Ahhhh… Black Twitter. There’s something almost magical about it. There are high school students and Blackademics dripping with advanced degrees, the most radical of radicals and @GOPBlackChick, conversations about the prison industrial complex, Hov’s latest track, transnationalism, twerking, education reform, dating norms… all interacting, intersecting, swirling around at once. There is always something new. And, as any experienced member of this particular hive mind knows, there is always something old. There are certain conversations that come up again and again, conversations that have no chill – for example, the ongoing Black Twitter discussion about the appropriate usage of the words “females” and “women.”
If you’re not familiar with why this topic would inspire such prolonged passion, allow me to explain. Over the past several years, it has become increasingly common for people (who are often black, often straight, and often men) to substitute the word “females” where one would expect to hear “women”, “girls”, “ladies,” or even “chicks.” Naturally this phenomenon, and the debate it fuels, have spilled over from real life onto the streets of Twitter.
Now, this usage of “females” is not the one you may commonly see in sentences referencing medical, scholarly, or scientific information, like these:
No, the usage of “females” scrolling across Black Twitter timelines of all types looks more like this:
So what’s the problem? Why has The “Female” Phenomenon inspired seemingly unending rounds of debate on Twitter? And why should we stop using the word in this context- online and off?
1) “Females” officially has a negative connotation.
“Females…” in this context is almost always followed by words describing some type of annoying, immature, or otherwise negative characteristic. In some communities the word “females” used (by people of all genders) in this derogatory way has basically become a more socially acceptable, equally dehumanizing synonym for “bitches.”
2) “Females” is linguistically vague, lacks humanity, and despite common belief adds no clout to foolish statements.
And isn’t that the point of the word “bitches” in the first place- to strip women of their humanity by comparing them to another animal of the same sex? It just doesn’t make sense to say “females” when you can clarify exactly what type of females you are referring to… human ones. Additionally, saying “females” when you mean “women” can be actually incorrect. Not all women are female. Not all “females” identify as women.
3) It’s patronizing.
Even when “females” is used in a positive way, it still primarily refers to women as sexual and/or romantic objects, and is usually juxtaposed with man/guy/boy/dude language. If we’re going to talk about “females,” I want to hear about “females” and “males.” To routinely simplify one group of people to our sex while in the next breath or keystroke bestowing full humanity upon mankind is bullshit that reinforces the idea of male superiority.
4) There are a significant number of women who don’t want to be referred to as “females” in this way, and you should respect their wishes. Period. It’s not hard.
I think there should pretty much be an unspoken rule that when a bunch of people from an oppressed group get together and say “Hey everyone! It’d be great if folks didn’t refer to us in ____ way. We find it offensive.” Then everyone should generally try to not refer to that group in that way, out of solidarity if you’re part of the group and in good faith as an ally if you’re not. It’s almost never a difficult task.
4) The reasons given for not respecting the wishes of these women don’t make much sense.
This unspoken rule holds even if it seems like you have a good excuse for why it shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter if the request doesn’t make sense to you. It doesn’t matter if you have a “female friend” who says it’s ok to use the word “female” as a derogatory marker; it makes you just as annoying as white people straining to find a reason to use the n-word and saying they got permission to do so from their “black friend.” And the fact that “female” and “feminist” have the same root, or that you looked “female” up in the dictionary and can make the brilliant point most women actually are female- irrelevant. Why? Because “female” is not itself a bad word. I myself am female and loving it. But connotation and the requests of the marginalized? Those things matter.
That. Is. All. This post won’t put Black Twitter’s cyclical discussion of The “Female” Phenomenon to rest, but maybe it will help a couple folks out there #dobetter.