- Gabrielle Giffords – January
- Adele – February
- Eman al-Obeid – March
- Pippa Middleton – April
- Nafissatou Diallo – May
- Li Na – June
- Charlene Wittstock – July
- Michelle Bachmann – August
- Dilma Rousseff – September
- The Duchess of Alba – October
- Kelsey de Santis – November
- Sweetie – December
The list includes a Congresswoman who was shot, a Libyan woman who publically accused Gaddafi’s militia of gang raping her, the maid who accused IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn of sexual assault, the first Chinese winner of a tennis Grand Slam title, a corporal who invited Justin Timberlake to the Marines Ball, a new princess and a woman who is related to a new princess but is mostly famous for her butt (pictured!). I have problems with many of these choices but it was the inclusion of Sweetie particularly that had Jezebel up in arms.
‘Who is Sweetie?’ you may well ask.
This is Sweetie (or ‘Tian Tian’). She, as you may notice, is a panda and not actually a woman. She, with her male panda partner, were brought to Edinburgh Zoo in 2011 and apparently that is all it takes to be famous in Scotland. Many of the comments on the Jezebel article complain about the reasons for some of the inclusions or point out that in no way would a male animal ever be included on a ‘men of the year’ list (although, apparently the BBC did so in ’09). But it was this comment from ‘LibraryChick‘ that really stood out for me:
‘Maybe the panda was chosen by the same people who call women “females.” So, you know, any female works. Female humans, female dogs, female pandas…they’re all females! Which is, actually, part of the problem with calling women females in the first place.’
The problem with ‘females’
Last year, I started a new job and came across a couple of men who referred to ‘females’ instead of ‘women’ or ‘girls’. For example, they say things like ‘females love to shop.’ ‘Females spend too long in the bathroom.’ ‘I don’t understand females and their make-up.’ It really bothered me but until I saw LibraryChick’s comment I couldn’t put my finger on why. Turns out, ‘female’ is totally dehumanising. I’d go on about it, but it really is that simple. It’s not just any females that spend too long in the bathroom or shop too much, it’s female humans so why not acknowledge that by calling them ‘women’? (We’ll leave the problem with generalising about a whole sex of people for another time.)
Calling women ‘females’ of non-specific species is fairly transparent evidence of the ongoing need for feminism and its fight for the recognition that women and girls are people too. It’s the feeling that female enough is close enough that has lead to women being regularly called ‘bitches’ and ‘cows’ and other non-human names. Let’s stop doing that.
While we’re at it, don’t call me a ‘girl’ either. I’m in my mid-twenties and I’m only getting older. I am fully grown and physically matured female human. I am, therefore, a woman. A girl, on the other hand, is a young and non-mature female person. Calling me a ‘girl’ infantilises me and robs me of my agency as an adult. In this horrifying piece, ‘Can You Tell The Difference Between A Men’s Magazine And A Rapist?‘ a comment makes the observation that (to paraphrase): things happen to girls, while women make things happen. Even rapists agree: women are empowered, while girls are not.
A lot of people think that calling grown women ‘girls’ helps them to feel attractive. This is problematic, because we shouldn’t be finding ‘girls’ sexy. Girls have not reached the age of consent, while women have, yet a search for ‘young girl’ porn will (assuming you are not searching for child pornography, and I feel sick even writing that, so let’s roll with my assumption) will turn up innumerable pages of 18- to 20-year-old women. A lot of this has to do with society’s fetishising of youth but that doesn’t mean we should encourage it. We should be promoting women as sexy, not girls. Girls should be playing in sandpits or doing whatever it is children and teenagers do. Don’t call me one (but you can call me sexy if you like. Compliments are always appreciated).
My friend Liz has strong opinions on calling women ‘ladies’:
‘I think that it comes loaded with a preconceived set of values that are no longer relevant to me. ‘Lady’ implies a set of standards relating to acceptable femininity, e.g. ‘Ladette to Lady’, whereas ‘woman’ applies no such connotations. Ladies are polite and demure and wear skirts and aren’t loud or contrary or smelly or hairy. It’s about the artifice of feminine behaviour, to which I object.’
I personally feel that ‘ladies’ is ok (if a little classist), but I have been admittedly socialised to strive towards meeting the standards Liz mentions. I do feel that by calling women who don’t meet these standards ‘ladies’, we can broaden the definition of the term. ‘Being a lady’ is generally positive, and also implies adulthood. I am always going to be in favour of having more positive terms for adult women but I do accept the different views on this one. This may be a radical suggestion, but if in doubt, listen to how your chosen lady/woman refers to herself and follow that lead.
I am woman, hear me roar (but also don’t, because I am a person and people don’t roar)
Which leads us to my preferred, neutral and completely descriptive noun, ‘woman’. If the relevant female person has reached adulthood, you can’t go wrong calling her a woman (but not like, ‘Hey, woman’ like Murray in Clueless, more like ‘you are an awesome woman, [name]‘). By calling me a woman, you recognise me as a person, which is kind of what [my] feminism is all about.
All this being said, I do use ‘female’ as an adjective (‘a female lawyer’, ‘a female nurse’) because I think ‘a woman lawyer’ or ‘a woman nurse’ sounds grammatically ridiculous. ‘Woman’ is not an adjective and should not be used as such. But there’s no confusion about what sort of female I am (a human one), so it shouldn’t cause you any problems to call me a woman. Alright?
RESULT: Seriously, it’s not that hard.
Up next: Porn (oh no she didn’t!)