Ciswoman/Cissexual Woman: A Definition

An Asian woman looks outside a window at the city below her, signifying the distinction between the private and public spheres of social life.
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"Ciswoman" is shorthand for "cissexual woman" or "cisgender woman." It defines a non-transgender woman. Her assigned gender is female, and her assigned female gender is more or less consistent with her personal sense of self.

What Is Assigned Gender? 

An individual’s assigned gender is what appears on her birth certificate. A doctor or midwife delivered her and stated her physical gender or sex at the time of birth. The individual is forevermore a male or female based on this assessment – unless, of course, she takes legal steps to change it. Assigned gender is also referred to as biological sex, natal sex, or designated gender at birth. 

Transwomen vs. Ciswomen 

Transwomen is a shorthand term for transgender women. It defines women who were initially assigned a male gender but have a female identity. If you identify as a woman and you're not a transgender woman, you're a ciswoman.

Gender Roles 

Cisgender and transgender identities are grounded in gender roles, but gender roles are socially constructed and gender is not a very clearly-defined concept. An argument can be made that nobody is completely cis or trans, that these are relative terms representing an individual's experiences of what gender is. Ashley Fortenberry, a transwoman, explains, "Gender cannot be defined by anyone other than the individual. Gender is personal and is based on ideas and characteristics that usually pertain to a specific sex. The simple fact is that everyone has characteristics of the opposite gender."

When Assigned Gender Is Wrong

Of course, doctors are human and, as such, they can make mistakes. A baby might have an undiagnosed intersex condition, making it difficult or impossible to identify her "correct" gender at a glance. More commonly, a baby does not grow up to identify with the gender assigned to him or her at birth, a condition known as gender dysphoria. 

The American Civil Liberties Union indicates that 18 states and the District of Columbia have passed anti-discrimination laws protecting transgender and transsexual individuals. At the local level, approximately 200 cities and counties have done the same. 

The federal government has been slower to get on board with this type of legislation, although a federal district court in the District of Columbia has ruled that discrimination against employees who transition to a different gender is covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Attorney General supported this decision in 2014.

Public Restrooms

Several states have passed or are in the process of passing legislation to either allow or disallow transgender individuals from using restrooms designated for the gender they identify with as opposed to their assigned gender. Most notably, the U.S. Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against the state of North Carolina in 2016 to block House Bill 2, which requires that transgender individuals use restrooms for their assigned genders.

The Bottom Line 

Ciswomen don't share these problems because they identify with their assigned gender. Their designated gender at birth is who they are and who they consider themselves to be. Thus Title VII, which protects against sexual discrimination, protects them outright. 

Pronunciation: "Siss-woman"

Also Known As: Cissexual woman, cisgender woman, cisgirl, "natural-born woman" (offensive)