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(LifeSiteNews) — “What is a woman?” That we even need to ask the question today indicates how literally insane our culture has become — insane, as in removed from reality. Of course, transgenderism is the peak manifestation of this.

Matt Walsh’s documentary, titled with that very question, was a praiseworthy effort to combat this insanity. The film arguably met the most pressing needs in the fight against “transgenderism”: it exposed its absurdity and highlighted the great danger its mutilating surgeries pose to men, women, and children.

But the film also left a great void: A satisfactory answer to the question, as at least a few have pointed out.

Perhaps this is another hint at why we as a society got here in the first place. If leading conservative voices cannot readily give a non-superficial answer, even in a film named for that very question, is it because we are that far removed from understanding what it means to be a woman? Or do we refuse to be “boxed in” by any idea of womanhood, like the “transgenderists”?

But at least one voice is helping to fill the gap left by Walsh, and it is fittingly that of a woman. Helen Roy, who writes for The American Mind and hosts the podcast Girlboss, Interrupted, gave a talk on women at the National Conservatism Conference last week introduced by this question posed by Walsh: What is a woman? 

Roy not only gave a deeper look at the answer; she delivered a blow to the very roots of “transgenderism,” with the help of perhaps the greatest philosopher-theologian of all time.

Roy noted that on one level, Walsh’s answer to the question — “adult human female” — is “true,” scientific, and “concrete.” Indeed, in a common-sense world, this definition should be enough to knock down the premise of “transgenderism,” since our sex is deeply inscribed in our bodies, with a wide and powerful array of effects, including on the very structure of our brains. 

But what the issue really boils down to is this: No matter how his hormones are altered, his sex organs are chopped off, and imitation female parts are plastered onto him, a biological male (really, there is no other kind of man) cannot and never will be able to be inseminated by another man, carry a child conceived within the womb, give birth to that child, and breastfeed the child.

And this is key.

The soil in which transgenderism has grown has been tainted with a deeper problem that has existed in society for decades and has now fully festered: We have forgotten that a woman’s identity is inseparable from motherhood, and that a man’s identity is inseparable from fatherhood. 

Whether or not people like to admit it, the birth control pill opened the floodgates to this artificial, perhaps unconscious compartmentalization. Because we can now engage in the procreative act almost assuredly without procreation, we can forget that motherhood or fatherhood is, normally, in a marriage or conjugal relationship, an inescapable part of our identity.

But the fact is that even if a woman or a man never has biological children, their identities, bodies, and souls are still irrevocably shaped by their capacity to either carry a child from conception and nourish that child; or to impregnate a woman. Their very being is designed in relation to childbearing and family, as well as in relation to the opposite sex. 

Thus, a woman is invariably designed as mother and wife, just as a man is invariably designed as father and husband. These roles are inscribed in their whole being. For the woman, this is even more surely the case, as little girls begin “mothering” baby dolls barely after they begin to speak!

As writer, professor, and ex-feminist Abigail Favale puts it, “When gender is no longer linked to generation, it becomes merely an aesthetic, a signifier without a signified.”

This is why accepting one’s true sex matters. One’s sex is not just a personal, private issue, but by its nature involves and affects others, including spouse and children. 

To fully realize this, it is critical to understand that these identities are not just borne out and made possible through our sex organs. Our very soul is inextricably connected with our body, and therefore with our biological sex, as Roy emphasized in her talk, because we are embodied souls, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains. That is, our soul is expressed through the body. 

Therefore, as Roy pointed out, “There is no such thing as a body being wrong for its soul, for the simple reason that each is fully known only with reference to the other.”

She went on to note that the philosopher St. Edith Stein elaborated on this principle when she wrote, “Of course, woman shares basic human nature, but her faculties are different from men. Therefore a different type of soul must exist as well.”

“To be clear, this is not to say that gender is located in the soul, which is actually much closer to the transgender position. Rather, the embodied soul expresses its own sex,” Roy added.

Indeed, there are certain “soul qualities” influenced by the body, which lend themselves to fulfilling the role of mother and wife, or father and husband.

This is easily seen on an empirical level in the influence of hormones, for example, on personality traits. Men’s much higher levels of testosterone help them to be more assertive, aggressive, and stoic than women on average (despite declining testosterone levels by the year), and therefore aid their role as provider and protector of a family.

The general tendency of women toward greater physical and emotional sensitivity, and corresponding stronger emotions, lends to a stronger sense of sympathy and compassion for the weak and afflicted.

Even accounting for individual differences and exceptions to these generalizations, there are established broad patterns of sex-linked traits, such that ordinarily, there is a distinctly masculine current in men, and a feminine current in women, if it has not been suppressed.

But even the most “masculine” woman and the most “feminine” man are still bound by their biological sex to be mother or father, and thus are still defined by it, even if a man “feels” more like a woman, or a woman “feels” more like a man, due to nature or even nurture.

To use a more exceptional example: Occasionally it happens that a boy who receives low levels of prenatal testosterone, perhaps with parental influences at play, may express himself more like a typical girl than a typical boy; and there is evidence that girls who receive higher than normal levels of prenatal testosterone are more likely to engage in male-typical play as a child.

But just as our physical signature — most distinctly, our reproductive organs — is defined in relation to our potential spouse and our general parenting role, our soul, being inseparable from our body, is also defined by this signature of sex. 

We will live out these roles in a unique way, but if we are to live a properly ordered life, corresponding with nature and best-suited to our role as spouse and parent, we will not only accept our sex, but we will live it out as best we can specifically as father or mother, husband or wife.

Even if a woman does not become a biological mother, her soul is still that of a woman. And everything she does will, or should, reflect her identity as woman and mother, that which her body-soul already tends to.

But this also requires that we “stretch” ourselves, so to speak; that we overcome natural weaknesses. In our fallen human nature, we must strive against our tendency to sin as well as to defy our God-given roles as man or woman, husband or wife, father or mother. This is both shown and explained in the book of Genesis, during and immediately after the Fall: Adam neglected his leadership as husband when he accepted the forbidden fruit from Eve; Eve thereafter would be tempted to usurp or resist her husband’s role as head.

Moreover, differences in individual temperament mean that different men and women must strive harder in different respects to live their role as husband or wife, father or mother, as best they can. 

A woman, as mother, must be loving and attentive to her children, must care for their physical needs, must discipline, morally guide, and teach them. Some women must strive harder for patience; some must strive harder to give firm and consistent discipline; some must make more of an effort to be affectionate; some must make more of an effort to keep physical order. The point regarding the gender debate is that the more naturally “masculine” woman must strive for the feminine ideal as mother, but so must the more naturally “feminine” woman. Their weaknesses are simply somewhat different.

In her talk on women, Roy beautifully described natural feminine tendencies corresponding to women’s physical traits, showing ways in which the body expresses the soul. She noted, “Each of these basic facets of our being corresponds to metaphysical potentialities of virtue,” but they “also reflect our capacity for vice.”

The first physical aspect of women she listed was pregnancy, “including conception, gestation and lactation,” which “corresponds to the capacity to be receptive as well as to cultivate a home for, and to nourish others.” Roy recalled the words of St. Edith Stein: “Woman’s soul is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”

This same tendency, however, when not properly ordered, results in the “devouring mother,” Roy points out, referring to Jordan Peterson’s description of a mother who is “so overprotective and all-encompassing that she interferes with the development of the competence not only of her son, but also of her daughter.”

Then, there is woman’s “relative physical softness,” which “may correspond to tenderness, a readiness to comfort the afflicted.” Roy here names an opposing tendency which results in “the jaded temptress,” and/or “the frigid careerist.”

Finally, a woman’s fluctuating hormonal cycle “indicates a mode of living that accommodates frequent change.” My interpretation of the virtue that this signifies is a bit different from Roy’s. Because the hormonal cycle typically comes with both physical and psychological pain, I see this as corresponding to women’s special call to endurance and strength in suffering, as well as her adaptability, which can be a virtuous act of submission to God (via her husband or otherwise).

However, this hormonal cycle also corresponds to the vice of a kind of “emotional incontinence, an excessive focus on the present moment or unwillingness to delay gratification,” noted Roy, who cited as an example of this the “embrace of no-fault divorce, which has made the eternal into the disposable.”

What it means to be a woman and how women can return to their calling in a culture that despises the authentically feminine is a subject that can fill volumes. But we must first understand that we will never heal as a society from the poison of feminism, nor from the cancerous growth of “transgenderism,” until we return to the most fundamental understanding of –what a woman is: She is a mother, whether of biological children, or spiritual ones.


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