(The Root) —
"What's your take on men who refer to women as 'females'? Dude hit me up on a dating site, and his profile, when describing what he's looking for, referred to women as females through the whole thing. Why couldn't he just say 'ladies' or 'women'?" —D.F.
Some form of this question comes up on a regular basis. My usual response is something like, "Run." Perhaps it's the nerdy English major still living within me, but I believe that the words people use to describe themselves and others can tell you a lot about them.
For instance, the guy who reached out to you on the dating site is clearly there to meet women — the proper name for adult, female human beings — and yet he chose to use a term to describe them that he seemingly doesn't realize highly irritates many women. It's as if he doesn't have a basic, functional understanding of what makes most thinking women tick or, better yet, what turns them off.
That you are startled by his use of "female" in a nonscientific context implies that you and I may have similar thoughts on the use of the word. To me, it's objectifying women, robbing us of a bit of our personhood. And that makes it sound woefully misogynistic.
That, of course, is a red flag, one that many people don't recognize. The heterosexual man who enjoys sex with women but doesn't actually like women — or, er, "females," as he might call them — is initially a bit of an enigma. I believe that calling women "females" is one of his calling cards. Whenever I hear it, it's as if the guy is trying really hard not to say "b—ch."
Referring to women as "females" also implies a lack of formal education to me. Perhaps he went to school but didn't pay much attention. And perhaps I should infer by the way he uses "female" in a sentence that he is speaking of a woman, such as, "I like a female who knows how to let me lead." Often, though, I find myself wondering, "What kind of female? A female cat? A female zebra? A female buffalo?" I'm never sure. But a female human never really pops into my head, probably because, again, female humans are called women, and it's unclear to me why anyone would go out of his way to refer to actual women as anything else.
In far fewer words, I once offered this explanation to a woman who had a concern similar to yours. I promptly received a call from a concerned male friend who wanted me to know, "D, you're about to have women turning men away for no good reason!" He doesn't use "female" as a term to refer to women, but he insisted that men who did weren't trying to offend anybody, and that in some regions of the country and parts of the economic scale, it was just another no-harm-meant way of saying "woman." He believed, like many men with whom I've conversed about this subject, that I had blown the whole thing out of proportion.
"Dude, it's sexist," I insisted.
He still didn't get it.
I had to explain that when certain women hear a guy say "female" (and its even crasser euphemism, "b—ch"), it's akin to a black person hearing a nonblack person drop an n-bomb. There would be a whole lot of automatic assumptions made about what that nonblack person thinks about black people. Most would automatically call that person racist through and through, and yet guys don't want to accept that the language some use to refer to women has the same effect on women.
If you're up for taking on the project of teaching your interested suitor some basics about respecting women — which I wouldn't be, if I were you — then go ahead, engage, talk, meet up. You can ask him to refer to women as, you know, women, and just like anyone who's tried to stop saying the n-word, he'll find it hard not to say "female," and it will annoy you further.
Or you could do what I would do: Thank him for his interest, but say no thanks to communicating further, and keep looking. I'm fond of advising people that while in search of a mate, their goal should not be just to find anybody breathing and remotely interested but to find someone who actually gets them. I suggest that you spend your time perusing profiles for someone whose description doesn't offend you.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at email@example.com.