What makes a “real” woman or man?
Most cultures assume a “real” woman = biological sex + gender stereotypes. However, with the rise of feminism and gender identity, we are witnessing a dramatic shift in what makes a “real” woman to different groups of people. Listed below are common arguments of what makes a woman or man according to each ideology.
Gender identity advocates:
A woman = any person who believes themselves to be a woman
A man = any person who believes themselves to be a man
Ex) a male can be a woman because woman is not defined as an adult human female, but an internal identity that anyone can claim.
But where does internal identity with and definitions of how women and men are come from? Are these distinct, innate concepts or are they learned from culture? Would a person’s ideas of what a woman or man is change depending on culture or where and when they were raised?
If we argue for an innate identity:
A real woman = anyone with a woman’s innate essence
A real man = anyone with a man’s innate essence
Ex) a male can be a woman because he has a woman’s innate essence, i.e. trapped in the wrong body at birth, or brain sex theory.
If we argue for identities learned from culture:
A real woman = anyone who adopts the culturally determined feminine role, i.e. femininity
A real man = anyone who adopts the culturally determined masculine role, i.e. masculinity
Ex) a male can be a woman if he identifies more with femininity because woman is not defined as an adult human female, but femininity.
In summary, woman = perceived innate essence or internal identity with femininity or womanhood.
Gender critical feminists:
A woman is simply any person of the female sex regardless of culturally determined gender roles, i.e. femininity or masculinity
A man is simply any person of the male sex regardless of culturally determined gender roles, i.e. masculinity or femininity
Ex) a male cannot be a woman because a woman is defined as an adult human female.
In summary, woman = biological reality.
Biological essentialism is the belief that an individual’s personality or identity is pre-determined by your sex. In an essentialist view, women and men are each said to have a natural essence, where the personalities and qualities of women are innately different from those of men. These essences are typically described in terms of cultural ideals of how women and men are, i.e. gender.
A real woman = natural female essence, i.e. femininity
A real man = natural male essence, i.e. masculinity
Ex) a male cannot be a woman because men and women are fundamentally different and women have a natural female essence.
In summary, woman = natural female essence or femininity.