What is a woman?

Laura Dodsworth interviews Matt Walsh, the man behind the controversial new film on gender

Artillery Row

It turns out that the best way to disrupt transgender ideology is to ask one simple question: what is a woman? Creator Matt Walsh asked each contributor the same question with purist focus in this brilliant and horrifying new film. The obstructions, circular reasoning and threats to walk off the set revealed that gender is like “a jenga tower”, as Walsh says. 

I spoke to Walsh about the film just a few days after its release. It has gone down a storm and Walsh was busy fielding interviews. He was also cautious; a publicist was off camera in our video call, and they recorded the interview. I  don’t blame them for wanting to keep the record straight. What is a woman? is wildly controversial and successful, and that attracts peevish and disingenuous reviewers.

Did he ever think he was sitting in the presence of evil, or just misguided good intentions?

Transgender ideology is defeatingly complex and ever-shifting. The film’s success lies in its determined pursuit of the answer to one question. I asked Walsh why he focussed on this truth, whereas other activists have honed in on particular aspects, such as feminists arguing for women’s sex-based spaces and rights. “Philosophically it’s the best way to approach this issue,” he replied. “There are practical reasons why rights matter. I want to protect the rights of women and children, all those things matter and I care about them too. But the first thing is that it’s not true. That’s the important thing, first and foremost. Then we can establish all those other things. The loss of rights can be tackled after truth. Trans activists will ask why you care so much about what a woman is, but that’s sleight of hand.”

There was a palpable difference between the interviewees who were prepared to offer honest answers and those who would not.  The first set seemed at ease. The trans man, in particular, was brutally raw, hiding nothing. In contrast, those who couldn’t answer the question seemed different – their body language was off, their answers evasive. They seemed to be thinking ahead, denial and defence almost visible on the surface, while cogs whirred just below.

The social sciences professor replied with fallacious logic. In one of the more bizarre moments, the doctor who prescribes hormones to children asked Walsh whether chickens cry. A trans woman and a congressman flounced off camera. They didn’t just deny the simple biological truth (that a woman is an adult human female), they denied the concept of truth itself. The professor asserted that “invoking the word truth was condescending”. 

Perhaps the most disquieting set of responses came from ordinary people on the street. I was stunned that Walsh found so many US citizens who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer. Were they scared, genuinely confused, or too well-trained by the ideologues? This is partly why Walsh made the film, he wants people to understand how pervasive gender ideology is. “A lot of people still think this is on the fringes, that it’s just weird people on TikTok,” he said. “I want them to realise it’s everywhere.”

The thing is, you could tell that the people on the street knew what a woman is, they just didn’t want to say. Walsh says some told him off record that they couldn’t speak up in case they lost everything. Being silenced by fear is worse than confusion, and says far more about how endemic and powerful the dogma is.

There is a moment when a doctor threatens to end the interview because Walsh identifies that the hormones given to gender dysphoric youth also happen to be used for chemical castration.“The people doing this have no defence. I thought they would have some response to, say, chemically castrating kids. They know the answer is non-existent but they do it anyway.”

I couldn’t find a feminist who had been contacted by Walsh

Did he ever think he was sitting in the presence of evil, or just misguided good intentions? “Certainly evil on a number of occasions,” he admitted. “I don’t know how else you could feel when you are with a doctor who gives castration drugs to children. You must have some basic understanding of reality. If you are a doctor you must know that there is only one truth and reality and I don’t buy the confusion as much. To me it seemed nefarious. There is a real profit motive here. Think about a 5 year old boy. You could say no, you’re a boy, and let him go off and play, but there’s no money in that. Over a lifetime that could be millions of dollars.”

His pursuit of truth resonated with me. As he told me, “People are also more willing to admit they find the whole thing absurd.” Certainly, people are ready for this film and to grasp, once more, to objective, material reality. They are beginning to care less about the “consequences” than they do about moral integrity.

This is close to my own truth bone. I remember feeling uncomfortable, years ago, when radical feminists brazenly declared “trans women are men” or would not respect preferred pronouns. But ceding such truths has perhaps led us to where we are today. When I created The Detransitioners I was warned I would be “crucified”. Walsh has received the inevitable death threats.

While the film excellently bifurcates sex and gender it doesn’t interrogate the meaning of gender as much as it could. In fact, it quite likes the performance of socially-constructed gender. In the scripted scenes, the boys wear blue and the girls wear pink. We only meet Mrs Walsh in the kitchen. (More on that later.) Yet there is no attempt to explain why men wish to perform women’s gender roles and don feminine vestiture, or vice versa. Even more crucially, it doesn’t consider why anyone might wish to escape their own gender. I’ve written about the uniquely modern and timeless painful reasons which might lie behind gender dysphoria in children.

It seemed genuinely not to occur to him that making sandwich is a sexist trope

Walsh has been “pleasantly surprised” by the “overwhelming” reaction. The film was the most popular film viewed at home in June according to Rotten Tomatoes. One reaction he might not have been expecting was the general disgruntlement of feminists. Some have said he might, perhaps, have invited them to take part. There is a sense that the feminist community feels itself absent from the film, after putting in long years drawing the earliest and hardest battle lines. And for some feminists, Walsh is too right wing, too catholic, too “misogynist”. Well, at least he knows what a woman is. The honest truth is some feminists might not want to hold hands across such a cavernous Catholic aisle. Choose progress or a purity spiral.

He has said online that he contacted very prominent feminists to take part in the film, and they turned him down. I flipped it round, and asked whether they had ever asked him to take part in their films, or interviewed him for their books and articles: “I don’t want to say absolutely no, it’s possible people have reached out to me. Generally it doesn’t seem like feminists have been beating down my door to involve me in their projects.” 

I couldn’t find a feminist who had been contacted by Walsh. That’s not to say he hasn’t contacted any feminists, but they certainly are not among the prominent feminists in the field that I am aware of. He acknowledged to me that he doesn’t know who they all are “across the pond”. 

To be fair, the film is about transgender ideology, and it is not a history of gender critical feminism. “It’s a 90 minute film,” he pointed out, “and there is only so much space in there.” The film is single-minded in its focus, and that’s why it works. I can forgive the omissions.

Given the trouble with feminists, I decided to ask Walsh a simple enough question of my own: what is a feminist? 

“You know, I am not a proponent of feminism generally. I think the issue of defending women and their rights is important, but I don’t need to attach an ‘ism’ to that personally. I am not sure I have a response to that personally. Feminism is a political movement and there is a lot else that is attached to it.” 

Feminism is simply the organised effort to ensure equal rights for women and men, politically, socially and legally. A feminist supports this. Answering my question should have been almost as easy as his own. Feminism is a broad church, and that has complicated the answer. Some are radical, some are sex positive. Some believe feminism must include trans women. I’ve been told I am not a feminist because I wear high heels and make up. I think I am a feminist because I believe firmly in equality but, given what passes for feminism these days, I am not sure I “identify” as one anymore.

The film concludes with his wife having the last word, while making a sandwich. Was this a throw of the gauntlet to the feminists he doesn’t identify with? (He has charmingly said that “There really is no creature on Earth more repulsive than a bitter old Boomer pro-abortion feminist.”) “People are reading too much into it [the sandwich]. It’s more I was talking to my wife and she had to be doing something to make it more interesting. She’s just going about her daily life,” he said. 

I don’t doubt his honesty. It seemed genuinely not to occur to him that making sandwich is a sexist trope, implying that women belong in the kitchen. “Make me a sandwich!” is the classic internet put down. But perhaps Mrs Walsh makes a lot of sandwiches.

Walsh has done a tremendous job of creating an engaging and powerful documentary. He set out to “expose the facade of gender ideology and show people that there’s nothing at its core,” and he’s done just that. That does not negate the foresight, hard work and achievements of gender critical feminists. It is gracious to applaud success, and this film is a success. Let’s clap, raise the roof, and call “Encore!”

What is a Woman? is currently available to stream on the Daily Wire website

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