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Words, they mean things - Tactical Ninja

Mar. 24th, 2011

11:12 am - Words, they mean things

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Mah dawg is on steroids. Apparently they may reduce any swelling so that she can breathe more easily for the time being. So far she hasn't Hulked out - I'll let you know if she does.


I was reading this this morning. It's an article about why there are not many women airline pilots. It's a reasonably balanced article.

Because I'm masochistic, I read the comments. And in the comments I found something that has been irritating me more and more - the use of the word 'female' in place of 'woman'.

Here's an example:

" The only thing females have going for them is their smaller size for the cockpits. Flying is not a consensus job - the pilot makes command decisions instantly and the crew obeys instantly. No time for discussion or agreements. Those females who advance thru the piloting assignments are the best of the best but they give up alot for it. Females are still the only gender who can birth children, which tends to tie them to a place to raise those children. And we do not raise our men to follow a female pilot-wife around to duty stations which makes it hard for her to find a husband who is not a pilot."

Now, completely ignoring what the commenter is saying and focusing purely on the way they are using words. You will note that he (I am assuming he because of tone and content) refers to men as 'men' and women as 'females'.

What's the problem with that? Well from my perspective, it's dehumanising. 'Male' and 'female' refer to the genetic sex of virtually any living thing - and even some inanimate objects. So you can have female humans, dogs, tomato plants and electronic plugs. 'Man' and 'woman' refer only to humans. Thus, when you say 'woman' everyone knows you are referring to a human being. When you say 'female' you are lumping women in with every other thing that's considered 'female'. For me, that's alienating, as if I'm some kind of science experiment on which you can make observations.

Females are the only gender who can birth children, he says. Well no. Women are the only people who can birth children. A female could birth a foal, a kitten, or an apple.

See what I mean?

And I know it sounds petty but I see this use of language a lot, and it's usually in a context where men get to be 'men' and thus people while women are 'females' and thus not specifically people. The words surrounding this usage are often similar to the ones in that paragraph - chauvanistic observations about women. And the people using these words are often people who see themselves as nice guys.

I have heard some men say that they use 'female' because of objections raised by women to the use of the word 'woman' - I believe there is a group out there who believe that 'woman' by being an extension of the word 'man', somehow demeans women. I understand that someone who's been bawled out for using 'women' is probably looking for an alternative, and 'female' seems objectively distanced and connotation-free, and probably works for someone who's confused about this issue. But by the extension-of-man logic, 'female' is also an extension of the word 'male' and is equally demeaning with an added slice of dehumanising on top, so it's not better, it's worse.

Frankly, I don't know any women who object to being referred to as a woman - I suspect those people are part of a small group of slightly radical folks tbh. It's sad that they have caused this situation where some people feel they can't get it right and thus alienate a bunch of people like me through this usage.

But today I'm here to help you with Tats' Simple Rule Of Semantics: If you're using 'male' it's ok to use 'female'. If you use 'men' you'd damn well better use 'women' or I will think you are a dick. And possibly tell you.

Clear?


I was looking through old photos last night and found the demented pixie one, along with a bunch of others taken at Canaan Downs 09. They made me smile.

Comments:

From:caycos
Date:March 23rd, 2011 10:42 pm (UTC)
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The other word that I've heard people object to is 'lady'. Probably more objections than woman, in my experience.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 23rd, 2011 10:44 pm (UTC)
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As in "Hey lady!" or as in "the laydeeez"?

Is there a male counterpart for 'lady'?
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From:rivet
Date:March 23rd, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
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Well spotted. 'Female' is always like gravel on the eyes when used in sentences like that. Not blatently grammatically incorrect, but just wrong. I hadn't explictly considered the dehumanising element there, although that is the flip side of the way I've always thought of it: the word guys use to convey that women are a diffent species from them.


'Woman' is a subject in her own right, where 'female' is a foreign object. ('lady' is only half a subject, and one that is easily dismissed)
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From:rivet
Date:March 23rd, 2011 10:59 pm (UTC)
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Upon reflection, it is close to grammatically incorrect. Female is primarily an adjective, rather than a noun.
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From:tatjna
Date:March 23rd, 2011 11:04 pm (UTC)
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This is what I was thinking but then I thought about the fairly common term 'the female of the species'. I can't even sort this sentence into grammatical terms tbh.
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From:vernacularity
Date:March 23rd, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
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agree, and usually I tend to get a brain-reaction equivalent of hearing someone say the word followed by a derisive snort.

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From:tatjna
Date:March 23rd, 2011 11:34 pm (UTC)
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I deliberately ignored the content of what the guy said because I figured other people could have fun with that. ;-)
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From:caycos
Date:March 23rd, 2011 11:41 pm (UTC)
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When I was in Korea in 2000/2001 part of the teaching job I had involved teaching Korean Airlines pilots. The hierarchies were amazing, including standing when a former military captain entered the room. The line we were given about why they were there (it was a big contract - all the pilots were tested and everyone that didn't reach a certain level was sent to classes for up to 9 weeks fulltime) was that they weren't able to talk to ATC in the US and other places in the cases where ATC English wasn't enough.

The interesting situations occurred when the most senior captain was the crappest at speaking English, and not very good at learning new things. One particular captain sticks in my mind, he was absolutely lovely and gave me a present when he left, but he was almost incapable of learning. Having a young, female teacher with an indecipherable Kiwi accent probably didn't help.

Even back then they were bringing in a heap of bright young things who didn't have the military background. Never saw a female pilot there though.

And final point - the flight attendants (universally female) didn't get the intensive English courses - they just got rote learning.
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From:ferrouswheel
Date:March 24th, 2011 01:27 am (UTC)
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That's exactly the same example Malcolm Gladwell uses in one of his books... ;-p
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From:oddlet
Date:March 23rd, 2011 11:47 pm (UTC)
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I tend to address all women as 'lady' because when i was growing up i read a lot of literature where the term was used to confer a sense of class and respect. I had never considered (or heard of) the term as any kind of pejorative, and it frankly makes me kind of sad that some women feel this way.
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From:rivet
Date:March 24th, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
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I use lady frequently to refer to unknown people (mostly women) as the indirect object of a sentence: 'give this to the lady over there in the red dress'. I also use gentleman in the same sense. But I get frustrated when it's slipped in as a backhanded compliment, or sugar-coated insult. To specify that a doctor or lawyer is a 'lady' is irrelevant, IMO. Worse yet, the 'lady protesters of the Arab Spring'? That's not class and dignity, it's demeaning of their efforts and their importance.
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From:thirstygirl
Date:March 24th, 2011 12:48 am (UTC)
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Frankly it makes me kind of sad when 'lady' is used as a pejorative or dismissive term but it is, on a reasonably consistent basis, used to (unnecessarily) front-and-center gender and to trivialise the contributions of women.
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From:ophe1ia_in_red
Date:March 24th, 2011 06:26 am (UTC)
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One justification I heard once for the use of ‘female’ as a noun is that it can refer to both women and girls. Obviously that’s not a relevant excuse for this context, and personally I hate this kind of use of ‘female’ so much that I’d probably just say ‘women and girls’, or even, at a pinch, ‘female people’ (with the same reasoning that inclines me to say ‘gay people’ rather than ‘gays’ and ‘black people’ rather than ‘blacks’).
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From:cicipsychobunny
Date:March 25th, 2011 06:02 am (UTC)
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Even beyond my rampantly feminist objections, "females" just instantly takes my brain to the Ferengi from DS9. It's not a flattering allusion.
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