What is a woman? Or rather, what defines someone as a woman? Ask 100 women, and you might get 100 different answers. This is because there are a variety of contexts in which you could define a woman, and within each of these contexts, there will still not be one straight answer. Socially or biologically, there is still so much variation. This is the problem Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson ran into in her Supreme Court Confirmation hearing this past Tuesday. Senator Marsha Blackburn asked her to define the word woman. Jackson’s response was rather controversial and has sparked a debate on how to define a woman.
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson Struggles To Define A Woman
Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing Tuesday was a long, grueling affair. It lasted more than 13 hours and was full of extremely tough and at times harsh questions. One of the toughest, however, was when Senator Marsha Blackburn asked the judge to define the word “woman”. (1)
“Not in this context, I’m not a biologist,” Judge Jackson responded. “In my work as a judge, what I do is I address disputes. If there’s a dispute about a definition, people make arguments, and I look at the law, and I decide.”
Blackburn was not at all impressed with the answer. She chastised Jackson immediately.
“the fact that you can’t give me a straight answer about something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about.” Blackburn stated in the hearing.
The Grand Debate: What Defines A Woman?
You may be wondering why Jackson’s answer and why learning how a potential supreme court judge defines a woman is so important. It is because, as a Supreme Court Judge, Jackson will most definitely preside over cases involving trans rights and gender politics. Gender politics in the United States of America is a hot topic currently. This is especially so with several trans rights issues currently in debate. Senators on both sides have since used Jackson’s response to talk about their own issues with the debate. (2)
Scientists Can’t Define “Woman” Either
Many scientists, biologists, and gender law scholars have commended Jackson for her response. They agree that her response might be slightly misleading, but still it wasn’t a bad one. This is because while they agree that science and biology could help create a definition for the word, it can’t create a conclusive answer, either.
There are billions of women on the planet. Each woman is unique and different, both in a social context and a biological one. Most scientists agree that there is too much variation to be able to clearly, scientifically, define what is a woman.
Rebecca Jordan-Young is a scientists and gender studies scholar. In her work, she explores the relationship between science and the social side of gender and sexuality. She says that while biology is a part of what makes a woman a woman and a man a man, it cannot offer a complete definition.
“I don’t want to see this question punted to biology as if science can offer a simple, definitive answer,” she said. “The rest of her answer was more interesting and important. She said ‘as a judge, what I do is I address disputes. If there’s a dispute about a definition, people make arguments, and I look at the law, and I decide.’ In other words, she said context matters – which is true in both biology and society. I think that’s a pretty good answer for a judge.”