“Lady” Named Phrase of the 12 months by Dictionary.com
The word “woman” was at the center of discussions, movements and debates in the year 2022
Dictionary.com selected “woman” as its word of the year for 2022. Searches for the word on the search platform have doubled this year compared to last year, spurred by questions of what it means to be a woman today.
“It is one of the oldest words in the English language. She is fundamental not only for our vocabulary, but mainly for us as humans. Despite this, it is a word that continues to be a source of social importance and social debates. It is a term inseparable from the history of the year 2022”, recorded the digital dictionary company about its choice.
“This year, the very definition of the word “woman” has been at the center of many important moments, discussions and decisions,” said John Kelly, senior director of editorial at Dictionary.com.
Searches for the word “woman” saw a record increase of more than 1400% on the site in March during the oath of office of US Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. More specifically, the surge came after Senator Marsha Blackburn questioned the appointed judge on the definition of the word “woman.” This growth was considered a massive leap for such a common word.
During Jackson’s hearing in March, the senator asked her, “Can you give me a definition of the word ‘woman’?”
“I can’t,” the judge replied. “Not in that context, I’m not a biologist.”
“Is the meaning of the word ‘woman’ so uncertain and controversial that you can’t give me a definition of it?” asked Blackburn.
“The prominence of this issue and the attention it receives demonstrates how issues related to transgender identity and rights are now at the forefront of national discussions. More than ever, we are challenged with questions of who can identify as a woman (or as a man). The policies brought about by these questions go beyond the importance of any dictionary definition – and directly impact people’s lives.”
Despite this, Dictionary.com offers several definitions for the word “woman” on its website (apparently, it can also be used as a verb). “An adult female person” is the first definition listed. “The dictionary is not responsible for giving the last word in what defines a woman. The word belongs to each and every woman – regardless of how they define themselves,” said the website about conceptualizations leaving transgender identity aside.
The Human Rights Campaign organization is more explicit on how transgender women fit the definition of being a woman. “When we say the term ‘woman’, it also includes transgender women. There is no question about that. A woman’s gender identity is her most personal sense of what it means to be female. A trans woman’s gender identity does not define or diminish her femininity; but rather, it simply describes her journey as a woman.”
Unfortunately, many women like Senator Blackburn don’t agree with this definition – which is why the word “woman” is still controversial in 2022. In fact, according to a survey by US think-tank Pew Research, six in in ten US adults believe that a person’s gender identity is determined by the sex assigned at birth.
Read also: Ursula von der Leyen: the most powerful woman in the world
The US Supreme Court hearings weren’t the only time definitions of the term “woman” were called into question in the news this year. Earlier in 2022, questions arose about who should qualify as female for college athletics and whether Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, has an unfair biological advantage in her sport.
Some people argue that we shouldn’t discuss gender anyway, at least in schools. In March, Florida Governor Ron Desantis enacted a law that prohibits teachers in kindergarten through third grade from discussing gender and sexual orientation in classrooms. The law also restricts what teachers can say to students to what would be developmentally appropriate for them, but does not define what this would be for older students.
There are certainly still competing perspectives on what it means to be a woman. In addition to searches related to gender identity, searches for the word “woman” on Dictionary.com also hit a record high following Supreme Court Justice Court Dobbs’s change in Roe v. Wade – which prohibited US states from passing laws that made abortion illegal – and jumped again after such a document was officially released. Interestingly, these searches have been accompanied by an increase in the number of people searching for the term “autonomy”.