What is a woman?

Answering the simple question ‘what is a woman?’ has proved difficult for some senior politicians in the UK. The scientific answer is clear. A woman is an adult human female. This answer is also completely Orthodox.

It’s impossible for anyone to change sex. Every diploid cell in the human body has either ‘male' or ‘female' genetically stamped on it. Males have the XY sex chromosomes whilst females have XX chromosomes. (Some children are born with an intersex condition in which the external genitals do not match up with the internal reproductive organs or the sex chromosomes. When treating these rare conditions by surgery, doctors are not changing the sex of the child; instead, they are trying to conform the outward genitalia to the internal reproductive system.)

Senior politicians who cannot answer this basic biology question say that sex is a different concept from gender. In other words, children are assigned male and female at birth, but they can later choose to reject this assignment and choose another gender.

Trying to divorce the concepts of gender and sex is dishonest. The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word gender is ‘a person’s sex'. A man choosing to identify as a woman is still male. His choice cannot turn him into woman. A man identifying as a woman can never become female. All he can do is to become more feminine.

This distinction between femaleness and femininity is an important one. When a man dresses as a woman he is pretending to be something he is not. He does this by doing things he thinks that women do - he shaves his body hair, he wears high heels, tights and make-up. In other words he does feminine things.

Most women do some of these feminine things on occasion or regularly. Many of them are a response to how men in society expect women to behave. Women who choose not to do these things, are still real, beautiful women - they are simply not conforming to what society expects a woman to look like. A ‘transwoman’ is still a male no matter how feminine he tries to look.

This scientific fact is clearly observed in sport. The Jamaican athlete Elaine Thompson-Herah won the 100m gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics with a time of 10.17secs. This time would have placed her ninth at the 2016 American Outdoor Nationals for under-18 boys (not fast enough to qualify for the final). That year, the women’s Olympic Champion would have also failed to qualify for 200m, 400m and 800m boys final. 

Most elite sports allow men who have undergone treatment to reduce testosterone levels to compete against female athletes. This is unfair for a number of reasons. Firstly, their permitted level of testosterone (5nm/L or 10nm/L) is still much higher than that permitted for female athletes (1nm/L). This five or ten increase in permitted testosterone levels gives them a huge advantage in building muscle mass.  Castration of male athletes can reduce their testosterone levels to (1nm/L), but this still fails to account that male athletes have undergone male puberty. The physical advantages that they have acquired through going male puberty place them at a significant advantage over women. It’s simply not fair that a man ranked 500th in the world in his sport can identify as a woman, undergo one year of hormone treatment and then compete as a woman defeating three female Olympic silver medalists in the process. Elite women’s sport should not be a refuge for mediocre male athletes.

The gulf between the women and men’s athletics records is huge. This gulf is caused by the physical differences between male and female. There is simply no way an elite female athlete can compete with an elite male no matter how hard she trains or how talented she is. Allowing men and women to compete against each other is simply not fair. 

Activists have tried to counter this fairness argument by saying that sport is not fair. After all, they say, any race featuring the great American swimmer Michael Phelps was not fair because of his physical attributes. There’s no doubt that Phelps was a great swimmer and won a lot of races due to his physical stature. However, he also had an excellent technique and trained exceptionally hard. The competition was both close and fair. Phelps now only holds one individual world record (400m individual medley) - all his others have now been broken. The second placed winner in this race finished 3.5 seconds behind. The women’s world record holder, the Hungarian Katinka Hosszu would have finished 20 seconds behind despite smashing the women's world record.

Politicians who say that they believe in both inclusiveness and fairness in women’s sport are being deceitful. By promoting the inclusion of transwomen into women’s sport they are making it unfair for women. Transwomen in these races are not only robbing elite female athletes of the chance to win titles, their presence in the final deprives a female semi-finalist of her place in the final, and so on all the way back to grass-roots sport.

There are more important reasons, too, why males should be excluded from female sports spaces. Allowing males into women’s changing rooms and toilets deprives women of  privacy. Schools that have mixed changing rooms are failing to protect girls from the predictable attempts of boys to spy on them. The problem is made even worse as these criminal invasions of privacy can now be recorded on mobile phones and shared online.

The current rules in most women’s sports are obviously unfair to women. More importantly, those that deny that a woman can only be an adult human female are also denying Orthodoxy. God created mankind as male and female, and we’ll be judged in these bodies when we rise from the grave.

In the Church, however, men and women are equal. We are all one in Christ and in the Church ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female’ (see Gal. 3:28). We receive true equality through our baptism.  We shall end with some words of Saint Proclus of Constantinople:

Through Mary all women are blessed. The female can no longer be held accursed, for the rank of this sex surpasses even the angels in glory. Now Eve is healed, the Egyptian woman passed over in silence. Delilah is sealed in a tomb. Jezebel given to oblivion. Even Herodias herself is no longer mentioned. Now behold the catalogue of admirable women: All praise Sarah, the fertile field of the people. Rebecca is honoured, a capable provider of blessings, and Leah too they admire as mother of the ancestor in the flesh. Deborah wins praise because she led in battle despite her sex. Elizabeth also they call happy, for she carried the Forerunner in her body, and he leaped in delight at the approach of grace.


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