What Do ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’ Mean?

Rebecca McLaughlin 2 months ago
Blog 3 mins
Found in: Culture

Last year, the actor (Daniel Radcliffe) who played Harry Potter in the films of J.K. Rowling’s books made a public statement: ‘Transgender women are women.’ When he said this, he meant that people who are born with a male body but feel like they belong in the world as a woman should be recognised as women just as much as people who were born with a female body. Daniel Radcliffe said this in response to J.K. Rowling herself saying that ­­­– while she personally thinks it’s okay for people to live in the world as the opposite sex ­– the bodies we are born with and grew up in still matter, and that someone who was born male should not be treated as female in every situation. Some people were very angry with J.K. Rowling for saying this, and Daniel Radcliffe wanted to make clear that he didn’t agree. But Daniel Radcliffe’s statement highlights an important question: What does ‘man’ or ‘woman’ mean?

Up until recently in our culture, for me to say, ‘I am a woman’ would mean ­– first and foremost – that I was born with a female body. There are significant differences between male bodies and female bodies. Even beyond what we can see with our eyes, scientists could tell whether you were a boy or a girl by examining a single cell from anywhere in your body.1 But if Daniel Radcliffe’s claim that ‘transwomen are women’ is true, and being born with a female body isn’t at the heart of what it means to be a woman, then what does it mean to be a woman? Does it mean wearing dresses and makeup, or wearing your hair long rather than short? Some women in our culture do those things, but no one would say that was the definition of being a woman. Does it mean other people thinking you were born with a female body? If so, the identity of a transgender person would depend on people not knowing the truth about his or her past.

In conversations about transgender questions, people often talk as if there is something deep inside of us ­– not connected with our bodies – that defines whether we are male or female more than our bodies do. But while some people struggle with their gender identity throughout their life, others who feel uncomfortable with their bodies as teenagers find that those feelings change as they get older.2 If there was something other than our bodies that more truly defined us as male or female, we would expect that sense of identity always to stay the same throughout someone’s life. Many people today think that Christians are foolish for believing things that cannot be measured with the tools of science. But the idea that there is a thing deep within us that tells us if we are male or female against the evidence of our physical bodies does not line up with science at all. And we are still left with the question: What does it mean to be a man or a woman, if it doesn’t relate to our biological sex?

As a Christian, I am not surprised that our society is struggling to define what it means to be a man or a woman. Without belief in a Creator God who made humans in his image, we are left without a real definition of what it means to be a human being, so no wonder we don’t know what it means to be a male or female human. Without belief in a Creator God who gives us moral laws, we are like cartoon characters who have run off a cliff and keep running in midair for a few seconds before we crash to the ground.

As a Christian, I do believe that there is a voice deep inside me that tells me who I am. That voice is God’s Spirit, who unites every believer to Jesus like a body to its head, or a wife to her husband. The Spirit speaks through God’s word (the Bible) and guides his people. But from a Christian perspective, this voice inside isn’t disconnected from our bodies, because the same God who lives within us by his Spirit also created our bodies. Jesus tells us that God created humans ‘from the beginning male and female’ (Matthew 19:4). If we’re trusting in Jesus, he knows us from the inside out, and he makes us belong even when we feel like we don’t fit. Growing up, I often felt inadequate as a woman. I still sometimes feel that way today. But when I do, I trust Jesus that he made me a woman on purpose and that he loves me just as I am.

Taken from 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin, Copyright © 2021, pp. 149-151. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org

  1. See David C. Page, ‘Every Cell Has a Sex: X and Y and the Future of Health Care’, Yale School of Medicine.
  2. There is much controversy over the exact numbers, but it seems that some significant proportion of those who experience gender dysphoria in childhood find that it resolves in adulthood. For example, a study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, followed up with 127 adolescent patients at a gender identity clinic in Amsterdam and found that two-thirds ultimately identified as the gender they were assigned at birth.