Maybe you’ve been told by women in your life that you shouldn’t be using “females” when talking about women. Or maybe you’ve heard someone say that using the term “females” is a red flag. You might be wondering why since both words mean the same thing right? Not exactly. While “female” has been widely accepted as synonymous with “woman” the truth is that this usage is not only exclusionary, but it is also inaccurate. Not everyone who was born female is a woman, and not every woman was born female. Replacing “woman” with “female” erases gender-nonconforming people and members of the trans community. Words do matter, language formulates the way we view ourselves and the world around us. And considering the ongoing struggle women continue to face, it seems like an important thing to discuss. Based on the Merriam Webster definition “female” refers to the sex of the species that typically has the capacity to bear young or produce eggs. Whereas “woman” refers to gender, or your internal understanding of your identity. The word “female” is an adjective, whereas “woman” is a noun. In other words, “female” is a biological category and “woman” is a whole human person. Once again, not only is it exclusionary but it is grammatically incorrect to use “female” in the place of “woman.” If you are using the term “female” it should be used as a descriptor and not a noun.
In my personal experience, I don’t think I’ve ever heard people, especially men, use the term “females” in the place of “women” in a respectful or positive manner. It is usually used in a harsh or condescending tone, and it is used as an added insult to an already misogynistic statement. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard or read phrases like:
- “You know how females are.”
- “What these females need to realize is…”
- “Why are you going through all this trouble over a female?”
You know what I’ve never heard before though? I’ve never heard anyone misuse the word “male” in the same way. That alone should be enough of a reason to stop and wonder why it’s so easy for so many people to use “female” in place of “woman.” Probably because it is most often used to imply inferiority or contempt.
It is dehumanizing, literally. Women are humans. When you refer to a woman as a female you are using it as a noun which erases the “subject,” the actual person you are talking about. You are literally de-humanizing them. Like I said before, “female” is a biological category and “woman” is a whole human person. Dehumanizing people through language is lazy, thoughtless, and dangerous. You may not think that it’s that big of a deal, but history has shown us that when we start to use non-human words to describe other humans it becomes easier to see them as less than human. And once we start seeing other people as less than human awful things tend to follow. For instance, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, taking away women’s rights to have control over the decisions regarding their own body. All humans deserve bodily autonomy and if women’s bodily autonomy is being taken away then it seems that women are seen as less than human. We, women, are more than our reproductive organs. We are all human beings, and we all deserve the same fundamental rights. It all starts with the words we use. Thankfully the solution to our vocabulary problem is simple. It costs people nothing, absolutely nothing, to listen when someone says they find something offensive, whether it’s behaviors or words. Rather than trying to rationalize, deflect, and dismiss, just listen.