Let the label binary category terms refer to natural language expressions like ‘woman’, ‘man’, ‘female’, and ‘male’. Focusing on ‘woman’ and ‘female’, I develop a novel, empirically supported theory of the meanings of English binary category terms. Given plausible assumptions about the metaphysics of sex and gender, this gender-first theory predicts that the sentence ‘Trans women are women’ expresses a truth in all contexts and the sentence ‘Women are adult human females’ expresses a truth in most ordinary contexts — thus (...) that these two sentences can and usually do express logically consistent contents. The key feature of the proposed theory is that it treats both ‘woman’ and ‘female’ as sensitive to an individual’s gender when that individual belongs to a gendered category and to an individual’s sex otherwise. The existence and plausibility of a gender-first theory of this kind opens up conceptual room for trans-inclusive positions in the philosophy of sex and gender which endorse the claim that women are adult human females, thereby both accounting for trans women’s experiences of their bodies as female and helping to disarm the sentence ‘Women are adult human females’ as a trans-exclusionary slogan. (shrink)
Alex Byrne contends that women are (simply) adult human females, claiming that this thesis has considerably greater initial appeal than the justified true belief (JTB) theory of knowledge. This paper refutes Byrne’s thesis in the same way the JTB theory of knowledge is widely thought to have been refuted: through simple counterexamples. Lessons are drawn. One lesson is that women need not be human. A second lesson is that biology and physical phenotypes are both irrelevant to whether someone is a (...) woman, and indeed, female in a gendered sense. A third lesson is that trans women, cis women, alien women, and robot women are all women because to be a woman is to be an adult gendered female. This paper does not purport to settle complex normative questions of ethics or justice, including whether the ordinary meaning of “woman” ought to be retained or changed—though I do note plausible implications for these debates. This paper does purport to settle what the ordinary meaning of “woman” is, and in that regard contribute to important conceptual ground-clearing regarding what constitutes an ameliorative or revisionary definition of “woman.”. (shrink)
The conceptions of lovesickness and of its remedies that emerge in the Decameron result from a medical tradition that in previous centuries was assimilated by the Latin culture. The case of the Decameron is particularly interesting because this work was composed during the Black Death epidemic, between 1348 and 1354. Boccaccio’s Decameron seems to be situated in a tension between two diseases: the black plague, from which the brigata tries to escape, and lovesickness. It is quite significant that Boccaccio dedicated (...) his work to women who love and need the comfort of literature, thereby addressing a new ideal of noble women, not based on their wealth, but on their intelligence and sensitivity. Women are often victims of their melancholy, because they have no opportunity to distract themselves, being confined to the private space of their rooms. Boccaccio describes women as being subject to passion and illness, so that the lovesickness cases described in the Decameron strongly allude to the discrimination of women and to the oppression they had to endure. An explicative example that testifies to the preeminent role that the medical culture played is Decameron X, 7, in which Lisa, the daughter of an apothecary, strangely cannot be healed by pharmacological remedies that her father knows, and not a single physician can help to heal her lovesickness. The case of Lisa can be interpreted as an exemplum: a woman afflicted by the same sickness as Lisa could understand how to behave by means of reading of this novella. Moreover, this paper will demonstrate that a useful outline of Lisa’s symptomatology can be found in Dino del Garbo’s commentary on Guido Cavalcanti’s poem Donna me prega. (shrink)
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)
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)
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)
After years of activism and scholarship concerning patriarchal social structures, many contemporary societies have made substantial progress in women’s rights. The shortfall, and the work ahead, is well known. Even in societies where the most progress has been achieved, males continue to dominate at key levels of power. Yet, essentialism appears to be widely, although not yet entirely, discounted. In helping to illuminate the social ontology of patriarchy and thereby helping to defuse its injustice, scholars have made proposals of patriarchy’s (...) origins; however, these appear not to be optimally consistent with historical and prehistorical facts. This article offers a different account of patriarchy, arguing that this one can not only explain how such a social condition originated and why it persists, but also point to what may be necessary to do in order to undo it. While I do not contend this ontology of patriarchy is the best possible, it provides a good example of the many issues at stake which an account of patriarchy must explain and points to how we should seek the best ontology as a way of both understanding contemporary societies and suggesting how to rectify a long-standing injustice. (shrink)
In this paper the sameness and difference between two distinguished Indian authors, Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (1880–1932) and Mahasweta Devi (b. 1926), representing two generations almost a century apart, will be under analysis in order to trace the generational transformation in women’s writing in India, especially Bengal. Situated in the colonial and postcolonial frames of history, Hossain and Mahasweta Devi may be contextualized differently. At the same time their subjects are also differently categorized; the former is not particularly concerned with subalterns (...) whereas the latter specifically focuses on the effect of race and class on gender. The quest for the ‘self’ and ‘subjectivity’ is more pertinent in the latter and consequently the appeal for agency is based on a crude power struggle. Hossain, a philanthropist who championed the woman question, believed that striving for equality should be a collective process which could be achieved by spreading awareness among fellow-inmates inhabiting the prison of patriarchy. Like Euro-American first-wave feminists, Rokeya advocated the necessity of education among women in order for them to be able to comprehend their plight and ‘awake’ for the cause. She addresses fundamental issues of feminism like education and the systematized claustrophobia within the domestic space. Whereas Mahasweta Devi, has been an activist writer who is regarded as the brand ambassador for the support of the marginalized, deprived and denotified tribes of India. It is her mission to provide succour to the marginalized sections, especially tribes from the Purulia district of West Bengal, like the Kherias and Shabars. As an activist writer she explores tribal life and allied socio-political issues which reflect their agony. (shrink)
Transformations are not only conditioned by facts encompassing narrower or wider panoramas: from concentrating on death and one (political) role (the ode of Horace), through recalling Cleopatra’s mature life and love (the drama of Shakespeare), to creating an image embracing the heroine’s whole life with its numerous roles, but as a mother and a daughter in the first place, because even her lovers resemble a father and a child (the fictional biography of Karen Essex). Above all, they appear to be (...) more connected with different attitudes towards universal references lying within human cognitive abilities. Horace’s didactic opposition of contradictory patterns leads to the victory of one of them — and it is a linear pattern, as an equivalent of modern myth, which is accepted by the author himself. In Shakespeare, it takes a form of tragedy resulting from the fragmentary character of each pattern, one of which introduces change (archaic myth) and the other constancy (modern myth), and from a painful attempt to combine them. In Essex, the vision of the world in which archaic myth, strongly represented by a child, triumphs is utopian. Irrespective of the differences, all the works realize the essential role played by images developed by heroes, and especially by authors, in human cognition. (shrink)
Trans studies constitute part of the coming-to-voice of transpeople, long the theorized and researched objects of sexology, psychiatry, and feminist theory. Sandy Stone’s pioneering, “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto” sought the end of monolithic medical and feminist accounts of transsexuality to reveal a multiplicity of trans-authored narratives. My goal is a better understanding of what it is for transpeople to come to this polyvocality. I argue that trans politics ought to proceed with the principle that transpeople have first-person (...) authority (FPA) over their own gender, and I clarify what this means. (shrink)
The gender concept woman is central to feminism but has proven to be notoriously difficult to define. Some feminist philosophers, most notably Sally Haslanger, have recently argued for revisionary analyses of the concept where it is defined pragmatically for feminist political purposes. I argue against such analyses: pragmatically revising woman may not best serve feminist goals and doing so is unnecessary. Instead, focusing on certain intuitive uses of the term ‘woman’ enables feminist philosophers to make sense of it.
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.
Feminism is the movement to end women’s oppression. One possible way to understand ‘woman’ in this claim is to take it as a sex term: ‘woman’ picks out human females and being a human female depends on various anatomical features (like genitalia). Historically many feminists have understood ‘woman’ differently: not as a sex term, but as a gender term that depends on social and cultural factors (like social position). In so doing, they distinguished sex (being female or male) from gender (...) (being a woman or a man), although most ordinary language users appear to treat the two interchangeably. More recently this distinction has come under sustained attack and many view it nowadays with (at least some) suspicion. This entry (around 12 000 words in length) outlines and discusses distinctly feminist debates on sex and gender. (shrink)
I argue that Carol Gilligan's claims about female moral development reproduce and encourage the oppression of women. A comparison of her descriptions of abortion-decision study cases with those of Mary F. Belenky (whose dissertation recorded more data from the same interviews than did Gilligan's book), show troubling discrepancies. Gilligan's book is more literature than science, retelling women's stories in compelling--but misleading--ways.