...) will be distinguished: (1) a dynamic, creative, self-sufficient and inexhaustible power, and (2) a passive, merely reproductive or vegetative, and dependent field of potentiality. The paper is to demonstrate the interdependence of the popular concepts of nature identified with femininity, and their iconic representations circulating for centuries in Indian culture, with a specific line of argument repeatedly used in social practices and public debates. While doing so, I consider the semiotic function of a cultural topos which proves to be an effective instrument for construing and supporting the gender roles and gender identities. As a modern example illustrating vitality and persuasive power of the motif of yakṣī and śālabhañjīkā, I refer to the Chipko Movement, a group of rural women based in the Garhwal Himalayas (state Uttarakhand), who fought against the mass cut of trees in the 1970s. They were involved in the wide-spread environmental campaign which significantly affected the ecological policy of the local and state authorities. Thus, a traditional motif of the visual arts has been revived and re-elaborated by the activists of this ecofeminist movement through converting the symbolic potential of yakṣī/śālabhañjīkā into social and political power. (shrink)
In this paper I discuss the interrelated topics of stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity as they relate to gender and gender identity. The former has become an emerging topic in feminist philosophy and has spawned a tremendous amount of research in social psychology and elsewhere. But the discussion, at least in how it connects to gender, is incomplete: the focus is only on cisgender women and their experiences. By considering trans women's experiences of stereotype threat and attributional ambiguity, we gain (...) a deeper understanding of the phenomena and their problematic effects. (shrink)
A number of recent popular books about gender differences have drawn on the neuroscientific literature to support the claim that certain psychological differences between the sexes are ‘hard-wired’. This article highlights some of the ethical implications that arise from both factual and conceptual errors propagated by such books.