Reclaim the word ‘female’

 In Opinion

Newsweek recently tweeted the headline, “Donald Trump branded a motherf***er for second time in three days, this time by Canada’s first woman prime minister.” 

The story was about comments made by Kim Campbell. 

As packed as that headline is, the take-away shouldn’t have been the use of woman as an adjective but it was jarring. 

The use of woman as an adjective has become prevalent in newswriting and on social media. And it is jarring every time. 

You wouldn’t write, “Man president deserved it”, for instance. That would be wrong, right? Well, it’s not wrong to use woman prime minister anymore. Thanks to the evolution of language, words that take on a negative connotation are left in the dust, leaving the rest of us clueless. 

It turns out the word female has baggage, whereas the word male still travels light. 

Modern writers understand that the word female can be interpreted as degrading because of its slang use as an insult to women, drawing comparisons to a female dog or having weakness. 

So because a word has been adopted as an insult it is removed from the lexicon? This is giving too much power to those who use their positions of power to degrade others. We must take back the word female. 

It would be extra great if we could get to a point where we didn’t even have to point out that Kim Campbell was the first “woman prime minister”. 

We would still pay attention to a headline that reads, “Donald Trump branded a motherf***er for second time in three days, this time by former Canadian prime minister.” 

The media is embarrassing itself by kowtowing to readers who are offended to read about someone described as a female, forsaking grammar. Female is a fine word. It has absolutely no relevance in a story about politicians but when talking about the reproduction of species, it is essential to life.

If the sexes are to achieve equality, we can’t let these words get in the way. 

There are many examples of words that have been used as weapons, some of which have been subsequently reclaimed by the communities they originally aimed to insult and used with pride. 

Sometimes media’s use of words to classify people, such as a reference to a physical attribute or a sexual preference, is extremely relevant to the story and even serves to elevate and advance the cause. At other times, it is a distraction and best left out. Not every time a woman makes headlines is a reference to her gender or sex needed. We must ask ourselves when referring to a person specifically as a woman, or noting skin colour for that matter, would we make the distinction if we were referencing a man? Have you ever seen a headline that read, “White male president Donald Trump branded a motherf***er for second time in three days”? We think not.

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