Whenever I hear or see someone use “females” in place of women, it makes me cringe.

I see people write it on social media websites.  I hear it in songs.  I read it on blogs.  I teach at the university level and students say it in informal discussions, class presentations, and even in formal writing.  The formal writing is when things got serious.  It’s one thing to use a term colloquially; however, it’s entirely different if the next generation thinks it belongs in formal writing.  Something has gone horribly wrong.

People assume that this is exclusively used in the African American community; however, the word “female” as it is used this way has crossed all ethnic, gender, and social classes.  People everywhere are using it without any knowledge that, not only is it wrong, but it is ultimately disrespectful to women.

I believe people are using female (ex: the female approached from the left side of the room) because, ironically, they believe it sounds more educated.  They feel as though it sounds scientific in a way.  They hear the cop shows, like “Law and Order” and “NCIS”, or the medical television programs saying “White, female, age 23,” and they think that’s how intellectuals talk.   The dialogue of many television programs give you just enough “fancy wording” to convince you that it sounds intelligent.  They want you to feel smart for being able to keep up with the plot, but they really don’t trust the general public to be all that smart, so it’s not really how intellectuals speak (sorry if this bums you out).  The reason it’s ironic, and problematic, is that these cop/medical shows are giving the illusion that their diction is so scientific, but they are actually using the word the wrong way and have convinced most of the people watching to use it the wrong way also.

It is also the case that popular music genres use females this way. For some reason, not everybody got the message that entertainers are there to entertain people.  I love music, but of all things you could possibly gain from listening to music, the last thing you should do is take lessons on how to speak/write from it.

Female: (adjective)

  • 1) of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished                             biologically by the production of gametes (ova) that can be fertilized by male gametes
  • 2) relating to or characteristic of women or female animals.
  • 3) (of a plant or flower) having a pistil but no stamens
  • 4) (of parts of machinery, fittings, etc.) manufactured hollow so that a corresponding male              part can be inserted

These are all definitions of the word female.  First and foremost, the word “female” is an adjective. What this means is that it is to be used to describe a person, place, or thing.  In this case, you can say that there are female students or female nurses or female horses, but you can’t use it as a noun which is what people are doing when they replace the word “woman” with “female”.

Let’s just say you don’t care about grammar though…I mean, who is really all that focused on grammar when we talk.  But being lax about grammar is no excuse to go around saying the wrong word.  Saying female like this is like this.  You really want a snickers candy bar, but you are banded from the candy store (they don’t take kindly to taste-testing).  You see a friendly stranger walking in, so you ask her is she’ll help you out.  She says sure.  You hand her two dollars and say “can you please buy me some candy”.  There are a billion kinds of candies in the store, so who knows what she is going to come out with now…but since you didn’t bother to say snickers (for no reason at all) you’ll have to wait and see what you get.  As you can see from those definitions above, any thing (yes, that is not a typo, a thing) can be female.  The definition for female is not: woman.  The reason those words can not be used interchangeably is because there are female dogs, female birds, female plants, female plugs for electronics, etc. So when a person decides to use them interchangeably they are not only ignoring all sorts of grammatically issues, they are basically asking for candy when they need to specify snickers.

But this really isn’t even my main issue with the use of the word “females”.  I’m really not that much of a stickler for grammar and semantics.  My contention is that people never use “males” in the same manner.  I find it problematic that we have decided that, for whatever reason, only women will be bestowed with the honor of being stripped of their humanity.  It’s not like the word “females” is shorter than “women” whereas “male” is not shorter than “men”.  There really is no logical explanation for why we are doing this to women and not men…well, besides the fact that society generally has a history of doing this sort of thing to women.  We decided that we were okay calling women a general title that could embody any living or nonliving thing (I’m referring to the word “female”) but we were not okay doing the same thing to men.  People aren’t walking around saying “males are always acting tough” or “I can respect a male who takes charge”.  Nope!  It’s still “men”.   We haven’t taken that away from them.  We haven’t decided that, out of “respect”, we are going to take away the one word that serves to distinguish him from other males in the animal kingdom.  He’s a human male, i.e. a MAN, so we call him that because to do otherwise would suggest he is a beast.  Our society hasn’t done that to men, we haven’t stripped them of their manhood; yet, we are perfectly fine doing it to women.  We see nothing wrong grouping women and girls into a larger category that is meant for anything that can bear offspring, produce eggs, or is manufactured hallow.  That is my main issue with using female.

Ultimately, we are not being respectful, proper, grammatically correct, or scientific by saying “females”.  It is yet another way of stripping a person of their humanity.  By taking away what is human about women and girls, it is easier to degrade the, disrespect them, treat them like less of a person.  It’s easier to do this to these women in these music when we call them females.  It’s easier to engage in street harassment, or grab women in clubs, or not allow them to have access to healthcare.  They’re just females.

There really is an easy fix here.  If you are talking about someone who is less than 18 years old (the legal age of adulthood in the U.S.) then she is a girl; otherwise, you should refer to her as a woman.  It really is that simple.  The only time “female” should be used is when you are using it as an adjective such as:  female bodybuilders, female doctors, female students, female firefighters, female nurses, the common pattern is that there is a noun after “female”.  Lastly,”females” is not even a word.  We made it a word when we decided that “female” would replace “women”.

There are so many words out there that people have decided to wage a war against. This one is tricky because it lurks in the shadows of respectable and accepted.  People are not upset about this because, well female is not a “bad’ word.   It’s not like “bitch”.  Also, you can use it right sometimes, so it makes things complicated.  Furthermore, people generally think they correct when they use it.

I struggled with whether or not to correct my students papers when they used it in formal writing.  In the end, I decided to do it.  I did it, not because it is a cultural thing or a grammatical thing, but because it is an equity issue.  Women are such because we are human.