This morning, I read a comment on an article about Donald Trump (who else?) in which it was inferred that anyone who described people who aren’t male as “females” should be instantly ignored for some supposed moral crime against slightly over half of the human race. So seriously, WTF, humanity? Why can’t I be female?
I’ll get back to the comment in question at the end of this post, but first I’m going to explain why I think this sort of comment is unfair and unhelpful. Not to mention crass and discriminatory.
I don’t know when it happened, but sometime in the last ten years or so the media seem to have determined that we should refer to anyone of the female sex in a role traditionally held by men as “woman” or “women”. You’ll have seen it wherever you are in the English speaking world – we have women bishops, Hillary Clinton is on the verge of being the first woman president, Britain once again has a woman prime minister etc. Drue Kataoka created an inspired poster in support of the Hillary Clinton campaign for the presidency, which I’ve included on this page because it’s awesome, and it demonstrates dozens of notable “firsts” by American women over the last two centuries or so.
The logic behind this shift, apparently, is that female describes the sex of a species that is capable of bearing children, while woman refers specifically to a female human. Which is fair enough, if you’re using female as a noun. If you’re saying something along the lines of “you can’t do that because you’re a female”, it’s sexist. But wouldn’t it be just as sexist to substitute the “female” with “woman”?
Why can’t I be a female something?
We don’t refer to men in typically female roles as “men [whatever]” – we refer to them as male nurses, male teachers and male receptionists. Why does it have to by different for women? Why can’t I be a female writer if I want to? Or a female gamer, or a female coder? Or why can’t I just be a writer, a gamer, or a coder? Why can’t I just be something without bringing my sex into it at all?
In this age of gender diversity, there’s no need to label someone as being outside the gender norm. If a hypothetical doctor was born male, but underwent gender reassignment, she’d be a woman doctor, according to media labelling logic. But this hypothetical doctor was born as a male, so if she hadn’t had a sex-change op she’d just be a doctor – not a man doctor, just a doctor. What about someone born female who identifies as male but hasn’t had surgery? He’s just a doctor, people!
If Hillary Clinton wins the election on November 8th, she’ll be president. She’ll be the first woman to hold the job. She’s female, so she’ll be the first female president. Yes, she’ll also be the first woman president, but I don’t understand why we have to go as far as to say she’s “the first female president who is also human”. Surely there have never been any non-humans who have held the role of POTUS, or any non-human doctors, bishops etc. There have been plenty of people, male and female, in all occupations who could be described as sub-human in their ethics or behaviour, but I’m pretty certain that they’ve always actually been human.
The comments that inspired this post
Back to why I wrote this post in the first place. The article I was reading was about Donald Trump making disgusting comments about Lindsay Lohan when she was a teenager, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ impassioned response:
“Can you imagine the sex with this troubled teen?” said Stern. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” Trump said. “She’s probably deeply troubled and therefore great in bed. How come the deeply troubled women, you know, deeply, deeply troubled, they’re always the best in bed?” I am appalled. Lindsay needed help and guidance. Not your gross, lecherous, lewd commentary. YOU are the Republican nominee for the Presidency. #wordsmattermrtrump @hillaryclinton #hillaryclinton
A user by the name of OnlyOneWay commented “As a fellow female, Jamie stepped in and saved the troubled teen from the perils she faced….right?”, at which point he was jumped on by several other commenters who called him out for using the word female. In this instance, female was exactly the word to use. Jamie Lee Curtis was a grown woman, while Lindsay Lohan was still a teenager. To call Lindsay Lohan a woman would have been inappropriate – remember that she was likely only 17 when Trump’s comments were made. And to call Jamie Lee Curtis a girl would have been demeaning. The tone of the rest of the comment made clear his intent, but it’s the criticism of that particular phrase that I took issue with.
It’s 2016, people!
It astounds me that in 2016 we are still having to justify ourselves regarding sex and gender. For the record, I don’t refer to myself as a woman. I predominantly dress in men’s clothes, I enjoy typically male pastimes like fishing, trains, video games and motor sports, I don’t do girly nights out or gossip. I’m female, but that doesn’t automatically make me a woman. I’m just me, and at the end of the day that’s all that should matter.
PS I’ll be back later today with a new series of posts with the theme “Today in history, if today were a year”. I promise it will make sense!