What is it with guys referring to girls as “females?”
No seriously, why?
I find myself thinking about this every blue moon. Sometimes I don’t care, and other times, like now, I can’t wrap my head around it. Sometimes I get too caught up thinking about language and words and connotations. Some days I worry I’m spending too much time delving into the arbitrary; other days, I’m convinced that we’re missing some kind of in-your-face meaning.
Context: a few guy friends of mine have “female” in their day-to-day vernacular. “I met up with a female yesterday”; “There were a group of females near my house”; “I can’t stand when females…”. I’ve seen it used on social media, mostly by men, in the same kind of situations. My first encounter with the usage of it happened in high school, and at the time I didn’t think much of it. In college, and now, whenever I hear “female” it sounds like bones rubbing together, a rough grittiness that makes you shift uncomfortably in your seat.
I’ve asked my female friends about it before, and we’ve generally come to the same consensus of “eh.” On the greater wide web, other women have expressed sentiments I empathize with–the usage of it is dehumanizing.
Call it a stretch if you want to, but I said what I said.
Seriously–sit down for a few moments and think about it. Really think about it. What’s the point of referring to a girl you went out on a date with as “a female?” Does she not have a name? When I hear it, it makes me think of those anatomical diagrams in my science books. The figure’s arms are straight out and legs shoulder-width apart. Little black lines point to the heart, the lungs, the uterus, the bladder, in the female body. It feels like it’s boiling down her character, her expression of femininity, down to the physical, or down to the parts one’s really interested in.
I’ve heard the argument that in calling her “a girl,” it feels childlike and uncomfortable. I can understand that, and can understand that it’s a matter of how one feels about using “girl.” But “female” is easily steps down from “girl.” “Chick” is outdated, we’re not in the early 2000s anymore; “lady” feels humorous and light to me, but that’s probably preference. “A young woman” comes off as very professional, but not wrong.
Personally, I have no issue with being referred to as “girl.” Yes, I’m not a “girl” anymore–by objective definition and biology–but that’s the beauty of language. Language is ever changing, and we have come to a place in understanding that even if a word has a standard definition society has given it another meaning. I think that’s very apparent in the case of “girl.” I’m smart enough to understand that in calling me “girl” you aren’t trying to insinuate that I’m prepubescent. (Funny story: the running joke amongst my college homies is that, because I’m the youngest of the group, I’m actually 12).
But “female?” No. That’s not what I ordered.
Language is as great as it is deceptive. I’m a firm believer that language is power. When you refer to women as “females,” then what power are we given from that? What power is given to the speaker? There’s definitely an imbalance there, as in those who say it get to retain a control over the image of women as merely physical bodies. It boils down and conflates femininity with sexuality. “Females” are here for my pleasure, nothing more nothing less.
Now–do I think every guy who says this feels this way about women? No, of course not. But do I think that some guys don’t realize that there’s a power dynamic at work when they say “female?” Yes, yes I do.
Let’s be real here–I’ve only run into the former and not the latter. I’ve never heard a girl say “I met up with this male last night.” If I were to, my first reaction would probably be confusion, or would look something like this:
To rub a little more salt in the wound, I find that this is something prominent amongst men of color. My social media, specifically Twitter in this instance, is very diverse. More often than not, however, I run into replies and individual tweets in which women were referred to as “females.” Through a racial lenses, I wonder if by calling women of color “females,” it lends men of color power over our image when their image is consistently damaged by a racist society. I chose “lends” because the truth is if you ain’t white then we’re all at the bottom. Why make the fight any harder than it needs to be?
Still, I would love to know when and how calling women “females” became a norm, because I would like to talk to the manager.
So, to my guy friends who say “female,” I encourage you to stop saying it. I encourage you to try other language, try other means to refer to the women you encounter in your daily lives. I’m certain that you can be more creative than “females,” because on a basic level it’s unoriginal and it’s tired like me after work. Or challenge me on it. Am I making a big deal? Am I generalizing too much? Let me know. Let’s have a discussion about it.
Otherwise, feel free to argue with your shadows about it.