So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.
The answer? Andy Lewis.
Now I’m both reassured that my initial choice was a good one and kicking myself for checking in. Andy Lewis is a classic sea lion. (You may also give the original artist page views as a reward for that valuable contribution by clicking here.) Like most sea lions, AL is also lying AL’s ass off. AL’s first comment reads thus:
Are we all so devoid of scepticism and full of misogyny that all here cannot bring themselves to accept the objective, material existence of women?
Of course, no one has said that women do not exist, so one naturally wonders just how much of an idiot Andy Lewis might be and why AL would bother asking such a condescending question apparently apropos of nothing. Ah, but AL knows exactly why this is relevant:
People claim to be homeopaths. That does not make homeopathy real. I hope people can see the logical error of thinking gender ideology is sound because some people identify as trans. We can accept such people do identify as such, but we do not have to accept their explanations about their identity.
Ah, so AL, who would have us believe that the existence of actual members of the gender “woman” is an objective, material fact is arguing that we cannot take gender to be real merely because human beings are said to have gender, and more specifically the class “woman” cannot be accepted as real merely because someone claims to be a woman. Presumably much more evidence is necessary before we can establish the existence of the category. If we do wish to establish the existence of the category, we’ll probably have to establish the existence of at least one woman. So probably we can establish the existence of women at the same time … or maybe not. But in any case, AL wants us to be very clear: the existence of women is not yet established.
That’s right, the person arguing that the existence of women should never be questioned and is simply a material fact is the same exact person arguing that the existence of the entire category of “woman/women” is not yet established.
The downstream argument of AL depends on the comment of mariamaclachlan that immediately followed AL’s first bit of condescending idiocy:
Oh for crying out loud, PZ! The word ‘woman’ means adult human female. Women do NOT have penises.
No, women don’t stop being women if they lose their ovaries any more than you stop being a man because your dick gets lopped off. Your sex is defined according to which of the two reproductive classes you were born into – you KNOW this really but you’ve drunk the ideological kool-aid and are in denial.
Note that mariamaclachlan is absolutely correct that women do not have penises according to mariamaclachlan’s definition of “woman”, though of course that definition is a bit of a spherical cow. It’s also clear that there are other definitions of woman that exist and that mariamaclachlan is quite well aware of those other definitions. MM would, of course, be horrified to learn that feminist heroes were the primary movers in arriving at those definitions with which MM disagrees. Take Simone deBeauvoir, for instance:
On ne naît pas femme: on le devient.
While MM asserts that womanhood is a birth category, SdB most emphatically defines it as anything mais un catégorie de naissance. And over the years immediately before and after SdB’s observation the fields of sociology and anthropology moved quite quickly to incorporate it and begin exploring the resulting ramifications. Psychology followed more slowly, but has nonetheless arrived at the same destination.
Gender, then, in the relevant fields of study is most decidedly not about whether one has a penis or not. Gender, An Ethnomethodological Approach is still the best book around for explaining how gender and its resulting sub-terms like man, woman, and transgender are defined. It’s not a perfect resource. For instance, its use of the term transsexual is sometimes inconsistent with other important arguments and premisary standpoints of the book. Nevertheless, reading the book advances most persons’ understanding of the definitions of terms related to sex and gender by miles at a time and I cannot recommend the book strongly enough.
Still, one can choose to employ a colloquial definition that confuses sex and gender – it would mark you as having the most skewed and superficial understanding of the topic, but one can employ that definition as it is certainly still in use by the many people with such skewed and superficial understandings. MM, therefore, has adopted a definition that runs counter to mainstream feminist thought, but at least MM does so as a conscious choice and is clear about that choice.
So what about AL?
When John Morales responds to MM with this question
are you denying the existence of intersex people as well…?
which puts the lie to MM’s assumptions that all the readers here have been classified
according to which of the two reproductive classes you were born into,
AL responds by saying,
Similarly, intersex conditions exist – they are developmental conditions – not an undermining of our understanding of sex and reproduction. Bringing of intersex people is simple flapdoodle like a homeopath bringing up quantum physics.
It’s hard to know what AL might mean here. Does AL simply have no understanding of MM’s words and simply fails to realize that the existence of intersex people does not falsify our understanding of gamete fusion but also was never intended to do so? Does AL simply fail to understand that many, most, or all intersex persons (depending on your definition of “intersex”) do not fall into either the category male or the category female? Intersex persons are here mentioned not to falsify an understanding of ejaculation or pregnancy. Intersex persons are here mentioned to falsify MM’s insistence that there are exactly two human sex categories.
This may not address MM’s main point, but it is certainly true and is directly related to challenging MM’s 2-category premise. It is neither irrelevant nor “flapdoodle”, though AL clearly does not understand the argument sufficiently to see this.
So AL then issues the grand challenge to which AL will return repeatedly, insisting that it cannot be and has not been met:
So, we have a claim – that women can have penises. Can anyone explain how we might resolve through evidence and reason whether or not this statement is true? Even if that is just in principle. This is what those of a sceptical mindset should be doing surely and not just repeating memes?
Sure. All you have to do is compare objective material facts against a definition of woman. For at least one definition – MM’s – the answer is that women cannot have pensises…maybe. Sort of. If you squint just right.
For MM, the category “woman” is determined at birth (though not achieved until adulthood). Note especially the portion of her comment above in which she insists that later body alterations matter not at all:
women don’t stop being women if they lose their ovaries
For MM’s definition, then, a woman who has had a phalloplasty remains a woman. Thus under MM’s definition, it requires a further redefinition of the word “penis” in order to exclude such people from the category “women with penises”. Some people are also born with ovaries and a penis. These people as well are “women with penises” according to MM’s definition, and redefining “penis” so extensively as to exclude the possibility of their membership in a “women with penises” category risks an entirely circular argument of a nature similar to this:
If someone is determined to have been born a female human, then no genital appendage part of that person’s body at birth, arising through later natural development, or occurring as the result of medical intervention can possibly be categorized as a penis.
Then, sure, you have arrived at a definition that allows the conclusion that no women with penises exist. However, you didn’t do so by adhering to MM’s initial definition and applying reason and evidence. You did so by assuming the conclusion and constructing your definition so as to make your conclusion inevitable. You may even have employed reason while constructing your definitions, but not in the sense of applying that reason to the evidence.
Of course, other definitions of woman are possible beyond those of MM, and by those definitions it is also inevitable that some women with penises exist unless and until we specifically corkscrew genitals until nothing like a woman’s penis is allowed to exist.
This should all be quite obvious to anyone able to reason: if the definition of woman doesn’t mention penises (as MM’s initial definition did not), then it is inescapable that the presence or absence of a penis does not change one’s membership in the set of people belonging to the category so defined. Any reasonably intelligent person – so, not AL – should have no trouble deducing this.
But AL goes on, getting to the fundamental dishonesty of AL’s position:
Sex is a well understood foundational aspect of biology. We know how creatures reproduce of it. Males in mammals etc have penises which they use to impregnate females. Females do not. The claim here is that for humans this is not true. That requires a substantial justification. Myers offers none.
But no: this wasn’t the claim and was never the claim. PZ merely responded to one person saying
These events involved a retweet of mine saying ‘RT if women don’t have penises’, and certain other criticisms of the transgender movement,
with this quote:
Would you believe he’s a philosophy and psychology student? I’m kind of curious about those “certain other criticisms” and about how he defines “woman”, because he seems to treat it as a simple distinction based on the presence or absence of a penis. It seems rather superficial and narrowly phenomenological for someone in either of those disciplines,
Note here that PZ is asking about the definition of woman, not the definition of female. Moreover, PZ is reacting this way because of the original author’s twin undergraduate majors: philosophy and psychology. The definition of female in a biology course will necessarily differ from the definition of woman in a psychology course. But AL seems so befuddled that this fact doesn’t seem to even minimally affect AL’s commenting. In short, AL is fixated on something, and it is exactly the wrong thing. It is something that has little or nothing to do with PZ’s original statement, but AL is convinced that AL’s comments are relevant because AL literally cannot understand that the definitions of woman one might encounter in the field of psychology are not the definitions of female one might encounter in the field of mammalian biology.
All that would be bad enough, but AL has to act as if AL is the informed, serious one asking relevant questions. Though layers of condescension soak through both AL’s comments and the comments of those responding to AL, the condescension from others is much more reasonable – yes I’m going there – given AL’s obvious failures to understand basic facts of the fields about which AL is arrogantly insisting others educate AL.
I plan to add to this later, because I think that there’s some useful information about how anti-trans persons tend to dishonestly argue that are well exemplified by AL, but I think that’s a separate post from this one seeking only to establish AL’s arrogant ignorance.
In the meantime, please feel free to riff on the behaviors of AL and MM in the comments, or to agree or disagree with my analysis thereof.