Statement from SFQ regarding the need for seeing nuance and complexity.
Some ask “What is a woman”, as if this question was some kind of clever “gotcha” that would somehow prove something. The question has many simple answers of varying quality, but why would it be a good idea to stick to any kind of simple answer in the first place?
We are getting used to simplify things, for the convenience of categorising human being as an unit of certain standing, function, part, etc. While it is beneficial for observing people, and or establishing rigid social function which serves the rather conservative society, this way of simplified labeling is robbing people of the skill to understand nuances. While one single simple definition may be enough for a certain person or for a certain contexts, these are DIFFERENT definitions being useful for different persons or for different contexts. Living in a complex world with many persons and many contexts, we need to be aware of more nuanced and complex options.
To be a woman means a lot of different combinations, simply because a woman as a human being is an ultra complex entity. Asking that question and expect one bullet point answer, implies that woman shall be defined as a single-dimensional thing.
No. Each human being is a multi-dimensional entity. To be labeled male or female or non-binary and what these labels should mean should be seen in the context of the individual. Woman’s life is a multifaceted process, in which every single point of period in someone’s life is translated into a set of combinations of different values, intertwined into what we call a personality, mindset, believes, and/or values. Understanding these plethora of traits, believes, attitudes, and or values that someone carries throughout life, means understanding the fluidity of life. And thus a single word be translated into thousands of definitions, depends on the NUANCE of the episode within a lifetime.
Assuming that humanity arose through evolution, then all categories are something we humans make up. The division into men and women (and all other divisions as well) are mental constructs that we think on our own, social constructs that we collectively build into our languages and societies, and neurological constructs that we experience in how our individual brains interpret our shared world.
If you feel that every human being is “simply either male or female”, well, that’s simply how it is – for you! As long as it’s your life it is about, of course your own honest experience counts. When it’s about another person’s life, then it is instead that person’s honest experience that counts. Very simple.
Besides experience and neurology, there are also other ideas about what staring point to use. Genital organs, reproductive capacity, chromosomes, “Assigned Sex At Birth” and so on. All four have some specialized contexts where they are very important, but none of them serve as any good general benchmark for who should count as male or female. For a lot of regular cis people, these four methods doesn’t work at all. And they certeinly don’t work for transgender, non-binary or intersex people either. Each method works for a lot of people – but far from all. If you limit yourself to one of these four, you will inevitably misgender some people unnecessarily. Lets see where each method fails…
Genital organs: Sometimes a person has an accident or illness or assault which causes them to lose their genital organ. A man or woman who experiences this continues to be man or woman respectively. It would be cruel and unfair and completely wrong to claim that he would not be a real man or that she would not be a real woman.
Fertility: There are plenty of perfectly normal men who can’t get anyone pregnant, and there are
plenty of perfectly normal women who can’t get pregnant. A man or woman who lacks reproductive capacity continues to be a man or a woman, respectively. It would be cruel and unfair and completely wrong to claim that he would not be a real man or that she would not be a real woman.
Chromosomes: The perfectly normal baby girls born with XY chromosomes will on average grow to have much lighter voices and curvier bodies (ie bigger breasts) than average girls at puberty. It would be absurd to call these girls boys just because they have the chromosomes XY. In addition, some people have XXY chromosomes. These people are often quite ordinary men, their unusual chromosome set plays no role in their everyday life, but only in certain medical treatments. Therefore, healthcare needs to know when a person is XXY rather than XX or XY, while the rest of society has no use for that information.
“Assigned Sex At Birth”: When a baby is born, someone from the health care staff takes and measures the baby’s genitalia to determine if it is a boy or a girl. This test is simply guess as to what reproductive capacity the child will have once they pass puberty. A guess which often but far from always will turn out to be correct.
It is neither clever nor prudent to shame people for not fitting into these crude definitions or for refusing to limit themselves to them.