Wednesday, September 27, 2023
The current debate about the meaning of the term “woman” has become a proxy for the culture wars over the rights of sexual and gender minorities, with social conservatives claiming that “sex” has traditionally meant “biological sex” and that the determination of one’s sex can easily be resolved by resort to biology. Progressives, on the other hand, argue for a broader definition of “sex,” to include gender identity. It has sometimes been assumed that the social conservatives have history on their side, but this article demonstrates that the courts, including the United States Supreme Court, have not traditionally defined “sex” in such a way as to protect only “biological sex”—better understood to mean sex assigned at birth. Instead, the courts have long interpreted statutory and constitutional prohibitions against sex discrimination to apply to a range of gender-related and sex-related characteristics, including compliance with traditional gender norms and gender roles. This article also demonstrates that the social conservatives do not have science on their side, because current understandings of biology do not support a strict male and female binary. In addition, gender identity itself is believed by scientists to have a biological basis, such that gender identity is a component of sex as defined by biology.