A little more research wouldn’t have hurt

This article ‘Size doesn’t matter’ just gets a couple of things wrong.

Public humiliation visits every retailer occasionally. But to young women who are a bit on the large side, the embarrassment being visited on clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch must be as delicious as a good public flogging.

I’m not quite that bloodthirsty but I am glad that retailers are being forced to re-think their attitude to larger women. As far as this article goes that is all fine. But there is a big but here. Actually two, but this one first:

Will these women forgive A&F and come running for its wares? Probably not. Women have far too many choices.

Let me fix that for you. A small percentage of women who fit an imaginary model of the ideally shaped woman have far too many choices. Most women get by. Some women find it extraordinarily difficult to find affordable clothing to fit properly. If retailers woke up to this and got over the ‘my clothing only looks good on thin women’ crap and actually designed clothes to fit real women (who come in all shapes and sizes) then we might be closer to women having far too many choices.

The only way in which I have far too many choices, and even then far too many is pushing it, is if I go for either clothing designed for women decades older than me and to be honest many of them turn their noses up at the offerings too, or shop online and hope that it fits when it arrives. Living as an ‘apple shaped’ woman in a ‘most fat women are pear shaped (or some odd shape that doesn’t actually fit anyone’ world this somewhat limits my options. For women larger than my 18-20 it is even harder. So yes, it would have been nice if Michael Baker had taken the time to actually consult larger women about this statement. It isn’t as if we haven’t been talking about this for some time now.

Second is one of my pet hates.

Jeffries hopes his newly conciliatory attitude towards bigger females will give the brand more momentum.

Quite frankly I have no idea how this will play out with female apes, dogs, cats and other non-human females. This human female wonders why the author of this piece or their sub editor couldn’t just say women. Of course it remains to be seen how much bigger ‘bigger’ actually means. I’m not holding my breath.

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism, language, Life

Tags: , ,

13 replies

  1. 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. 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. 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. “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.

    • 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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. 😛
    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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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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