“What is a woman” is a documentary directed by far-right activist Matt Walsh, where he goes around interviewing various people asking them their definition of what a woman is.
When interviewing members of the African Maasai tribe, Walsh is told that in their culture, men and women have separate roles, men can’t become women, and trans people don’t exist. The tribe laughs when Walsh asks, “What if a woman has a penis?” Walsh adds, “In my country, I can’t go a day without hearing that”. The Maasai tribe’s answer to what a woman is, is that a woman delivers babies; a man cannot. Walsh concludes from this encounter, “It’s clear that gender ideology is a uniquely Western phenomenon”. He’s not entirely wrong, but not for the reasons he thinks. “Gender ideology” is a buzzword originated by anti-LGBTQ activists in Europe. It is neither an academic term nor an actual political movement. However, it is presented as a movement led by LGBTQ and feminist activists intent on upending the “traditional family” and “natural order” of society. The fear-mongering of “gender ideology” is grounded in two beliefs: first, that LGBTQ people somehow threaten Christian values and the traditional family, and, second, that men and women should follow antiquated gender roles, lest they corrupt society.
Interestingly, Walsh interviewed members of just one out of 3,000 tribes in Africa and no one else from any other culture outside of the U.S. This comes across as some spectacular cherry-picking that is unrepresentative of the diversity of beliefs and practices involving gender in the world. It is also unclear to us whether Walsh is aware that the Maasai tribe also has a tradition of female genital cutting. Though the practice is, thankfully, becoming increasingly uncommon, the ritual persists in some communities and is used to prepare girls as young as ten years old for marriage. This seems incongruous with Walsh’s mission: as he states in a clip from his appearance on The Dr. Phil Show, “I care about the truth, so basic truth matters, I want to live in a society where people care about the truth, I care about children”. It’s hard not to wonder if Walsh actually approves of a society in which gender roles are so rigidly constrained that girls are required to undergo genital cutting to enforce them.