Volume 23, Issue 4
  • ISSN: 1388-3186
  • E-ISSN: 2352-2437



For some time, feminist philosophers have been debating how to understand the concept ‘woman’. On the one hand, any substantive definition inevitably comes with a normative claim of what it means to be ‘a real woman’. Since the women’s movement tries to show how women come in all kinds of shapes, it goes without saying that feminists should steer clear from imposing new gender norms themselves. On the other hand, a refusal to define the concept leads to the inability to talk about women as a social category, and hence complicates a feminist plea for women’s rights. If feminists are incapable of clarifying what a ‘woman’ is, can they still describe their own mission and target group? First, I will give a rough overview of the history of the philosophical debate by critically examining the works of two influential scholars: Elizabeth Spelman and Sally Haslanger. Then, I will turn to Mari Mikkola’s recent book, where she declares that the debate is theoretically bankrupt and needs to be reoriented. I will argue that there is value in Mikkola’s suggestion, but that it nonetheless remains vital to engage in critical debate concerning gender concepts.


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