Marjorie Taylor Greene looks into the camera and smirks, wearing sunglasses, standing in front of a large podium at an outdoor rally

Republicans Are Insisting They Know How To Define ‘Woman’ and It’s Not Going Well for Them

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson had to put up with a lot of nonsense during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings last month, with Republicans barraging her with bad-faith logicless lines of questioning designed to paint her as a radical warrior for wokeness.

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One of the most irritating moments was when Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee asked Jackson to define “woman.” It was a gross “gotcha” question because the only reasonable answer is the one Jackson gave: that she can’t define “woman” in this context because she’s not a biologist. She also noted that her job as a judge is to “address disputes,” explaining, “If there’s a dispute about a definition, people make arguments and I look at the law and I decide.”

But Blackburn was clearly banking on Jackson refusing to play her definitions game. “Well, 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,” she said.

Jackson’s answer was the only reasonable response and it’s not because the word “woman” is “controversial,” as Blackburn claimed; it’s because context and nuance exist. The Washington Post had a good explanation recently:

You know intuitively, certainly. And, depending on how much time you want to spend on it, you can come up with a broadly bounded answer. But then uncertainty creeps in. When does womanhood begin? 13? 18? Is it dependent on the presence of body parts like a uterus? Does it derive from hormone levels? Chromosomal markers? There’s something called Turner syndrome in which people have only one X chromosome. Are such individuals women?

It seems a simple question, and it can be answered simply, but it can also be complicated. “Red” is the absorption of a certain wavelength of light. It is also the color of hearts on Valentine’s Day. What definition do you want?

Gender isn’t as easy to define as a lot of Republicans want to believe and they’re learning that firsthand. To try to prove that Jackson’s answer was insufficient, they’re offering their own definitions of “woman,” and it is going about as poorly as you’d expect.

National embarrassment Marjorie Taylor Greene had this to say by way of definition:

“I’m going to tell you right now what is a woman,” she told the Georgia Republican Assembly at a recent meeting. “We came from Adam’s rib. God created us with his hands. We may be the weaker sex, we are the weaker sex, but we are our partner’s, our husband’s, wife.”

In addition to the preposterous inanity of basing your definition of gender on a religious fable and the insulting claim that women are by definition “weak,” this is just a terrible definition! You can’t define what something is by describing it only in relation to (and as a possession of) other things. If I tried to describe a lamp by saying “it’s a thing people own that helps us see” you wouldn’t know what I was talking—glasses? flashlights? windows??—about because that’s not how definitions work.

Meanwhile, Congress’ #1 orgy outer Madison Cawthorn has his own definition and it’s, well, maybe not worse but differently terrible.

“Take notes, Madame Speaker. I’m about to define what a woman is for you,” he said from the floor of Congress in opposition of protections for transgender rights. “XX chromosomes, no tallywhacker. It’s so simple.”

It’s not just conservatives in office that have tried to get in on this embarrassing conversation. You know Tucker Carlson had to give it shot:

This past weekend, Saturday Night Live gave us a fantastic bit featuring Cecily Strong as Marsha Blackburn, hilariously fumbling her way through multiple failed attempts to define what a woman is.

“It’s simple, it’s biology, OK? It’s your private parts—but the ones you have when you’re born, but just the bottom private parts, because the top ones come later—no you know what, OK—it’s your period,” Strong’s Blackburn ranted.

“Gotta have a period—unless you’re old or young or pregnant or stressed out or doing gymnastics,” Strong continued. “No, you know what? Scratch that, I’m going back to baby privates, final answer.” 

“It’s not just biology, OK?” she hedged when questioned by Colin Jost. “Woman is cheerleader, nurse, teacher, prostitute. Come on, you know, you’ve seen them. They’re always cold, they’re the ones that be shopping.”

It was already a funny bit before it proved to be distressingly prescient in the following days.

(image: Megan Varner/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.