Is it morally wrong for a man to claim to be a woman? We’re in a cultural moment in which there is widespread support among progressives for the claim that some men (males) make to be women. It is taboo to question this claim, and many who have done so have been publicly vilified. Such vilification puts people off thinking carefully about the claim, and may provide cover to an anti-feminist politics. Thus in this talk I will consider the case against men (males) claiming to be women, asking whether—and if so, why—it is morally wrong for them to do so. In the first part of the talk I’ll put forward the feminist case against men claiming to be women, drawing on ideas from the second wave feminists who wrote on this topic. In the second part of the talk I’ll focus on the countervailing reasons that have been offered in the literature for thinking that a man has a right to claim to be a woman. (Some of these are directly about gender identity others are about identity more generally but can be applied to thinking about men’s claims to be women). I’ll argue that none of these latter arguments succeed; and both that many (although not all) of the men who claim to be women are doing something wrong, and that as a society we are wrong to give men’s claims to be women social and legal uptake. Most egregiously, we are wrong to support ‘sex self-identification’ laws that allow any man to have his alleged gender identity as ‘woman’ (or as ‘female’) recognized via a change to his legal sex status.
Holly Lawford-Smith is an associate professor in political philosophy at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of Not In Their Name: Are Citizens' Culpable For Their States' Actions? (Oxford: 2019), Gender-Critical Feminism (Oxford: 2022), Sex Matters: Essays in Gender-Critical Philosophy (Oxford: 2023), and Is It Wrong To Buy Sex (with Angie Pepper) (Routledge, forthcoming).
Elizabeth Harman, the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values.