I stumbled on Lily Alexandre’s What Are Women vid on YouTube. And despite already being in the midst of a dozen other things, I decided to watch it. Well, I’d been up all night and super tired, so after ten minutes I listened in bed until the end. After a few minutes, I felt compelled to respond on her channel. And then I was awake, so I figured I comment here as well—despite 2 or 3 of the dozen things I’ve got going on are draft posts here.
Lily presented her points well. And save for a few nits, I agreed fully. Getting the nits out of the way, I feel she took some shortcuts by (admittedly) overgeneralising the historical record of European gender history and anarcho-Communist hunter-gather or hunter-horticultural roots. I don’t disagree with the story point, but it’s a disservice to play the same game as the promoters of the primary narratives. Just say something along the lines that there is more about the historical record that we don’t know than we do, but there is evidence of X, Y, and Z. I recommended David Graeber’s The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. Moving on.
I recommend listening to her piece directly, as I am going to editorialise rather than fully recount it. Where she ended up is where I want to start. Adopting a Foucauldian perspective, the definition of woman is only important to those who want to employ it to control women, to gain power over them. Any definition of woman is going to exclude some who identify as women and include some who don’t.
A quick aside: When I was in my young twenties, I loathed being called sir, the polite title. It wasn’t the maleness that this suggested; rather I didn’t identify with the maturity aspect it conveyed. Whilst I identified as a male, neither did I identify as a boy nor a man. Sir tried to impose this on me. At least when someone attempted to label me a gentleman, I could retort that I wasn’t wearing a tophat and tails. Gentlemen, I viewed as Rich Uncle Milburn Pennybags, AKA Monopolyman—monocle and all. Did Mr Monopoly wear a monocle, or was that Mister Peanut? No matter.
As anyone who’s read a few of my posts knows, I don’t really buy into the whole notion of identity. I’m not much of a fan of ranks and titles either, in case you wanted to know.
As I was listening, Lily got to where woman is defined in three words: adult human female. In my head, I’m already arguing against it. Like when watching a horror suspense movie—Don’t go in there! Alas, then so did Lily shoot it down as well. Each of these words is arbitrary. Admittedly, all words are arbitrary by definition, but these words have their own challenges
In turn, adulthood is defined differently depending on time and cultural place. Nowadays, in the West, 18 is probably the arbitrary cutoff most used. This is the age of majority as far as entering into legal contracts are involved—though people can’t drink alcohol or buy cigarettes until they are 21. And the brain continues to develop past 30. It may actually never stop, though it does shrink after 45, so there’s that. We could opt for a less legalistic litmus in favour of a naturalistic approach. As she points out, we could argue this happens at the onset of menses—but that’s a slippery slope on several accounts. Firstly, some females are precocious and might commence their cycle as early as 12 or 10 or even 8. We’re going to need to return to this litmus for the definition of female, so let’s continue.
As she points out, human is ill-defined, and we’ve got a history of dehumanising people. Don’t get me started on negroes and indigenous Americans. This allows legal systems to simply rescind one’s human card. That’s no woman; she’s an animal—blah, blah
And we arrive as female—the synonym we’ve managed so far to kick down the kerb. Lily didn’t spend too much time here, but this is attempting to tee up a CIS defence—a genetics double-X defence. We’ve already touched on the arbitrary categorisation. The intent here is to exclude. This is Beauvoir’s otherness. Derrida’s subordinate pair to the dominant male term. But we’re not discussing intent at the moment. Let’s regard the definition:
Female / ‘fi meɪl / noun
- a person bearing two X chromosomes in the cell nuclei and normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries, and developing at puberty a relatively rounded body and enlarged breasts, and retaining a beardless face; a girl or woman.
- an organism of the sex or sexual phase that normally produces egg cells.
Here, we see the double-X defence, but what about XXY and so on?
We get stuck in a circular logic loop at some point because the definition of female concedes that it is synonymous to girl or woman. A woman is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a woman who is a female who is a…
Normally having a vagina, a uterus and ovaries may not intentionally be trying to exclude transgender females. Rather, some XX females may have some genetic anomaly, and more probably, some women have their uterus and/or ovaries removed due to medical reasons.
Words have use, but if the intent of object words is to do more than describe, beware an agenda. As for gender words, I have no use for them. As for sex terms, I don’t really have a use for them either. Detouring to Saussure for a moment, we’d got female, the signifier noun, and the signified.
There is one and only one situation where I have any concern about the genital manifest, and that’s when I am performing some sex act—talking Crying Game here. I even admit that this is my own shortcoming, but I live with it. Your mileage may vary. Other than this extremely limited scope* of events, it really doesn’t matter.
Anyhoo, this impromptu post has run its course. Watch the vid yourself, and tell me or Lily or both of us what you feel—perhaps even what you think.
* Limited scope of events: Come on now. Don’t be judgy. It’s not that limited.