Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Prof Carolyn McLeod

2nd Supervisor

Prof Richard Vernon

Joint Supervisor


In chapter one I firstly critique some contemporary family-resemblance approaches to the category woman, and claim that they do not take sufficient account of dis-semblance, that is, resemblances that people have in common with members of the contrast category man. Second, I analyze how the concept of woman is semantically contestable: resemblance/dissemblance structures give rise to vagueness and to borderline cases. Borderline cases can either be included in the category or excluded from it. The factors which incline parties in a dispute about membership to include or exclude depend on metaphysical, ethical, or political background assumptions.

In chapter two, I begin by considering the harms suffered by transgender persons through “misgendering”, the deployment of gender terms which inflict psychological harms upon transgender persons, place them in situations of injustice, or diminish their self-respect. Such deployments are morally contestable: they can be challenged on ethical grounds. Several characterisations of the term ‘woman’ proposed in the feminist literature are critiqued from this perspective.

In chapter three, I elaborate a broadly liberal approach to gender pluralism. The approach involves: i) the public toleration of gender practices and beliefs which contest prevalent gender norms; and ii) state-gender neutrality. Public toleration allows gender non-conforming practices and beliefs within public space. State gender-neutrality consists mainly in the removal from law and government policy of provisions which assume compliance with prevalent conceptions of gender.