Defining ‘Woman’ Starts with Humanity, Not Femaleness

The debate about the “second sex” brings us back to biology, humility, and Genesis 1.

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson made waves last week with her refusal to provide a definition for the word woman. Responding to Senator Marsha Blackburn, Jackson sidestepped the question, stating, “I’m not a biologist.” Senator Ted Cruz returned to the line of inquiry by asking who Jackson would include in a gender-based discrimination lawsuit. Jackson again deferred, citing the fact that such cases are currently making their way through the lower courts.

Conservatives quickly memed Jackson, portraying her refusal to answer the question as clear indication of progressive nonsense. After all, anyone should be able to define what a woman is. The only problem with this, of course, is that we’ve struggled to define what a woman is for thousands of years.

Whether it was the ancient Greeks who saw woman as a “mutilated male” or church fathers who did not believe women were made in the image of God as men were, the record of history shows people not quite knowing what to make of women. Even within our own country’s past, women have struggled to gain those “inalienable rights” that are ostensibly the birthright of every human being and “endowed by their Creator.”

In her 1947 essay “The Human-Not-Quite-Human,” Christian apologist and scholar Dorothy Sayers reflects on the inadequacy of our working definitions of woman:

The first task, when undertaking the study of any phenomenon, is to observe its most obvious feature. … It is here that most students of the “Woman Question” have failed, and the Church more lamentably than most, and with less excuse. … No matter what arguments are used, the discussion is vitiated from …

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