Acceptable Uses of the Word Female: An Essay
During a press conference after a football game, Cam Newton responded to a female reporter’s question by saying, “"funny to hear a female" ask a question about routes. A lot of people have called out the blatant misogyny of Newton’s statement, the befuddlement he exuded at a woman asking an educated question regarding sports. But I’m here to talk about a much deeper problem; the use of the word “female.”
Certainly male and female are the correct scientific terms in the world of fauna, but when did this become an acceptable term to relate to human women? Saying “funny to hear a woman ask a question” would have sounded anachronistic on its own merit, but choosing to say “a female” takes away the person’s humanity and reduces them to a nondescript subsection of a species, as if David Attenborough, himself, was observing and commenting on her nocturnal patterns, eating habits, and nesting rituals. I have never heard a man refer to another man as “a male.”
The word "female" isn't intrinsically bad, though it has faced its fair share of negativity, seeing as how something feminine is often used as an insult. You throw like a girl. Are you crying - what are you a woman? You get the idea. I threw the subject out to the Book of Faces, asking how people feel about the use of the word “female,” and I got some great responses. Ben, I think, said it best; “It’s like ‘Jew’. When someone uses it wrong, you can tell.”
So, when is it acceptable to use the word “female”:
- If you’re a coroner doing an autopsy
- In a police blotter
- When describing which end of the extension cord you need handed to you
- If you’re David effin’ Attenborough
That pretty much sums it up.
While we’re at it, can we stop referring to women as “girls,” too? “This girl I work with…” – wow, is she a 12-year-old prodigy who thrives in middle management? No? Then she is a woman you work with. You don’t say “a boy I work with” unless you happen to work in day care. There’s a moment in adolescence when boys become guys or dudes (or blokes/mates if you hail from across the several ponds), but a girl simply remains “a girl.” I had a listener come up and say, “Oh, you’re the girl on the morning show.” I said, “I’m the woman on the morning show.” I don’t think he appreciated it. I meant no offense, I was just having a “I’m 35-years-old and you wouldn’t say ‘oh, you’re the boy on the morning show’ to my on-air partner” moment. What’s worse is “good girl.” I would tell a former boss I'd have the TPS reports on his desk by end of business. His response? “Good girl.” Can you imagine how creepy it would sound if he said “Good boy” to an employee? Pretty effin’ creepy. Like, Norman Bates he-lives-with-his-mother-and-is-his-mother-at-the-same-time, creepy.
I know I’m going to get people saying, “But I refer to my best friend as ‘my boy!’ or my crew as ‘the boys!’” – great, those are your familiars. Feel free to refer to your group of friends as The Sharks and The Jets, for all I care. ‘The boys’ is a term of endearment. When you refer to a stranger as “a girl” or “a female,” that’s condescension.