Female, a word that seemingly has been a part of our everyday vernacular since forever, is the latest hot-button topic in the war regarding what you can and cannot say.
Earlier this year, Jezebel’s Kara Brown singled out the problem with calling women “females,” unpacking how the term made her feel. Then, most recently on MTV’s Uncommon Sense With Charlamagne tha God, host Charlamagne broached the topic, though he and his male panelists were left befuddled over why the word was even a thing. It was left to a woman, pop-culture commentator Crissle, to attempt to explain why the discussion deserved more thought. And in-between Brown’s piece and Charlemagne’s show, “female” hit Twitter, bringing along with it accusations of pandering, faux intellect and fake, deep insights while many denied the issue altogether. “Really?! Now ‘female’ is a problem?” was the sentiment as eyes were rolled and folks played mad for the few hours it was a trending topic.
The frustration? I can understand. Being conscious in 2015 is exhausting. Being black in 2015 deserves a few vacation days. Mass shootings are a regular occurrence. Unarmed blacks are gunned down by police because walking while black is a crime potentially punishable by death. A presidential candidate, running a campaign filled with bigotry and racist rhetoric, is a top contender, and a few of your own aunties, uncles and church deacons still support him. Being told that you can’t use the term “female” seems silly against all the other things by which we are affronted day-to-day. Let the church choir sing, “I’m so tired, Lord, I’m so tired.”
I’m tired, too. How many things do I have to care about? Some days I want to give up and aspire to be the kid who gets to yell, “Cut it up,” on Future songs. Or I want to wake up a flawlessly carefree black girl, with naturally laid edges and a flat stomach no matter how much I indulge in fried and sugary foods. Sometimes I just don’t want to care, so I get why some are quick to side-eye the “female” conversation. I might even understand why you want to label this as pandering. But really, I want to hold your hand, sit down with you and ask you for one quick favor …
Just think about it.
It doesn’t have to be right this moment. I don’t need you to agree that “female” as a noun for women is dismissive and demeaning. I just want you to be aware of how the word has been used and how it is used the next time you hear it. The first time I read Brown’s piece for Jezebel, I skimmed it, like, “OK, I don’t know that I have enough space to care about this one.” I didn’t think she was outright wrong, and I didn’t stand diametrically opposed to Brown’s call to stop using the term “female.” But I wasn’t passionate about it. I made a mental log and carried on.
Then I caught myself, a woman who has no problem identifying as a feminist, using the word. I was telling a story to a friend about a group of women I do not care for and was describing them as “females.” “These females were … ,” I said. And there it was. As Tracey Clayton and Heben Nigatu had listed for BuzzFeed, the No. 4 reason to stop using the word “female” to label women is because it is “most often used to imply inferiority or contempt.”
So many of us participate in this subconsciously because it is a word we see often, but it’s an adjective that’s been colloquially converted into a noun, designated to dehumanize. “This female did … ” or “A female is … ” takes a descriptor and demotes a woman to simply her reproductive organs—because that is the definition of “female.” In order for it to refer to a woman in the proper context, she would be referred to as a “female human.” And who’s saying, “This female human was so petty … ” Nobody, dear.
Now, before you point to the use of “female” in science, the academic sense and award categories and on forms, realize that that’s not the argument here. It’s not that the word “female” should be entirely erased from the English language. Remove yourself from thinking of the argument as someone trying to police the words you use, and think about how you actually use “female” as a noun, rather than an adjective. That’s it.
You might even realize that you rarely use the word. There’s a reason for that. Maybe you have amazing syntax, or maybe you know that women are women.