A review of Matt Walsh’s documentary, “What is a Woman?” and four missing topics. Written by guest author Emily Bontrager.
I recently watched Matt Walsh’s documentary “What is a Woman?” and it’s a high-quality film. It is well-written and expertly produced and shot. Walsh’s humor, his questions, and his candid answers shine through—and they’re incredibly refreshing.
Walsh sets out on a quest for an answer to just one question: What is a woman? He covers the sordid origins of gender ideology’s core ideas: that gender and sex are seperate, and that children can transition from one gender to another. He discusses biological males in women’s sports and features a rare interview with one of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’s teammates. He even directly asks a gender-affirming pediatrician about the puberty blocker Lupron, which is also used to induce chemical castration in pedophiles.
The film lays bare the lengths one takes to deny reality when touting gender ideology as a worldview. Experts in gender ideology are shown to be denying reality—not by any narrative that Walsh provides, but by their inability or unwillingness to answer a singular question. In short, Walsh’s non-reactive interview tactics are pure gold in the age of hot takes made of pyrite.
I would classify Walsh’s documentary as an excellent introduction to both gender ideology and the recent spike in transgenderism in young girls, and I would recommend the film to a friend or family member who is just beginning to investigate this phenomenon. But I would add to my recommendation that the issue is much deeper than what Walsh could cover in 90 minutes.
In fact, the documentary barely scratches the surface of what really goes on in the gender-ideology discourse, and it does not address what’s being accomplished by the thousands of people pushing back. Minds are changed when people are shown the consequences of their thinking—and with the gender ideology issue, there’s so much more to be shown than what Walsh touched on.
Here’s what I mean:
1. irreversible damage
To start, “What is a Woman?” leaves unmentioned Abigail Shrier’s seminal book, Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which was published in 2020. Shrier’s journalism was among the first to publicly expose the transgender craze happening across the nation among young girls.
Until a couple of years ago, gender dysphoria mainly appeared in boys ages two to four years old and affected only 0.01% of the population, according to academic studies cited by Shrier. If left alone, gender dysphoria typically desists. However, between 2016 and 2017, the number of sex-reassingment surguries for natal females in the US quadrupled, with females now accounting for 70% of all gender surgeries. In addition, in 2007, there was only one gender clinic in the US. Now, Shrier writes, there are over 50.
At shocking rates, young girls—some as young as 12—are identifying as men and are medically transitioning, a complicated and expensive process that involves puberty blockers, testosterone, and multiple surgeries. Shrier’s book features the stories of several young girls who, at one time or another, identified as transgender, as well as interviews with trans influencers, detranistioners, doctors, therapists, and over four dozen parents.
The backlash to Shrier’s book has revealed much about the lengths to which trans activists are willing to go to suppress truth. Target pulled Irreversible Damage from its retail shelves, and activists have been trying to get it banned on Amazon since its release. In 2020, Amazon suspended the book’s paid-for ad campaign. The book has been labeled as hateful, dangerous, and “transphobic.” Just this month, Amazon employees staged a “die-in” at Amazon’s trans flag–raising ceremony in protest of the company’s continued sale of Irreversible Damage.
However, Shrier’s book has also inspired parents to stand up for their daughters in big ways.From erecting billboards to standing up at school board meetings, many parents (in addition to Walsh) are declaring war on gender ideology.
Walsh’s film touches on the parental response to medical transition. A Canadian father, jailed for misgendering his daughter, said,“When my child turns 25 and says, ‘Dad, where were you?’ I’ll say I was there, I was fighting as hard as I could. I was not prepared to let this happen.”
Walsh has interviewed Shrier on his show before. I’m not going to speculate as to why she wasn’t in the documentary (perhaps she was simply too busy); however, I think her absence is felt. Highlighting Shrier’s journalism in an interview would have expanded the section near the film’s end about transgender social contagion, demonstrating both its true scale and the actions parents are taking in response.
2.Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria
Dr. Lisa Littman, an OB-GYN and researcher, coined the term rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD) after publishing a thorough study in which she interviewed 250+ parents. “What is a Woman?” does not mention ROGD or Dr. Littman’s research.
In her study, Dr. Littman found that there was an explosion of teenage girls, many in the same friend groups, who were identifying as transgender and experiencing gender dysphoria—without any previous display of symptoms.
Dr. Littman proposed ROGD to explain this sudden spike, speculating that what was really occurring was a social contagion. This phenomenon differs from that of early onset dysphoria experienced by young boys; teenage girls reportedly begin exhibiting symptoms of gender dysphoria during their teen years, as opposed to early in their childhood. Parents looking back at their teen girls’ childhoods reported that the dysphoric symptoms really came “out-of the blue.” Additionally, ROGD often comes after the teenage girl has spent long stretches of time in internet spaces where others are trans.
Dr. Littman notes that medical professionals have adopted a blanket “one-size-fits-all” treatment of gender dysphoria: social and medical transition. With this treatment, once the teen girl expresses feelings of gender dysphoria, her history is kicked to the curb. Any underlying psychological history of anxiety or depression, and any prior issues with body image, are attributed to gender dysphoria. Previous distressing life events—abuse, rape, bullying, loneliness—are forgotten. She must become a boy without delay.
Dr. Littman’s study simply asks whether this never-before-seen group of gender-dysphoric teens may need a diversity of treatments, picked with each individual’s history in mind, rather than a singular, universal treatment. Perhaps, she suggests, doctors should ask questions about what else might be wrong before prescribing medical transition.
The response to Dr. Littman’s study was vicious. Psychology Today published an open letter calling her paper “methodologically flawed” for relying on parents. The paper’s publisher issued an apology for not providing “the proper context” and promised to conduct an additional review of the already peer-reviewed paper. But the reality is that Dr. Littman is no conservative or right-winger; she simply cares about the truth and is not afraid to ask questions.
In Walsh’s documentary, Dr. Debra Soh, a sex therapist and author, underscores the professional hostility that Dr. Littman faced as she describes the politically stifling research climate: “You basically have to decide beforehand what you’re going to find so that you don’t upset activists. And that’s not how you do science.”
Dr. Littman’s study, the concept of ROGD, and the backlash to her research would have perfectly illustrated the stifling climate described by Dr. Soh. Highlighting Dr. Littman’s work would have directly shown that there are researchers out there who are trying to get to the truth and have faced suppression and backlash.
Detransitioners aren’t supposed to exist. Transition is supposed to be the cure, it is argued, and anyone who stops being trans was never trans to begin with. Detransitioners are supposed to be so rare that they’re a myth and need to stay that way.
But they do exist. Detransitioners are people who were trans but experienced regret and transitioned back to their original gender. “What is a Woman?” features two individuals who have dealt with transition regret. Walsh interviews Scott (Kellie) Newgent, a transman who experienced harrowing surgery complications, and the film shows clips of an interview in which Preston Sprinkle interviews Helena, a detransitioner (this is not an endorsement of Sprinkle). You can read Helena’s full detransition story here.
There really isn’t data on the long-term effects of cross-sex hormones, puberty blockers, or fast-tracked gender-affirming surgeries. But if you need to show the horrors that gender-affirmative care is inflicting on teenage girls, look no further than the stories of detransitioners:
I was surprised that “What is a Woman?” didn’t feature more detranistioners, or at least provide a montage to illustrate the “detrans” community’s growth over the past few years. This community is exploding—the r/detrans forum on Reddit now has more than 30,000 subscribers. Many detransitioners have had irreversible changes to their bodies due to surgeries and cross-sex hormones. Many are angry that they were rushed into medical transition without doctors or parents ever asking if there was anything else going on. Others are also depressed or anxious, continuing to struggle with body-image issues or other life circumstances that transitioning couldn’t solve. Many report that they had been spending all their time on social media, where they learned that “wondering if you’re trans” is a sure sign that you are.
“We’re telling children when they haven’t fully developed, that all you have to do is medically transition and you fit in,” said Newgent in the film. “I was one of those kids. It got me at 42. Your child doesn’t have a chance.”
The film would have been more effective if it had indicated that a growing detrans community exists, and that it is fighting back against the same system that abused them and continues to abuse thousands of other teen girls and boys. Doing so would have been priceless because it points to a possibility denied by activists—that more than one gender-dysphoric kid will regret transitioning later on in life.
“I just don’t think it’s realistic to put this decision on them that is basically saying, are you okay with the risk of permanent health effects that you can never ever reverse?” Helena said. “How can you ask that of such a small child?”
4. Gender-Critical Feminists/TERFs
Gender-critical feminists, also labeled “Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs) by trans-activists, were not mentioned in Walsh’s documentary. Gender-critical feminists believe in biology as the main indicator of one’s sex and gender, and that biological men shouldn’t be allowed into women’s spaces.
These feminist groups have been at the forefront of pointing out the unfair advantages biological men have in women’s sports.
They have also stood against the movement to place biological men into women’s prisons (an issue that wasn’t mentioned in Walsh’s documentary but is indeed happening).
Much of their work has been met with hate, loss of employment, screaming counter-protesters, doxxing, and death threats. Even the label “TERF” is a quasi slur created by trans-activists. Author and professor Kathleen Stock was protested and harrassed on her university campus by trans-activists, and she resigned from her position at Sussex University after her union backed the protesters. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has received death threats, and activists have even showed up at her home.
In his quest for a definition, Walsh brilliantly visits a women’s march in Washington, DC, to ask participants, “What is a woman?” None of them can answer it. Instead they chant “asshole” at him.
Contrary to what is shown in the film, there is an entire section of feminism that has no confusion about what a woman is and would probably love to explain it. If the entire project of Walsh’s documentary is to try and answer the question “What is a woman?” then missing this entire group of feminists—who have suffered job loss, doxxing, death threats for defending the classical definition of a woman—feels like a missed opportunity.
Walsh was able to speak with professors, therapists, surgeons, and doctors whose worldviews are colored by gender ideology—people who rarely sit down for interviews or debates. However, the TERF phenomenon was left untouched. When critiqued on this, Walsh tweeted that he did ask a few gender-critical feminists for interviews, but that they had ultimately declined.
Still, a brief mention of this group’s existence might have been an olive branch.
“There aren’t many people who disagree,” said Dr. Marci Bowers, a gender-confirmation surgeon, in the film. “The dinosaurs of the world are certainly out there.”
There certainly are “dinosaurs” out there. Thousands of them. And I would have loved for the film to show just how many “dinosaurs” there really are because, frankly, it’s Jurassic Park. “Dinosaurs” are everywhere.
One of the biggest barriers people face in standing up against gender ideology is their fear that they are standing alone. Just as the documentary illustrates how much gender ideologists have to deny reality, including these other parts of the transgender conversation could have shown how many teachers, parents, researchers, journalists—everyday people—are standing up to the mob.
I’m well aware my suggestions would make the 90-minute film the length of a Marvel movie, but perhaps now that Walsh has done a documentary called “What is a Woman?”, he can do a sequel and call it “Where Are the Women?”
Because they are everywhere: Shrier, Dr. Littman, female detransitioners, and feminists who believe in biology. By featuring their stories too, Walsh can show that the reality-denial of gender ideology is a pit far deeper than we imagined.
Emily Bontrager is a journalist and writer at For the Martyrs, a nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about Christian persecution, advocating for religious freedom and providing aid to suffering Christians around the world. She writes articles weekly on For the Martyrs' blog.