The debate between woman versus female


courtesy of Pixabay

Changing perception and increasing recognition of the distinctions between sex and gender identity necessitates a lexicon that allows us to accurately describe what, or who, we’re discussing. It is imperative to be mindful of the language used when referring to groups of people.

As our understanding of sex, gender and other related ideas change, so does the language used to talk about them. New words are adopted and old ones discarded; meanings are revised for the modern lexicon. As we continue to learn, the way we use language changes.

Historically, the words “female” and “woman” or “women” were used interchangeably and with little controversy. But changing public sentiment has left many questioning the social implications of referring to women as “females.” These terms have similar meanings, so what’s the issue?

Each respective denotation offers insight as to why so many people regard “females” as a semantically derogatory alternative to “women.”

“Female” is an adjective used in scientific contexts to denote the ability to bear young or produce eggs according to Merriam-Webster. This is a biological classification that doesn’t acknowledge anything except reproductive capabilities. In a laboratory setting, it’s necessary to emphasize this as an important characteristic of the subject. However, when referring to human beings, using “female” as a noun can be dehumanizing.

“Woman,” on the other hand, is a noun that refers to adult human females. This definition explicitly recognizes “human” as a co-requisite to being a woman. While anything can be a female, only humans can have the status of “woman.” This is acknowledging that a particular type of female has personality, dreams, thoughts and ideas— all the things that make humans, human.

Moreover, the way “female” is used outside of biological or clinical contexts rarely adheres to modern grammatical standards. Adjectives function as modifiers to nouns (the purple shoe, the tired man) and can’t stand alone without a subject to describe.

However, language and the way we use it are highly dynamic. Flexible linguistic rules allow adjectives to become nouns all the time.

The biological connotations associated with “female” present a rather reductive view of what it is to be a woman. It suggests that biological sex can be conflated with gender identity, a notion rejected by modern science. It also highlights a single extrinsic quality of womanhood that only perpetuates this outdated idea.

Given all of these considerations, it is essential to be mindful of the language and to reflect on it often.


Edited by: Rakesh Swarnakar and Simran Shrestha