What Makes A Woman A Woman?

From Big Brass Blog:

According to the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act of 2005 (Senate Bill 51 and House Bill 356, if you’re curious), it’s the ova and the uterus and nothing else. The Act, which has been criticized for its possible effects on abortion law, has been referred to committee in both the House and the Senate. It contains this excellent definition:

WOMAN- The term `woman’ means a female human being who is capable of becoming pregnant, whether or not she has reached the age of majority.

This definition of ‘woman’ was considered appropriate by both House and Senate. There are several interesting implications to this:

A. A female human being who is not capable of becoming pregnant does not qualify as a woman under this definition.

B. This definition implies that a woman is not, as any dictionary will tell you, an ‘adult female human.’ A thirteen-year-old female child is a woman if she has reached puberty. Fertility is the sole measure of womanhood, not maturity and the capacity to make one’s own decisions.

C. This definition could be used in other laws if this bill is passed and signed.

All of this reminds me of the definition of ‘woman’ in Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, wherein infertile women were considered Unwomen.

This is so unbelievably reductive it’s scary. And infuriating.


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37 comments for “What Makes A Woman A Woman?

  1. April 24, 2005 at 6:19 pm

    As I like to say, in this culture (hell, pretty much any culture), “women” are uteruses first and people second.

    This reminds me of my Queer Theory class last semester, reading Judith Butler and the like, and the difficulty we had in defining “female” at all; discussing the idea that sex may be as constructed as gender. Is a female a person with XX chromosomes? Then what about women like Jamie Lee Curtis, who has XXY chromosomes? Defining it by reproduction doesn’t work either, as you pointed out (two of my aunts were unable to concieve and adopted children; by the legislation’s definition, they are mothers, but not women). If genitalia are to be the definition, then we’re stuck with the fact of thousands of perfectly healthy intersexed babies born every year with “atypical” genitalia, as well as transexual people. Secondary characteristics don’t always hold true either; think of Frida Kahlo’s moustache (and what about females who get mastectomies and hysterectomies? are they no longer women?)
    We decided that in this society we’re taught the circular reasoning that “Women” are simply “not men,” and “men” are “not women.”

  2. April 24, 2005 at 7:43 pm

    Too right, Andygrrl. People are often defined in terms of the “other”.

    This is a frightening bit of legislation — talk about reductive!

  3. April 24, 2005 at 9:07 pm

    Wow. What are we going to call post-menopausal female people now? Hags? Crones?

  4. KMarissa
    April 24, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    I suppose that, seeing as how I’m on the pill, I am currently genderless. Hey, maybe it’ll give my feminist arguments more weight, since I’m an unbiased party!

  5. April 24, 2005 at 9:36 pm

    So this means that Arnold in “Junior” was a woman? Sweet!

    Why do I feel like forcibly grafting a uterus onto Bill Frist?

  6. April 24, 2005 at 10:23 pm

    The thing is, for a long time, America was the shining light of feminism in this world. Most Americans think of women as people on one level or another–even my atrociously conservative relatives were praising me for my writing and my hard work and gloating over my non-uterine creativity this weekend. So I have to wonder–are these people who write this so completely out of the mainstream or are they too stupid to know what they’re doing?

  7. April 24, 2005 at 10:34 pm

    Why do I feel like forcibly grafting a uterus onto Bill Frist?

    Hell, why don’t you? I’ll help.

  8. April 24, 2005 at 11:58 pm

    Sally’s got it! Far from being some sort of Christian fundamentalist tripe out of The Handmaid’s Tale, this is actually a clever attempt by a pagan congressional staffer to establish the Maiden-Mother-Crone triple goddess-head in the legal definition of womanhood!

  9. April 25, 2005 at 7:27 am

    Why do I feel like forcibly grafting a uterus onto Bill Frist?

    Hell, why don’t you? I’ll help.

    Ooh! Me too! Let’s engineer a way to make all anti-choice men pregnant….with triplets! And they can’t have C-sections, nor can they be given drugs during the labor! All natural labor for the prego-anti-choice men!

  10. Thomas
    April 25, 2005 at 8:05 am

    I presume the t-shirt will read, “Woman = Breeding Unit?”
    Thomas

  11. April 25, 2005 at 2:31 pm

    So, would this mean twelve-year-old girls would have the right to vote? Since they’d be legal adults and all…

    This is so astonishingly stupid!

  12. Kristin
    April 25, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    Well, we’d have Britney Spears for a president. I’m not sure whether that wouldn’t be an improvement.

  13. bhw
    April 25, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Why are our lawmakers so embarassingly stupid?

  14. Tapetum
    April 26, 2005 at 11:36 am

    Follow this through onto the marriage= 1 man + 1 woman laws. Will marriage be suddenly illegal if the female party isn’t fertile? After all, she wouldn’t be a woman.

    Gack. Sign me up for the forcible transgendering of “Dr.” Frist. I am so ashamed he’s from my portion of the country.

  15. White Willow
    April 26, 2005 at 4:44 pm

    This means post menopausal females, infertile, trans, tubes tied, etc. won’t be considered ‘women,’ therefore…they won’t have the right to vote.

    Hell! Sterilize all the females on welfare and all the ‘of color,’ females and they won’t be women either so they won’t have the right to vote.

    I’m from Canada…there’s plenty of space up here…you all might want to start chatting with us re: buses, homestay families, underground railroad, etc. very soon.

    Looks like…you’re gonna need it.

  16. John
    April 26, 2005 at 4:53 pm

    Why is it assumed that this definition would apply to anything other than the bill in question? The definition page – http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c109:1:./temp/~c109oroMzk:e7897: – specifically states ‘in this title’, which to me implies that the definition is a technical one used to reduce ambiguity in the bill.

  17. April 26, 2005 at 6:17 pm

    Does that mean that if you have your tubes tied or a hysterectomy that you’ve had a sex change operation? I mean, if you no longer qualify for ‘woman’ status… Guh?

  18. April 26, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    John, is this supposed to comfort me? Tell me why this definition cannot be carried over into other legislation.

  19. April 26, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    In response to #16 (John)

    For me the concern is the potential of this to become a slippery slope. The tiny snowball that turns into an avalanche of oppressive legislation against women.

  20. Lilah
    April 26, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Okay, the purpose of this “definition” is clearly just to include girls under the age of 18. Since the bill itself only refers to pregnant women, it already excludes all of the other categories you’re all talking about. I understand the point, but context still matters. There’s enough truly scary stuff going on in Congress (including the rest of this bill!) without making a big deal about something like this.

  21. April 26, 2005 at 6:48 pm

    Why is it assumed that this definition would apply to anything other than the bill in question? The definition page – http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?c109:1:./temp/~c109oroMzk:e7897: – specifically states ‘in this title’

    That hasn’t stopped Congress in the past from applying parts of similarly-worded laws to other laws. -.-

    I worry… as a female human being that does NOT have a functioning uterus, i worry…

  22. Holly
    April 26, 2005 at 6:51 pm

    Uhhhhh… Just because I can’t have children, that makes me a guy? That’s horribly retarded.

    Man, this’ll be a big shock to my ex-boyfriends! :D

    “Hey! Remember that one time you kissed me? Yeah, you were kissing a dude…. Wow, you look unwell… Need me to get you a bucket?”

  23. John
    April 27, 2005 at 2:00 am

    I think it’s pretty clear that the intention is to provide a useful definition of a word for this bill. From what I’ve seen, the bill itself is pretty unpleasant – all the hysteria over the definition of ‘woman’ used in it is just distracting from that.

    I think it’s pretty absurd to start claiming that a woman – in the general usage of the term – is defined by her capacity to breed. It’s like confusing a technical definition with the general non-technical definition of the same term.

    My wife wouldn’t be a ‘woman’ in the terms of this bill – and she’s fine with that, since she can’t get pregnant, and so doesn’t need to worry about laws on abortions. All this is doing is making sure that everyone who could be effected by laws on abortion is covered.

  24. James
    April 27, 2005 at 8:32 am

    John, in reply #23, states: “I think it’s pretty clear that the intention is to provide a useful definition of a word for this bill. From what I’ve seen, the bill itself is pretty unpleasant – all the hysteria over the definition of ‘woman’ used in it is just distracting from that.”

    To which, I have to say: John, unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Once a legal definition of anything is made, arguments can be made to extend that definition into other laws. It’s called precedent — “In law X, we defined a woman as ‘Z,’, therefore in law Y, we can just say ‘Woman = definition used in Law X.'”

    It’s the whole slippery slope principle, alas — once to get a particular definition on the books, it’s nigh-impossible to remove. And that’s what’s making some people nervous, regardless of the fact that the law itself is questionable in the first place….

  25. Cerridywnne
    April 27, 2005 at 11:46 am

    Reply to #1

    http://www.snopes.com/movies/actors/jamie.htm

    There is no evidence that Curtis is intersex (XXY or otherwise)

  26. Dan
    April 27, 2005 at 12:08 pm

    Aside from the trivialization of the female gender that this bill proposes, what firghtens me about it in a strictly pro choice view is how easily this could be adapted to take advantage of child welfare legislation. By determining that the fetus is capable of pain, a savy prosecutor or lobbyist could then argue that the abortion is considered child abuse and therefor not only dictate that the mother carry to term but also be kept under observation to protect the “child’s well being”. The ramifications to the pro-choice movement behind this bill are staggering. No offence intended, but it makes me a little happier to be living north of the border. My sympathies go out to you.

  27. April 27, 2005 at 5:03 pm

    Am I to presume then that a man is a man only if he has sperm and can impregnate a woman??

    Well, that would certainly put a whole new twist on unmanning a person!
    What idiots think up this stuff??

  28. Deni
    April 28, 2005 at 9:25 am

    John-
    There’s really no need to redefine the word woman for this bill. We COULD just use the words that the english language has already provided us with.

    female of childbearing age, for example, fertile female, etc.

    I was unable to see the bill itself, but any time a word is redefined, it’s important to understand why.

  29. Fyr
    April 29, 2005 at 12:48 am

    Good grief. I am speechless…. which holes do these people crawl out of? Geez.

  30. White Willow
    April 29, 2005 at 7:06 pm

    Re: John in reply 23

    Yes. I have to agree with James in reply #24. In pre-war II Germany, the very FIRST, think Hitler started to do, and I mean before he had gotten to be ruler of the country, was to start redefining words in legal documents and eventually, in the dictionary. This had two effects, the one James is referring to as legal precedent and second, the youth of the current and following generation had different concepts of the words and their meaning. Why is this a concern? Example:

    Jew: a person of the jewish religion or ancestry

    Jew: a person considered a threat to the moral functioning of a society, to be viewed with distrust and alarm.

    Hitler and friends actually did this kind of thing way before they got to power. One can see that depending on how a person is raised, under which dictionary definition and common usage, a person’s perception of a ‘Jew,’ could be quite different.

    As a lesbian in Canada the GLBTQ community is very aware of the power of language. It’s why you’ll find us using ‘queer,’ for example. Historically ‘queer,’ is a word that is used by heterosexuals to denigrate, insult and devalue a homosexual person, “What are you? Some kinda queer?” In the 1980’s and up, GLBT people starting reclaiming the word as in ‘queer politics,’ whereby Queer: is a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person OR a heterosexual person whose sexual identity or sexual desires are ‘transgressive,’ or outside the accepted ‘norms,’ of mainstream society, for example heterosexuals involved in BDSM relationships whether play or lifestyle.

    As one can see depending on the meaning or definition of the word, response to it and the people it defines can be be of two or more extremes. I personally think people should be very, very worried about a a legal precedent which redefineswhat a woman is according to the law,regardless of what lawit starts in.

    Jew: a citizen of Germany of jewish ancestry or religion

    Jew: Under German law this type of person is not considered a citizen.

    Pretty ominous. Why be alarmed? Ever hear of the concept of history repeating itself? Certain things happened before the Nazis were in full power and those certain things are happening within your country. Including the redefinitions of legal entities such as ‘woman.’

    The whole world is alarmed at what is happening in your country, the question is…why isn’t the majority of your population? Or is information such as this kept from them, the ‘digital divide,’ etc.? And please…

    Don’t call me, ‘Anti-American.’ I live right above you, I watch most of your shows participate alot in your cultures, my trade is tied to your economy, I go on vacations to your country, and I, speaking personally now, not as a Canadian, actually at first supported your governments entrance into Iraq…If your friends can’t tell you when they think you’re in trouble…who can?

  31. Will
    May 1, 2005 at 12:46 am

    Reply to #25

    “Reply to #1
    http://www.snopes.com/movies/actors/jamie.htm
    There is no evidence that Curtis is intersex (XXY or otherwise)”

    THANK YOU! Whoever said Ms. Curtis has Klinefelter’s Syndrome (aka 47XXY) obviously knows nothing about the subject. Children with Klinefelter’s Syndrome are in the small category of intersexed children who are raised male.

  32. sheila
    May 2, 2005 at 10:12 am

    EXACT TEXT FROM BILL:
    (6) WOMAN- The term `woman’ means a female human being who is capable of becoming pregnant, whether or not she has reached the age of majority.
    (majority?)
    this explains everything.

  33. Ricky
    May 3, 2005 at 11:05 am
  34. Angie
    May 3, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    Looks like we got a lot of pro-choice folks on this website. And apparently you’re all more concerned that an individual will usurp total power in American government, suppress the human rights of all women, and create a human holocaust than the fact that 40+ million babies have been murdered since the Roe v. Wade decision.

    While it’s always good to be vigilant of threats to our government, you are overlooking the fact that the courts, with their life-time appointments and propensity to legislate from the bench have already usurped power designated specifically to Congress. Further, you are overlooking the fact that the human rights of all unborn infants (half of them would have been “future women”) have already been suppressed, and intentional murder of 40 million individuals because they are too weak to defend themselves is by definition a holocaust.

    Abortion is not the “law” – it was a decision made by the supreme court. Never went through the legislative process to become law. We as citizens had no say over the matter. That doesn’t bother you?

    Cheers

  35. May 3, 2005 at 1:43 pm

    No, Angie, it doesn’t bother me. How long until you start using language speaking of an “abortion holocaust” and comparing us to Nazis?

    Doesn’t it bother you that the government and your anti-abortion cronies think it’s worse to allow women to exercise basic rights regarding healthcare than to tie women’s lifelong opportunities to their reproductive organs?

    And how do you feel about birth control? How does the pro-life movement feel about birth control?

    If you want a real debate, step on out of the archives and participate in some active posts. Dropping by a week-old post in which the comments are about to be closed is rather lame, don’t you think?

    Cheers yourself.

  36. May 3, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    And I’m surprised you found it notable that there are plenty of pro-choice folks on a site with the word “feminist” emblazoned across the top. Real observant, Ang.

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