What is a Woman? Plato Answers

Matt Walsh’s humorous documentary, What is a Woman?,  forced this question into the vernacular.   Having garnered hundreds of millions of views since its release two years ago, the movie focuses people on the right question.


Those of you who have gone through one of my The Gift of Gender conferences might recall my comparison on this question between the Bible and, not Matt Walsh, but Plato. Long before Walsh, Plato gets around to the ontology of woman near the end of his dialogue called Timaeus. For a few years now, I have been mentioning the contrast, which pays reviewing.


Timaeus is one of Plato’s last works, post-dating even the Republic. So, it represents the philosopher’s most mature thought. The fictional title character hails from Southern Italy, noted for its smart people (mathematicians and scientists). The work consists essentially in Timaeus’ long speech, praised and without rebuttal. Thus, it is clear that we are getting Plato’s views. Here the philosopher lays out his cosmology. That is why Timaeus became a central text of Platonism in antiquity and the Middle Ages.


And when Timaeus does, at last, get around to other living things besides men, like women, which he calls “a topic that won’t require many words,” we get this inspiring historical recounting:


All male-born humans who lived lives of cowardice or injustice were reborn in the second generation as women…that is how women and females in general came to be. (91.a, e).


He follows with a similar origin story for animals, coming from lower specimens of the first generation of men. Raised, as we have yet still been, on the Bible’s cosmology, we recoil in distaste. How could one seriously think this about women? And not just anyone. These are the words of the flower of Western thought. Generations of professors, all over the world, intone the famous epithet of the fourth century BC thinker: “All of philosophy is a footnote to Plato.”  On a matter so important, how could someone so smart be—obviously to us—so wrong?


Romans 1:22 harshly observes of the generation that turns from acknowledging their Creator, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” We unfortunately must bear this in mind while listening to current attempts at a new anthropology. A very smart professor, married to another very smart professor, recently wrote to me:


It’s funny. Why have I always thought that just because someone has a penis, that he is a man? Why should that make the person a man?


This thought became my friend’s basis of a new anthropology of men and women. This new uncertainty of what each of those are, you realize, is not uncommon among the intelligent of the academy. What will future generations say about these deep thoughts?


Any way of looking at women and men apart from God’s revelation to us will, with time, be seen as outrageous. You cannot define us without God’s wisdom. You cannot understand gender specificity, body and soul, apart from the mantle of God’s image. That is where to start to answer that now pressing question, “What is a woman?”



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