Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Look out ...

... here come the female chauvinist pigs. (Hat tip again to Vikram Johri, who notes that a "sexual revolution that glamourizes pornography and raunch, in fact, belittles the ideals of feminism since it celebrates what is ultimately an exhibitionist view of women." As Glenn Reynolds might say: Indeed.


  1. I have been receiving emails from a US academic at work becuase we published some letters with the title "Women editors" He said that his female colleagues regarded this as demeaning, and we should have used the term "Female".

    I had never thought that "women" was a demeaning term cf "female" -- this man said it was a US/UK thing.

    Any views, anyone?

  2. My colleague, Tanya Barrientos, as liberated a woman as I know, thinks "female" sounds as if you're talking about an animal.

  3. This is from the Chicago Manual of Style - Q & A - Usage:

    "Q. Is it correct now to use 'woman' as an adjective? I know dictionaries list it as such, but dictionaries are reflectors of common usage, not arbiters of proper grammar. I have an author who insists on using 'woman activist,' rather than 'female activist,' because according to her that’s the common usage in her professional field. I hate the usage because I see it as both incorrect and undesirable—unless we’re going to start using 'man activist' as well.

    "A. Any editorial objection to woman as an adjective must come up against the reasons that woman activist is more common than female activist. Many of these reasons probably have less to do with grammar and more to do with the history of American activism (Webster’s, for example, includes an entry for the phrase woman suffrage, dating it to 1863). In fact, there is no rule against using a noun attributively. Moreover, even the most descriptive (as opposed to proscriptive) dictionaries tend to flag bad grammar, and none that I’ve checked note any objections to using woman as a modifier. So the question is one of usage—why is woman used attributively so much more often than man?—and not one of grammar."

    © 2006 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

  4. I totally understand what your colleague means, Frank. In college circles in Delhi, "female" is used to mark a gender distinction between acquaintances and strangers, like "I dont think I know that female," or even to pull someone down, as in "that female has the worst dress sense ever!" Somehow, you don't find "woman" or "lady" being used in such statements, as if there were a hidden mark of respect attached to these terms.

  5. I don't know how much of a linguistic expert the comedian Kathy Griffin can be considered to be, but a couple of nights ago I was watching her entertainment tour for soldiers in Iraq, during which she complained of the use of "female." I cannot recall the comedic way she put it, but basically it involved the fact that, as soldiers, men were referrred to as men and women as females, both noun and adjective. Of course, that may be a military thang, I don't know, but it drew considerable applause (perhaps mostly from the fe-, women?). To shift the topic: Griffin calls herself a D-list celebrity -- in fact, it is her shtick these days -- but least D-list celebrities, it seems, "support our troops" with something more than cheap car magnets. Why do I think of "cheap grace?"

  6. Thanks, everyone, for a US view. The OED lists "woman" as an accepted usage adjectivally, which is the dictionary we use for our journal style, but the accusation made against us is that it is a "British" usage. So it is good to get this feedback, especially the good old Chicago Manual of Style! (Thanks, Dave.)