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December 9, 2019


Richard Sweeton

Where we live, “cow” is the singular form of the word “cattle.” Moreover, “cows” is used as an alternate to “cattle”: “Did you feed the cows?” may refer to a group of bovines including steers and a bull.

Heath White

Am I getting this right?

On the one hand are people who think the old-fashioned method of human reproduction is, on the whole, just fine, and for that vision of humanity, a definition of 'woman' as "adult human female" would be appropriate.

On the other, there are those who look forward to a utopia in which we reproduce asexually like polyps. For that vision of humanity, a revised definition of 'woman' would be appropriate.

Thus the currently contested definition of 'woman' is a contest between competing visions of human flourishing.

I have some sympathy with this analysis of the situation, and I would welcome the clarity that a clear public statement of it would provide. I would bet, though, that as soon as *these* stakes were made clear, public sympathy would near-universally fall on the side of tradition.

Jonathan Kaplan

"It is perfectly possible that the reproductive function that has underlain sex-specific language about our own species (and that has been at the root of gender inequality and oppression) will continue to decline in social salience, at which point we might well expect that 'woman' will no longer mean 'adult human female,' a possibility that Byrne acknowledges, and, moreover, a possibility he does not acknowledge, that no other term moves in to do the same work that 'woman' continues to do, under some strain, for now."

I think this is perhaps part of what Ann Leckie asks us to imagine in her novel _Ancillary Justice_ -- no polyps :) but reproductive function having lost much of its social salience for (some) humans...

Derek Nevada

@Heath White

Your reading is definitely a misunderstanding. The author is not saying that there's a possibility where humans evolve to breed asexually or something like that. He's saying that, like with other human animals, it may be the case that, for humans, like other animals, the social significance of breeding diminishes to a point where a term like 'woman' need not pick out the biological category of female. Indeed, it could (although the author doesn't make this point for reasons in the post) go the way many other domesticated animals wherein the term 'woman' could come to refer to the species of human as a whole perhaps the way man does. The author, however, isn't making that claim because he's also saying whether humanity controls the breeding is significant to how the usage of the term evolves.

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