Flat White

Women will be women – thank God

13 April 2022

2:00 PM

13 April 2022

2:00 PM

Isn’t it funny…?

A US Senator asked Ketanji Brown Jackson during her confirmation hearing if she could define a woman. She couldn’t, but that question ricocheted around the world and into the Australian Parliament this week where the same question drew a blank from senior public servants. Even senior female public servants before the Head of Health suggested, ‘I think perhaps to give a more fulsome answer we should take that on notice.’

Despite its apparent simplicity, the definition of a woman (and for that matter, a man) is not that simple, but there are not ‘a variety of definitions’ as Head of Health first suggested, otherwise there would not be ‘woman’.

Now, I’m one of those people who actually doesn’t believe in progress; particularly where human thought is concerned with things that are, and always have been. I think the ancients were probably more thoughtful and knowledgeable about such matters than modern thinkers, even those who trust the science.


If we look at the Bible, we find an interesting Old Testament passage in Genesis where Rachael says to her father: ‘Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me.’ By which she means menstruation. She might also have said that the ‘way’ of women is menstruation.

The Old Testament has no concept of ‘nature’, but does have the notion of events that happen with regularity which are used to define things.

The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, discovered a principle in things that are always the same – the heavens, animals, man – they referred to this as physis (φυσις) which was translated into Latin as nature. Nature can be found in the New Testament, which shows its Greek influence.

When someone is asked to define a woman they are being asked to say, ‘What is the nature of woman?’ The Greeks always looked to the work of something in order to understand its nature. For example, although a chair is man-made rather than natural, the definition of a chair, in fact of everything built by the art of man, is given by what it is expected to do, its purpose.

Initially, when this principle is applied to women, we have to face the fact that they are capable of doing everything that a man can do, except for one thing. There is one natural function that is unique to women and that is the capacity of the woman to bear and nourish children.

That is not to say that women cannot do many other things; but the one natural feature that separates them from men is the potential to bear and nourish children.

It is quite possible that the female public servants who were asked to define a woman would probably have been more comfortable in answering had they been familiar with their nature rather than foreign policy.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.


Show comments
Close