by Colette Colfer

I am a woman, how do I know?

Because my body tells me so.

I’ve a womb, and ovaries, a breasty chest,

I’ve carried a baby in my belly nest.

I am milk, I am blood,

my diploid cells are double X.

But what is a woman?

Can we illuminate the detail?

Would you agree that it’s a noun

meaning adult human female?

Where female is a basic biological distinction

That’s used in both the plant

and animal kingdoms.

The female produces the larger gamete

But these need the male

to make reproduction complete.

So male and female are a complementarity,

A holy grail of unity, duality.

As day is to night and yin is to yang,

As black is to white, woman is to man.

Oestrogen, testosterone.

X and Y chromosomes.

Every cell of our body

Is stamped with our genome.

These cellular differences

Have a wider significance

Influencing personality traits,

Life experiences, interests.

Less women than men

Are in engineering and mining,

Bin collection, construction,

Fishing, truck driving.

It’s only women who’ve experienced

Down through the centuries

FGM, menstruation huts,

Magdalene Laundries

In countries where fornication

Is still considered a crime

It’s the woman who is punished

Far more of the time

You can never tell by looking

If a man has had sex

But you can with a woman

Because she carries the egg

And pregnancy is a visible sign

That can result in honour killings,

Imprisonment, honour crimes

Meanwhile men have to deal

With paternal uncertainty

So there’s pressure on women

To be virgins, to live chastely

There have been changes

With industrialisation,

Contraceptives, technology,


We now have gender quotas,

Women’s toilets, changing rooms,

Women’s sports and awards

And all-girl schools.

At the same time

We have feminisim

And hash tag metoo.

Does it really matter

About the words that we use?

Some say ‘woman’

is not about biology,

That a woman can be a woman

regardless of physiology,

That it’s nothing to do

With the production of eggs,

And it’s completely independent

Of what’s between a person’s legs

That woman is identity

and how a person feels.

That it’s femininity, hair styles,

mascara, high heels,

manicures, blusher,

lipstick and dress.

Can you still be a woman

If you don’t shave your legs?

What’s the point anymore

In sex segregated spaces

If males can now access

women-only places?

This year a male won the woman’s

World championship cycling race.

A female boxer who fought a male woman

Ended up with seven staples in her face.

Males can use women’s shelters,

A male has won ‘Woman of the Year’.

But women are being told

There’s nothing to fear.

Language evolves

and meanings can change

but biological differences

can’t be erased

People will just invent

New words and labels

To distinguish the differences

Between males and females.

Some say we should say womex

to get rid of the ‘men’

Some say ‘people with a cervix’

or there’s ‘pregnant people’ as well.

There’s also ‘uterus havers’,

‘bleeders’, ‘gestators’

‘ovulators’, ‘birthers’,

or my favourite – ‘menstruators’.

I am a woman,

How do I know?

I am because my body

makes it so.

First published as a thread on Twitter in December 2018.