Women as Personae non Grata

How Judge Jackson’s Stumble over “Woman” Reflects the Strange New World

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is inarguably an intelligent woman. As President Biden’s pick to fill the seat of retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, Jackson is no intellectual slouch, having graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, and then Harvard Law School, where she graduated cum laude. Whether you agree with her judicial record or not, undeniably these are impressive academic credentials.

The fact that such a highly achieved woman would exhibit grave difficulty answering a question as basic as, “Can you provide a definition for the word, ‘woman’?” provides great fodder for very clever memes of late, but more importantly, it reflects the inanity of our times.

Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) – aware that Jackson served on the board of trustees for an elite DC private school that teaches children as young as five that they can change their gender – had some pointed questions for the nominee. For starters, when asked whether she agreed with the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s remark in a decision stating that, “physical differences between men and women are enduring,” Jackson evaded the question. Blackburn pressed on, asking the judge if she could provide a definition for “woman,” at which Jackson hesitantly replied, “No,” followed by “Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.” To no one’s surprise, Blackburn was incredulous at this response (as were many Americans).

Jackson’s response speaks volumes of the society in which we find ourselves and raises several questions. For one, what can be said of a cultural milieu that so complicates something as basic as womanhood that it falls outside the purview of a highly credentialed judge to tender a definition? And, in what dystopian world is a person of Jackson’s academic credentials (a woman, mind you) rendered impotent to define “woman” – so that she has to defer to the expertise of a biologist?

Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, characterizes this very world in his latest book, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution. Starting with Rousseau, Trueman briefly chronicles his influence, and that of the thinkers who followed, including (but not limited to) Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Wilhelm Reich. Trueman reveals how this intellectual genealogy – unfolding over the past couple hundred years, has brought us to the culture we live in today – a culture which would be unrecognizable to our parents and grandparents, awash with a new lexicon for gender, new maxims for “morality,” and a new conceptualization of “personal harm.” Here is a preview of Dr. Trueman’s book:

Marked by tremendous fluidity, our strange new world is one in which the authority of the psychological self supersedes that of the most stalwart institutions. Whereas in the past, a person was regarded as “a creature of God, who sought to conform himself to the truth, to objective moral standards,” modernity has forwarded the archetypal person as someone who is “true to himself,” as it is his inner life that becomes the source of truth.[1] What this means today is, if a man has the belief and temerity to claim his inner person is really a woman, we are all to accept his inner claim as a source of unequivocal truth.

For Judge Jackson on the occasion of her confirmation hearings, this strange new world landed her in that discomfiting space between a rock and a hard place. Anyone watching the hearings could not help but see her rendered at the very least hesitant, perhaps even timorous, in forwarding a definition under oath of what it means to be “woman.” Such is the authority that the psychological self wields in the social imaginary.[2] It deposes not only past cultural traditions and institutions, but biological realities as well.

Despite the ever-changing characterization of gender by modern progressives, Jackson did not provide an answer anyone might rally to defend. The current iteration of gender is little informed by biology, as what we formerly appreciated as “women,” are now coldly regarded as “persons with uteruses,” and those entities we used to call “men” are now “persons with penises.” Perhaps for the judge, there was no characterization of “woman” she could provide that would score social credit points with a progressive constituency she has historically affirmed.

With the cancellation of women everywhere – from women’s sports to enjoying “firsts” as holders of positions of executive authority - perhaps in the mind of Jackson, she saw the writing on the wall in this strange new world. The writing revealing that “women” are on their way to becoming personae non grata.


[2] Charles Taylor characterized the “social imaginary” originally; Trueman defines it as “The set of socially conditioned intuitions by which a person relates to the world in a nonreflective way.” Ibid., 191.

graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno, with a BS in molecular biology and a minor in cognitive psychology. As an undergraduate, she conducted research in immunology, microbiology, behavioral and cognitive psychology, scanning tunneling microscopy and genetics - having published research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and projects in scanning tunneling microscopy. Having recently completed an M.Ed. from University of Cincinnati and a Certificate in Apologetics with the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, Emily is currently an instructional designer/content developer for Moody Bible Institute and teaches organic chemistry and physics. As a former Darwinian evolutionist, Emily now regards the intelligent design arguments more credible than those proffered by Darwinists for explaining the origin of life.

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