Liberal senator Alex Antic says defining women is a burning question

Liberal senator Alex Antic has used his time in Senate Estimates to ask a variety of government departments to answer the question, “What is a woman?”

Sharing a video of him asking the question to Professor Brendan Murphy, secretary of the Department of Health, Senator Antic said it was one of the “burning questions” that needed to be answered in the Australian parliament. Senator Antic said the question was one that had troubled him for a great deal of time.

“Can someone please provide me with the definition of what a woman is?” Senator Antic asked.

Professor Murphy declined to give an on the spot answer, opting to the the question on notice and provide a written response to the committee.

“It’s a very contested space at the moment senator.” Professor Murphy responded.

The health bureaucrat wasn’t the only government staff Antic asked the question to, he requested definitions from multiple government departments.

Appearing on the Credlin program Senator Antic said the reluctance of bureaucrats to give straight answers showed that “radical gender theory” had seeped into government departments.

“It’s endemic in our institutions.” Senator Antic said.

The South Australian senator said there needed to be legislative reform to ensure that in future all government departments followed a strict definition.

“If our bureaucracy can’t sit there and tell us what a woman is, then maybe it is time for legislative intervention. There is a standard uniform definition of a woman in this country and effects all of our acts.”

“Conservatives need to muscle up”, Senator Antic said, highlighting the Save Women’s Sport bill put forward by Tasmanian senator Claire Chandler as “the sort of courageous actions that need to be taken to push back.”     

Liberal senator Sarah Henderson also shared her opinion on the debate, saying she relied on the Oxford Dictionary definition of “an adult female human” and thought defining who was a man and who was a woman was “pretty obvious”. Henderson shared her thoughts on The Kenny Report on Sky News.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson also appeared on the program and said to be a woman you had to be able to give birth.

“A woman to me is a person who is a grown female who can actually give birth. When I go look in the mirror I’ve got an anatomy that tells me I’m a woman, I’ve got bits hanging off me in certain places, so I’m not a man for sure.” Hanson said.

The political ‘gotcha” question has been prominent in political discussions overseas.

In the USA during the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, she declined to answer a requested to define who is a woman, arguing that she was “not a biologist”. Justice Jackson was confirmed to US Supreme Court on Thursday, making her the first black woman to be confirmed to the nation’s highest court.

Recently British Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer defended the rights of transgender woman.

“A woman is a female adult and, in addition to that, trans women are women, and that is not just my view, that is actually the law.” Starmer said highlighting the UK’s  2004 Gender Recognition Act, and the 2010 Equality Act.

Previously UK Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds refused to answer the question during an interview conducted on International Women’s Day.

Her comments drew a rebuke from Liberal candidate for the Perth seat of Swan, Kristy McSweeney.

Kristy McSweeney

“Everything starts with leading your community and your community is made up of men and women.” McSweeney declared during an appearance on the Bernardi program on Sky News last month.

“I don’t have any problems going around the electorate of Swan and pointing out who’s a woman and who’s a man.” McSweeney said, arguing that it was an required skill for people entering parliament.

“We have to respect minorities, but overwhelmingly I’m pretty sure Cory if you and I walked down the street, particularly in the electorate of Swan, I could just about tell you who was a woman and who was a man. It’s pretty basic, If you want to sit in the Australian parliament that’s probably a skill you have to learn first.” McSweeney said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese was also asked if it’s okay for people to say “men can’t have babies”, during an interview with Channel Nine last week. Albanese told Chris Uhlmann he could say it if he wanted to.

Following Antic’s series of questions in Senate Estimates, the define a woman question has spread across the Australian political landscape.

New South Wales premier Dominic Perrottet was asked during an interview on Friday morning. “A female adult human being” Perrottet told 2GB’s Ben Fordham.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was also facing the question during an interview with Tom Elliot on Melbourne’s 3AW. “A member of the female sex.” Morrison responded.

In the UK leading LGBTIQA+ rights organisation Stonewall have called for politicians to focus on improving the lives of people who are transgender rather than trying to make everything fit into neat boxes.

“Trans people currently find themselves the subject of much debate, but what is evident and inarguable is that trans people exist. And their existence shows us that human lives and experiences cannot always be sorted into neat little boxes.” a spokesperson said.

“We know that most people share our goal of a world where everyone is safe and free to be ourselves. Supporting lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer people to live freely and fulfil our potential means tackling the prejudices and stereotypes that hold so many more people back.”

The question has also backfired on some conservative politicians, Republican senator Josh Hawley was asked by the Huffington Post to share his answer to the question.

“Someone who can give birth to a child, a mother, is a woman. Someone who has a uterus is a woman. It doesn’t seem that complicated to me.” Hawley said.

Asked if a woman who has her uterus removed by a hysterectomy, is still a woman? The politician became flummoxed saying, “Yeah, well, I don’t know, would they?”

Eventually he changed his answer switching uterus for vagina,  “I mean, a woman has a vagina, right?” he responded.

While fellow Republican Maddison Cawthorn told the house that he defined a woman as “xx chromosomes, no tallywacker”, his response eliminating intersex women from the definition.

With just weeks before Australians got to the polls, this is the burning question from, and to, politicians?

Graeme Watson

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