What is woman?

Monday, January 22: I tried postdating this, but my version of WordPress won’t allow me to show postdated blog posts, so I’ll be periodically changing this post’s date so that it is at the top and can receive feedback.

For my feminist philosophies term paper this quarter I am considering writing a paper to answer the question, “What is woman?” As my professor, Lani Roberts, noted in class, this isn’t a simple biology question. We can’t say a woman is a person with a uterus, because that excludes women who have had hysterectomies, as well as transwomen and, as Stoltenberg has pointed out, women in prisons (biologically male but gendered woman in the prison society). Additionally, sex (a set of biological traits) and gender (the values and behaviors assigned culturally to sex) are different, so “woman” is not so easily biologically defined. Some radical feminists define woman as “people dominated by men” and men as “people who dominate women.”

Any comments from readers about ideas of how to define “woman” would be greatly appreciated. What do you think? What makes “woman”? (Alternatively, if you have speculations on what makes “man,” that would be appreciated as well).

This entry was posted in Feminism, Gender, Philosophy 516 Feminist Philosophies (Winter 2007). Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to What is woman?

  1. Sara Jameson says:

    I have been thinking about this post since I read it last week and wanting to reply, but still haven’t got any kind of clear notion how to articulate my thoughts. One aspect is the difference between labels (man, woman) and people. If someone says “woman” – I think of a female who is adult, older than I (and that’s getting older all the time), someone I don’t know. When I know women, I cease to think of them in that general way. Then they are each their unique individual personalities. Can I generalize about the women I know? Not safely. They do not seem to demonstrate equally (and to the exclusion of males I know) society’s stereotypes of nurturing, creative, dominated, etc. I could say that few women I know have escaped in all realms from second hand status in a patriarchal society. Does that make us all victims? I hesitate to use that word. While I doubt I have ever described myself as a woman (yet what else?), neither do I think of myself as a girl or other label. Perhaps it is partly due to the fact that I never had children that I don’t count myself in certain categories. Well, this meditating hasn’t gotten me much farther, but it is interesting and important to consider.

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