In debates people intentionally use words that advance their position. After all, your choice of words greatly affects your chances of getting people to agree with you. Politicians whom you support “invest” billions and “do what the vast majority of voters want,” while those you dislike “spend” billions and “pander to populism.” A politician can either “do what the elite wants” or “do what the experts advise.” Never mind classical examples like “Falklands” versus “Malvinas,” or “Derry” versus “Londonderry.”
One tactic is to use different words that advance your position. A somewhat similar and equally manipulative tactic is to assign your preferred meaning to some word. Thus words like “woman” or “man” can be used with different meanings in various contexts in order to promote bigotry (misogyny and transphobia).
In logic, equivocation is an informal fallacy resulting from the use of a particular word or expression in multiple senses throughout an argument leading to a false conclusion. For example:
Since only man [human] is rational,
and no woman is a man [male],
therefore, no woman is rational.
Of course, written like this, the manipulation is very obvious, but it can be much more subtle in an actual conversation, which allows word definitions to be intentionally manipulated and skewed for the purpose of justifying bigotry. Here’s how it works:
Society: “The word ‘woman’ means ‘a person with a vagina.’”
Me: “Okay then, that makes me a woman.”
Society: “Women match and willingly embrace female cultural expectations, they use female pronouns, they have female gender identities, they make babies, they are emotional, they are bad with mathematics, they prioritize relationships over careers, they love pink, they wear dresses, they use make-up, they wear high heel shoes, they have feminine mannerisms and body language, they…”
Me (angrily): “Wait, what? No, in that case I’m not a woman.”
Society: “But you were born with a vagina, that means you must be a woman.”
For years the society has attempted to force womanhood upon me against my will, and that has been a bait-and-switch scheme. Bait-and-switch is a form of fraud used in retail sales but also employed in many other contexts. In the retail example, customers are “baited” by merchants’ advertising products or services at a low price. When customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available and are instead pressured by sales people to consider (“switch to”) similar, but higher priced alternative.
In some conversations people will present me such a definition for the word “woman” that I am forced to agree that I am, indeed, a woman. A while later they will start telling me how a woman ought to behave and how she must live. In some conversations, conservative people will use words like “man” and “woman” with one meaning. In other conversations, the meaning of the same words will be different.
Whenever people are talking about trans rights, cisgender supremacists (aka transphobes) want to define the word “woman” as “an adult person who was assigned female at birth.” They may offer definitions, like “an adult human female,” but that’s just a circular definition. (What does “female” mean? Personally, I’d say trans women are “female” human beings.) Upon some poking, they will admit that for them a “woman” means “an adult AFAB person.”
Trans women are women but they aren’t “adult AFAB people.” Thus cisgender supremacists try to redefine the word “woman” so as to exclude trans women.
In various other contexts, the same people will use the word “woman” with a very different meaning. The culture we live in expects women to be at least somewhat feminine. There are plenty of cultural expectations attached to the word “woman.” Even in more liberal countries, where women aren’t forbidden from leaving their home, there are still some expectations about how a woman ought to live. She is supposed to use female pronouns, she is supposed to consider herself a woman, she is supposed to have a female gender identity. And this is the bare minimum that exists in a textbook progressive society. In many less than ideally progressive societies women are expected to wear female clothes, use make-up, remove hair from their legs, be emotional, love children, and so on.
Besides, it is impossible to equate “a woman” with a list of anatomical facts about some person. Some AFAB people have XY chromosomes, some are infertile, some never utilize their female reproductive system or sex organs due to being childfree by choice or asexual or whatever other reason, some women lose their breasts or uteruses due to cancer or other illnesses, some women never grow breasts, some women have never menstruated. There’s an immense anatomical variation even among people who are assigned female at birth.
Thus it is ridiculous to treat the word “woman” as if it only described some anatomical facts about a person. The society doesn’t see womanhood as just having a collection of body parts and organs.
Personally, I am fine with statements like:
“Andreas has XX chromosomes,”
“Andreas was born with a uterus and a vagina,”
“Andreas still has a uterus” (this statement is still true only due to transphobic surgeons routinely kicking me out of their offices).
All of those are factual statement about the anatomy of my body. I’m not delusional, and I can accept the existence of facts.
Nonetheless, I strongly dislike it when somebody says, “Andreas is a woman” or “Andreas is female.”
It’s odd to see self-proclaimed feminists equating biological sex with gender. The latter is a social construct, it’s a performance that people do throughout their daily lives. Demanding that every person who is AFAB must also live in accordance with female gender stereotypes is just, well, gender discrimination. TERFs will allow me to wear male clothes or have short hair, but they don’t want me to go any further. Basically, they are saying: “You can only be this unfeminine, but not a step beyond that.” The moment I choose to use male pronouns and openly admit that I don’t feel like a woman, that’s somehow unacceptable.
In my opinion, feminists ought to promote gender equality and women’s freedom to choose how they want to lead their lives. Enforcing “appropriate gender expression” upon AFAB people is what misogynists and religious authorities do.