Things You Can Call Women

A week ago, this Buzzfeed article, "6 Reasons You Should Stop Referring to Women as "Females" Right Now" took off, a pretty angry article about something I've generally considered to be a non-issue. The basic idea is this: using the word "female" is horrendously sexist and offensive.

The article argues that referring to someone as a female "reduc[es] a woman to her reproductive abilities", which is "dehumanizing and exclusionary". I've honestly never felt that way, I've never even thought about it, because as far as I can tell, using an adjective to emphasize a certain characteristic doesn't reduce the subject to those characteristics.

Let's say I'm looking at the Mona Lisa. And I say, "hey, that painting's pretty brown". That doesn't mean I see the painting like this:

If I was was talking to a trans man who said he used to be biologically female, I wouldn't correct him and tell him "the word you're looking for is woman", because it's not. He was never a woman. Female and woman are not always the same thing, the article is right about that, but that doesn't make either a bad word.

Of course, that doesn't mean that generalizing females (or women!) is ok. Let's go ahead and do what the article suggested, looking at "female" usage on Twitter.  Here are some I just came across.

There's dozens, more, but frankly, none of them would be any less offensive if they said "women" instead. They're all pretty shallow and heteronormative,  but I think that's because of the mindset, not just because they used "female". Generalizing any group of people like this is offensive towards everyone. 

The article also claims that nobody ever refers to men as "males", which isn't really true. That doesn't make it more or less sexist, though. This one is pretty offensive, but again, I don't think it'd be significantly less offensive if it said "men". 

Nitpicking like this is a non-issue that the feminist movement risks its credibility for. If you personally have an issue with being referred to as female, of course you can ask people not to, but it's this sort of generalized, angry article that's making people think feminism is petty. And it's not. There are so many more important issues to be addressing.

For me, the tipping point was finding this second article. Written by the same people and released immediately after the first,  it provides a helpful list of alternatives to calling women "females". I'm starting to this this whole thing is a joke. "Goddess"? "Perfection"? Imagine for a second two men released a list like this, demanding that women call them "kings" and worship them as Gods. This is not equality. 


Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, had some really interesting theories about women. Freud theorized that a defining moment in female psychosexual development was when a young girl first realized that she did not have a penis. "Penis Envy" marked the beginning of her transition to her adult sexuality, where she began resenting her mother. Ultimately, Freud believed that penis envy explained why women (supposedly) wanted to be men.

When I was born, my wonderful mother, fearing that I would resent her for not gracing me with a dick, decided to try to instill in me a love of vaginas. It worked; I came home from first grade eager to show her how I had spent the day learning to mush the skin on my arm together to resemble labia majora. Luckily for me, my rendering wasn't very accurate, and none of my six-year-old counterparts knew what a vulva was, so they didn't know to laugh at me.

Note, this is an actual project my mother encouraged.

Why am I bringing this up? This story, TIFU by letting a feminist parent bring snacks to my 2nd grade class, went viral on Reddit and recently got picked up by Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. The tl;dr version is this: Radical crazy woman who thinks she is a feminist brings in vagina cookies to a second grade class, freaks out when the teacher says no and send abusive emails. Yes, vagina cookies.

These aren't the cookies she brought in, these are just inspiration for later.
Trust me on this, second graders love sugar. Not one of those kids was going to complain about eating cookies in class. So let's look at some of the things that parent tried to do right.

Pro Parent:
  • Brought cookies to class! Yay!
  • These cookies included all kinds of vaginas, not just cookie cutter genitals (it's a pun, get it?). "There were small, puffy, white, brown, shaved, bald, and even a fire crotch with beef curtains." That's fantastic. Nobody should feel ashamed of their differences. 
  • Body-positive. There shouldn't be a stigma against our own bodies. Why should we perpetrate a culture where we cast ourselves as shameful and inappropriate? Celebrate them!
We'll look back at the parent in a moment, but for now, let's talk about some of the problematic word choices.
  • The title of the post "Today I Fucked Up by letting a feminist..." This parent is NOT a feminist, but phrasing like this encourages the idea that feminists are crazy. Not cool. Remember this post? Or more recently, Emma Watson's speech about gender inequality? The original post did address this, acknowledging "No longer referring to [the parent] as a feminist because she isn't. She's just bat shit crazy". True that.
  • "...before my second graders develop vaginal PTSD" Vaginal PTSD. Apparently, hearing the name of a body part is a serious traumatic event.

As for the other parents that angrily demanded to know why their 2nd graders came home and asked what "vagina" meant, why don't you just tell them? Take it as an opportunity to actually parent your kid. They'll figure it out sooner or later, they may as well learn it from you. 

At the end of the day, I was raised in a sex-positive household, but that doesn't mean everyone was. You can't force your beliefs on other people. I think parents who prevent their kids from taking sex ed are wrong, but that's their decision, not mine. You can't decide to expose a classroom of seven-year-olds to vaginas if that's not how their parents are raising them, and you can't force a teacher to do it for you.

Whatever that parent tried to do right, she went very far in the opposite direction when she sent the teacher an email calling her "close minded", accusing her of being a cliche, and wishing domestic abuse on her in a mess of horrendous grammar mistakes.

Again, let's clarify that this woman is not a feminist. Just crazy. You can (and should!) love and celebrate your body. But you cannot force your beliefs on other people. You cannot wish domestic abuse on anyone. You cannot expect everyone to be ok with frosted genitals. I love the idea of vagina cookies, but I'm not going to feed them to 2nd graders. 

Seriously, who wants to make these with me?
Want more? Here's a relevant Jezebel article about saying "vagina". VAGINA.