Skip to main content


The definition of a woman? Don’t ask me

Labour MP Dawn Butler. Christopher Furlong/Getty

This week on International Women’s Day, on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, host Emma Barnett asked Labour’s Anneliese Dodds a simple question, says Suzanne Moore in The Daily Telegraph. Could she give a clear definition of the word “woman”? “Dodds prevaricated for what seemed like hours,” trotting out lines about how there were different legal definitions about what a woman actually is. Barnett tried again. “What’s the Labour definition?” Dodds said it depended on context.

“The erasure of the word ‘woman’ has been happening for some time now.” In 2018, Cancer Research invited people “with a cervix” to have smear tests. Last year, the front cover of the medical journal The Lancet referred to women as “bodies with vaginas”. Recently, the Brighton and Sussex University NHS Trust did away with terms like “maternity” and “mother” and substituted them with phrases such as “chest-feeder” and “human milk”. Primark has abolished “maternity wear” and now talks about its “parenthood collection”.

But it’s the politicians who bother me most. When Layla Morgan ran for leadership of the Lib Dems, she couldn’t define a woman either. “A woman is a gender,” she said. “It is a way to self-identify and there are lots of genders.” And Labour MP Dawn Butler has said that babies are born without a sex. “To see these supposedly powerful women unable to use and define the word ‘woman’ makes me despair. If you cannot take the heat, get out of politics, ladies.”