Acton Institute Powerblog

We know what women are. They don’t. Now what?

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The Daily Wire’s new documentary offers disturbing realities but only one answer to a question that raises many more. What would a sequel look like? […]

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“Nature always tells us the truth, even if we don’t want to hear it.” So begins the latest cinematic offering from the Daily WireWhat Is a Woman? The documentary is stirring up controversy with its sarcastic cultural analysis and skillful showcasing of extreme social absurdity. Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh’s dry style of comedic narration carries him from a therapist’s office to the halls of American academia to the Women’s March to Kenya and back, all in a quest to answer the seemingly simple question, What is a woman? The documentary provides a broad selection of interviews with everyone from physicians to psychologists, all dedicated to a single narrative premise: many elite figures in America’s major institutions, including those dedicated to science, academia, and therapy, are either unwilling or unable to answer simple questions about basic biology. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the perspective Walsh brings, it’s hard to argue that his point—that this state of affairs is odd, to say the very least—isn’t made in a persuasive fashion.

Be it a therapist discussing “gender-affirmation therapy” or a professor becoming visibly frustrated and upset at the use of the word truth, the documentary shows the bleeding edge of modern gender philosophy—the affirmation of individuals’ inner feelings about themselves, leading to the prescription of controversial new medical procedures on patients as young as teenagers. The film’s interviews range from heartbreaking stories of trans individuals who regret the surgeries and therapies they’ve undergone to disturbing conversations with physicians and activists who seem either ignorant of or unwilling to admit the long-term consequences of the medical advice they give. The film also highlights some of the victims of modern gender ideology, including an interview with a father in British Columbia who was jailed after “misgendering” his daughter, an act now considered criminal in Canada. In contrast, Walsh travels to the Masai tribe in Kenya, where questions about gender and a “man trapped in a woman’s body” are greeted with incredulity and mockery by local tribesmen.

The documentary also lays out the philosophical groundwork for modern gender theory, introducing its audience to some of the field’s significant thinkers, such as biologist Alfred Kinsey and psychologist John Money, the latter of whom coined the term “gender identity.” It also exposes examples of ethically questionable research performed in the name of gender theory, such as Money’s experimenting with the sex reassignment surgery of David Reimer, a man raised as a girl after genital mutilation, who committed suicide at 38 after undergoing the surgery

So … “What is a woman?” Answers run the gamut from “I don’t know” to “Marry one and find out,” the latter provided by renowned author and psychologist Jordan B. Peterson. In the end, Walsh returns to his home to ask his wife the film’s titular question, to which he receives the answer “an adult human female.” The case the documentary seeks to make is simple: left-leaning Americans can’t even say what a woman is, including academics and therapists. They’re so unwilling to answer that question that they’ll encourage dangerous medical treatments for young people with gender dysphoria. Meanwhile, these Kenyan tribespeople can answer it without hesitation and seem not to care about gender theory. How absurd is this contrast?

If that’s the only thing viewers take away from the film, then so be it. What Is a Woman functions as an alarm bell meant to draw attention to modern philosophies of sex, gender, and the way people with gender dysphoria are expected to pursue relief. Maybe the experts’ answers to these the questions raised, which are as political and sociological as they are medical, aren’t correct—but what are the correct answers?

Carl Trueman, who appears in the documentary and is the author of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, points out that “personal happiness is the key to individual well-being” in the world that modern gender philosophy has created. “The question the trans person is asking is a legitimate one: How can I be happy? The current answer is clearly not working; we need a more humane way.” But again, what is the more humane way?

That’s not the question What Is a Woman? intends to answer. But, after viewing the documentary, it’s the question that thoughtful viewers will likely be left with. One of the most heartbreaking moments in the documentary is Walsh’s interview with Scott Newgent, a transgender man (female at birth) who spoke openly about regrets from multiple surgeries, as well as health crises including a pulmonary embolism, a helicopter life flight, and sepsis. “The truth is that medical transition is experimental,” says Newgent, a parent of three teenagers. After catastrophic issues connected with transition surgeries, Newgent now works to educate the public on the dangers of transition surgeries, particularly for children.

This and many other tragic stories in What Is A Woman? raise questions that, again, extend beyond the scope of the film. How are communities to relate to individuals who struggle with gender confusion? How is the church to demonstrate the love of God to church members who deal with this form of dysphoria? It is neither loving nor useful to treat transgender individuals as merely some strange “other” and ignore their struggles, anymore than it would be to do so in the case of anyone suffering from another mental, physical, or emotional challenge. As the country continues to wrestle with issues of gender and sex, and with 5% of young adults identifying as trans or nonbinary, what is the caring way forward? It’s truly absurd and sad that professionals within America’s key institutions can’t answer basic questions about biology; but it’s also not as simple as that. Yes, we do know what a woman is. But, as people with answers, how should we then communicate them in a way that reaches hurting and confused and broken people who struggle with this issue? What Is a Woman? powerfully demonstrates how we got in the predicament we’re in: smart people abdicated their responsibilities in the name of identity politics and elevated feelings above common sense. As for the next question “Where are we going?”—answering that will require courage.

Isaac Willour

Isaac Willour is a journalist currently reporting for The College Fix, focusing on American politics and higher education. His work has been published in The Christian Post, The American Spectator, and National Review. He can be found on Twitter @IsaacWillour and on Instagram @unapologeticallyunafraid.