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  1. Thomas MacAulay Millar
    Thomas MacAulay Millar August 10, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    It is unconstitutional to require students to say the Pledge. My first day of law school, a professor (not in con law, though he also taught that) said that the bravest thing the Supreme Court ever did was to reverse itself in 1943. In Gobitis, in 1940, the Court had held that states could require the Pledge. In 1943 in West Va. v. Barnette in the middle of the war they reversed themselves, holding: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

    We’ve fallen a long way in our Court’s willingness to stand up for First Amendment freedoms, but not that far. Compulsory Pledge is a stone-cold loser in any federal court in the US.

  2. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 11:45 am |

    Female as noun is my most hated word construction in the English language. Despite its complicated history, I just can’t get past the dehumanizing venom with which the word is used in the common parlance. Being referred to as a “female” makes me feel small, passive, and worthless. I also don’t use “male” as a noun for the same reason, although clearly that one doesn’t cut me.

    As far as taking it back goes, I don’t have much interest in it. Its use is so subtle and ingrained (unlike “slut” and so forth) that I feel like efforts to reclaim would feed right back into people who claim it has no perjorative connotation in the first place. I think a word has to be completely out before we can bring it back.

    Femelles is kind of nice, though. I feel like using that unconventional word creates an opportunity to open up the discussion to the real roots and meaning of “female”, whereas “female” itself probably wouldn’t do that.

    1. Jill
      Jill August 10, 2011 at 11:53 am | *

      Female as noun is my most hated word construction in the English language.

      I can’t decide if I hate “female” as a noun the worst, or “woman” as an adjective (i.e., “Jill is a woman lawyer”).

  3. Stephanie
    Stephanie August 10, 2011 at 11:50 am |

    I don’t think we have a “Pledge of Allegiance” in Canada, if we do, I never said it. We did in school sing the National Anthem every day, and on Friday’s also had to sing “God Save the Queen”… we are technically a constitutional monarchy after all *rolls eyes*

  4. Andie
    Andie August 10, 2011 at 11:52 am |

    Stephanie:
    I don’t think we have a “Pledge of Allegiance” in Canada, if we do, I never said it. We did in school sing the National Anthem every day, and on Friday’s also had to sing “God Save the Queen”… we are technically a constitutional monarchy after all *rolls eyes*

    I had a French teacher that had us rotate through O Canada, God Save the Queen and La Marsaielles (sp?)

  5. Florence
    Florence August 10, 2011 at 11:59 am |

    Jill: I can’t decide if I hate “female” as a noun the worst, or “woman” as an adjective (i.e., “Jill is a woman lawyer”).

    Ew on both counts.

  6. Aydan
    Aydan August 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm |

    For me, “female,” whether used as an adjective or noun, can be a good alternative to “woman.” Sometimes “woman” is just too loaded of a word for me to use. “Female” is loaded too, of course, but sometimes I prefer it, especially if I feel that I am failing at, or I am deliberately choosing not to engage in, performative femininity.

    But that usually only applies to me using it with regards to myself. Other people labeling someone as “a female” with any kind of contempt (or as the opposite of “a man” without any contempt) is something I really dislike.

  7. Angel H.
    Angel H. August 10, 2011 at 12:03 pm |

    so ha ha we’re all going to be womanists soon

    Some of us already are.

  8. Anna
    Anna August 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm |

    I have to say, to most people here in the UK the whole Pledge of Allegiance seems very strange. I thought it was just done in schools over there, is it done in other public settings too?

  9. Krib
    Krib August 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm |

    We don’t have a pledge of Allegiance in France, just an anthem, and we never had to sing it in school. I wouldn’t say that we’re not patriotic -we are, just in dissimilar ways (for example, we did have a special class in middle school, to educate us about democracy, how our government works, and the values our flag carries).

  10. Tei Tetua
    Tei Tetua August 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm |

    “**Is it true that other countries don’t really have a Pledge of Allegiance, i.e. a group recitation in front of a flag done at public assemblies?”

    I can recall meeting a couple who were an American man who had lived in France, and the French lady he had met there. She said that they had gone to some school event–his niece’s graduation, I think–and the whole audience had stood up and faced the flag and recited the pledge. The Frenchwoman was horrified! She said “I was thinking, my God, I’ve come to a Fascist country! Here are all the good little Party members standing up and pledging their lives to the national symbol!” Her attitude was that you don’t orchestrate patriotism, and if you try, it starts to turn into tyranny.

  11. sophiefair
    sophiefair August 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm |

    another Canadian — we have no equivalent to the Pledge. And unlike the canadians upthread, I never had to sing “god save the queen”. We only sang O Canada at assemblies.

    However, I do remember, when I was in about grade 3, (I had just switched out of catholic school and into the public system), I was shocked that they said the lord’s prayer in public school. It must have been that principal though — he retired that year, and I never heard public prayer in public school again…

    Hate “females”, hate it!

  12. kai
    kai August 10, 2011 at 12:14 pm |

    I’m glad that you wrote this post; it’s given me a lot to think about.

    I identify as a female but not a woman, and often use female to refer to other female-bodied people, rather than make assumptions about their gender identity. I honestly never thought of it as a degrading term; rather I saw it as a word which referred to the biology of people without the baggage of gender.

  13. B-Lar
    B-Lar August 10, 2011 at 12:16 pm |

    Words are neutral. They can like tools be used for all kinds of things. If the word is not the problem, but instead its peoples usage of it that is the problem, then reclaim it.

    If someone spits it at you, sing it back. Victory comes quickly when you cannot be crushed.

  14. reznicek111
    reznicek111 August 10, 2011 at 12:19 pm |

    Thank you so much for articulating the exact reasons why the word female – used as a synonym for “woman,” rather than a purely biological descriptor – has irked me so over the years. I have a few family members who insist on calling women (esp. at work, casual social acquaintances, etc.) “females,” who feel I’m being overly touchy or PC if I find the word objectionable. This post has helped me pinpoint and formulate the basis of a good comeback: calling women “females” reduces fellow human beings to an “othered” biological construct.

  15. Andie
    Andie August 10, 2011 at 12:19 pm |

    sophiefair:
    another Canadian — we have no equivalent to the Pledge. And unlike the canadians upthread, I never had to sing “god save the queen”. We only sang O Canada at assemblies.

    However, I do remember, when I was in about grade 3, (I had just switched out of catholic school and into the public system), I was shocked that they said the lord’s prayer in public school. It must have been that principal though — he retired that year, and I never heard public prayer in public school again…

    Hate “females”, hate it!

    Yeah, I vaguely remember having to say the Lord’s Prayer in school.. they did away with it when I was in Grade Two or so.

  16. matlun
    matlun August 10, 2011 at 12:25 pm |

    Anna: I have to say, to most people here in the UK the whole Pledge of Allegiance seems very strange.

    Do you still have religious assemblies in the UK?

    In Sweden there is no assembly or anything like the Pledge.

  17. Ellie
    Ellie August 10, 2011 at 12:26 pm |

    The word female has always bugged me. Before I had any weight behind my distaste for it (much of it described in this post) it still creeped me out on some level I still haven’t really identified.

    I enjoyed reading the history you dug up, though!

    The pledge was a daily part of my high school life, too. Well, sometimes it was substituted out for the national anthem, played all over the entire school on the PA system, during which we’d stand with hands on hearts facing the flag. (I graduated in 2003, not too distant a past.) I did not participate because it creeped me out. I hadn’t yet identified any specific reasons why I wouldn’t want to salute the flag, but it’s just weird behavior!

  18. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm |

    I’ve never considered use of “female” as a noun degrading, and was surprised when I first heard of folks objecting. Where I live, “female” and “male” are commonly employed, especially when there’s a need to be age-enclusive (including when, for whatever reason, one is reluctant to put folks over the age of 12 into class “woman” or “man”).

    And to be clear, I don’t think it’s a frivolous concern—just one that I hadn’t considered before….and I think etymology might be the key there; there’s a hell of a lot of people in Illinois whose first language isn’t English, and that’s amplified by 1000 in my grandparents’ generation. “Female” wasn’t/isn’t assumed to be a lesser version of “male”.

  19. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm |

    Well, private schools can get away with overt religious expression. At least here in the US. I was enrolled in public school and that sort of thing would never have been attempted.

    I sometimes fall into the female/woman trap when trying to distinguish between something completely male, like say, a sports team. But as much as I aim to be gender inclusive, sometimes a qualifying adjective is necessary.

  20. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 10, 2011 at 12:34 pm |

    I swear I know how to spell “inclusive”. typing with thumbs is a trick I haven’t really learned yet.

  21. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 12:37 pm |

    kai:
    I’m glad that you wrote this post; it’s given me a lot to think about.

    I identify as a female but not a woman, and often use female to refer to other female-bodied people, rather than make assumptions about their gender identity. I honestly never thought of it as a degrading term; rather I saw it as a word which referred to the biology of people without the baggage of gender.

    That’s really interesting, kai – that’s a new perspective for me. I think self-reference changes a lot of things, although I guess part of what I don’t like about the “biological” implications of female is that I don’t believe we can tell very much about someone’s biology from looking at them. Or at least as not as much as we think we can. (Incidentally, I’m always confused by the terminology of “female-bodied” because it leaves me wondering, “But what is a female body, exactly?”) But I’m definitely open to lots of different experiences around the word, even if mine are fairly negative. :)

    @ Jill

    I am guilty of using “woman” as adjective if I write quickly, but I nearly always remove it in editing. It’s clunky, but it doesn’t give me an upset tummy the way female-as-noun does.

    re: Canadian obligatory nationalism in public schools

    When I was last in high school, about 7 years ago, we always had the national anthem which we had to stand up and be quiet/sing along, but nothing else. I think the teachers liked it as a way to distinguish between the “gabby before class” time and the “shut up and write this down” time. Nothing religious and no mention of the monarchy. Just an obnoxious barbershop quartet version of O Canada.

  22. Niki
    Niki August 10, 2011 at 12:38 pm |

    Yeah we don’t have an equivalent to the Pledge in Canada. At school, sporting events, pretty much anything like that we sing O Canada. I remember in grade 6, there was a Jehovah’s Witness in my class whose parents did not allow him to stand up for O Canada in the morning, and I don’t know whether it was a battle for him to have that right, but I don’t think so. (This would have been Cornwall, Ontario, circa 1996.)

    Some have mentioned God Save the Queen, which is, I think, greatly falling out of fashion. I had a teacher in grade two who got us to sing it, but even that was I think because she was older and many people my generation never had to. I wouldn’t even remember the words if I were to sing it now. I would be really surprised if I heard there were any schools today that encorporated it into their routine.

  23. Niki
    Niki August 10, 2011 at 12:42 pm |

    Jadey: I think the teachers liked it as a way to distinguish between the “gabby before class” time and the “shut up and write this down” time.

    Yeah – it definitely was sort of the “opening credits” for work-time. Kind of a signal to start the day.

  24. Joji
    Joji August 10, 2011 at 12:48 pm |

    If you think the Pledge of Allegiance is sort of creepy–which it is–try looking up “Bellamy salute”. Heh.

  25. Esti
    Esti August 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    Jadey: re: Canadian obligatory nationalism in public schoolsWhen I was last in high school, about 7 years ago, we always had the national anthem which we had to stand up and be quiet/sing along, but nothing else. I think the teachers liked it as a way to distinguish between the “gabby before class” time and the “shut up and write this down” time. Nothing religious and no mention of the monarchy. Just an obnoxious barbershop quartet version of O Canada.

    O Canada does have a reference to God in it (“God keep our land glorious and free”). That kind of passing reference doesn’t bother me, as long as no one is forced to stand/sing — and I would be shocked if a court said that students couldn’t opt out of participating in it.

  26. Laurie
    Laurie August 10, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    I’ve been able to explore with a few men I know somewhat well (an in-law and a couple of work colleagues) why they choose to use the word “female” in place of “woman.” None of them were able to articulate the reasons for their choice particularly well, but I was able to glean that they somehow think that “woman” is a bad or perhaps even insulting word. The guys I know pretty much never feel comfortable using the word “woman” and would instead always choose “female,” “girl,” or “lady.”

    I am not sure why they think “woman” is a rude word, but I have two theories: (1) I think they think being a woman is such a terrible, degraded state that they have to come up with what they view as euphemisms; and/or (2) They view “woman” as a sexual term, because women are, after all, the sex-class.

    I’ve also come across the type of guy who uses “female” in a more overtly insulting way, as well, but I think a lot of men are unconsciously expressing an ingrained sexism that that themselves can’t really analyze even when it’s brought to their attention.

  27. pekover
    pekover August 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm |

    The offensive part about O Canada, to me, is that they ADDED the ‘God’ part to it, some time in my elementary school years. Prior to that, it had just been another ‘O Canada’ there (“O, Canada, Glorious and Free”) but apparently they decided that separation of church and state wasn’t really a good idea?!? I have no idea why this happened.

    On the ‘female’ front – I think the problem I have with it is when it’s used to exclude. If I read about “four space explorers: three male, and one female”, I’m fine with it. But too often I think the word is used to ‘other’ women. “four space explorers, one of whom is female.” It’s a subtle thing, for me, but it’s there. If used in contrast to ‘male’, I’m fine with it; if used in contrast to ‘default human being’, I have a problem.

  28. Laurie
    Laurie August 10, 2011 at 12:58 pm |

    I have to confess that I really like the Pledge of Allegiance, and always enjoyed saying it in school. I also find myself saying it fairly frequently now at various meetings of governmental bodies, such as City Councils.

    I definitely understand why people are creeped out by it or see Fascist overtones in the ritual. And, as an atheist, I am sympathetic to those who have problems with the “under God” portion of the Pledge, although it doesn’t bother me personally.

    I think I like it because the one thing that unites Americans is our belief in a common, if theoretical, set of ideals — liberty, equality and justice; the right to life, life, liberty abd the pursuit of happiness; the fact that we are all created equal, etc. After all, we don’t have a common ethnicity or a long history to unite us as more homogeneous nations do. So I do think that the public schools should play role in encouraging fundamental American values. Perhaps the Pledge, despite my personal enjoyment of it, is not the best way to go about it, however. Obviously, there is a tension between the American ideals of liberty and freedom of expression, and coercing small children into ritualistic forms of patriotic expression.

  29. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm |

    Esti: O Canada does have a reference to God in it (“God keep our land glorious and free”). That kind of passing reference doesn’t bother me, as long as no one is forced to stand/sing — and I would be shocked if a court said that students couldn’t opt out of participating in it.

    Interestingly, the version I best remember was part French, and I think it excluded that part. Here are the lyrics I learned:

    O Canada! Our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all thy sons command.
    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    The True North strong and free!
    From far and wide, O Canada,
    We stand on guard for thee.
    Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,
    Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.
    Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

    In true Ontario form, I could basically spell and pronounce it, but had no idea what the French actually meant without checking. There is a reference to “valour steeped in faith”, but that’s a little less specific than “God”.

    (Snarky kids of course replaced “home and native land” with “home on native land”. No idea what to do with “sons” though, except roll my eyes. I’m not nationalistically inclined anyway, so I will never really take an anthem all that seriously without exceptional circumstances, like a national disaster.)

  30. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm |

    o hai off-topic

    Sorry, got distracted.

  31. Sarah
    Sarah August 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm |

    I’ve always much preferred the word “female” to the word “woman” when describing myself. I know I am female – I am biologically female, and I do not identify as anything besides cisgender. But I don’t feel like a woman. The word “woman” to me has connotations of a larger feminine identity. I use the word “females” rather than “women” when describing hypothetical people, or people I don’t know well, because it feels like it makes fewer assumptions about them. There are many butch females who are cis, and therefore still identify as female, but don’t identify as women. For the same reason, I use the term “males” to talk about hypothetical male people, rather than the term “men”.

    I also like “females” and “males” because they don’t exclue people of different ages the way “girls”, “women”, “boys” or “men” do. If you’re talking in very general terms, and want to refer to all female people or all male people, then it’s much quicker to say “females” or “males” than “girls and women” or “men and boys”. And it doesn’t assume anything about whether those female or male people actually identify as girls, women, men or boys. (I do, of course, include transwomen when I say “females” and transmen when I say “males”).

    However, I wouldn’t refer to a specific person as a “female” or a “male” unless I knew they actually referred to themselves that way. I’d much rather be called a “female” than a “woman” or a “girl”, but if I knew I was speaking to/about someone who identified as a woman, I’d refer to her that way. I use “female” and “male” as nouns only when I’m talking in general terms.

  32. Fiona
    Fiona August 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm |

    Thanks for writing about this, it drives me nuts. I absolutely loath the use of ‘a female’ or ‘females’. I don’t see why I should be reduced to one part of my biology.

    It’s quite nice that, having asked my housemate not to use it and explained why, he now corrects himself and says ‘women’ instead, at least in front of me.

  33. FD
    FD August 10, 2011 at 1:08 pm |

    The red flag for me is when someone splits complementary antonyms e.g. female paired with men instead of male and vice versa.

    The exception would be when someone uses ‘female-bodied’ or similar terms – clearly that usage occurs when the writer is attempting greater specificity than is allowed for by either male/female or women/men.

    There is no UK equivalent to the Pledge of Allegiance; if you go to a religious school, e.g. a Roman Catholic school, you may have morning prayers, but they are not generally allowed to be compulsory – although it depends upon their funding arrangements… (Faith schools I’m looking at you with a decidedly leery fashion.)

  34. glitterary
    glitterary August 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    I really dislike the term “female” as a noun (fine with it as an adjective) because it seems to group all women into some kind of faux-scientific class, where they are abstract enough to be sidelined and dismissed.

    kai: kai 8.10.2011 at 12:14 pm

    I’m glad that you wrote this post; it’s given me a lot to think about.

    I identify as a female but not a woman, and often use female to refer to other female-bodied people, rather than make assumptions about their gender identity. I honestly never thought of it as a degrading term; rather I saw it as a word which referred to the biology of people without the baggage of gender.

    I’m really interested to hear kai’s comment, though–”females” strikes me as very biological, so I suppose it makes sense for people who have “female” sex organs but don’t identify as women to use it. But in that case it does exclude transwomen, and potentially include transmen who don’t want that label, so it doesn’t seem right to use it as an alternative to “women”, which is how I’ve usually seen it. I’d be interested in a trans/genderqueer perspective on this*.

    *I hope I’ve written this in a way that isn’t offensive to anyone–if I’ve expressed this poorly, please tell me off!

    With regard to Laurie’s comment:

    Laurie: The guys I know pretty much never feel comfortable using the word “woman” and would instead always choose “female,” “girl,” or “lady.”

    I think maybe “woman” is seen as applying to older women? I don’t think I’d use it if specifically referring to someone below about thirty, so given the ageism in society it might be considered derogatory by some. I tend to say “lady” and “gentleman” for women and men of all ages, maybe prefixing “young” if it seems appropriate, but I don’t really have any hard and fast rules for it. Perhaps “woman” itself needs reclaiming.

  35. Sanoe SC
    Sanoe SC August 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    I prefer female.

    Humans are animals, non-humans can be people, and woman has nothing to do with being a person but is simply a social construct. If you believe that you’re a spiritually-enlightened being or that you have a special something that makes you a non-animal, that’s fine, but suggesting I’m misogynist or uncomfortable talking about gender because my language doesn’t reflect your belief system is just arrogant.

    1. Jill
      Jill August 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm | *

      non-humans can be people

      ?

      How?

  36. ~s~
    ~s~ August 10, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    Re: O Canada: The French version (which is the original) is actually way more religious than the English version, especially if you listen to the later verses (there are like five, I think?). Also explicitly refers to the Saint Lawrence valley, and only the Saint Lawrence valley, as Canada, since it was written at a time when English Canadians considered themselves more British than Canadian, and French Canadians considered themselves just unqualified Canadians.

    But yeah, they played that over the PA system every morning, msot people didn’t actually sing along. God Save the Queen only showed up at special occasions, I think the last time I sang it was at my convocation.

    ok, /off-topic ness.

  37. ~s~
    ~s~ August 10, 2011 at 1:18 pm |

    I think the reason “female” is offensive is specifically because it was originally an adjective and then gets used as a noun. I mean when we’re talking about animals we usually say, like “female bats” or “female cardinals” or whatever. It’s like saying, you don’t get a noun, you are a descriptor. You are defined by this one thing.

  38. Arkady
    Arkady August 10, 2011 at 1:22 pm |

    We don’t have anything like the Pledge of Allegiance in the UK, but we do still have some peculiar stuff. All schools are supposed to have a ‘daily act of worship’, which at my Church of England primary school involved singing a few boring hymns then assembly, which could be a class play, speech from the head teacher etc. At my secondary school the ‘daily act of worship’ was dropped alltogether. Whilst it’s technically a legal requirement, schools are not prosecuted for failing to have it (the most they get is a footnote in their OFSTED report, but it has no bearing on the school’s perfomance assessment). Kinda like the way we have an established state religion yet somehow seem to keep our politics more secular than the US, one of those weird contradictions we have.

    On topic: ‘females’ seems weird to me, I’ve mainly heard it used in sci fi with alien species, to make the aliens seem more different from the humans (heh, not the easiest thing in the world when the ‘aliens’ are often just denoted by crappy makeup)

  39. Florence
    Florence August 10, 2011 at 1:27 pm |

    Jill: ?

    How?

    Zombies are (or were?) people.

  40. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 1:28 pm |

    Sarah: I know I am female – I am biologically female, and I do not identify as anything besides cisgender.

    [...]

    There are many butch females who are cis, and therefore still identify as female, but don’t identify as women.

    [...]

    And it doesn’t assume anything about whether those female or male people actually identify as girls, women, men or boys. (I do, of course, include transwomen when I say “females” and transmen when I say “males”).

    This is again where I get confused about the usage, because I would consider male/female to be more biologically reductive, and therefore more exclusionary toward trans people. I have often heard people say, in incredibly transphobic language, things like, “Well, yes, he calls himself a woman, but he’s biologically male.” Clearly that’s not how you use it as all, as you’ve said, but given how poorly human sexual biology is understood (and I wouldn’t claim to understand it myself, just that I’ve read up on enough stuff that makes me question the rigid biological dichotomizing we’ve got going on), I’m always especially leery about the use of “biological” terminology. My thoughts are, as I said above, what do we actually think it means to be female? What exactly are the physiological and genetic characteristics of femaleness and maleness? I don’t think that’s an impossible question to answer, but I’m not happy with the existing popular responses (i.e., penis vs. vagina, XX vs. XY, testosterone vs. estrogen, and so forth – too simplistic for me).

    I feel like “woman”, for all that it’s also a complicated and potentially fraught identity, is at least a little bit better interrogated and critiqued, whereas “female” has been hiding behind a false scientific authority.

  41. DouglasG
    DouglasG August 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm |

    This post has given me a new perspective on one of my favourite stories, “Rumpole and the Female of the Species,” in which almost all the characters get double-crossed one way or another with interesting and long-lasting consequences. Thank you.

  42. Stephanie
    Stephanie August 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm |

    Andie: Yeah, I vaguely remember having to say the Lord’s Prayer in school.. they did away with it when I was in Grade Two or so.

    Man! I got stuck saying the Lord’s Prayer until grade 12 at assemblies! New Brunswick sucks sometimes!

  43. Laurie
    Laurie August 10, 2011 at 1:56 pm |

    Glitterary, I think you are onto something about the word “woman” being seen by some as insulting because it implies greater age.

    Women, I think, are often referred to or treated as younger than they really are out of a mistaken effort to be complimentary. Often, however, this practice winds up undermining us. I am still shuddering from the time a colleague of mine kept referring to a battle-hardened professional woman in her 40s as “that girl.”

  44. Sarah
    Sarah August 10, 2011 at 2:05 pm |

    Jadey: My thoughts are, as I said above, what do we actually think it means to be female? What exactly are the physiological and genetic characteristics of femaleness and maleness? I don’t think that’s an impossible question to answer, but I’m not happy with the existing popular responses (i.e., penis vs. vagina, XX vs. XY, testosterone vs. estrogen, and so forth – too simplistic for me).

    Personally, when I use the term “female” I’m talking about anyone who identifies that way. So it includes all cis people who were female assigned at birth, as well as transwomen, female-identified intersex people or genderqueers, etc. So when I talk about “females”, I encompass that whole group. I know that not everyone in that group identifies with the label “woman” (ie butch females, young girls, and many genderqueers), so I feel like “female” encompasses more. And of course, I use “male” in the same way.

    But I hadn’t really considered the fact that not everyone has the same definition of “female” that I do. I’m used to mostly having these discussions within the queer community, where (at least in my experience, which doesn’t represent the whole community) that’s the accepted definition. But outside of that context, I’m sure it would be different, and my use of the word could easily be misunderstood. Outside of the queer community, I might be more inclined to use “women” for simplicity’s sake. I’d rather be referred to as a female than as a woman wherever I go, but if the context is that specific (talking about just one person), then I’d rather just be called a “person” anyway.

  45. gl.
    gl. August 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm |

    ugh. i still remember a time, almost 8 years ago, when a guy sneered at me and complained about my “female communication style.” i haven’t spoken with him since.

  46. Gabrielle
    Gabrielle August 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm |

    “manages to make every utterance of female sound like he’s spitting directly onto our collective ovaries”

    and testes? Women are not restricted to those with ovaries you know…

  47. R.T.
    R.T. August 10, 2011 at 2:42 pm |

    One of my hobbies is to shoot when I get the chance.

    When wading deep that is the murk of gun culture to educate myself about firearms I never read typed the word “woman,” not once. Every woman, every female person, was just referred to as “females” and that’s it. I never saw save on one site a woman speak for herself about firearms.

    It makes me real sad that gun culture pushes away everyone but a select type, I know for all my assault rifles and handguns I’d be chased to the hills if I so much as peeped on the big gun forums.

    Interestingly a good (clean, well lit, good selection, no rightwing propaganda) gunstore will have a woman behind the counter. I don’t know if this is to make men feel more comfortable or the few women customers comfortable. Probably the latter.

  48. Renee
    Renee August 10, 2011 at 2:43 pm |

    Being trans, I’m actually really glad to see so many of the commenters here taking the step to see how the word “female” relates to people of trans identity (something the author of this piece did not do, what with the “our collective ovaries” comment).

    Like everything in the trans community, our relationship to “male” and “female” is complicated. While some are perfectly content to identify themselves along traditional biological lines (which is itself murky, to be honest), there has always been a fuzzy line of separation here. For example, a trans women who undergoes gender confirmation surgery is entitled to put F on her birth certificate and driver’s license (in most places) and has been pretty much forever. Yet, she would possess no ovaries, no uterus, and no egg-producing capability. More recently there is a trend among binary-identified trans people to reclaim “male” and “female” for themselves. Less and less you see people labeling themselves as MtF or FtM, and more and more using terms like MAAB (Male Assigned At Birth) or CAFAB (Coercively Assigned Female At Birth). This is simultaneously an attempt to define ourselves and to eliminate the sneaky thread of hate that’s crept into gender conversations, where Male and Female are used violently against trans people while (to paraphrase another commenter) hiding under a veil of authority (also, these designation are much more helpful and inclusive to people of non-binary identities).

    So if by reclaiming the word “female” you mean as a synonym for “woman”, I’m on board…in fact, we’ve already been doing that. If not, then I think we’ll see a lot of angry blog posts from everyone.

  49. matlun
    matlun August 10, 2011 at 2:46 pm |

    @gl: Hmm. A “female communication style” complaint sounds very annoying gender essentialist. But wasn’t the consensus here that “female” was the correct word to use for an adjective?

    Not even being a native English speaker, I am not sure how much weight my opinion has here, but I have used “female” as a noun when trying to be age inclusive, and I was not aware that some found this offensive. Live and learn, I guess.

  50. licious
    licious August 10, 2011 at 2:51 pm |

    Jadey: …but given how poorly human sexual biology is understood (and I wouldn’t claim to understand it myself, just that I’ve read up on enough stuff that makes me question the rigid biological dichotomizing we’ve got going on), I’m always especially leery about the use of “biological” terminology. My thoughts are, as I said above, what do we actually think it means to be female? What exactly are the physiological and genetic characteristics of femaleness and maleness? I don’t think that’s an impossible question to answer, but I’m not happy with the existing popular responses (i.e., penis vs. vagina, XX vs. XY, testosterone vs. estrogen, and so forth – too simplistic for me).

    I feel like “woman”, for all that it’s also a complicated and potentially fraught identity, is at least a little bit better interrogated and critiqued, whereas “female” has been hiding behind a false scientific authority.

    I have to agree with Jadey here. I REALLY dislike the use of ‘females,’ especially when I so often see “Men and females” (like, wtf?). And while I can see where some people are coming from in preferring the term (especially in regards to age?), I worry about the false science of female as biological descriptor.
    I too am no expert, but I feel like its so often believed that gender is socially constructed and sex is not, and I strongly believe that is not the case. How do we identify who is female? Is it genitalia? Secondary sex characteristics? Hormones? Chromosomes (of which, there may be more than XX and XY…)? What happens when we face the reality that the human body often does not fit neatly into these categories?

    I absolutely avoid the use of both male and female, except when talking about non human animals (primarily because I don’t want to impose genders on animals I am not able to clearly communicate with, and even then, its only if the sex of the creature in question is relevant for some reason). I prefer to use gendered terms, and when I am unsure of the personal identifier or the person I am speaking about, I make an effort to use gender neutral language.

    Please note, that in no way do I think my system is the absolute best, its just the way I have found that works best for me in terms of navigating life while also trying to remain true to my own values.

  51. Donna L
    Donna L August 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm |

    Jadey: This is again where I get confused about the usage, because I would consider male/female to be more biologically reductive, and therefore more exclusionary toward trans people. I have often heard people say, in incredibly transphobic language, things like, “Well, yes, he calls himself a woman, but he’s biologically male.” Clearly that’s not how you use it as all, as you’ve said, but given how poorly human sexual biology is understood (and I wouldn’t claim to understand it myself, just that I’ve read up on enough stuff that makes me question the rigid biological dichotomizing we’ve got going on), I’m always especially leery about the use of “biological” terminology. My thoughts are, as I said above, what do we actually think it means to be female? What exactly are the physiological and genetic characteristics of femaleness and maleness? I don’t think that’s an impossible question to answer, but I’m not happy with the existing popular responses (i.e., penis vs. vagina, XX vs. XY, testosterone vs. estrogen, and so forth – too simplistic for me).

    I feel like “woman”, for all that it’s also a complicated and potentially fraught identity, is at least a little bit better interrogated and critiqued, whereas “female” has been hiding behind a false scientific authority.

    Thank you. I have often seen “female” used for the specific purpose of excluding trans women, based precisely on that sort of false and simplistic scientific authority — as in, “call yourself a woman if you like, but you’ll never be female, because you can’t escape biological fact.”

  52. Michelle
    Michelle August 10, 2011 at 3:51 pm |

    Hmmm.. I’ve never had a problem with the word female, and it’s pretty shocking to see it so offensive. But perhaps being a biologist has something to do with it? I don’t think being referred as a male or female is degrading… it’s just science. I’m more offended by woman to be honest: it implies a certian type of gender role IMHO. I’m much more likely to act “female-ly” (by producing certian hormones, having certian physical traits) than I am woman-ly (I don’t really fall into traditional gender patterns).

  53. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 3:56 pm |

    Sarah: But I hadn’t really considered the fact that not everyone has the same definition of “female” that I do. I’m used to mostly having these discussions within the queer community, where (at least in my experience, which doesn’t represent the whole community) that’s the accepted definition.

    Okay, that totally makes sense to me. I mostly operate in a non-queer-dominant frame (oh joy :P), so I’m much more likely to confront garden variety sexist and cisnormative biological essentialism, and less to get people who actually have an interest in interrogating sex and gender.

    Renee: More recently there is a trend among binary-identified trans people to reclaim “male” and “female” for themselves. Less and less you see people labeling themselves as MtF or FtM, and more and more using terms like MAAB (Male Assigned At Birth) or CAFAB (Coercively Assigned Female At Birth). This is simultaneously an attempt to define ourselves and to eliminate the sneaky thread of hate that’s crept into gender conversations, where Male and Female are used violently against trans people while (to paraphrase another commenter) hiding under a veil of authority (also, these designation are much more helpful and inclusive to people of non-binary identities).

    So if by reclaiming the word “female” you mean as a synonym for “woman”, I’m on board…in fact, we’ve already been doing that. If not, then I think we’ll see a lot of angry blog posts from everyone.

    Ohh, this clue-batted me big time. I knew there there had to be a whole other level of stuff going on for male/female terminology in relation to transness, but I hadn’t connected it with the use of MAAB, CAFAB, etc. I’m completely on board with this kind of reclamation and its challenge to our assumptions about biological sex. Thank you for writing that up so clearly.

  54. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 3:59 pm |

    I also feel like this might have been lost a little bit in the thread, but personally I would have no serious objection to being referred to as “a female person”, although I might find it a bit unconventional. It’s being referred to as “a female” or “one of the females” that I would find dehumanizing and belittling.

  55. Heather
    Heather August 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm |

    Comrade Kevin:
    Well, private schools can get away with overt religious expression.At least here in the US.I was enrolled in public school and that sort of thing would never have been attempted.

    I am so interested in this, at least partly because I have it in my head that you and I are both from Alabama. When I was in public school fourth/fifth grade (~1998), our teacher picked a student every day to lead a prayer before we went to lunch. At the time I didn’t see how obviously and horribly inappropriate it was,I was just *terrified* that I would get picked, and was so glad that a few of the other students really relished their turn and would take mine.

  56. raya
    raya August 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm |

    Renee:

    So if by reclaiming the word “female” you mean as a synonym for “woman”, I’m on board…in fact, we’ve already been doing that. If not, then I think we’ll see a lot of angry blog posts from everyone.

    I’m slightly confused by this statement. English is not my first language and I’m pretty sure I never learned that there’s a distinction between female/male and woman/man in school. But anyway, I always thought that for example the term FAAB is commonly used by trans men (as well as genderqueer people) and therefore, they identify as men and physically female. Why would you want to reclaim female as a synonym for woman, then?

  57. Lee
    Lee August 10, 2011 at 4:37 pm |

    I just got done with a lecture on meiosis and sex, and I make a point to always use female in that context, partly because when I say that ‘generally, in humans, females produce eggs, while males produce sperm’ it feels a lot less alienating to me, as a trans guy than saying ‘women make eggs and men make sperm.’

    mean, yes, I am male, and I am a man, but on account of the pure biological reductionism of ‘male’ and ‘female’, being called ‘female’ feels less degrading than being called a ‘woman.’ Probably because I can point out all of the ways in which I am not phenotypically female, but it’s a little hard to describe the internalized experience of not being a woman, and that’s so subjective that it can’t be rationally argued.

    I also spend a fair amount of time on sex diversity, and I hope that by the end of it, my students get that there is not a Strict Dichotomy of maleness and femaleness … but talking about gender is beyond the scope of my TA.

    In terms of reclamation … I’m not sure. In some ways, I like having words that differentiate biology from gender. People should be able to explore that dichotomy, and keeping the linguistic distinction in place makes that simpler … but, as you point out, it does allow people to reduce women and trans* people to biology, which can often be a hurtful, nasty thing to do.

  58. Jennifer
    Jennifer August 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm |

    I have nothing thoughtful to contribute, but whenever I hear female as a noun I think of the Ferengis on Star Trek — which is a negative connotation (FEEmales are supposed to be naked, etc.).

    And, on recitations, I tend to get the pledge of allegiance mixed up with the Lord’s Prayer–whichever I start with, it turns into the other, as in:

    I pledge allegiance to the flag of the US of A
    Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven

    or

    [some of Lord's prayer]
    one nation, under God–etc.

  59. WithinthisMind
    WithinthisMind August 10, 2011 at 5:30 pm |

    Thomas MacAulay Millar:
    It is unconstitutional to require students to say the Pledge.My first day of law school, a professor

    Still happens. I’ve had teachers impact my grade for it, and teachers threaten me with detention/suspension for it. I’ve been lectured repeatedly for it. I’ve been harassed repeatedly for it. Happens all the time.

    As long as it’s female/male instead of females/men, I don’t have a problem with it, and I don’t know that it indicates anything about the mindset of the person making the comments. It’s kind of the same thing also when it’s girls/men, or ladies/men.

    When it’s females/men, it’s seems like creatures/people. It has the ring of ‘other’ to it. Them/Us.

  60. Renee
    Renee August 10, 2011 at 5:31 pm |

    raya: I’m slightly confused by this statement. English is not my first language and I’m pretty sure I never learned that there’s a distinction between female/male and woman/man in school. But anyway, I always thought that for example the term FAAB is commonly used by trans men (as well as genderqueer people) and therefore, they identify as men and physically female. Why would you want to reclaim female as a synonym for woman, then?

    While I understand why it doesn’t quite make sense to you, I think the term does make sense when you look at it as a whole. It’s the “Assigned At” part that’s important because it implies that someone else made an assumption using whatever definition *they* found valid. A trans man could just as easily use a designation such as “Woman Assigned At Birth” and it would mean the same thing…it’s this element of noting that that was someone else’s definition that makes it palatable to the trans people who use it. For example, when necessary (and only when necessary) I note that I was MAAB. I’m not saying that I was Male, even at the point of my birth…I’m saying someone else made a mistake about my gender. It’s not perfect, but it works as a more precise and comfortable way of talking about birth circumstances than saying “I was born male”, which as far as I’m concerned is incorrect.

    Basically, trans people are more and more self-identifying in whatever ways we want, and negotiating new terminology to describe our perceived pre-transition genders because, unfortunately, sometimes we do have to talk about that stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the terminology continue to shift, and I’ve definitely seen different variations than even what I’ve described here.

    @ Jadey

    You’re quite welcome!

  61. Diana
    Diana August 10, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

    My studies have always been close to biology (I’m a chemical engineer doing bioinformatics reasearch), so I hear ‘female’ in enough innocuous contexts that it’s not a hotbutton for me. But when the word is used alongside ‘men’ or ‘guys,’ I see a clear distinction, and it pisses me the hell off almost as much as being called a ‘girl.’

  62. Donna L
    Donna L August 10, 2011 at 6:51 pm |

    Renee: While I understand why it doesn’t quite make sense to you, I think the term does make sense when you look at it as a whole. It’s the “Assigned At” part that’s important because it implies that someone else made an assumption using whatever definition *they* found valid. A trans man could just as easily use a designation such as “Woman Assigned At Birth” and it would mean the same thing…it’s this element of noting that that was someone else’s definition that makes it palatable to the trans people who use it. For example, when necessary (and only when necessary) I note that I was MAAB. I’m not saying that I was Male, even at the point of my birth…I’m saying someone else made a mistake about my gender. It’s not perfect, but it works as a more precise and comfortable way of talking about birth circumstances than saying “I was born male”, which as far as I’m concerned is incorrect.

    Basically, trans people are more and more self-identifying in whatever ways we want, and negotiating new terminology to describe our perceived pre-transition genders because, unfortunately, sometimes we do have to talk about that stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the terminology continue to shift, and I’ve definitely seen different variations than even what I’ve described here.

    As a woman of trans history, I second this. If I say I’m a WAMAB (woman assigned male at birth) — and I don’t normally say that, because it isn’t normally necessary to get into my history, which is a history, not an identity — I don’t mean to imply that I believe I necessarily ever was truly “male” (biologically or otherwise). And I certainly don’t mean to imply that I’m presently male-bodied. Because I’m not. (Not that I’m even sure exactly what that means.)

  63. RML
    RML August 10, 2011 at 7:03 pm |

    This is a great thread, and something I hadn’t been cognizant of before. I’ve definitely heard “female” with a tone that conveys contempt.
    I often have to make gendered statements as part of recruiting at my workplace. Along the lines of, “It’s great working for a set of strong [female] executives who have developed their own book of business, and in addition a number of the senior team members I work with at the client are also [female].” It just strikes me as more adjective-y than “women,” which I tend to use more often as a noun.
    Is the consensus that, in that sort of context, I need to switch to “women” to steer clear of a hot button for some people? Many thanks!

  64. Jess
    Jess August 10, 2011 at 7:48 pm |

    Sarah: I know that not everyone in that group identifies with the label “woman” (ie butch females, young girls, and many genderqueers), so I feel like “female” encompasses more.

    What makes you think a genderqueer person who was uncomfortable with ‘woman’ would necessarily feel any better about ‘female’?

  65. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 7:55 pm |

    Lee: I just got done with a lecture on meiosis and sex, and I make a point to always use female in that context, partly because when I say that ‘generally, in humans, females produce eggs, while males produce sperm’ it feels a lot less alienating to me, as a trans guy than saying ‘women make eggs and men make sperm.’

    mean, yes, I am male, and I am a man, but on account of the pure biological reductionism of ‘male’ and ‘female’, being called ‘female’ feels less degrading than being called a ‘woman.’ Probably because I can point out all of the ways in which I am not phenotypically female, but it’s a little hard to describe the internalized experience of not being a woman, and that’s so subjective that it can’t be rationally argued.

    This also makes a lot of sense to me.

    This is a great thread. :)

  66. SarahMC
    SarahMC August 10, 2011 at 7:58 pm |

    I believe “woman” should be reclaimed and make an effort to refer to myself and other women as women. I think people (subconsciously) hesitate to call women women because the word DOES command more respect than “girl” or “female.” It connotes maturity and humanity.

    Recently I was at a get-together and another woman my age referred to herself as a woman while telling a story and she immediately stopped herself and sheepishly asked, “Am I a woman?” before continuing. She’s 30 years old!
    I have never heard of a man who prefers to be called a boy.

  67. H.D. Lynn
    H.D. Lynn August 10, 2011 at 8:12 pm |

    I’ve actually preferred to use the term female. I suppose you could think of it as being reduce to your genitalia, but using female gets rid of that awkward separation between girl and women. What do you do if you feel too old to be a girl, but not ready to be called a ‘women?’ Also, female eliminates all the nastiness of ‘REAL women’ that occurs. Have you ever heard anyone being called a ‘REAL female?’ No? That’s because, if you’re female, then you’re female! Congrats.

  68. R.T.
    R.T. August 10, 2011 at 8:31 pm |

    H.D. Lynn

    What do you do if you feel too old to be a girl, but not ready to be called a ‘women?’

    Adolescent or teenage girl, saving woman for legal adults maybe, or “young woman” for older teeneagers like “young man”?

    Also, female eliminates all the nastiness of ‘REAL women’ that occurs. Have you ever heard anyone being called a ‘REAL female?

    I’ve perceived this among the anti-trans movement, “real female” so I don’t think female would eliminate the problem as some could, though I guess they already do, redefine female as having only XX chromosomes, even if biological XY female human beings exist.

  69. R.T.
    R.T. August 10, 2011 at 8:32 pm |

    Sorry. Tag failure.

  70. maja
    maja August 10, 2011 at 8:38 pm |

    It has always bugged me when people refer to women as females, but I’ve never really thought about why. When I was in the army reserves, men always referred to women as females, and sometimes they would use the word female multiple times in a single sentence and it would bug me more so then. Plus it kind of sounds weird. Maybe it’s because they rarely refer to themselves as males? Interesting topic!

  71. LC
    LC August 10, 2011 at 8:44 pm |

    This has been a fascinating thread. (Of course, the fact this fluidity of language is something I am intensely fascinated by helps.)

    As is almost always the case, context is key here, as I think people are pointing out wonderfully. I have to agree with OP that there is a specific form of “female” used as noun that is clearly offensive if you hear it. (It’s intended to be, after all.) I also am very leery of any use of what was described as “complementary antonyms” up above. — The whole “females and men” approach. That always seems clearly a problem.

    Also with a science background, which is probably why lots of “female” and “male” constructions come off as innocuous to me.

  72. fourcolouredstripes
    fourcolouredstripes August 10, 2011 at 9:01 pm |

    Ooooh I’ve been waiting a long time for this post!

    I’m a relative newbie to the feminist scene and had come across casual references to the problematics of using female instead of woman, and didn’t really understand why.

    I’m doing my PhD on the history of *female* art collectives in Australia. I discussed the title with my supervisor before settling on ‘female’ over ‘women’ as the more grammatically correct term within the broader title (The history of female art collectives and collaborations in Australia c.1970-2010), but I do mix it up with women-only in casual speak. I certainly wouldn’t want to offend anyone with my opening sentence, but I think after reading your post and all of the comments I can be reasonably satisfied that it’s ok in the context as I’m used it as an adjective and without any intended derogatory overtone.

    On a side note, I’ve reached the ripe old age of 28 but I still don’t think of my self as old enough to be referred to as a woman! (In my head I’m probably still around 22). I normally think of myself as ‘the nice lady’ – from all those parents who tell their children in supermarkets and on the sidewalk to ‘be careful of the nice lady’.

    Thank you for clarifying some of the issues, and the history lesson. Femelle is indeed a beautiful word.

  73. Erica
    Erica August 10, 2011 at 9:38 pm |

    SarahMC:
    I believe “woman” should be reclaimed and make an effort to refer to myself and other women as women. I think people (subconsciously) hesitate to call women women because the word DOES command more respect than “girl” or “female.” It connotes maturity and humanity.

    This so much.

    I’m not, like, horribly offended by the word “female,” even as a noun, but it DOES bring animals to mind and sorry, animal rights folks, but I don’t want to be conflated with non-human animals. Sure, “women and girls” takes longer to say than “females,” but isn’t the few extra seconds worth it? Or just switch to the fairly age-neutral “ladies.” That would be cool.

  74. Donna L
    Donna L August 10, 2011 at 9:43 pm |

    H.D. Lynn:
    Also, female eliminates all the nastiness of ‘REAL women’ that occurs. Have you ever heard anyone being called a ‘REAL female?’ No? That’s because, if you’re female, then you’re female!

    Yes. And if you were a trans woman, I’m sure you would have too. Or, at least you would have heard about “not real” females, as well as women.

  75. Jadey
    Jadey August 10, 2011 at 9:55 pm |

    Erica: Or just switch to the fairly age-neutral “ladies.” That would be cool.

    I like “ladies”, but I was actually raised to associate with the octogenarian set. Not that there’s anything wrong with a badass granny (I have a couple myself), but I suspect usage of that word is a bit regional.

    Personally, I like to reclaim “chicks”. I just like the word. I suppose it should have animalistic or coercively-feminized undertones to me, but it doesn’t – it just amuses me. Too many uncritically-consumed Archie comics while growing up? Maybe. “Chicks” and “dudes” is how I refer to groups of people casually and inclusively by gender, but I have a feeling that it’s not ready to catch on everywhere yet.

  76. Aydan
    Aydan August 10, 2011 at 10:02 pm |

    Erica: This so much.

    I’m not, like, horribly offended by the word “female,” even as a noun, but it DOES bring animals to mind and sorry, animal rights folks, but I don’t want to be conflated with non-human animals. Sure, “women and girls” takes longer to say than “females,” but isn’t the few extra seconds worth it? Or just switch to the fairly age-neutral “ladies.” That would be cool.

    For me, “ladies” is problematic in itself. Where I live, it’s not just a synonym for “women”– it’s coded with implications about performing femininity correctly. People will say “she’s not a lady” when they don’t approve of something a woman does, whether it’s an opinion she holds, or the way she dresses, or… It’s also got class implications, here… “ladies” are “classy.”

    I think, though I identify as and will describe myself as a woman, especially depending on the context, I prefer “adult female.” It’s always obvious that I’m describing an adult female human, and I don’t always feel like a woman, maybe partially because of my age.

  77. Erica
    Erica August 10, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

    Jadey: Personally, I like to reclaim “chicks”. I just like the word. I suppose it should have animalistic or coercively-feminized undertones to me, but it doesn’t – it just amuses me. Too many uncritically-consumed Archie comics while growing up? Maybe. “Chicks” and “dudes” is how I refer to groups of people casually and inclusively by gender, but I have a feeling that it’s not ready to catch on everywhere yet.

    Ooh, I like “chicks” too, as a feminine form of “dudes” (not that “dude” itself isn’t fairly gender-neutral… well, it is for me), but for whatever reason it gets hackles up even if I’m clearly using it in a reclamatory way. Up the chicks!

    Promoting the decoupling of “classy” and “lady” is part of why I use lady to refer to myself (I am not classy) and other ladies who are also not classy. But I can see how it would be problematic if you’re not using it with an ironic detachment from its connotation.

  78. Deborah Lipp
    Deborah Lipp August 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm |

    Thomas MacAulay Millar: Pledge

    Barnette made it illegal to compel reciting the Pledge of the Allegiance, however, you could still require students to stand at attention.

    The legal right to remain seated was established by Lipp vs. Morris, Hyland, and the State of New Jersey. You’re welcome.

  79. Sarah
    Sarah August 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm |

    Jess: What makes you think a genderqueer person who was uncomfortable with ‘woman’ would necessarily feel any better about ‘female’?

    I didn’t mean all genderqueers identify as female. I just meant I know some people who identify as genderqueer, and consider themselves to be neither a man nor a woman, but also identify as being essentially female. I can say the same for butch people who are biologically female and would put themselves into the “female” category, but would want to be called a woman.

    Obviously, there are also lots of genderqueers who don’t identify as female. But using the term “female” rather than “woman” includes the ones who do.

  80. BruisePristine
    BruisePristine August 10, 2011 at 10:51 pm |

    I’m curious: For those who use “females” for purposes of inclusiveness when speaking of people-you-consider-female-by-your-definition as a group, why do you use “females” instead of “female people”? Is it that it’s shorter, reads more naturally to you, etc? Because for me, it’s the dehumanization of “females” (as well as the reduction to biology and essentialism in most usage I’ve seen, although I can see the value in it as a non-biological and/or non-essentialist term) that bothers me. As someone pointed out above, bats and humans can both both be females (which is really what makes “female” read as a biological term to me–afaik, bats don’t have gender.) Female people are human beings.

  81. Sarah
    Sarah August 10, 2011 at 11:04 pm |

    I use “females” for the same reason that I use “gays”, “lesbians”, “straights” and “males”. Usually from the context, it’s obvious that I’m talking about people. I’ve just grown up with “females” and “males” being accepted terms, and I’ve never considered adding the extra word on the end. It seems like it would be longer and more jarring. But if I’m talking in terms that are remotely specific, I just use the word “person” anyway (I wouldn’t refer to be a specific person as a “man”, “woman”, “male” or “female”; just as a person).

    So I’d say, “Females must fight for their rights in a system in which males are valued,” but I’d say, “That person is walking across the street”. I wouldn’t say “that woman” unless I actually knew her and knew she identified as such. I think that’s why “female” has never felt offensive to me – because I only use it to talk about a very general group, rather than a specific person.

  82. Ens
    Ens August 10, 2011 at 11:21 pm |

    Just adding yet another Canadian to the thread –

    O Canada was played over the PA each morning. You had to stand unless your parents went out of their way to exempt you. When an exchange student came in or was about to leave, we did their national anthem instead. You didn’t have to sing unless you had a sadistic supply teacher. Sometimes they used mixed-language versions, but mostly it was just the one familiar English verse.

    I honestly don’t know if people in the US were subjected to their national anthem so I couldn’t tell you if it’s “equivalent” to the pledge of allegiance. It might be if you don’t get that anthem frequently. Although, like I said, you didn’t have to say anything. Just kind of stand there and not talk.

    The Lord’s Prayer was no longer required after I was in grade 2, which was 7 years old. My grade 6 teacher tried to re-introduce the requirement, but in French, excusing it as “but they’re learning French”.

    We all really resisted, most of us just because it was an annoying rule than us actually caring about any political subtext. But one of the kids’ parents had a justified shit-fit at this and got us out of this. The teacher punished us by making us write a multiplication table the next day — the ZERO times table — until our hands cramped.

    She does not work at a school anymore. It wasn’t this, it was something else she did a few years later that really crossed the line.

  83. Ldub
    Ldub August 10, 2011 at 11:48 pm |

    I prefer “woman”. I also accept “female ______”. Like, “female person” or “female musician” or “female bourbon enthusiast” (the relevance of referencing my sex at all is another story). But just “female” is weird. Partially because it is an adjective and a modifier without the object throws me off balance because I’m a big ol’ nerd. But mostly it’s like how in TV shows the best way to show someone is not so progressive is by having them call someone “a gay” or “a black” or “a chinese” or something and it just feels wrong. Its like that for me. I think it might be that, as a woman, I’m often reminded that my value as a person is less than that of a man’s in the eyes of many so I’m not so inclined to believe that the “person” half of the phrase is assumed when someone calls me “a female”? I don’t know. Language can get really complicated.

    Also, the time I find myself struggling the most with gendered language is when talking about reproductive rights. Not all people who can reproduce are women! And I find myself saying “people who can reproduce” a lot, which is awkward linguistically or getting lazy and just saying “women” which is all kinds of problematic.

  84. evil fizz
    evil fizz August 11, 2011 at 12:00 am | *

    The Army is well known for its flagrant abuse of the word female, but my all time least favorite is “female latrine.” What, if I go poking around under the sink, I might find a vulva? There is no hope.

  85. Sara
    Sara August 11, 2011 at 1:18 am |

    I always use “female” as an adjective and “woman” as a noun, but they indicate the same thing to me: gender identity (independent of gender norms or gender expression). For those who want a word referring only to bodies, I would question why such a word is useful at all. First of all, there’s no clear way to define a female or male body. Second, it would create an unnecessary trans-exclusive social category.

    The “female” vs. “woman” distinction seems to be somehow connected to the “gender” vs. “sex” distinction, about which I have strong opinions. “Gender” must refer to identity (not bodies or stereotypes) lest it be transphobic. “Gender” is fine as an adjective to refer to “stereotypes” or “norms” or “expression” or the whole host of things that are imperfectly correlated with gender identity in our culture. “Sex” is a pretty useless word (except in the context of certain enjoyable bedroom activities, of course). It is more productive to talk about particular body parts if they’re in question. I sometimes say “typically feminine/masculine body” if I want to refer broadly to bodies whose characteristics mostly align with the numerous criteria that people typically associate with “sex.”

    Sidenote: I don’t mean to be an ass about it, but I’m up late and in an odd mood, so I’ll go ahead and say I really don’t like the word “transwoman” (without a space) that so many people are throwing around. It implies that we require a separate word, and seems to contrast with just plain “woman.” A better alternative (for me) would be “trans woman,” because it frames my trans medical history as simply another characteristic independent of gender identity, much like “Jewish woman” or “blind woman.”

    @Lee – I like your reasoning, but it seems to me that the qualifier “generally” in your sample statement is more important than the word “female” anyway.

    Finally, the use of adjectives in place of nouns has a long and oppressive history. Think about what it feels like with a public figure refers to “the blacks” instead of “Black people,” for example. Including the word “people” (or a more narrow category of people like “Americans” or “psychologists”) is a way to humanize members of a stigmatized group, and so it seems worth it even if it’s an “extra” word. For this reason, I avoid the use of words like “gays,” “females,” “transsexuals,” “blacks,” etc.

  86. QoT
    QoT August 11, 2011 at 1:55 am |

    Is it true that other countries don’t really have a Pledge of Allegiance, i.e. a group recitation in front of a flag done at public assemblies?

    In New Zealand we have no such thing. I went to a primary school (ages 5-10) where we had to sing the national anthem every Friday in assembly, and even *that* is considered horrifically parochial/archaic/bizarre by most Kiwis I tell.

  87. Merinnan
    Merinnan August 11, 2011 at 2:13 am |

    Is it true that other countries don’t really have a Pledge of Allegiance, i.e. a group recitation in front of a flag done at public assemblies?

    Chiming in as an Aussie who went to several different schools, both government and private, in two different states:

    At the government primary/elementary schools I went to, we sang the first verse of the national anthem at our weekly assembly. You didn’t have to sing if you didn’t want to, but you did have to stand up.

    At the private schools (Catholic primary/elementary and Anglican secondary) we didn’t have the anthem at our weekly assembly unless it was the week of Australia Day, or Anzac Day, or something like that.

    TBH, the Pledge of Allegiance in schools thing always kinda weirded me out when I was younger and saw it in movies. I didn’t quite believe that it was something that actually happened every day until I started spending time online and met Americans who told me it was.

  88. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 11, 2011 at 3:04 am |

    I find that the best way to actually stop men from using “females” in that dismissive way is to exaggerate the implications to the point where it’s embarrassing even to them. For example, when they start doing it, I like to adopt a hushed David Attenborough-style voice and repeat whatever they were previously talking like I’m narrating a wildlife documentary.

    “Observe as the group of young females approaches the watering hole. As is customary, they have adopted extra plumage in order to indicate their desire to mate. Watch as the short-skirted alpha squeezes her way through the crowd and drops the tool that the females refer to as a purse on the bar. Scientists are unsure what they use this tool for, but suspect that it may have something to do with attracting the male of the species, as it is often brightly colored. If you look closely you can see that the other females are following the lead of the alpha, leaning over the bar in a way that displays their fleshy buttocks. Clearly they are signalling their readiness for a male to approach.”

  89. Jen
    Jen August 11, 2011 at 3:20 am |

    In many public schools in Japan, there is a Japanese flag prominently displayed on the stage of the school auditorium, and people walking on and off the stage to present must turn and face the flag and bow each time. School assemblies often begin with both the school song and the national anthem. But there is no Pledge of Allegiance equivalent.

  90. Jen
    Jen August 11, 2011 at 3:28 am |

    I’ve been in the Army, so yes, I hear the words male and female a lot. Actually, I don’t mind it because when I talk to some Soldiers in a non-professional manner, a good chunk still tend to use words like girls (including the women), so I would much rather hear the term female than something else. One of my gender studies professors actually told me not to fall into the trap before I joined but as I said, it is preferable to other alternatives.

  91. LC
    LC August 11, 2011 at 9:54 am |

    @CassandraSays – re: Attenborough. I love this and need to use it in the future.

    @Sara – “Finally, the use of adjectives in place of nouns has a long and oppressive history”

    So very true. And even then, there are subtleties. Looking at your example, it is amazing to me how much more awful “the gays” sounds than “gays”.

    (to add to the side conversation. Canadian/American – grew up with the pledge, but not “under god”, and then had nothing like one in Canada when I moved in high school.)

  92. Me
    Me August 11, 2011 at 10:27 am |

    I’ve had this discussion with a few different people over the past years. I’ve noticed that with male people – meaning men and boys, but especially with boys – listening for whether they use the word “women” or “girls” as opposed to “females” sort of reveals how much interaction they’ve had in their past with those they view as belonging to the female sex . In some contexts it’s can be a fairly accurate indication of whether or not they’ve ever had a girlfriend, or their anxiety about being alone. In other context I have felt the sort of contempt that can come with it, but I’m not sure they always come together.

    That being said, like others here, I sort of have issues with self-identifying as a woman. I was born and raised as a girl, although I learned I was [mildly]intersexed in my teens. I’ve read too much hate speak from some of the radical first wave feminists towards gender variant people attending events meant for women, especially with the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, to feel comfortable self-identifying as a woman. I don’t mind having “woman” projected onto me at all, and as far as I know, that’s all of the time, but at the same time, I feel like if I were to self-identify as one that I am offending those who feel like their identity is invalidated by the[my] inclusion of an intersexed person. I’ve even seen women’s groups advertised at GLCC’s that specifically request trans women to “respect the energy of the group and stay out”, but welcome trans men, so, while I’m neither, I feel close enough to the issue to feel like my attendance could be problematic, especially since self-identified gender doesn’t matter to these people.

    All of my documentation, and upbringing, read “female” though, so I don’t usually feel as bad about identifying as one. Although, to read some of these comments, I guess I can’t take that for granted either. There is a sort of comfort in being able to think ‘I have a vulva so I know which restroom to use,’ and, while I do respect other people’s self-identified genders, I don’t feel like I can count on other people to respect mine.

    Maybe that’s just part of the patriarchical upbringing telling me that I need to please everyone and to care about other people’s feelings before my own, or maybe just low self esteem. Sadly, I think the attitude of not respecting self-identified gender is pervasive enough in US society, and in my experience, especially among some of the self-identified cis women that I’ve met, for me to ever feel wholely comfortable with either.

    Great post! Thanks

  93. AK
    AK August 11, 2011 at 10:38 am |

    I’m not bothered if someone uses the word “female” as a noun, as long as there is symmetry and they also call men “males.” I think so much depends on context, too. Those terms can certainly be dehumanizing (as another poster mentioned, using an adjective as a noun to describe a group of people has historically gone hand-in-hand with oppression), but I don’t think they always are.

    I actually do prefer it as an adjective, however. I’m a farrier by trade, which is an extremely male-dominated field, so people remark upon the fact that I’m, well, not a man pretty frequently. “Woman farrier” just sounds clunky and wrong grammatically, though it doesn’t offend me. The absolute worst, however, is “lady farrier.” To me, that implies that I’m delicate, and sort of seems like a dilettante. I mean, a “gentleman’s farm” is a farm that is run as a hobby, so wouldn’t a “lady farrier” be someone who is just playing around for fun? By contrast, “female farrier” sounds pretty neutral to me–like, oh, yeah, I’m a woman who is a farrier. I don’t like the term “lady” generally, though, unless it is paired with “gentlemen,” and even then, I think the traditional “ladies and gentlemen” opening is problematic. When I speak publicly, I generally use the word “folks” (instead of “Ladies and gentlemen, we are here today to…” I’d say “Folks, we’re here today…” because it sounds friendlier than “people” but isn’t gendered), or I just leave that out altogether.

    FWIW, I also like “chicks” and “dudes” as slang. I refer to myself as a chick all the time, though I don’t usually use it to refer to other women as I know some don’t like it.

    One final thing, can anyone point me to a basic 101-type discussion of trans language? (I’m not even sure how to say that) I try to be conscious of that type of thing but this thread has shown me that I’m way behind in the matter. I think how we talk about things is so important, so I’d really like to try to make sure I’m not inadvertently offending people.

  94. R. Dave
    R. Dave August 11, 2011 at 10:53 am |

    This thread is a perfect example of why I think we should be wary of policing language too closely. Depending on the intent of the speaker and the personal preferences/experiences of the listener, “female” can apparently connote anything from rank misogyny to simple biological reference to trans- and gender-aware feminism!

    That said, what I really feel we need (and yes, I know this is well-trod ground) is a counterpart for “guys”. “Gals” sounds ridiculous to my ear, and “ladies” sounds either smarmy or antiquated. I pretty much use “guys” in a gender-neutral sense, but I occasionally get pushback on that.

  95. bella
    bella August 11, 2011 at 10:59 am |

    No one should chant the pledge. The Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the stiff-armed salute adopted later by the National Socialist German Workers Party (as shown in the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry, author of “Pledge of Allegiance Secrets” -do a web search and also see the amazing early photos of the Pledge performed with the straight-arm gesture, they are eye-popping).

    Francis Bellamy and Edward Bellamy influenced the NSGWP, its dogma, rituals and symbols (including the modern use of the swastika to represent crossed S-letters for their “socialism”). If the government schools (socialist schools) taught the truth about the Pledge, then no one would perform it and it would cease to exist.

  96. Jadey
    Jadey August 11, 2011 at 11:34 am |

    AK: One final thing, can anyone point me to a basic 101-type discussion of trans language? (I’m not even sure how to say that) I try to be conscious of that type of thing but this thread has shown me that I’m way behind in the matter. I think how we talk about things is so important, so I’d really like to try to make sure I’m not inadvertently offending people.

    When it comes to trans* respectful language, my first comment is always to remember that the language is still greatly in flux and that people will have different and changing preferences, so if you are ever in a situation where you are just not sure what to say, find a way to politely ask and then respect whatever that person tells you, at least as far as it applies to them. A trans person’s perspective on language as it applies to them and their community trumps a cis person’s opinion (and I am cis, fyi), but don’t be surprised if trans people disagree and have lots of different perspectives – it’s a work in progress.

    Beyond that caveat, my go-to resources are Cedar’s blog (really all of it, but I linked to her language specific section) and the Trans 101 sidebar on Questioning Transphobia (scroll down for it – it’s more than just language 101, but part of understanding the language issues is understanding the whole context of what’s been going on and where things are at).

    Cheers.

  97. reznicek111
    reznicek111 August 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm |

    WithinthisMind: When it’s females/men, it’s seems like creatures/people. It has the ring of ‘other’ to it.Them/Us.

    Exactly.

    WithinthisMind: When it’s females/men, it’s seems like creatures/people. It has the ring of ‘other’ to it. Them/Us.

  98. Sara
    Sara August 11, 2011 at 1:24 pm |

    One final thing, can anyone point me to a basic 101-type discussion of trans language? (I’m not even sure how to say that) I try to be conscious of that type of thing but this thread has shown me that I’m way behind in the matter. I think how we talk about things is so important, so I’d really like to try to make sure I’m not inadvertently offending people.

    Previous suggestions were good. I also like Adam’s work at transwhat.org, although he hasn’t yet finished updating the site and transferring it from his high school GSA’s domain. He told me at one point (like a year ago) that he still wanted to do that, but he’s pretty busy.

    Someday I’ll write one, too, since I care so much about language. I have plenty of notes prepared for the various talks I’ve given, I just have to translate them into readable text.

  99. Helen
    Helen August 11, 2011 at 2:48 pm |

    Thank you for this. I’m Australian, and this is the first US blog post I’ve seen on this topic, so I was under the impression it was an Australian phenomenon. Obviously not! On Larvatus Prodeo, the group blog I frequent, I’ve often had to stick my head up and ask people please not to use Female as a noun. I don’t know if it’s *more* endemic in Australia, but it’s depressingly prevalent.

  100. Helen
    Helen August 11, 2011 at 2:52 pm |

    This thread is a perfect example of why I think we should be wary of policing language too closely. Depending on the intent of the speaker and the personal preferences/experiences of the listener, “female” can apparently connote anything from rank misogyny to simple biological reference to trans- and gender-aware feminism!

    Laminate this on a little card and stick it in your pocket: used as an adjective, fine. Used as a noun – Fine for meerkats or fruiting trees, to be avoided WRT women.

  101. Tony
    Tony August 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm |

    Sometimes, I find myself searching, squirming really, for some other word besides ‘woman’ or ‘women’. Girls? Chicks? Ladies? Females? It’s not that ‘woman’ seems insulting or too sexual, rather the opposite. Often it seems too formal. I feel that the mood of the conversation is playful, humorous, and if I utter the word, it comes off as too serious, too stiff, even self conscious. The deeper why of that I never really thought to consider. The same could be said of “man” and “men”. But those moments also seem to be less and less common as I get older, and usage of ‘woman’ and ‘man’ seems more and more appropriate.

  102. Andie
    Andie August 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm |

    I wish there was a female equivalent to ‘guys’. Something that could be used more casually than ‘women’ but is not infantilizing like girls, or gals.

  103. justine baily
    justine baily August 11, 2011 at 6:15 pm |

    Andie:
    I wish there was a female equivalent to ‘guys’.Something that could be used more casually than ‘women’ but is not infantilizing like girls, or gals.

    I personally am fine with girls, but whatever. The problem isn’t that there isn’t a good casual word for a group of women, the problem is that any casual word for a group of women becomes demeaning because it refers to a group of women. Personally, I’m fine with “girls” as a counterpoint to “guys.” There’s a lot of baggage in the cross section of age and gender and what’s good/bad for each, but I find it tiresome to govern language by irreconcilable etymological grievances.

  104. AK
    AK August 11, 2011 at 6:47 pm |

    Thank you for the suggestions about trans respectful language resources. I’m in an area where there really isn’t anyone who is visibly anything but straight and cis because as a whole we are very rural and backwards, sadly enough–I mean, I’ve been called homophobic slurs and been threatened because I am a short-haired tattooed woman in a traditionally masculine profession, even though I am straight, still fairly traditionally feminine, and married to man, so I can’t even imagine what someone who isn’t cis and straight would experience here. I know I learned about trans issues when my sister first came out as gay some years ago and the lightbulb suddenly went on over my head that OMG sexuality is maybe more complex than “girls like boys and vice versa!” (yeah, I was kind of sheltered, I’ve learned a lot since then), but that was approaching 10 years ago and I know the language has changed.

    As far as the comment about language policing, I find it to be quite the opposite. I’m a firm believer in the power of language to shape how we think about and interact with the world around us. Threads like this strike me as a great way to explore the baggage attached to certain words (and how that may vary by individual, by region, and numerous other factors) and become more conscious of how we speak and how we may come across to others. In my experience, most people aren’t looking to get offended. The problem comes when they are ignored, erased, and dismissed. Discussions like this are a good tool for exploring language issues and making everyone more aware of what others might be feeling, even if not all of us agree on how to use those words.

  105. AK
    AK August 11, 2011 at 6:53 pm |

    Also, I think “gals” might be a regional thing, because around here it’s pretty common. Most women in my area don’t like being called “girls” (unless it’s “cowgirl”), but pretty much everyone calls a group of women “gals.” I’ve even unironically used the term “gal pal” instead of “girlfriend,” but I’m not sure I should admit that on the internet. ;)

  106. Jo
    Jo August 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm |

    I’m another Aussie. Other than generally misogynistic overtones for “female” (often used vs “men”) here, I have noticed another trend among the Uni students that I teach.

    Increasingly, I see people using “man” and “woman” until they are talking about othered groups. Then it will be usages like “when an aboriginal female client attends, you should try to …” Male and female seem to be used more for people who are non-Anglo Australian, disabled or otherwise not temporarily able bodied, cis, straight Anglo-descended people.

    It’s done by even well-intentioned dominant group students. In my head, this seems to flow from a dehumanisation of members of non-dominant groups.

    “**Is it true that other countries don’t really have a Pledge of Allegiance, i.e. a group recitation in front of a flag done at public assemblies?”

    Yes! My kids are at school and only ever have the national anthem at assemblies. 25+ years ago it was similar for me. Routine recitation of standardised chants of patriotism seems a bit totalitarian, creepy and weird to me, especially if it’s being expected of kids.

  107. justine baily
    justine baily August 11, 2011 at 8:57 pm |

    @Jo

    I’m not sure I understood your comment quite right. You seem to switch from the noun usage (man/woman) to the adjective usage (male/female) in this example. Do your students tend to refer to marginalized groups by objectionable crossovers of noun/adjective also? Because your example seems to demonstrate the non-objectionalable usage of female as an adjective (compared with the objectionable -woman- as an adjective).

  108. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 11, 2011 at 11:16 pm |

    bella:
    No one should chant the pledge. The Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the stiff-armed salute adopted later by the National Socialist German Workers Party (as shown in the work of the symbologist Dr. Rex Curry, author of “Pledge of Allegiance Secrets” -do a web search and also see the amazing early photos of the Pledge performed with the straight-arm gesture, they are eye-popping).

    Francis Bellamy and Edward Bellamy influenced the NSGWP, its dogma, rituals and symbols (including the modern use of the swastika to represent crossed S-letters for their “socialism”).If the government schools (socialist schools) taught the truth about the Pledge, then no one would perform it and it would cease to exist.

    Absolute baloney. (I’m sure you found it on the Internet somewhere, but so what?) The Nazis’ use of the swastika had nothing to do socialism, or “S’s,” or the Pledge of Allegiance. It came from the völkisch movement of the 19th century and Schliemann’s discoveries at Troy. And they got the Nazi salute from Mussolini, who got it from what was believed to be the ancient Roman salute. Not from the Bellamy salute, despite the similarity in appearance.

  109. Laurie
    Laurie August 12, 2011 at 7:45 am |

    Police officers are the one group I hear who use “males” and “females” equivalently to refer to human-beings outside the context of a biology lesson. For example, an officer will routinely say or right: “I observed the male subject proceed west on Main Street.” I think it’s part of their training, although I don’t think “male subject” is any precise than “man” for purposes of police work. (For that matter, saying “observed” rather than “saw” or “proceed” rather than “walk” just adds a stilted, formal quality to the writing while actually making it less precise.)

    In conversation, I notice officers will also use “male” and “female” as nouns. I do think it is part of the “othering” process — they are “othering” the members of the public they have to deal with.

  110. Laurie
    Laurie August 12, 2011 at 7:59 am |

    I generally hate “ladies” (except when used by feminist bloggers in a jocular or ironic tone). I very rarely hear it used as an equivalent of “gentlemen.” It is usually used, in my experience, to place women in some special category in a sort of faux-complimentary way.

    Slight derail: The use of “gentleman” in American culture is, to my ears, deeply unpleasant. Most often, I hear people using the word “gentleman” to describe a negative interaction with someone. (“I approached the gentleman to ask him to stop blocking the driveway. The gentleman then began screaming at me.”) In other words, I hear it most often used to describe men who clearly are not “gentlemen.” As such, it seems smarmy and euphemistic. It’s an unconvincing way for the speaker to try to convey that he or she has risen above the occasion. I guess the excessive politeness of the term in contexts when the speaker clearly harbors hostility for the “gentleman” in question strikes me as profoundly ungracious. It’s similar to using “ma’am” as an insulting way while maintaining plausible deniability (hey, I wasn’t being rude, Icalled her “ma’am”!) I love my country but it does seem like a particularly American form of rudeness that makes me cringe, and in my eyes, generally makes the speaker sound stupid.

    (Of course, once in a while, I will hear one man tell another, “You’re a real gentleman, or so-and-so is a real gentleman.” Or sometimes you hear that “a gentleman” always pays for a date, opens the door for a woman, blah blah blah.)

  111. Lovely Links: 8/12/11
    Lovely Links: 8/12/11 August 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm |

    [...] wisdom and cultural and etymological research shows that the prevalent objection to female as a noun is because it’s a term used to generically describe th…, not just our giganto-cranium intelligent species that includes, you know, [...]

  112. XJanus
    XJanus August 13, 2011 at 1:13 am |

    “Females” is a term white folk in the US regularly used to describe black women, and it still retains a dehumanizing ring that makes a lot of people, particularly those with long memories, uncomfortable. “Ladies” is equally problematic because it evokes certain expectations of behavior, and was reserved, for a time, exclusively for adult white women, as a means of politely differentiating them from black women, described as “female” as though they were one small step above animals.

  113. PG
    PG August 13, 2011 at 6:43 am |

    One of them, an aging hippie who had us read Hemingway but who gently nudged us to consider Hemingway’s treatment of his leading ladies, referred to the characters as women.

    “Almost impersonally he was convinced that no woman he had ever met compared in any way with Gloria. She was deeply herself; she was immeasurably sincere—of these things he was certain. Beside her the two dozen schoolgirls and debutantes, young married women and waifs and strays whom he had known were so many females, in the word’s most contemptuous sense, breeders and bearers, exuding still that faintly odorous atmosphere of the cave and the nursery.” — The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  114. Christine
    Christine August 14, 2011 at 1:08 am |

    Some non-human animals, such as some primates, are believed to have self-awareness, and can thus be considered “people,” at least in some uses of the word. In some biology and ethics textbooks I’ve read, any entity with self-awareness is a “person.”

    Jill: ?

    How?

  115. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 14, 2011 at 1:40 am |

    My cat Siegmund (Ziggy for short) is definitely a little person in a fur coat; my second child. But that’s between him and me; I don’t generally make that claim outside the family.

  116. Aisling
    Aisling August 16, 2011 at 9:35 am |

    Well, this explains why I’m always pissed off with my dad when he says ‘god spare us from argumentative females’. I knew why most of it pissed me off, but this post has put into words exactly why the ‘females’ bit is offensive, whilst not ~really being offensive. Armed with this post, though, I can be properly argumentative with him. >:D

    ** At my national school, we sang the national anthem in Irish every week. Well, we pretended to- we were never formally taught the words, so everyone mumbled past the first verse. I’m in secondary now, and we don’t do that anymore, but we pray during assembly every morning. Which is kind of an oath of allegiance. You do tend to get in trouble for not mumbling along, even if you’ve told the principal you aren’t Catholic. It’s… pretty creepy. Not as creepy as the school Masses you ~have to attend regardless of faith/lack of, though. Personal beliefs, wut are those?

  117. Naru
    Naru August 16, 2011 at 9:57 am |

    I’m from Australia. The only time anyone has to say a nationalistic pledge is when becoming a citizen, during the ceremony. It’s just about following the laws and the ethos of the country (‘fair go’ and all that).

    I’m twenty and was rarely required to sing the national anthem at assemblies. Only in high school at the major once-a-term assemblies. My mum (who is about 40) did have to sing God Save the Queen or similar when she was in school though.

    Personally I find it strange that American schools do the whole pledge thing on a regular basis. Australians are very patriotic, but only informally – we cheer for our sporting teams and believe we live in one of the luckiest countries in the world but that’s about as far as it goes. Something that I think demonstrates this well is that you don’t need to be born in Australia in order to be the prime minister, which is opposite to the US. If you think about the demographics of Australia though, this makes perfect sense – such a large proportion of the population are immigrants. Our current PM for example, was born in the UK, and absolutely noone cares or even bats an eyelid.

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