“What is a woman?” This simple question—to which the dictionary definition, still clinging on for dear life, is “adult female human”—has recently been stumping Western politicians. During her recent confirmation hearing for the US Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson struggled to give a definition, demurring that she isn’t, in fact, a biologist. Britain’s Conservative chancellor, Rishi Sunak, likewise struggled painfully to answer it in a recent interview. Everybody in the world knows, however, that you don’t need to be a biologist to define what a woman—or, indeed, a man—is. Everybody, that is, apart from the gender ideologues who today occupy the commanding heights of media, business, academe, and philanthropy. Many of them are interviewed in Matt Walsh’s compelling new documentary, What Is A Woman?

The documentary presents a searing and unforgettable indictment of today’s gender ideology that should rouse action across the political spectrum. Yet Walsh’s framing doesn’t always do justice to the possibilities of such a cross-partisan alliance in defense of woman, man, and reality.

Walsh uses an interview style often employed by British filmmaker Louis Theroux, a kind of faux-naivety, though where Theroux is soft, the Daily Wire pundit is blunt. He leads various “gender-affirming” therapists, scholars, and activists into aporia and apoplexy by pushing them to answer this simple question. They can’t do so, other than by offering circular reasoning (a woman is anyone who says they are a woman), or vague non-answers (a woman is a constellation of things), or aggressive deflection (why are you asking?). Many of the interviews are cut off by the interviewees, desperate to get away from Walsh. This is perhaps understandable. In 2022, you can’t give a clear answer to this question without running the risk of losing your job or, in the heartbreaking case of one Canadian father interviewed by Walsh, being imprisoned and fined $30,000 for “misgendering” your own child.

Walsh goes further than his dumb-beardy act, pinning various medical and psychological practitioners on why they think it’s a good idea to give children an osteoporosis-causing drug also used in chemical castration. Their answers are terrifying: Children will know when they’re ready; children know best; the drugs are reversible (they are not). Nobody, in fact, knows the long-term effect of giving young people (or adults) cross-sex hormones. What we do know isn’t good; they don’t reduce negative thoughts in the gender-dysphoric children who take them, for example.

Children are without a shadow of a doubt being experimented on, and their parents are being emotionally manipulated into “transing” their kids; otherwise, they are told, their children will “kill themselves.” The fallout from transgenderism is already brutal for those physically and psychologically harmed, and for parents who have lost their children to an internet-fuelled cult; there is absolutely no way we won’t look back on this period with the same horror as we do witch-burning, lobotomies, or state-enforced sterilization.

“In 2022, you can’t give a clear answer to this question without running the risk of losing your job.”

Walsh’s film, apart from a sobering depiction of stupidity, is also a document of barbarism. Scott Newgent, a trans man who now speaks out against medical transition, is blistering, railing against the extremely high infection rate of surgical operations. Newgent also details how much money the medical-industrial complex receives for “treating” trans patients. “We’re butchering a generation of children,” Newgent states, “because nobody is willing to talk about anything.”

Some of the most moving and enraging interviews are those with female athletes who have lost out after being forced to compete against mediocre men; one recounts how a psychologist was sent to talk to a women’s team that found itself competing against University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas—but only to tell the women they weren’t allowed to have a problem with it.

What Is a Woman? has two main shortcomings, however. As many gender-critical feminists, such as Victoria Smith, have pointed out, Walsh ignores the legal, philosophical, and political efforts already pursued, at great cost, by many women in defense of women’s rights and the protection of children (think of Keira Bell, Maya Forstater, Allison Bailey, Kathleen Stock, and many others). It is simply inaccurate for Walsh to portray himself as the sole, heroic figure single-handedly battling pink-and-blue dragons. Second, rather than ending with a slightly glib scene where Walsh asks his wife to define a woman before handing him a jar to open, a cross-partisan call to arms would have made more sense: His interviewees—distressed trans people, parents, the odd reality-based psychiatrist—make it abundantly clear that the lying and destruction needs to stop as soon as possible, before more people, particularly children, suffer grave harm.

Western societies have taken a wrong turn on transgenderism, and all of us should resolve to reverse course. We all want to do our best by each other, by our children. When people are unhappy, we shouldn’t rush to medicate and operate on them to “affirm” what they say they want. Sometimes institutions, such as medicine and education, and the people who comprise them, go wrong. Those who work in these places need to speak up when they know something isn’t right. Parents’ eagerness to change their children’s sex should be a red flag; doctors keen to be at the “cutting edge” of new technologies of the body are to be questioned, not worshipped. We may disagree on all kinds of issues, but here reality is howling out: You can’t change sex, and the damage being done in pretending otherwise is utterly, damningly horrific.

Nina Power is a senior editor of and columnist for Compact. She is the author of What Do Men Want?: Masculinity and Its Discontents.


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