The language we use around gender, race, disability, sexuality (etc) is incredibly important. A message I drill into my students. This week I spent some time discussing the use of ‘females’ to describe women and girls and why I think it’s inappropriate. There have been some useful posts about this including:
Here’s my take on it. Female is an adjective – a biological sex descriptor, woman/women/girl/girls – nouns. I am a woman, I am not ‘a female’. In my classes we are discussing gender not sex – distinct concepts. A person is a not ‘a female’ and people are not ‘females’. A female dentist is fine – a group of dentists who are all female, would not be a group of females (or whatever the collective noun is for dentists?!). So there is the grammatical issue. Also, if we are discussing gender, then the biological sex descriptor of female or male is not appropriate.
More politically though, to refer to women as ‘females’ just feels uncomfortable. We are being ‘reduced’ to our biology. It reinforces an idea that human females (girls or women) are biological, driven by our biology (i.e. so-called sex hormones) while a group of adult human males are ‘men’. Brain creatures – rational, thinking and not driven by biology. I believe that the body matters. The materiality of our bodily experiences does matter for understanding gender. However, our biology is not deterministic. To refer to women or girls as ‘females’ hints or smacks of misogyny. I know there are women who don’t mind this, but many do.
This post from the Grammar Girl urges female to be used for scientific purposes or to refer to (non-human) animals… I wouldn’t say that science and the social world are that far removed, however, let’s be conscious of our nouns and adjectives!