What is a woman?

What is a woman?

A loose, shifting constellation of biological, political and cultural phenomena which varies according to context, place & time (Shon Faye, British transwoman and activist)

Someone who “experiences the norms that are associated with women in her social context as relevant to her” (Katharine Jenkins, British philosopher)

People who want to be so defined. I think people should be able to be who they want to be (John Nicolson, British member of parliament)

A useful shorthand for the entanglement of femininity and social status regardless of biology—not as an identity, but as the name for an imagined community that honors the female, enacts the feminine and exceeds the limitations of a sexist society. (Susan Stryker, American transwoman writing in TIME magazine)

Millennia-old palimpsests of wildly different cultural values, medical knowledge, theology, politics etc. Frankenstein’s monster...If we imagine words as things that hurtle through time and space like cultural meteors, then woman is one that has passed through several debris fields along the way, so that it is so laden with history and importance and biology and legality that it is all but shapeless…drawing a line around the edges of “woman” is an impossible task. It is a term that leaves behind it a vibrant trail of meaning and value that is nevertheless hopelessly ragged at its farthest edges. We can never trace woman, merely trace a big circle around the space it occupies and say, “there it is, more or less.” (American transwoman and gender-studies doctoral student)

A woman, for me, is someone who feels that they are a woman. (Sally Hines, sociology professor)

[A female is a] non-prostate owner. [Some women have prostates] (Teen Vogue)

Every woman is a woman. Women are multifaceted, intergenerational, international. They are limitless, formless...women are the world (UN Women, quoting Aaron Philip, transwoman and model)

A rich cultural artifact with many cues used to designate that aspect of their identity. Also: A complex, multi-dimensional and highly variable category. There isn’t one definition (P.Z. Myers, biologist and self-declared sceptic)

Someone who has lived with enough struggles based on who she is and how society perceives her because of it that she should know better than to judge others for the same reasons (Amanda Jetté Knox, Canadian author married to a transwoman)

Girl-flavoured person (Laurie Penny, British journalist)

Many people identify as women. However, what this means varies a great deal depending on their other intersecting attributes. It is important not to assume, for example, that being a woman necessarily involves being able to bear children, or having XX sex chromosomes, or breasts. Being a woman in a British cultural context often means adhering to social norms of femininity, such as being nurturing, caring, social, emotional, vulnerable, and concerned with appearance. However, of course not all women adhere to all these things. For example some neurodiverse women (on the autistic/aspergic/ADHD spectrums) may struggle to express emotions, or with social situations. In some northern working-class contexts femininity is associated with strength and aggression. As always an intersectional understanding is vital and we need to be mindful that what is culturally regarded as the epitome of femininity is white, middle class, youthful, non-disabled, heterosexual, cisgender, and thin. This strongly shapes all women’s experiences of womanhood (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

Anyone who identifies as a woman (Australian Academy of Science)

Female can be defined by physical appearance, by chromosome constitution, or by gender identification. (Extract from a much longer entry on medicinenet.com. The entry for “male” reads: “The sex that produces spermatozoa”)

Femaleness is a universal sex defined by self-negation… I’ll define as female any psychic operation in which the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another…[The] barest essentials [of femaleness are] an open mouth, an expectant asshole, blank, blank eyes (Andrea Long Chu, American transwoman and author of “Females: A Concern”)

From Twitter accounts with small followings (spelling and grammar corrected)

A person who acts in accordance with traditional gender roles assigned to the female sex

People who share a common identity that is constructed and shaped by multiple factors including: self-perception, lived experience, socio-cultural norms, economic and political forces and social patterns

A person who recognises that she has a strong sense of alignment with others who are also identified as women under the social constructs of gender

Anyone that culturally identifies and presents as the combination of stereotypes and cultural norms we define as feminine, while calling themselves female

A label put on people by others and themselves, used to define preferences, terminology, and sometimes preferred secondary sex characteristics. One can be a woman and use he/him pronouns

Anyone assigned female at birth or who declares themselves so otherwise

A woman is a human being. Capable of love and empathy. She nurtures and protects her kind. There lady, that’s my definition

If someone wants to be a woman, as far as I am concerned, welcome to the club

An adult human who identifies as female

Someone whose identity aligns with some or all of the gender expectations, dynamics, aesthetics, values, and yes, bodily features, etc. etc. society attributes to the constructed concept of womanhood

A person who is happier when they say they are a woman

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