USA Today claims 'there's no simple answer' to what defines a woman following Jackson-Blackburn exchange

The paper was mocked on social media for its 'truly insane' report

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USA Today went viral on Thursday for suggesting there is significant nuance to what defines a woman.

The subject of gender arose during the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson when Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. asked the nominee if she could "provide a definition for the word woman" as the national transgender debate, particularly in women's sports, may eventually reach the highest court. 

"Can I provide a definition? No," Jackson responded. "I can't."

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"You can't?" Blackburn replied. 

"Not in this context. I'm not a biologist," Jackson told the senator. 

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) listens as U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 22: Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) listens as U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Joe Biden’s pick to replace retiring Justice Stephen Breyer on the U.S. Supreme Court, would become the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A piece published in USA Today on Thursday tackled the subject, running the headline, "Marsha Blackburn asked Ketanji Brown Jackson to define 'woman.' Science says there's no simple answer."

"Scientists, gender law scholars and philosophers of biology said Jackson's response was commendable, though perhaps misleading," USA Today wrote. "It's useful, they say, that Jackson suggested science could help answer Blackburn's question, but they note that a competent biologist would not be able to offer a definitive answer either. Scientists agree there is no sufficient way to clearly define what makes someone a woman, and with billions of women on the planet, there is much variation."

"While traditional notions of sex and gender suggest a simple binary –  if you are born with a penis, you are male and identify as a man and if you are born with a vagina, you are female and identify as a woman –  the reality, gender experts say, is more complex," USA Today told readers. 

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The paper quoted Barnard College gender studies scholar Rebecca Jordan-Young, who praised Jackson's "pretty good answer" for stressing that "context matters" when it comes to disputes the nominee may rule on.

"There isn't one single 'biological' answer to the definition of a woman. There's not even a singular biological answer to the question of 'what is a female,'" Jordan-Young said, pointing to at least six "biological markers" of sex in the body, which include "genitals, chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive structures, hormone ratios and secondary sex characteristics."

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington. 

Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson speaks during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Harvard scholar and "philosopher of biology" Sarah Richardson told USA Today "science cannot settle what are really social questions." Meanwhile, UCLA gender studies professor Juliet Williams indicated that the debate of what defines a woman is decades old, citing how Black women weren't always "welcomed" in the category.

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"For example, while the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, for decades many Black women were excluded from exercising it. During Jim Crow, there would be bathrooms labeled ‘men,’ ‘women’ and 'colored.' The longstanding view of white supremacy denied recognition as women to Black women and women of color," USA Today wrote. 

Wheaton College gender studies professor Kate Mason swiped Blackburn, telling USA Today she "would prefer a world in which reality was much simpler."

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

Critics mocked the USA Today report on social media. 

NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck called the report "truly insane," tweeting, "This isn't a column, editorial, guest op-ed, or even one of those you might see labeled as 'analysis.' This is a news article from USA Today's 'Health & Wellness' section."

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"There is no sufficient way to define what makes someone a woman, of which there are billions," Washington Examiner reporter Jerry Dunleavy joked. 

"The 'KBJ’s nomination is a historic first for [B]lack women' narrative running concurrent with the ‘what’s a woman anyway?’ narrative is objectively funny," National Journalism Center program director Becket Adams wrote.