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  1. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    I appreciate why “females” is a pet peeve, but I think it’s a word that has more than one legitimate usage pattern. I know lots of people who use females and males to mean women and men, equally and with no derogatory intent (me too, in spoken language – it’s a usage I grew up with). The category “human” is simply implied, in the same way that if you’re discussing apes, you’ll refer to the females, rather than the female apes. But I totally get that it is used in derogatory, dehumanising ways by other groups of people (and therefore I tend not to use it in written language).

    I have dilemmas working out what I think about language that has genuinely different usage patterns and baggage amongst different groups. Pretty much the same dilemmas that underpin the entire field of feminism and multiculturalism I guess, although language usage patterns are even more ephemeral and localised than “culture” is generally understood within multiculturalism.

  2. Mindy
    Mindy at |

    It is definitely a pet peeve not shared by everyone. I just find that male sports commentators in particular have a way of talking about ‘females’ and men which is just so dismissive.

  3. The Kittehs' Unpaid Help
    The Kittehs' Unpaid Help at |

    Ariane – it’s an “intent isn’t magic” situation. Regardless of whether someone intends to put women down with “females” (and it’s soooo often paired not with “males” but with “men”), the fact remains that it is derogatory.

    Anyone using it in speech around me gets some serious side-eye (it’d be the Spock brow if my eyebrows were that mobile) and a question about why “women” is such a hard word to use.

  4. Gunnar
    Gunnar at |

    “females” is useful if you mean “women or girls”, i.e. that age isn’t a factor. You can refer to 3 year olds as “women” of course, or to 30 year olds as “girls” — but there’s drawbacks to that too.

  5. tigtog
    tigtog at |

    There’s not much reason to use “females” in an article which has already used “women”, though – it’s inconsistent. Maybe they were paraphrasing Jeffries using the word, in which case they should have used a blockquote. Either way it’s sloppy writing.

    I don’t much mind the usage of females/males in writing or speech, although unless it’s a biological discussion it still does jar a bit. What gets my goat are the Ferengi who use a men/females distinction, although the huge neon AVOID sign they’ve just painted on themselves is at least from some perspectives a public service they’re doing.

  6. Ariane
    Ariane at |

    Oh yeah, when paired with men, it’s certainly bad, and I know it is used in a derogatory way. I have taken exception to its use myself in certain circumstances and I agree it was oddly placed in that piece (although it could have been my mother writing it – she uses “females” far more often than “women”). I just have an issue that any language usage can be declared as “this is what it means in all circumstances” because language just isn’t that clear cut. I’m not talking about intent, I’m talking about differentiated meaning.

    This is why I am conflicted about these things – I don’t think that one group gets to dismiss the meanings and signifiers of another without very good reason. I’m not saying there can’t be very good reasons, but that it’s complicated. There are situations where it’s obvious (IMO)- where the group usage delineations also run along power delineations. So when a dominant group uses a word that an oppressed group finds derogatory, even if usage is genuinely different, I’d agree that intent isn’t magic, there’s an element of power imbalance – the word should not be used. But it’s much less clear cut when the usage doesn’t work that way. If the usage is regional and cuts across both powerful and disenfranchised groups. For example, if we’re telling people in the oppressed group that they can’t use a term because its offensive to their own group in another place, my alarm bells go off.

    I think, given the size of the group “women”, this happens a lot with language that is derogatory to women. And I don’t have simple answers to it. Sometimes everyone is right and also mutually contradictory.

  7. Lauredhel
    Lauredhel at | *

    We aren’t talking about children’s clothing, so we are talking about women here, not “women and girls”. A few young women in their late teens may wear clothing from A&F’s “Womens”, sure – and I’m quite happy referring to them as young women, not taking pains to differentiate in this context.

    And the speakers here are working from a place of privilege: this is a male journalist (semi)quoting from a male businessman.

    Let’s not forget that this is, above all, A&F: who have repeatedly been in trouble for firing and not hiring Muslim women under their “no headscarves” rule, and who shoved an employee with a prosthetic arm into backroom work under their “All-American looks” policy.

  8. Feminist Avatar
    Feminist Avatar at |

    I think the red flag on the females/women issue is that ‘males’ is almost never used in common vernacular. We have female toilets and men’s toilets, not male toilets; female clothing and men’s clothing, not male clothing, etc etc. And when have you ever heard a group of men being described as a group of males? Generally male is only used in biological contexts or when paired with females, so male and female toilets. Why is this?

    My personal irritation (although I appreciate it is valid grammar) is using male or female as adjectives in places of men’s and women’s. There is no such thing as a female toilet- the toilet doesn’t have a gender!

  9. kittehserf
    kittehserf at |

    The only time I can think of when “males” is used of men is when a police officer is talking about “a male person” or “a group of males”, for instance. But then police do seem to learn policespeak, which has a tenuous relationship to spoken English. :P

    There’s an easy enough litmus test in general: would the speaker/writer dream of using “males” in the same way they use “females”? I’m betting not.

    I was reading a shipboard diary from a 19th century emigrant recently. He consistently referred to men and females. That’s not exactly ancient, of course, but its use by a Victorian writer says plenty for me about how derogatory – even unconsciously so – its usage is.

  10. Gunnar
    Gunnar at |

    I agree with that. “females and men” is a huge red flag. And “women” is usually superior, the exception being if you want to include girls, I’d feel silly calling 3-year-olds “women”, allthough I’d be fine with it from ~15 onwards. That’s just personal preference though.

    I hope I’ve never used “female” in a context where I wouldn’t also use “male” if the genders where reversed.

  11. Mindy
    Mindy at |

    I would feel silly calling 3 year olds women too, since there is a perfectly good word for them which is girls. But this article was about grown women so I’m not sure where this concern for 3 yr olds has come from. Let’s not get started on adult women being referred to as girls by sports reporters either. That is another one of my pet peeves. Unless they are talking about the ‘boys’ as well but again it is often the mens team and the girls team. Ugh. But I suppose that is slightly better than men and females. At least it acknowledges that the women are human beings.

  12. Rebekka
    Rebekka at |

    My beef with females vs women is they are not the same part of speech. Female is an adjective (or should be). Woman is a noun. The two are not interchangeable.

  13. Aqua of the Questioners
    Aqua of the Questioners at |

    My peeve is that this has somehow become about every single use of ‘females’, ever. The original remark was about this article, this particular use of ‘females’, which definitely set off my misogynydar, and obviously a few other people’s. Can’t we criticise specific examples, without having to write scholarly treatises about how the word might be used non-offensively somewhere sometime?

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