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I don't necessarily have a strong attachment to the word "woman" itself, but I do have a strong desire to have a word to refer to the set of adult female humans. There may be a few edge cases here and there (though not as many as you think; women who've had hysterectomies are still female, since sex is defined according to the body plan by which you develop, not the gametes you actively have). But overall, being able to refer to this class of humans, who in the vast majority of cases are easy to classify, is useful for many reasons. I can outline them for you if you'd find it enlightening, but the real reason I wanted to comment was to explain my frustration with the attempts to suddenly alter the definition of a word that previously had a clear meaning.

You acknowledge the potential for deceit, whereby dishonest actors pretend to be using one definition of a word but are actually using a different one. I've observed the same thing (https://andifortruth.substack.com/p/operator-overloading-and-the-culture), but I see that deceit as part of a broader pattern that prevents women from coming together as a class with shared interests. I don't think there's some evil sexist behind the curtain aiming to prevent women from coming together, but I do think our culture tends to encourage women to elevate men's comfort over our own. That socialization makes women in progressive circles, which dominate the social scene in which I move, worry so much about upsetting transwomen and non-binary people that they move away from organizing on behalf of women as a class.

This foregone organizing doesn't always have to be a mass movement to affect my life. For example, consider how few lesbian bars remain in the US. (Even many of the remaining establishments calling themselves lesbian bars are actually all-inclusive queer bars.) Sure, there are other factors working against the success of these establishments. But the owners being in a pickle where they don't want to risk ostracism for being non-inclusive of males identifying as women while also wanting to please lesbians who'd prefer lesbian-focused spaces doesn't help them. It's hard for me to form friendships with other lesbians/bi women, because there are so few spaces left for us after this pressure to be inclusive. Even Reddit has banned two different lesbian subreddits for being insufficiently inclusive. I still have straight female friends and male friends of various sexual orientations, so I don't want to sound like a hermit. But sometimes I wish I could meet more women who'd instinctually understand what it's like to be a same-sex attracted female and have an instinctual understanding of certain experiences that these other friends don't share.

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I too have a strong preference for wanting a word (it doesn't have to be woman) that describes the set of adult human females. (why? because we had such a word in the past and it is still a useful concept) But each attempt to pivot to a new term (biological woman, female) has, in turn, been absorbed by the trans-inclusionary activist.

Kathleen Stock may have stumbled upon the only term not currently colonized: non-trans women.

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You're describing what looks almost like an arms race in taking over alternative words. I acknowledge this is annoying and a problem, but I have doubts how effective of a tactic it will be in the long-run.

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I think non-trans women is a decent start, and I'm a huge fan of Kathleen Stock in general, but transmen and non-binary females wouldn't consider themselves to belong in that category. And one of the things that saddens me about the current environment is that the transmen who would've been butch lesbians 15 years ago are encouraged to ignore the commonalities they share with other lesbians. Even the ones who pass still retain many of these commonalities, and I think we could all benefit by recognizing them and supporting each other.

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Aug 2, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

I have just discovered your writing, and am really enjoying it!

I definitely recoiled at “wanting to throw ‘woman’ in the garbage”. I don’t think this debate is ever covering the full picture (particularly of why the word is such contested territory) without exploring the reason this debate falls on the word “woman” and not “man”. I think this is central to why the word “woman” should not be thrown in the garbage.

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Talk of garbage throwing is largely for dramatic flair. I wasn't as direct and transparent in this piece, intentionally so. My overall goal is basically to call the bluff, if only for the purpose of proceeding to the next step of the conversation on this issue. I find debates about definitions kind of boring, but if we move on to the 'why' of it all, maybe we'll learn something about everyone's motivations. You pointing out that "woman" is much more contested than "man" is definitely part of the latter (more interesting) conversation.

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Jul 15, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

You should consider having Bogardus on the podcast, he was influential to me. I think that when someone says "What is a woman?" they are asking "what does the term woman ordinarily mean?" And I believe that people ordinarily mean "adult human female." The specific components adult, human, and female are not perfectly unambiguous, but collectively they align very well with what people ordinarily mean when they say they word "woman." An adult human female who has removed her uterus is still female, and thus still a woman. We use the term female to describe animals, so if it is acceptably unambiguous in those contexts, I am unsure as to why it is not in the human context. I think sex regards gamete production. If you have the organs which produce sperm when ordinarily when functioning properly, you are a male. If someone produced both sperm and egg, we could regard them as both male and female. I think this description describes how we use language ordinarily. If we want to create stipulative definitions, that's fine.

I think that transwomen want to be referred to as women because they find is psychologically beneficial and it makes advocacy for full integration into society easier. Why would I spend the time arguing for one definition over another? Well, first, I think it is because it's true. I think that Bentham, Alexander, and Aella's definitions aren't even that good because they are both inaccurate in terms of ordinary use and they fail the trans inclusion problem. I tried to propose a constructed trans inclusive definition and a ordinary use definition in my article which accomplish these tasks seperately. Which definition you use will likely depend on your ethical beliefs.

My personal ethical stance is that the propagation of the idea that males can become girls and women and females can become boys and men is socially harmful because dysphoria would not exist without this belief. My primary concern is not women's spaces, but irreversible hormone treatment and surgical interventions. I think it would be better if these feelings (which I genuinely believe exist and are real) never arise in the first place. I don't think that being trans is genetically determined, and that many trans people would not be dysphoric or have to undergo procedures in a different culture. At the same time, I don't want to make trans people's lives terrible. I think people should continue to be respectful and use the appropriate pronouns when interacting with trans people.

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> We use the term female to describe animals, so if it is acceptably unambiguous in those contexts, I am unsure as to why it is not in the human context.

I think the disconnect is obvious, no? How we would relate to animals as humans is very different to how we would relate to other humans. Finding out the gestational capacity of an animal will likely be one of the highest priority questions, especially in an agricultural context. Finding out out the gestational capacity for another human goes on the distant backburner *unless* I'm actively looking to impregnate someone. It's just not generally a useful distinction to make at all.

Now you might say that the secondary characteristics that are associated with gestational capacity matter, and I would agree! When I am looking for someone to date, I may not look for their capacity to give birth BUT I do look for characteristics that align quite closely to that, at least to some extent. But regardless, I think it's always helpful to remind ourselves *why* the distinction and categorization matters, instead of just blindly accepting the sorting bins as sacrosanct.

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Jul 16, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

I know that someone's [gametes] aren't always relevant to why someone is calling someone a woman, nor is it particularly useful in many cases. When I say that the definition is just the ordinary usage of the term, I am not saying it's useful, good, or totally unambiguous. I'm just saying how people use the term ordinarily. "Woman" normally refers to the class of people best described as adult human females.

That was a point in a larger argument. I just say that we use female to apply to animals to make the point that the term female is not particularly ambiguous (or circular as the video creator suggests), and that people are willing to use it to apply to animals. Hens and cows are female - this is not confusing or contentious generally. Women are also female for the same reason.

I think that your approach of breaking things down in order to talk about traits precisely is not an abuse of language or anything. And there are decent reasons for doing this. I don't think you're wrong, and I appreciate your exactness in speech.

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Jul 15, 2022·edited Jul 15, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

The dream - the impossible dream - is for "women" to reach the same space as "Jewish". Observe.

Q. Who is "Jewish"

A. Anyone who either has Jewish ancestry, or identifies with Jewish customs.

Q. So are Ivanka Trump and Sammy Davis Jr. Jewish?

A. Yes, they are Jewish.

Q. Then Ayn Rand and Karl Marx are not Jewish?

A. They too are Jewish.

Q. So nobody can get mad at me if I use a biological definition of being Jewish?

A. No, they cannot.

Q. And I CAN get mad at them for using an identity definition of being Jewish?

A. No, you also cannot.

Q. And you think everyone is happy with this arrangement?

A. Some extremists are not happy with it.

Q. What do the extremists want?

A. To complain. They want to complain.

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> Anyone who either has Jewish ancestry, or identifies with Jewish customs.

This is not at all a mainstream definition of "Jewish". (The first part, yes. But not the second part.)

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1. Converts are allowed Israeli citizenship under the Right of Return.

2. Forget Sammy Davis Jr. and Ivanka Trump. Is a "mainstream" person going to approach a 40 year old man at his son's Bar Mitzvah and scream "you're not really Jewish". We wouldn't do that for Christian converts.

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1. Exactly. A convert is not merely someone who "identifies with Jewish customs". There are serious and official criteria that have to be met for a conversion to be accepted.

2. What does that have to do with anything? No one cares who's at a bar-mitzvah. You don't have to be Jewish to attend a bar-mitzvah. It's just a party.

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Okay, let's agree that we're disagreeing on a matter of degree, not of kind.

My point is that there is a process for non-biological Jews to become "Jewish", and that both terms (biological and social) can be used in the same world even though they are sometimes contradictory.

Yes, there is obviously a lot of debate about how much you have to do to "be Jewish", and the son's Bar Mitzvah example was kept short for brevity. But a normal man converting to a moderately Jewish life, raising his kids Jewish and going to synagogue pretty often would be called "Jewish" by almost every Westerner I know. Not when they're discussing Tay Sachs disease, but that's my point.

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No. The difference between undergoing a conversion and "identifying with Jewish customs" is a qualitative difference in kind, not just one of degree.

Are you Jewish? Because from the way you are writing it doesn't sound like you understand certain basic principles of Judaism. For example, your remark that "a normal man converting to a moderately Jewish life, raising his kids Jewish and going to synagogue pretty often would be called "Jewish" by almost every Westerner I know" tells me that you don't understand what actually matters in regards to Jewishness and what doesn't. One doesn't need to go to synagogue to be Jewish. One isn't Jewish by how they raise their kids.

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But if you really want to draw the line at altering of genitals I suppose we could still have a consistent standard... (I joke, I joke)

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With respect, I'm a bit tired of Christians telling other Christians they're not real Christians, Muslims doing the same for Muslims, and no, Judaism isn't magically different here. What's the qualitative difference you're thinking of? Circumcision? Mikvah? Because I think that terms like "Accepting beliefs", "Understanding history" or "Observing Mitzvot" are actually a difference of degree away from the much pithier "Identifying with customs". In case you didn't notice, I was trying to keep everything to a single line.

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Oct 4, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

1. Speaking of the French and the national identity, the saga of Groupe Bull is most instructive. The idea was to create a French national champion to rival Microsoft - the idea was that Microsoft wasn't big because it was successful, rather, it was successful because it was big. Actually, there is some truth to this (network effects) but the execution proved a money pit.

2. Speaking of definitions - if you ever have caught a bat, are they categorized as mice with wings or are they birds with fur? How does Confucius and the Rectification Of Names Play into all this?

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Worth mentioning the Minitel saga as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minitel

I hadn't heard of the Rectification of Names before, but that's a fascinating concept. I wonder how much of it was a technological ritual intended primarily to unify/harmonize a legal system that is spread out too wide?

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In the case of the Rectification of Names, it was intended to promote clear thinking.

Like a lot of Confucianism, its legal effects were indirect - the superior man starts by fixing himself, and by fixing themselves, the result is that society and the state are reformed.

This is akin to feline philosophy. If you are to eat, stay safe and warm, find mates and raise kittens, a cat must recognize things as they in fact are and not as we wish they were.

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I dig your commentary, and I enjoy the opportunity to read your viewpoint. Your newsletter is one that I get a little shot of happiness at seeing in my inbox.

This is the first one I’ve read that I’d like to add to, if I may.

1. The traditional age of maturation has been based in biology - a girl becomes a woman at menstruation. It is only within the last hundred years or so that we’ve seen a drastic decline in the age of female sexual maturity (again, not in cultural terms, purely biologically). In the 1840’s the average age of menstruation was almost 17. (The correlation between food abundance and female reproduction is fascinatingly linked). This poses a unique cultural dilemma with the traditional definition : the average age of menstruation is so low now as to make it preposterous to utilize in defining the time of maturation for females. A 13 year old is not, and should not be culturally defined as a woman. So, yes, Aella is right in pointing out some of the biological outliers, but it is also entirely moot and annoyingly trite. Yes, the definition of a woman is now, by necessity, one culturally defined. But utilizing that necessity to cast aside ALL biological groundings, especially before a vast majority of the population even understands their own biology, is to disregard the needs of a majority portion of the population. Which leads to the next point.

2. This is an amazing encapsulation of the lefts abandonment of the poor. Just look up the amount of ignorance we have of our own bodies, especially in poor communities. I grew up desperately poor, clawed my way through a local university working full time, and still had no understanding of my own reproductive functionality until I had a baby. Like a huge chunk of poor women, I had no idea what a cervix even was, let alone that I would require healthcare for a “cervix haver”. Instead of employing mass reproductive education to ensure 50% of the female population still gets the healthcare they need even with a shift in linguistic norms, the left is using sneering ridicule, genuine harassment, and calls of bigotry as their engines for change. They leave behind women who do not speak English as a first language, and a vast population of women ignorant of their own biology in favor of a tiny percentage of people who feel an affinity to the trappings of femininity. It is elitism to the extreme, and it is undeserving of real consideration. Change, true change, is slow and unglamorous and does not make for a pithy, morally superior tweet storm, and has therefore been replaced with sarcasm and rioting.

I won’t be scrapping the word woman because our elites, so detached from everyday life, have decided to force their thought experiment into the everyday life of the plebes.

Do your clients know what a woman is? Would your female clients understand that medical messaging for “Cervix Havers” would be life saving for them?

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> Your newsletter is one that I get a little shot of happiness at seeing in my inbox.

Oh my what a lovely compliment 🤗

> But utilizing that necessity to cast aside ALL biological groundings...

It's not clear to me that anyone advocated this position. Pointing out that a definition (i.e. neighborhood *name*) has problems, especially at the margins, doesn't mean that the thing itself (i.e. neighborhood *itself*) has problems. Rather, I intend it as a critique where we reflexively or unintentionally use words to define our reality, rather than the other way around.

This gets to your next point, which I mostly concede. I acknowledge that the fights we see over language are not just theoretical and indeed have the potential to have real-life impact. Naming a thing is one of the first steps in telling other people about the thing, and petty fights at the first stage risks compromising efforts in the second step.

What I wrote here is partly me just describing what's going on, but I'm also trying to brainstorm what some potential solutions might be. In that context, I'm trying to be both realistic and diplomatic. I have no power to force everyone to use the word/definition I herald as True, and neither does anyone else. I understand why some people want to stay back and fight for this neighborhood, and I think many of those motivations are commendable (including many of the reasons you specifically outline), but good motivations are not enough to guarantee good outcomes.

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Jul 23, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

All fair points, as usual.

“Reflexively use words to define our reality, rather than the other way around” is well put and helps understand - and even *gasp* empathize with - people devoted to the preservation or eradication of specific word definitions for their own gratification.

To the last, “good motivations are not enough to guarantee a good outcome” and can, conversely, be the basis for immeasurable cruelty. Change is inevitable, especially now that “woman” is more culturally than biologically defined, but our culture rushing through that change with little to no consideration for ramifications is elitist and naively cruel. I am no more attached to the word “woman” to describe me than I am the word “short” or “total badass”- a rose by any other word, and all that. But the focus on this issue, and the speed at which is has been implemented - to the point that hospitals in my area are putting out notices to practitioners that “biologically female” or “biologically male” are transphobic terms - is the very definition of good motivations leading to untold cruelties.

I’m throwing in my two cents that if we want change - or even if we don’t, it’s inevitable - that it be done slowly and with our most vulnerable in mind - not with mocking or moral superiority or claims of bigotry and hatred. Starting, very basically, with making sure everyone understands their biology before we start changing terms for those formerly biologically based words. SexEd for all is not the coolest place to start but, from my perspective, it’s the only place to start.

Thanks for the response 😊.

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Oct 4, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

Note that elites will gladly discuss race, gender, and have wonderfully clarifying debates that are the modern day equivalent of asking how many LGTBQXYZPDQ+ can dance on the head of a pin.

Those same elites are much less comfortable discussing class. For that matter, note that none of the aforementioned struggle sessions, whether it is determined that Melvin is "literal Hitler" for saying that there are only 26 genders (plus genders not yet discovered) when everyone knows that there are 29 genders, none of the corporate diversity committees and pronoun preferences on corporate email signatures, none of this changes the way the economic pie is sliced.

To take the converse - if employers would stop hindering unionization, the result would be a transfer of concrete material benefits to black and brown and red and white and other working class people greater than all the wokest tweets ever featured on Twitter, greater than all the affirming messaging and virtue signaling and struggle sessions and statements about stolen land ever crafted and run by Legal.

Which is precisely why they won't do it.

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Jul 19, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

I really appreciate you reading me and linking to my article. Thanks a lot.

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Jul 15, 2022·edited Jul 15, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

> For example, as the word email became more widespread, the Immortals endorsed the clever patriotic alternative by concatenating the French words courrier (mail) and electronique to come up with courriel. The government tried to get everyone to use that pronunciation gallop, but outside of bureaucrats who had no choice, it hasn’t caught on. They tried a similar gambit to combat the inescapable popularity of le weekend, but the nasally fin-de-semaine substitute hasn’t worked either.

These did in fact catch on in Québec, where we are pretty anal about the french language.

> But why put in so much effort to occupy the neighborhood? Even if you accept my uncharitable theory, what exactly do people hope to gain?

Norms are sticky, and they are communicated via words and phrases. If you control the definitions, you can maybe get a decade or two of control over the norms until a different equilibrium is established; and if you did a good job the new equilibrium might still be more favorable than the 2022 equilibrium.

> To the extent that woman is a cluster of traits, I struggle to contemplate a scenario where communicating the cluster is a more efficient or more thoughtful method of communication than just communicating the specific pertinent trait.

It's lossy compression, which is what all of language is. Ceding this ground puts added weight on everyone, but especially the cognitively-disfavored. It also establishes a precedent in that direction.

> If you identify as someone with an intense attachment to a specific definition of the word woman, my question to you is: Why does this matter to you? How does it help me not get lost in Boston? I’m listening.

The definition of "woman" has become the battlefield. This is at least as much about culture war as it is about women and womanhood.

E: am I a reply guy now? Oh no.

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So, the sexual binary which appears in the evolutionary timeline somewhere around a billion years ago, gets challenged five minutes ago ("well, ackshually, gender and sex are two different things, yanno") and we'll just throw out the concept of what a woman is...because....it doesn't affect you, I guess? No. And also NO.

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Jul 15, 2022·edited Jul 15, 2022

Does the same apply to the word “man?” Are we going to flee that area too?

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For whatever reason, that neighborhood isn't as fiercely contested. I'm curious why.

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Jul 15, 2022·edited Jul 15, 2022Liked by Yassine Meskhout

I think the reason may be that women's spaces are typically for the benefit of women, and people do not like the idea of "biological" males being in their spaces.

Women don't want to expose themselves near men, so they have their own bathrooms. Women don't want to work out around men, so they have their own gyms. Women aren't as physically strong as men, so they have their own sports. Women are historically oppressed, so they have their own scholarships and recognition and organizations. And so forth.

After a quick google, apparently, the NBA, NHL, and NFL don't have any all male rules, and people wouldn't see it as a threat to fairness if a biological female was allowed to play. There isn't a big enough audience of men who don't like being stared at by women in the gym to sustain men's only gyms, I figure, or maybe they exist in lower numbers. Men's only scholarships, recognition, and organizations appear regressive.

A space being designated for women is usually for the women's benefit. And so people want to preserve that. This is what I figure.

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I think Parrhesia's answer explains a lot of the difference. But another reason is the strength of autogynephilia (https://quillette.com/2019/11/06/what-is-autogynephilia-an-interview-with-dr-ray-blanchard/). As Alice Dreger wrote in Galileo's Middle Finger (quoted in the Quillette article):

"There’s a critical difference between autogynephilia and most other sexual orientations: Most other orientations aren’t erotically disrupted simply by being labeled. When you call a typical gay man homosexual, you’re not disturbing his sexual hopes and desires. By contrast, autogynephilia is perhaps best understood as a love that would really rather we didn’t speak its name. The ultimate eroticism of autogynephilia lies in the idea of really becoming or being a woman, not in being a natal male who desires to be a woman."

Thus, an autogynephilic male who's told, "You're not really a woman!" would be upset to have an erotic fantasy disrupted. There's debate over whether autoandrophilia exists in an analogous way; Blanchard claims that it doesn't, while I've read accounts of female detransitioners who say that their transitions were motivated by autoandrophilia. But even assuming it does exist, there's ample evidence that males tend to go to greater and riskier lengths to fulfill their sexual desires. So it's plausible that males with AGP protest being excluded from the "woman" category more vociferously than females with AAP protest being excluded from the "man" category.

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I'm reading this book right now actually.

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This was a great analysis, but I feel like you touched on a deeply fundamental point and then ignored it. You asked about the core question: *Why does it matter?*

This is crucial, and must be paid more attention to. Ignoring what gender ideologues are trying to do to society matters very much in assessing whether to concede any battles to them, even if they do at times make some linguistic sense. Not to sound too melodramatic, but this is not simply an isolated skirmish over some words; it's just one front in a coordinated and constant campaign to reshape society in drastic ways. The awareness of this context must always be present when deciding what the appropriate reaction is to some narrow issue related to this conflict.

Why does it matter? It matters tremendously because giving in on this issue is conceding important ground in this epistemological culture war.

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I deliberately avoided answering the question about why it matters for several reasons. Chief among them is that my attachment to specific vocabulary is probably far weaker than most. I understand that many people see this as just another front in a coordinated campaign. While that may be true, I think the associated fear that society will be drastically reshaped by winning vocabulary skirmishes is way overblown. I can probably be convinced otherwise if you can point to examples of this phenomenon.

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I think one can reasonably argue that a lot of the ground that trans activists have won in giving transwomen access to women's spaces (sports, locker rooms, masseuses, shelters, medical contexts, lesbian bars, and many more) is by pushing the "transwomen ARE women" idea as a legitimate concept. After all, for most people who don't think about these concepts as carefully and thoughtfully as you do, as soon as they've acknowledged that X is part of the category of women, what grounds do they have to stand on to exclude X from those spaces?

Just a few years ago, the obvious response to any of these things happening would have been, "That's a man! Of course he can't go there." But now, with this "transwomen ARE women" concept having been signed on to they don't know how to respond. And so they go along.

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Potentially, yes. However, I think this is an untenable and unstable equilibrium that will not last. Transwomen competing in women's sports seems to be a breaking point in particular.

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Sorry, am a bit confused. Can you clarify: You're saying, "Potentially, yes," in response to what question?

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I'm agreeing with you that a lot of the current kerfuffle with transwomen having access to women spaces is significantly driven by definitional revisions of the word "woman".

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