Is ‘Female’ An Offensive Term? Part 2 February 12, 2011

Is ‘Female’ An Offensive Term? Part 2

Is the word “female” offensive? Tom Slowikowski offers up a thought experiment to test that out.

He urges people to substitute the word “male” anytime a synonym is used — by yourself or others.

“Those guys” becomes “those males.”

“That man” becomes “that male.”

Try it out. As Tom asks, do you feel devalued? Objectified? Dehumanized? Depersonalized?

Or did you not mind at all?

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  • Nope, still don’t get it. Sometimes one term makes more sense than another term. It’s about context.

    Words can’t offend me. Ideas can.

  • I really don’t get it. Female and male are more objective terms than man and woman. I am a female. You are a male. Who cares? I use guys and folks to designate both sexes. Maybe it’s a Colorado thing.

  • They’re not 100% interchangeable. Male/female works in some contexts, man/woman works in others. I don’t understand how a person could be offended by the use of these terms.

  • Lynn

    I have a (minor) problem with both “male” and “female” used as nouns in some contexts, though I couldn’t tell you which. Some ways they are used, it sounds like animals rather than humans are under discussion.

  • John

    Call me whatever you want. Just don’t call me late for dinner.

    Nit-picking at word choice is a divisive and silly practice. I think it is most often used to accuse people of some offense when none is intended.

    Checking our natural and honest speech at the door when we go to an atheist meeting is not the right way to include more women in the “atheist movement” (whatever that is).

    Using an example you could call me “white” or you could call me “a white”. I am so happy that these two expressions do not offend me. It is liberating to know I should judge people of their intent rather than judge them by their word choice. Ahhhh… happy me.

  • treedweller

    I sometimes hear people use “female” in such a way that it sounds very clinical, or perhaps like the speaker refers to livestock. I can see where it might rub someone the wrong way. Personally, I don’t mind because I can see how it might come to this.

    Calling women “girls” is more likely to offend. Calling women “women” sometimes comes off a little too . . . PC? I don’t know. I think it’s all in the tone. I used to go with “woman” more, but now that I’m older than a lot of them, “girl” seems more reasonable in some cases. But often I preview in my head and struggle to know which to use. If I’m with friends, I generally know which they might prefer, but out in the world with strangers you can never tell until after the fact.

  • ManaCostly

    Queue the whiny hissy fits!

  • RC

    IMO, ‘female’ sounds like a word used to refer to an animal, not a person. It lessens the humanity of the one being referred to, reducing them to their sex in a way that ‘woman’, ‘lady’, etc doesn’t. The speaker gains an implied since of superiority, while the one being spoken of gains a dehumanizing anonymity.

    There are, however, some cases when using ‘female’ is acceptable, such as in law enforcement and medicine. But using it in a casual or unprofessional setting is just skeevy.

  • I have to agree with otto on this one. Words are just tools. It’s the intent that wields the words that matters.

    I saw a comment about how the term female is used by guys a lot when they’re trying to find a girl to have sex with or when they’re objectifying women. “There were a lot of fine females there.” But would it not be just as offensive if the speaker said “There were a lot of fine girls/women/chicks there”

    If we get so nit-picky about word choice, is girl not offensive? As a young boy did you never hear the phrase, “you throw like a girl!”

    At some point we have the power to let ourselves be offended or not. And when we go this far, we could make arguments that a load of words are offensive to one person or another. This is when we need to take a step back and refocus on the real issues. That the atheist movement isn’t always the most inclusive when it comes to women/females/girls/chicks/ladies/cuties/honeys and try to fix the legitimate problems causing this situation, rather than micro-nit-picking down to such a molecular level.

  • No, I don’t like this experiment. You can’t just do a little introspection and call it science.

    I also think this is drawing attention away from the original context. I mean, I feel that “woman” is preferred to “female”, but I would rather not argue the point if it means ignoring the much bigger problems with that panel.

  • Jon Peterson

    My feeling is that male/female is appropriate when talking about populations. It’s impersonal, and doesn’t carry any connotation other than itself as an adjective.

    When referring to a specific group or individual, it’s better to use man/boy/woman/girl (or their plurals), because they’re more personal terms.

  • JD

    It really depends on context, I guess. I can’t help but think there are more important issues to work on with sexism than worrying about the use of “female”. Maybe it’s supposed to alter our mindset to make the bigger issues easier to deal with, I don’t know. But even the best term for the context can sound wrong with subtle chances in tone.

  • MrZ

    Wow, why is time being wasted arguing? Certainly there is no organized group called atheists, and as there is no organized group of people who like red leggo bricks, hearing someone who likes red leggo bricks say female vs woman does not incriminate all the people who like red leggo bricks. Neither does it imply that all people who like red leggo bricks should immediately check their use of the English language to ensure they do not offend anyone.

    If someone is offensive, so what? That person is offensive. move on.

  • I do not think that it is devaluating, but then, I am not a native speaker.

  • Suedomsa

    Just call ’em broads and there wont be any debate as to whether you are offending women or not.

  • CB

    Being referred to as a “male” when “guy” or “dude” or whatever would be more appropriate doesn’t offend me so much as it makes the person saying it sound like an alien or a robot or something…

    (Robot voice) – “I am going to a social function tonight with my male friends! We will participate in ritual, rhythmic body motion set to music, imbibe intoxicants and court females!”

  • jose

    I think the attitude is more of a problem than the specific words. Even if you think it’s ridiculous, you shouldn’t ridicule the other person with a sarcastic joke because her concern is genuine.

    If we’re in a science fair and a kid asks me ‘why are leaves green?’ and I say to him ‘What do you want them to be, pink?’, I’m being a dick and I’m definitely not getting this kid interested in science.

    This woman/female thing is another example.

  • Ash

    I myself have used the term “female” to describe women when I want to be as value-neutral as possible. It had never occurred to me that the term could be interpreted as sexist. It’s always possible, of course, to take any term, no matter how benign, and use it offensively. On the other hand, some people are overly sensitive to perceived slights and will interpret words as being offensive even if none was intended or implied.

    In this situation with the panel, I think the latter situation is at play rather than the former. That doesn’t mean her feelings should have been so dismissed, but neither does it mean the speakers were being inappropriate. It’s fine to talk about the impact of language, but when it gets in the way of dealing with more important issues, then such debate should take a back seat.

  • EB

    I was going to write a response to this, but first I looked at the comments on the previous post and found that this comment pretty much already explained why this “experiment” is utterly useless before this was even posted.

  • 5upMushroom

    You can’t just answer the question “Is female considered offensive by some women?” by analyzing how you feel about a the word “male”. You are not the traditionally suppressed gender. Grow breasts, ovulate every month, and make less than average for your line of work regardless of your skill. Try that out for 20 or 30 years, then you can replace every pronoun with “female” and see if you feel objectified as the first step in understanding if you were once a male-privileged jerk that had his head stuck firmly up his ass. This would be akin to a white guy wondering if the term “Curry Slurper” is offensive after pissing off some Indian friends by replacing every pronoun he hears with “White bread” or “Cracker”. The unsuppressed gender (or ethnicity) doesn’t find derogatory terms used to refer to them to be nearly as offensive.

  • Rollingforest

    I agree with Jon Peterson

  • Beijingrrl

    You’ll find all kinds of regional differences on the acceptability of terms, so I decided a long time ago not to be offended by word choice or worry to much about my own. Reasonable people will be able to have a discussion about it if it’s a personal issue.

    As a woman, I understand the inherent difficulty in addressing women. I’ve had people object to the word “lady”. To me it implies sophistication, maturity and a strong sense of self. To others it implied a woman who was too polite to make waves. Some women don’t like being called “girls”. Others feel you’re implying they’re old if you don’t use it. It really is a no win situation if people are unwilling to take in consideration the context.

  • Greg

    First off, I wouldn’t agree that male is an exact synonym for man, or female is a synonym for women, so I wouldn’t say the ‘thought experiment’ is a particularly useful one. Some situations just suit one word better than another.

    Strikes me that in some situations (eg. if one of the sexes is being referred to regardless of age) it actually makes far more sense to use (fe)males than (wo)men.

    Using the word (wo)man would suggest to me that they don’t care about the children. (Won’t someone think of the children! … No, that’s not the way I meant it … :p) A (wo)man – to me, anyway – would be a (fe)male 18 or older.

    It works the other way, too.

    If I’m talking about ‘the lads’ for example, ‘the males’ and ‘the men’ don’t make sense as a substitution. If I was talking about ‘male growth rates’ in the past fifty years, then it would just be wrong to say ‘men growth rates’.

    Too much harm is done to equality movements of all kinds by fussing over words in my opinion, though. It’s the intent behind those words that really counts. I’d rather you had a well meaning person who made a couple of mistakes in their vocabulary to someone who uses all the right words but is misogynistic/misandrous, racist, xenophobic and bigoted. Sometimes I feel there is more done to appease the offended than to help the abused (in everything, not just when it comes to discrimination), however, and that infuriates me, so maybe that is colouring this post.

    Anyway, I don’t think I’d be too bothered buy the substitution of ‘male’, I’d probably just think: ‘that sounds really odd used in that context, I wonder why they are doing it?’

  • Chris

    Jose is right. The problem was the speaker’s attitude, and that was clear from the follow-up joke.

    Wasn’t the issue at the conference about a panel of mostly men, wondering why no women want to join their club, saying something that didn’t jive with one woman in the audience and then making an obnoxious joke to ostensibly dismiss her concern?
    Many of the more outspoken atheists I know are actually women, possibly because historically women have often been the ones hurt most by religion. I don’t think we would be having any problem recruiting them if some men out there weren’t always telling them what to think and when not to be offended.

  • Mihangel apYrs

    “Women” definitely, since it is inclusive of trans women in a way that “female” isn’t.

    The human adult world comprises (mainly) of men and women: male/female describes only the reproductive characteristic contained in the genotype.

    But again, in certain arenas I can use the terms “girls” or “boys” because context legitimises them.

  • Uncle Bob

    this whole situation reminds me of the “don’t be a dick” argument. The speaker found it absurd that anyone could find the use of the word “female” offensive in this context, and ridiculed the questioner to demonstrate/express the absurdity. He was being a “dick”, and he felt justified doing it.

    Some people might use the word female in a derogatory manner, but then such a person with such an attitude will use ALL feminine words in a derogatory manner. Without context, there is no safe word. Best to never say anything ever.

  • Zach

    Miller, who called it science? Introspection is an obviously unsuitable method for scientific experiments, but it’s very useful in determining whether use of a word is degrading or offensive, which is the issue at hand.

  • Meg

    IMO, the running away in tears appears to be a huge over reaction, but not knowing what that woman’s day was like prior to it, I’m not in a position to analyze it.

    OTH, I am not only a woman, but an engineer and very used to ‘playing’ in the boy’s playground. Believe me between older engineers (I graduated college in the 80’s – there were PLENTY of older engineers) and contractors I’ve heard most of the tries at finding an ‘appropriate’ term.

    Personally I prefer woman to female and my reasoning is how it’s pronounced. Woman has two syllables that are really uniform. Female, OTH, almost loses the soft ‘fe’ to the ‘male’.

    As for this ‘thought’ experiment it is as biased as any similar racial experiment and uses the same rational as the whites used to say they weren’t discriminating against minorities, while actually doing so. If you are coming from a position of power, whatever term you use is immaterial.

  • Mel

    Among Jesse Galef’s statements in his 2/9/11 blog on communication:
    That’s the question we need to ask ourselves: What do we want to accomplish with what we’re saying?

    I think if we really want to show compassion to other people, there is some language nitpicking that has to happen. It can be tiring to think about someone other than myself, but I think the new understanding about people and improved relationships are worth it.

  • Simon

    I think you are trivializing the whole discussion of what went on with this follow-up.

  • jose

    Let’s imagine things like this could be figured out rationally and we came to the conclusion that ‘female’ is not an offensive term, and therefore her concern was unfounded and wrong.

    Would that mean the guy’s reaction, his sarcastic dismissal, was the right thing to do?

  • @Zach
    Tom says at the beginning of the video, “Do you like science?” Introspection has the problem that it has a sample size of one. And this experiment has the problem that it does not control for context.

    And no, I do not think that is the issue at hand, though it is the issue Hemant decided to blog about. The issue is the entire panel was messed up. It was not one individual comment or word that ruined it.

  • Jeanette

    Yeah, this ignores the context completely. If we’re weighing in on the whole “female vs woman” thing, I personally agree with those that say female/male for populations, man/woman for individuals (and this has the added benefit of being inclusive of trans folks).

    However, that is a much less important discussion IMO than what went on in general at the panel. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that “female” was fine in that context- the response was not fine, and a pattern of dimissing concerns that way is the real issue.

    Also this “experiment” fails because it is just one person’s perspective, one person’s perspective who can choose how to feel before they even start, and it is done from the privileged group’s perspective. Still might be interesting introspection though.

  • Ibis

    Sigh. First of all, you can not compare the use of masculine and feminine terms and conclude that the usage of the first is equivalent to the usage of second. So any “experiment” is going to give you false result. Second, though there are some words that are inherently derogatory, with a word like “female” context matters.

    If, in the context of a panel discussion on attracting more women to a movement, a panelist is using terminology that sounds to someone (likely more than one someone) in the crowd like he’s talking about livestock, that itself is a problem. The panelist’s “joke” was reprehensible and counter to the conference’s goals. Now, this ongoing mansplaining and rationalisation is just adding insult to insult.

  • Dan W

    Still not finding one term more offensive than others. I still think this is a dumb argument over semantics.

  • John

    No “mansplaining” here Ibis – I have written several times that the “weaker-sex” joke was rude. That is not the point of this blog. The topic here is about the use of “female” in the context of the meeting, and how substitution of the word “male” effects my feelings.

    If you insist on returning to the past I have this to say… We are all occasionally rude, but that doesn’t make us misogynistic. We all make mistakes. The joke was meant to be funny but it failed. Let’s not make this out for more than it is. The jokester might want to apologize, but the original posters that accused the AA convention of being a hot-bed of sexism should apologize too. They were the ones the started the exaggeration and resulting conflagration.

  • It’s all about context and intent behind the use of the words. Bearing in mind that biological sex and gender are not the same thing in the sense of clinical terms, nor are the words man/woman or male/female used interchangeably in societal terms – one must take care to not confuse words misused with sexism…because the intent is usually plain. Depends on who is using the words and how.

    I take more issue with the word “lady” or “girl” used in place of “woman” (as much as “gentleman” or “boy” for man, though the former is more commonplace than the latter)…because often, the person using the diminutive terms is doing so out of a misguided sense of gender roles/normatives that are archaic at best – but even in that case, much depends on the era from which the individual grew up. Older generations generally aren’t intending to demean or diminish the individual by use of the diminutive terms – misguided (though innocent) gentility dictates. *shrug*

    Long way to say…no, doesn’t really bother me most of the time.

  • Dan W

    I’d like to add that I personally find the term “mansplaining” offensive. Too often I’ve seen it used to ignore or shut down any points a man (male, guy, whatever…) makes about sexism, no matter how valid his points may be.

    I agree with those who say it’s more about the intent and context behind the words used.

  • Carlie

    Not only is it all about context, it’s also about the build-up of experience. Calling a man a “male”, no big deal. Calling a woman a “female” when she has spent her entire life being called belittling and dehumanizing terms ranging from “girl” to “gal” to “chick” to “Miss” (especially if she ought to be called “Dr.” in the situation) is going to have an entirely different effect.

  • Artemis

    You cannot compare how something offends, or not, a woman with it’s “equivilent” in men and say Hizzah! it does not offend men, thus it should not offend women.

    Men come from a position of power and automatic respect in our society – women do not. Thus, it is much easier to offend with mere words an group that is already marginalized and oppressed than it is to offend a group that faces no such oppression or marginalization.

    Personally, I think it really depends on the context. If you’re discussing why there aren’t as many women as men or why the women don’t feel welcomed, it’s not a good idea to use female over and over again like this man did (really, no need to harken back to a time when the oppression of women was justified by saying our natural sexuality and connection with the Earth made us easy prey for Satan by using a term most often used to refer to animals). However, if you’re discussion biological differences between males and femaeles, or want to refer to a group that has both little girls and older women, then I think it’s an appropriate term.

    I also think this discussion is taking away from the real issue with all this. That panel was 5 men and one lonely woman discussing “women’s issues” and when a woman did raise a concern, it was almost completely blown off. They then moved on the musing how women might come to these things to find mates. They went from using a term that’s by and large used in a biological sense to talk about populations to musing about how women use these things to find a suitable mate. I would’ve left in frustrated tears as well.

  • Michael

    “Male” is more general than most other terms like “guy” or “man.” It doesn’t connote the same things like age group or actions. Similarly, using the term “women” can exclude the very young.

    Male/Female is more general (less restrictive) which is why people who don’t think about it associate the terms with animals.

    If your feelings are the first thing you think of when you hear a word, rather than why someone else uses the word in the first place, no one needs to accommodate your feelings but you.

  • coyotenose

    Well, I was going to write something like “You might get a lot of incorrect self-assessments here. White males tend to have weaker feelings about labels and subtle discrimination than other groups to begin with. You’re also making them cognizant of the issue and giving them time to justify not being bothered by the word.”

    Then I checked the above and realized I’m a white male who says “male” all the time. I may have no argument 😛

  • GaR

    They’re just not very good as nouns.

  • Jeanette

    Haha, well, self-described white male or not, I agree with your argument, coyotenose. That is what I worry about the video as well.

  • NotYou007

    Really? I’m supposed to give a shit about this?

    This is getting retarded.

    I am male, read my words as I roar.

  • Calliopejane

    The reason this doesn’t work as a useful thought-experiment isn’t just about sample size or the value of introspection. The problem is that an equivalent usage will sound very different when applied to and heard by a group (here, men) who has always been accepted, welcomed, and listened to in a particular arena, as opposed to when heard by a group (here, women) that is often dismissed, trivialized, excluded and talked down to. You see this same issue when white people sometimes cannot understand why something is offensive to a person of color, as the corresponding remark about white people would not bother them at all.

    That is also why we can’t argue offensiveness or not based on the simple word here. It is ALL about context.

  • Realee

    This post is specifically about word usage and asking people to take the time for some introspection as to whether or not they find terminology, for a full week, to have an effect on them personally the larger context of the debate aside. Maybe the answer is no. It’s taking the time to consider the concern.

    As a woman I never put much thought into it prior to all this. Generally, the term female never really bothered me but I do find there are contexts where it’s not the ideal term. Word choices have an effect and sometimes it is worthwhile to consider what their full meaning is before you use them. I know I can certainly stand to do that more sometimes.

    When I read the guest post I didn’t think that the whole AA convention was rampant with sexism. Or that even the panelists where sexist people… maybe reacted poorly when defensive… I thought that one panel disappointingly missed the mark on why they were there. Even if they felt the complaint was over the top or unfounded explaining they meant no offense and considering that someone felt uncomfortable would have been worth their while, rather than dismissing it with a joke.

  • corhen

    I think, if i only used “females” it would be insulting, but i refer to women as, Well, Women, Females, galls, Girls, ect.

  • samantha

    I realize that to many women, and even more men, this seems like a pointless topic to rehash.

    It’s not.

    The use of the word “female” is an othering thing. Like the woman who stood up and objected said, “we’re all human”. If we want to talk about why more women aren’t involved in the atheist movement, let’s talk about women. The word “female” has been used to dismiss, objectify, and otherwise belittle women quite a bit. (Furthermore, although a minority, it completely eliminates trans* women from the equation, due to the implications of “female” only referring to individuals born with vaginas.)

    I don’t think it’s rational to ignore the effects language has on others. The complete dismissal of this woman’s concern was reprehensible, and what could have been used as a learning moment, a discussion point, turned into a joke at someone’s expense. Another thought experiment:
    Instead of mentally comparing the term “female” to “male”, why don’t we compare the term to any of the other marginalized groups out there? So, instead of using the proper term “Inuit”, why don’t we call them “Eskimos”? It means the same thing, right? Or instead of referring to intersex individuals as intersex or trans*, lets just call them trannies. Same thing, right? And so on.

    Words matter. Even if the general population isn’t offended by it, hasn’t considered its implications, or is perfectly okay with it, that doesn’t mean all people are. And that doesn’t mean there aren’t women who go along with the status quo because they’re afraid of being further marginalized and/or made fun of, like this woman was.

    Jeanette, above, nailed it when she said, “…this “experiment” fails because it is just one person’s perspective, one person’s perspective who can choose how to feel before they even start, and it is done from the privileged group’s perspective.”

    BTW: Just because you’ve advocated a less-sexist stance at some point, doesn’t mean you’re qualified to make blanket statements about the sexism of a comment. Just as I sure as hell can’t say to a black person, “No, the use of that comment wasn’t insulting, it was fine, because no insult was intended,” you can’t say to a woman, “No, there was no sexism implied here.”

  • Chad

    Didn’t really care, but I’m not in a position to feel threatened by it. The thought experiment doesn’t capture that. It’s not a good analogy.

  • Misty Jean

    I tend to get very upset when people call me a man or male and they are being serious. In high school, I was nicked named Misty then Man because of my big calves from playing soccer.
    Today, I appreciate it anytime someone calls me a female or that I’m feminine because I am a woman and proud.

  • Brian Macker

    No one was saying “those females” or “that female”, meanwhile they were referring to men as “males”. I think when you are at a “atheist” conference it is natural to speak of “male and female atheists”, and so in shorthand males and females.

    This is only an issue for someone riding on the victim-hood train, or someone sucking up to them, like Tom. Some people find profundity in bullshit. I don’t, and it’s part of the reason I’ve rejected Christianity.

  • Rollingforest

    Was the panel perfect? No. They definitely made some mistakes. But they were mistakes, not purposeful sexism. Let’s not forget that.

    It seems whenever the term “mansplaining” is used, it is to outright ignore anything a man said without even considering the merits of the argument. If you can reject a person’s argument just by pointing out their gender, that’s sexist.

    The panel obviously didn’t mean to treat anyone like livestock and I find it kind of offensive that people keep assuming the worst about them when they are trying to promote gender equality. If you find a term offensive, we can talk about it civilly. “I’m offended therefore I’m right” is not an argument.

    We need to consider gender relations NOW, not in the past. It doesn’t matter who was the suppressed gender in the past. The only thing that matters is how the community feels now and how we can make it better. If you continue to live in the past, you will never escape it. (for example, I have Irish heritage. The Irish were treated horribly and many were left to starve to death during the famine in the 1840s. Does that mean that I have to be offended every time an Englishman talks about the Irish? No. I don’t think modern day Englishmen hate the Irish like their ancestors did. We shouldn’t just assume that men are dismissive of women just because their ancestors were. That in and of itself is sexist.)

    If we want true gender equality, we need to consider both the woman’s and the man’s perspective. Only considering the woman’s is just as sexist as only considering the man’s.

  • MarkR

    Ok, she felt the use of the word was degrading, many thought “WTF?”, resented the accusation, and someone responded with a biting comment. Misunderstanding, life goes on. None of us are perfect.

    As far as the experiment above goes, I don’t think it’s all that relevant to how people reacted at the conference. Clearly it was news to most that the word “female” was now inappropriate, even when “male” was used for “men”.

    I value the bluntness, honesty, and the disdain for phoniness that I find among most atheists I’ve met. That doesn’t always make for comfortable encounters.

    The audience’s honest eye-rolling and moans of dismay were far better than condescendingly pretending to appreciate the question for PC reasons. That way lies madness.

  • What I noticed in the video is that the panelists were saying “men, guys,males” and more importantly “we, us, our” versus “females, women, girls” and “them, they”.

    The fact that they said females a lot more than women was a symptom of the greater implication of “otherness” for women.

    Just my two.

  • Baconsbud

    I have a question. Which of the definition for female and woman are you finding offensive? I looked at the definitions and found that woman seemed more offensive then female. A woman is seen as a servant, a female attendant, or one that cleans houses. While a female is one with two X chromosomes in their nuclei. I guess most women want to be see as the above but thought we were past that. When I say female, I am talking to people of all ages while I use woman or lady to speak of females about the age of 30 or so. I sometimes use girls to address females of a younger age. Why are people trying to make this use of language no different then the way christians try to use language to make it seem that the US Constitution is based on the bible?


  • Another Sarah

    The fact remains that men and women AREN’T treated the same. Women are more likely to be paid less for the same quality of work, their opinions more likely to be rejected, ignored, or laughed off. And why? BECAUSE of our History. When we consider gender relations NOW we MUST consider gender relations in the past. Gender relations do not exist in a vacuum. And neither do individuals. Want to draw more women to the movement? Consider your male privilege. Consider Gender Inequality. Consider its roots in religious doctrine, and acknowledge how it has shaped the way that all men and women, including atheists, interact with and amongst each other.

  • MH

    This is really silly PC language nitpicking run amok.

  • it doesn’t sound quite right, but I find nothing devaluing about it.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    My short answer is that I am not offended by the term female.

    The long answer…
    I don’t think you will get women as a whole to agree on whether the word was offensive in the context it was used. In the original issue, I found other things far more offensive, such as using biology as an excuse to hit on women.

    I could see female being offensive in certain contexts, but in those contexts I think the offensive part ends up being the context itself. My own brother can manage to make any term that refers to women, including the word woman, sound offensive.

    I think we need to get back to the original issue which was how to have a more diverse group. I think the focus shouldn’t be on just bringing women in, but also other minority groups. I also think we need to reach out to the under-educated as well. The incident should show us one of the things that keep people away.

  • Baconsbud

    I have one problem with your comment Ms Crazy Pants. Are females a minority. If I remember correctly they aren’t and in fact they hold a 4% edge on us guys. I agree we need to focus on getting members from all groups and sometimes we focus on issue which have no reason to exist. Are women repressed? Yeah some are some aren’t. Who is at fault for that? In some cases it is women themselves that cause the repression but most times it is men doing it.

  • I don’t think the use of any one word (with or without proper linguistic context) is really cause for “offense,” at least not to me (granted, I’m a man….ironic that I must mention this given what I’m about to say~).

    The only time I would ever feel any need to be legitimately offended by gender-related word choice is if the offending party spoke in such a way as to draw grievously unnecessary attention to the fact that I’m a man — i.e. if we’re at an interview for a job that has nothing to do with my gender, and they keep calling me “male” or “a man” or saying things like, “because you’re male, you might [x] or [y]”….as far as just using the terms descriptively, yeah, there are times when the right word might seem “out of context” or odd, but I hardly think it’s worthy of being “offended.” In that particular case I’d say it’s projecting.

    Now as for the video in question (the one from your post, ‘Is Female An Offensive Term’ part 1), I’m not gonna touch that except to say that I would NOT have made the joke that that guy made. A room full of people from varying backgrounds and subcultures is not a very good place to be making “in-jokes” because not everyone is necessarily aware of your sense of humor or the extent to which it informs your actions in an otherwise serious context. It’s not necessarily “rude,” but if you don’t believe me that it’s generally a bad idea, then let a white person go into a conference full of predominantly black, asian and middle-eastern people and then make an “in-joke” about white people not caring what other races are called. The reaction, I believe you’ll find, is almost guaranteed to be…not entirely positive, even if the original comment was only intended as a joke, or posed as a question (as it was in that video).

  • Amanda

    @Baconsbud: “A sociological minority is not necessarily a numerical minority — it may include any group that is subnormal with respect to a dominant group in terms of social status, education, employment, wealth and political power.” (from a quick google of the term, found on wikipedia)

    You could make the argument that women are not a minority in education, but as far as employment, social status, wealth, and political power go, we are still very much a “minority” in the sociological usage of the word.

    In regards to the post, I feel like this is completely missing the point. I am disappointed but, once again, not surprised.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    Baconsbud: I thought the initial issue revolved around a discussion about bringing in more women. I was never really worried about it myself. I know in my local group several guys have said something about seeing few women. Due to requests from others, I was thinking I needed to reach out to more women.

    If women aren’t the minority, the entire initial topic ends up being a moot point. What I’ve been hearing from everyone is that there are few women in the atheist, humanist, or free thinker groups. I haven’t taken a count myself.

    Are women repressed?

    That’s too big of a subject to be adequately covered in a forum, and there are others who are far more educated in that area than myself. All I could speak from is my own personal experience.

  • Baconsbud

    I agree that women are repressed and when it comes to select areas they are a minority. The areas they tend to be a minority are those with power to influence. Why are they in the minority socially yet numerically they are in the majority? I tend to believe that is because of religion and the teaching of the first sin. The sad part is most of the people who taught that to me were women not men. The men just seemed to take advantage of the womens willingness to play second fiddle to men. I know not all women go for that but it does seem even within the atheist community there is an element of this. I think women need to become more vocal as they did when they got the right to vote and during the 60’s when women took more control of their sexuality.

  • Grimalkin

    Once again, the issue is not whether the word “female” is offensive or not. The fact that you (Hemant) keep referring to it as such in your article titles is, frankly, rather shocking. I would have expected you to see things a bit more clearly.

    There is nothing inherently offensive about the term “female.” Nothing. It’s just a word, and words, alone, have no power. They are granted power by the context in which they are used.

    The problem we’re discussing, the issue so many people have had with this event, is that:
    1) An overwhelmingly male panel felt confident in talking about women’s experiences
    2) The issue is treated as “The Female Problem” – which I would put in the same category as other well-intentioned but oh-so-misguided ideas (such as the White Man’s Burden or the Noble Savage)
    3) The language used to discuss the topic was, even if only in jest, invoking imagery of a scientist discussing a specimen. The use of the term “female” IN THIS CONTEXT degrades women, forcing them to be subjects of discussion, rather than the objects of it
    4) Even though the topic was women’s experiences, women’s opinions were not sought
    5) When a woman volunteered her experiences, she was ridiculed and dismissed

    Once again, it’s not about trying to be the PC police, telling people that they have to use this word instead of that word. Casting it as such is simply being dismissive.

    This discussion, starting with the panel itself and continuing with the blogger reaction, is a perfect example of why so many women feel uncomfortable coming out to atheist meetings. It was the sheer amount of mansplaining I saw on the internet that made me hesitate before I joined my first atheist organization. And while the flesh-and-blood people I met once I did eventually join are not nearly as pathetic as the types who troll the internet, the same behaviours are exhibited. They are just more subtle – tempered by the lack of anonymity, perhaps.

    So if you want an answer to why more women don’t join the atheist movement, pay attention to what’s going on right now – to the way in which so many people are casting this whole discussion as one woman’s hysterics, or as an argument over semantics.

  • Nakor

    The problem with the panel was what happened after the woman spoke up about not wanting to be referred to as a female. But as far as the more direct question of this thread, it sounds really awkward to me, but only in the sense that it just sounds grammatically wrong. It’s not normal convention (around where I am at least) to use female in situations like that, so it just sort of stands out. Male would be the same way. My reaction wouldn’t be to think they were trying to be offensive, but rather to wonder why they were speaking in such a weird fashion.

  • Rollingforest

    Again, Grimalkin seems to create blanket scenario where any time a man disagrees with what a woman says on the internet, that’s ‘mansplaining’ as if men aren’t allowed to have their own opinions. It seems too often that men who support gender equality have their own take on the situation, some female feminists will write off everything they say as “mansplaining” without giving it thought, which I think is sexist.

  • Grimalkin

    @Rollingforest – Sorry, but no. Any time a man out of hand dismisses a woman’s subjective experiences in _a discussion of women’s subjective experiences_ because she’s just engaging in “really silly PC language nitpicking run amok” (as MH so eloquently put it), that’s mansplaining.

    Disagreement and mansplaining are not the same thing.

    I’ll give you an example. Earlier, you complained that the panel just made mistakes, that it wasn’t “purposeful sexism.” That’s mansplaining because you are straw-manning the issue. I haven’t seen anyone try to claim that the panel was a bunch of evil male-supremacists who hate women and were purposefully and deliberately trying to make them feel unwelcome. The fact that you seem to think that this is the criteria for determining whether sexism is present or not is a lovely indication of male privilege.

    PS: Love that you so easily dismissed my entire post as just some sort of anti-man “blanket scenario” – even though I can’t find anything I said that would indicate this. You are a perfect specimen of the “mansplainer”!

  • MV


    I’m impressed. You managed to illustrate mansplaining, a strawman and a healthy dose of “help, help, I’m being repressed”.

    The fact of the matter is that men have more privilege than women in our culture. One of the benefits of that privilege is being unaware of it. Those who have less of it don’t have that option, so by definition know more about it than those who have it. Don’t be surprised if they don’t take kindly to being told your opinions about it (and what they should do about it). As a man, I realize this and don’t take it personally. Unless I deserve it, of course.

    Men are entitled to express their opinions. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn’t been paying attention. What they aren’t entitled to is respect for those opinions. But they think they are. Sound familiar?

  • Lucy! You got manslpainin to do!

  • Gloria Manucia

    It boggles my mind that no one pointed out that Tom Slowikowski is addressing men only when he suggests that “people” should substitute the word “male” and then introspect about whether or not they feel offended.

    Perhaps that is not his intent; perhaps Hemant was rushed in his word choices.

    To me that such an “experimental design flaw” was overlooked is egregious and disheartening. But I am not surprised; this sort of accidental bias is part of the charm of humans. Even those of us who consider ourselves enlightened are likely to fall victim to it.

  • Hollynoats

    Re: “referring to people as females is likening women animals instead of humans.”

    Did I miss something? When did Homo sapiens cease being mammals? Are we not animals?

    What do we check on every single form that requires it? M or F?
    Applying for a license? M or F?
    Enrolling in college? M or F? (F? WELL! You might get an even better scholarship!)
    Have a kid? Fill out the birth certificate: M or F?
    Do you check OTHER and write in woman/lady?

    We are animals. We are humans. M or F doesn’t change either of those truths. It’s just a way to differentiate genders. Voila!

    But… It’s all about context! If the context of the talk is about making women uncomfortable, what term is less sexy than FEMALE? It’s so simple. There are no questions about it. Female! End of story.
    They’re skating on thin-ice anyway for being called horn-dogs, so, seemingly in an effort to use the most scientific and NO-NONSENSE term, they fucked it up even more.

    There’s no winning.

    Personally, I don’t like it when people call me “young lady” or “miss” but these people are strangers, I don’t have any emotion invested in them, I don’t take it home with me.
    If it were someone I knew, someone I would continue to encounter, I would make it known that I was uncomfortable being called “XYZ” … And if they didn’t listen after that, then I would be upset.

    People just need to be adult about the situation they’re in and have a conversation. All situations are going to be different. There’s no black & white with this one.

    /my 2 cents.

  • MarkR

    I’m confused. So are you saying that the woman that stood up knew that the men using the term “female” considered the word at least as value neutral as “woman”… and she was still offended by it?

  • Rebecca

    Again, the frustration with this event is so not about the word female vs. woman.

    If the issue of being hit on isn’t a significant problem, and being bullied isn’t a significant problem, and being ridiculed isn’t a significant problem, being objectified isn’t a significant problem… then what exactly is keeping all of these elusive atheist women away from atheist groups?

    I thought the lone female panelist made a really interesting statement that she was “protected” from these things by being married. I have found that the same is true even for the non-sexual aggression among men in atheist meetups. When my husband attends an event with me, the other men in the room rarely demean me or diminish my perspective, nor are they as angered/annoyed when I disagree with them. (Politics, feminist issues, you name it.)

    I don’t know what the hell that means, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway. Maybe someone else can explain it or suggest an alternate interpretation.

  • I don’t think it translates. It just simply isn’t the same. Except for that it’s creepy to call people “male” or “female.”

  • Rollingforest

    It should be noted that it isn’t just that there weren’t equal numbers of women there at the conference, its that there are less women in general who are out of the closet atheist. There are several theories why this is true (such as the theory that women are more social and thus gain more from church communities) but no one really knows why. Atheist communities are fairily liberal and thus less likely to be sexist than society at large, so I don’t think that in and of itself keeps women away. It could be that because being an atheist is socially frowned upon, it is less acceptible for women to rock the boat than for men.

  • Lana

    Guh. I’m getting so tired of the attention this is receiving. Everyone is losing sight of the larger issue in focusing on the specific incident.

    Look, I’m a female. And a feminist, humanist atheist. Personally, I don’t see how the terminology used — “female” — is devaluing, insulting, or demeaning. That is the scientific terms for those of the XY persuasion. It seems to me they were trying to be politically correct in referring to women as such, especially given that “woman/women” has a loaded history within the feminist and religious cultures. I definitely agree that the panelist’s joke was ill-timed, and I can certainly sympathize with the woman’s frustration — but I think in focusing on the term “female,” everyone is losing sight of the much more important and larger issue:

    Atheism, as a movement, espouses humanist and egalitarian ideals. Unfortunately, there is noticeable hypocrisy in the actualization of the recognized movement leaders and the ideals — women and minorities are seriously underrepresented, and once again white male privilege is running rampant. That is the real issue at hand, and the once that needs to be addressed; not the semantics of how to refer to gender.

  • Rollingforest


    I do believe in gender equality and I am open to others opinions, so demonizing me is unfair and not helpful to the conversation.

    If the panel wasn’t purposefully being sexist, then why accuse them of acting sexist? Why did Lyz and Sharon write such an angry post if it was just a misunderstanding. If it’s a misunderstanding between the groups then they can compromised on it. “I’m offended so I’m right” is not an argument. If something is bothering you, talk it out and try to come to an understanding. Don’t just accuse the other person of being hateful.

    The problem is that all too often men’s opinions are just written off when discussing gender because since they have been declared privileged in this situation therefore they are considered too blind to understand things. Even when the man is supporting gender equality. Even when he has the facts on his side. If I guess if the term ‘mansplain’ was used correctly all the time, that would be fine. But it is normally just used as a conversation stopper, which is not how atheists should debate things.

    If you weren’t making a blanket statement then I apologize, but the fact is that too many people are when they use that term against men whenever they have another opinion in a gender discussion and that’s sexist. But calling me names is equally unfair.

    Look at John’s comment. Instead of trying to debate me, he decided just to be an asshole. That’s the problem.

    @MV: All of those things you accused me of, I could say exactly the same thing about you. That’s how ad hominem they are.
    “One of the benefits of that privilege is being unaware of it”

    That sounds an awful lot like “You can’t truly understand God unless you believe in him” or “if you stop believing in Christ then you never were a Christian to begin with”. Just a way of saying “you aren’t intelligent enough to understand” which I think is unscientific.

    Yes I agree that men have privilege in some areas. Women also have privilege is a few areas (car insurance prices or more importantly the draft). Feminism has succeeded in making the genders more or less equal in many areas (voting, college ect). Ignoring that disrespects their work.

    You saying “they [women] don’t take kindly to being told your opinions about it” seems to directly contradict “men are entitled to express their opinions”. If you can ignore anything a man says just by writing it off as mansplaining, then that is sexist.

    If a person has privilege in a certain situation, then show factual evidence of it! Saying “you can only see privilege if you don’t have it” is unscientific and mythical. That isn’t how atheists are supposed to think.

    @ John D : Don’t be an asshole. If you think that you are allowed to reject anything a man says then you are being sexist. Mocking men who express their opinion turns them away from feminism.

  • Greg

    Just on the subject of the ‘term’ ‘mansplaining’:

    Do I have to point out that the very definition is sexist? That the very construction of the word is sexist? That by using it, rather than breaking down walls, you are building them up? Hopefully I shouldn’t, but it is the greatest irony that it is used by so many people in an equality movement.

    One of the reasons I don’t get involved whatsoever in these kind of conversations any more, is because all I have to do is disagree with a certain type of feminist, and – no matter how detailed I show my reasoning – I get told I’m ‘mansplaining’. And that’s even when I agree with their conclusion, but disagree with their reasoning to get to the conclusion.

    I just don’t have the stomach for it. Even if I am wrong, I’m not told why – just thrown an ad hominem. Which leaves me thinking that I was probably right, and they didn’t have any argument against what I said. Naturally that makes me just not bother in the first place, feel aggrieved, and leaves me a bad impression of feminists.

    Accusing people of ‘mansplaining’ doesn’t help – you end up driving away more potential allies than enemies.

    Now I’m sure I’m going to get accused of ‘mansplaining’ in this post, so I think I’ll leave this thread alone now. Like I said, I don’t have the stomach for it.

    But if you think I’m ‘mansplaining’, then you’ve got the wrong end of the stick. I’m just trying to show you why I think the term ‘mansplaining’ is only going to make things worse, and cannot make things better.

  • I think it is largely a numbers game. Numbers define the context. When a woman enters a room full of men for what is supposed to be a cultural event, the first thing she thinks is “Wonderful, a room full of pathetic losers”. When the men in that group see a woman enter, they think “Thank God, a woman showed up”. In either case, the numbers at play define the context and how each gender perceives the others. If the numbers had been more evenly matched at the beginning, the context and resulting perceptions would have developed very differently. The solution is hard because it is a catch 22 situation. More women would feel comfortable if there were already more women in the movement. Short of bussing “them” in (sorry for using the “them” word), perhaps all that can be done is to be very sensitive about the gender make-up of panels and perhaps be smart about whose faces you put forward to the public.

  • Ms. Crazy Pants

    This post was the first I’ve heard of the word “mansplaining,” and even though I understand the definition of it presented, I do have to agree with the guys in that term is offensive. I see that one on par with calling a woman a bimbo.

    I can see some situations though when I might even be tempted to use that word. Again, the explanation that it’s just the fault of biology for hitting on women sounds like it would fall under the term “mansplain,” but I could see better ways of explaining that using biology as an excuse is incorrect and offensive. Either way, it’s an ugly word, even if it’s describing an ugly situation, just like the word bimbo.

    I think the panel discussing the original issue should not have been using the term “dick” when telling guys how to behave. I think it just needs to be explained that our groups are not for picking up dates. There are atheist dating sites online…use them. I don’t think just saying “Don’t be a dick” really explains to the guys what’s wrong with hitting on women at atheist get-togethers and why. If the entire panel was women, would have the term sounded a bit sexist?

  • Craig Evans

    I’d encountered this naming convention many years ago… in a science fiction novel…
    Humans and genetically modified chimps and dolphins were referred to in gender as:

    “mels” and “fems”

    No guys or gals, men or women, male or female.

  • TychaBrahe

    One of the topics that frequently comes up on this blog is atheists in the US fighting for their freedom not to practice a religion. The First Amendment guarantees religious liberty in this country, but we are constantly having to fight to not have school graduations held in churches, to not have symbols of religious belief erected on public lands or with public funds.

    Imagine that in a discussion of these types of situations, that a Christian said to you, “I don’t have a problem with religious discrimination. I attend a different church from my boss and my landlord, but it’s never been a problem.” Would you think that an incredibly stupid statement? Of course a Christian feels little or no religious discrimination when Christianity is the dominant religion.

    Let me also point out here that while in certain circles words like “Christianist” are used derogatorily, in general in our society the word “Christian” is seen as a good thing. Having “Christian values” is a good thing. “That’s so Christian of you,” describes kind and generous behavior. Contrarily, the adjectives “heathen” and “ungodly” are often used to describe wild or rude behavior.

    If an atheist objected to being called “ungodly,” which, if the word had no pejorative meaning, could be seen as a simple statement of fact, it would be silly for the Christian to counter with, “But I wouldn’t mind being called ‘Christian’ or ‘godly,’ so why do you find this offensive?” It’s not the literal meaning that is necessarily offensive, but the pejorative way in which the word is commonly used. (We might even refer to this as Christian-splaining.)

    Suggesting that because men would not mind being called “male” that women should not mind being called “female,” skips over the fact that even in our modern society, words associated with femaleness are commonly used as insults. Do you think in the WNBA that women who play too aggressively are accused by their coaches of having “boyish” behavior? I highly doubt it. But I have personally seen coaches try to motivate male players by telling them they are acting like “girls” or “ladies.” Women are generally not accused of acting like “dicks,” but men are often accused of acting like “pussies.” Is that any less offensive than referring to things you don’t like as “gay?”

    If calling you something you’re not is an insult (calling a straight person “gay” or a “faggot”, calling a man or boy “lady” or “pussy”) that person has privilege and the actual members of the group which name is used as a pejorative does not.

    People who have privilege can’t understand what the experience of not having it is like. Some men have created female online identities and written about their experiences. John Howard Griffin took medication to make him appear African-American and journeyed through the segregated South, documenting his experiences in Black Like Me. These “experiments” are few and far between, and while they can be eye-opening, a man masquerading as a woman online always has it in the back of his head that he can escape the harassment simply by logging in under his own name.

  • jose

    This reminds me of how all threads discussing FGM always end up with everyone talking about circumcision. I thought this was about the panel, about women in the new atheist wave, etc. Not about how offended men feel about the word mansplain. Could you please talk about how offended and oppresed men are in another thread? This one was interesting.

  • Julie

    Rollingforest: “It doesn’t matter who was the suppressed gender in the past… If the panel wasn’t purposefully being sexist, then why accuse them of acting sexist?”

    Are you trying to be absurd, or are you really just that naive? Between these comments and actually thinking that the fact that your last name is O’Flaugherty somehow gives you insight into how women should experience the world, you’ve got to be one of the most hilarious examples of someone who is profoundly ignorant of their own sexism I’ve ever seen.

  • Brian Macker

    “When a woman enters a room full of men for what is supposed to be a cultural event, the first thing she thinks is “Wonderful, a room full of pathetic losers”.”

    I doubt it. I’ve never walked into a room full of women or blacks and immediately thought “what a room full of losers”.

    Context matters. Atheist groups were not put in place as dating sites, or socials. If a woman walks into a group, sees a majority of men and jumps to the unjustified conclusion of “losers” then that is her problem.

  • Carrie

    While I don’t think the term female is offensive, it does strike me as odd that anyone would use it when speaking instead of women (female atheists sounds natural, females sounds silly).

    It makes me think that the panelists were Ferengi.

  • Brian Macker


    “Once again, the issue is not whether the word “female” is offensive or not.”

    Not according to the “experiences” being communicated by the woman questioner in the audience. She was communicating an offense to the use of the word female. When in fact up to that point the word was used in a perfectly reasonable and non-demeaning way, as was the word male. As in male and female freethinker/atheist.

    “When a woman volunteered her experiences, she was ridiculed and dismissed”

    She did not communicate the words you have put in her mouth. In fact your first sentence actually contradicts the experience she was communicating.

    Women aren’t some collective who have automatic insight into what every other member is thinking.

    The best people to ask about why they didn’t show up at the meeting didn’t show up at the meeting. Anyone sitting on the panel speculating about it regardless of gender is unqualified to do so.

    Another point is that just because people experience things a certain way does not mean that was what was actually happening. Everyone laughed at her (including lots of women) because it was clear that her internal experence was out of whack with what was actually occuring. THe term female was not being used in a degrading fashion.

    “It was the sheer amount of mansplaining I saw on the internet that made me hesitate before I joined my first atheist organization. ”

    So you don’t show up because you are a misadrist. That I can understand.

    “So if you want an answer to why more women don’t join the atheist movement, pay attention to what’s going on right now – to the way in which so many people are casting this whole discussion as one woman’s hysterics, or as an argument over semantics.”

    A woman objected to the use of the term female as it was used in the discussion. For example, one guy said “female freethinker”. This was ridiculous and an argument over PC semantics. Then she broke out crying when she was rightfully ridiculed for it.

    So you object to rational discussion of what really happened. Not our problem.

    Your problem is that you want everyone else to think the way you do about things, irrationally and as mind reader. We don’t, and frankly I can’t, and quite analogously to why I can’t bring myself to believe in a diety. I know it’s not true, like I know your characterization of events is false. I just got done watching a woman nitpicking semantics in a politically correct fashion, and crying because the crowd turned against her nonsense.

    One of the reasons why churches have broader social appeal is that the culture is not to question anything or anyone. Therefore personal bubbles are not likely to be popped in public like this. You are right. If you don’t want the heat then stay out of the kitchen.

    Some men, a rare minority, have a different attitude about such things. It’s expected that in issues of long statisitical tails that their might be major differences with women in this regard. This doesn’t make it wrong. It just means that atheists meetings don’t end up being a good place to meet with women. I can live with that 1) Because I don’t go to these meetings. 2) Because I’m married.

    Why are you so upset over this stupid comment by a woman that you are trying to cover up for her? You aren’t responsible for her thought processes, and it’s no reflection on you. There are plenty of women out there perfectly capable of explaining why what she asked was ridiculous. You don’t have to think like a collectivist on this. We (men and women) can object to her question and laugh at it without it being a reflection on all women. This is not about claiming a general hysteria in women.

  • Easy now Rollingforest –

    I was just making a silly joke about the word “mansplainin.” It is a silly word so I made a silly joke. I was not directing anything at you.

    I actually agree with your opinion on this topic. Please refer to my other posts.

    I am occasionally a proud and vocal asshole… but in this case I am falsely accused… :^)

  • Daniel K.

    It certainly is fun reading all the comments here. All the things that come up.

    On this occasion I would like to make fun of all the women finding sexism everywhere and bitching about the oh so terrible suppression of women in the society. I think its the other way round. Women enjoy far more advantages than men.

    You complain about getting paid less for the same amount of work. What bullshit, call-boys and porn actors earn considerably less then call-girls and porn actresses. They do even more work, all the humping is tiring. Women just shift position now and then. INJUSTICE!

    Women can rise up in ranks quickly just by offering sex. Men have to actually work. INJUSTICE!

    You complain about not being taken as seriously as men. Well, if men were wearing the clothes you wear we wouldn’t be taken seriously at all. INJUSTICE!

    “Oh nice, you got the candy from the kind grandma, how sweet.” vs. “WHAT!? You got the candy from the creepy geezer, CALL THE POLICE!” INJUSTICE!

    A woman can slap a random dude in the face and everyone would think he is a douche and deserved it. Then the woman would get free drinks and be the center of attention. A man can slap a woman in the face and get immediately beaten down. Then the woman would get drinks and be the center of attention. INJUSTICE!

    If somehow all cows in the world die women could make their own milk. INJUSTICE!

    Finally, I would like to explain why the humanist/atheist movement lacks female members. It’s because most females believe in supernatural shit like fate, karma, astrology, unicorns, love at first sight, ect. Rationalism says they can’t have that, so they stay away. Furthermore their interests narrow down to twilight, reading about the newest affair of some famous person, taking long bubble baths, fashion, diets and remorseful snack attacks.

    To attract more female members I suggest creating a mascot like Jesus, but specifically altered to attract our target audience, the common female. So lets start with Jesus. Topless is good, just needs more muscles, and glitter. He should also be a vampire, but one that does not kill women, he just makes love to them. And he should be immune to sunlight, so he can go to the beach. Throw away the cross, it kills the mood. Beard has to go too. He should ride on a unicorn. Pants and hairstyle should change according to latest fashion. Also needs nice shoes. Women love shoes. Oh wait, Jesus was the son of a carpenter, lets make our mascot the son of a shoemaker, even better. Lastly, the name. Lets leave it at Jesus, but pronounced the Spanish way “Jesus”. Sounds so mysterious, so wild, yet so comforting and familiar. Perfect, that will get us all the bitches.

  • ACN

    Don’t feed the troll.

  • Brian Macker


    “I thought this was about the panel, about women in the new atheist wave, etc.”

    Read the title of the article, “Is Female an Offensive Term”, then adjust what you think to correspond to reality.

    “Not about how offended men feel about the word mansplain.”

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if I dismissed your comment on the grounds that it was “womensplaining”, on a thread about finding offense in gender terminology.

    “I thought this was about the panel, about women in the new atheist wave, etc … Could you please talk about how offended and oppresed men are in another thread? This one was interesting.”

    Which leads me to wonder what private conversation is going on in your head because this

    I do take away from your last sentence you total lack of interest in the ways men are oppressed and a total lack of care about offending them. Which makes you guilty of a double standard. You can’t whine about female offense and oppression if you don’t care about the issue in general as applied to all groups. Otherwise it is merely a mechanism to give women a privileged status in the true sense of the word privilege. As in “Heads I win. Tails you lose”.

    There’s no need to wonder why men who are interested in the hard sciences don’t take minors in women’s studies. The discipline fails the most minor tests of objectivity.

  • I have to agree with many of the commenters. This vid is completely missing the point.

    What happened at that panel is exactly why women and people of color don’t attend atheist settings: we feel uncomfortable.

    This does not suggest that people in these atheist circles deliberately do this. I have attended many atheist meet ups where sexist and racist comments were made but i am not suggesting that those folks are members of the KKK.

    there is a thing called privilege and this is exactly what is. We cannot talk about sexism or racism without discussing privilege.

  • jose

    “you total lack of interest in the ways men are oppressed and a total lack of care about offending them.”

    I have a total lack of interest in people who step in a post where something about women is being discussed and start taking over it with off-topic comments about their problems.

  • Brian Macker


    How about we label your evil little heartfelt explanation of “mansplaining” which totally mischaracterized Rollingforests quite reasonable interpretation of events and non-straw-man arguments. We’ll call that womansplaining.

    Of course the only rational response to someone as irrational as you is to mock it. That’s why the Daniel K. just got done mocking all the bull on this thread. Ironic how much whining about dismissing “experience” without valid perspective is being done by those who have zero perspective on what it means to be a man.

    Oh, here’s a hint for the blag hag. If you don’t want your cleavage stared at then don’t wear something that exposes it. Next they’ll be expecting men not to look at their butt cracks when they wear a tramp stamp reading “fuck this”, a thong and low riders. I’m not joking about this twenty years ago we were arguing that the next thing the left was going to be doing is telling us what to eat and say. The day has come.

    Screw you and your double standard morality. You want to have the social mores of the Taliban then dress in a burka.

  • Brian Macker


    “I have a total lack of interest in people who step in a post where something about women is being discussed and start taking over it with off-topic comments about their problems.”

    Total baloney. He didn’t just out of the blue start talking about his problems. Grimalkin posted a vile comment about him. A comment that quite explicitly violated a standard that was quite on topic.

    She not only used an offensive invented word, but used false reasoning and factual claims to try to paint “Rolling Forest” argument as an unreasoned dismissal based on misogyny, all the while showing quite explicit misandry.

  • Brian Macker


    Your views lack any correspondence with reality and are quite immune to clear demonstration of their falsity. You have no clue what the article is even about. I don’t see why you bother taking interest in reading anything anybody has to write in the first place. Maybe you should go to feminist echo chamber site if all you are looking for is an affirmation of your biases.

  • jose

    …And so the thread drifts, and women’s problems and concerns are mocked, dismissed and finally ignored yet again.

  • Reading through all of these responses has affirmed a growing realization for me: people’s belief and non-belief in a deity plays a small role when compared to other key values and perspectives. I’d rather spend my time with a bunch of folks who actually understand and care about multiple forms of prejudice and oppression rather than a group of people who only share my disbelief in a god but are largely clueless about the experiences of those outside of their particular demographic slice of humanity.

    C’est la vie.

  • Brian Macker

    “It makes me think that the panelists were Ferengi.”

    They weren’t using the term the way the Ferengi do. Ferengi use female as a pronoun when speaking directly to a woman.

    No they sounded more like the feminist used to when they referred to us men as “males” all the time. Something they still do. Do a web search and educate yourself.

    I’m going to have to insist at this point that anyone complaining about the use of female point out the specific usage that was offensive, in context. For example if someone says “Atheists male and female need to be represented” then tell me exactly what that sentence is and what you find objectionable about it.

    To claim that they were using the word female like a Ferengi would is to mischaracterize what I just got done listening to.

    The most “objectionable” thing I heard was when someone on the panel said “girls” but then also said “guys”. So what? This is not the same as referring to a woman as a girl by a long shot.

    I’m not going to talk or write with some politically correct special in-group sanctioned syntax, the whole purpose of which is to make language a minefield for people who disagree with their quite unbalanced rantings and “concerns”.

  • Brian Macker


    “…And so the thread drifts, and women’s problems and concerns are mocked, dismissed and finally ignored yet again.”

    You don’t speak for all women. Just the ones who can’t think straight, or read the title of an article.

  • Brian Macker

    “I’d rather spend my time with a bunch of folks who actually understand and care about multiple forms of prejudice and oppression rather than a group of people who only share my disbelief in a god but are largely clueless about the experiences of those outside of their particular demographic slice of humanity.”

    What makes you think you understand? What makes you think others don’t. You a mind reader?

    Women aren’t some morally superior race, nor blacks. If you don’t think males and whites experience prejudice then you live in a sheltered world. I just got done raising two boys to college age and school consists in large part in devaluing their culture, and painting them as moral inferiors for behaviors that other races have practiced from the beginning of time.

    I was the victim of a racial assault when I was a kid, and I betcha you are totally blind to all the overt racism displayed by blacks. Many blacks take actual pleasure out of making complete strangers uncomfortable around them. For example, making angry glances at every white male that walks by.

    Sorry unlike you chumps I’m not going to internalize your racism and sexist bigotry against me.

    This whole idea that whites or males can’t understand or empathize is bigoted. What I can’t empathize with are double standards, projection, political correctness, and misattributing cause and effect.

    Meanwhile there are blacks who agree with me. Which falsifies your thesis.

    You are just playing the old Marxist game of dismissing your opponents as bourgeoisie, instead of addressing a single argument. Except in this case you dismiss whites, males, and uncle Tom’s like Thomas Sowell.

    Don’t now complain that you were taken in the wrong fashion. You are the one who wrote a general not specific comment. You’re the one who expressed a desire to cocoon yourself.

  • Brian, folks with perspectives such as yours are widely available and easy enough to encounter. I happily admit to the need for a bit of “cocooning.” It’s necessary for a bit of sanity sometimes.

    Although, please continue your current speech if you like. It reminds me of the people in my family and people in the community I grew up in.

    Home sweet home.

  • Alexius

    I think the term “mansplaining” has its uses. For example, any discussion of women in video games quickly leads to mansplaining, and I would say that when my fiancé counters my statement that women are often afraid to walk alone at night with how he was similarly repressed by a female manager he once had who played favorites, then I think that’s borderline mansplaining. Here? It’s a nebulous subject and I’d hesitate to use it for the most part – like “female” it’s context-specific. I find the us/them thing more troubling, and as an earlier commenter said, if the male panelists decided that all of the issues they brought up were dismissible, then why do we still have a problem with women in the atheist movement?

    For my part, I prefer not to have my gender referred to at all, but if it must be, then “woman” as a noun (I doubt they were debating how to make young girls feel more included) and “female” only as an adjective to clarify a more important noun.

  • Alexius

    Since I can’t edit a comment on the iPhone in time, apparently:

    Essentially I think the problem is that the use of an adjective as a noun suggests that the speaker believes this quality to be the most important characteristic of the subject, in the same way that calling people “blacks” or “gays” suggests that those are the most interesting things about those people.

  • Rollingforest

    @Jeff P : But why must a group of men be defined as “a room full of pathetic losers”? Why revolve everything around gender? Can’t a room that is half men and half women also be “a room full of pathetic losers” or just awesome people. If the women at the meeting don’t want sexual advances, then why would they rate a group of men by their ability to sexually attract women? I thought the whole point was to make the meetings about atheism and not about dating.

    @Julie: Again “You’re a man, so it’s impossible for you to understand” is sexist. And “just accept everything I say or I’ll slander your name” is a hit job, not a rational argument.

    @ John D: Sorry if I was too quick at firing back, but I don’t want people believing lies about me. In a more personal setting where I knew you were kidding it would be okay. But in this emotionally charged debate, I guess it is too easy for everyone to misinterpret what you are saying.

    @ Daniel K: regardless of what your point may be, I have to admit that your post was fun to read.

    @dantresomi: could it be that women are uncomfortable coming to atheist events because most people are male, regardless of what the men do? I’ve known many instances where a white person is uncomfortable among black people simply because they feel out of place. Similarly, a black person might feel out of place among whites if they are used to being in an all black environment. So it may be that no matter how the men act, women are going to be uncomfortable. Perhaps instead of focusing on how to change the men, we should instead be focusing on how to reach out to more women.

    @ Jose: Discussing how women feel about a situation is fine. But that doesn’t give people the right to slander or misrepresent men to do it. Why can’t we just respect everyone of both genders?

    @ timberwriath: Yes, everyone should seek to understand other’s perspective. But when I am doing it for them, I expect them to do it for me too.

    @ Alexius: If the term ‘mansplaining’ was always used correctly, I wouldn’t have a problem with it (though making a negative word out of “man” and “explaining” is a little sexist). But too often the term ‘mansplaining’ is used to refer to anyone who is male who they disagree with, ignoring anything that that man may have said, and I think that’s sexist. Also, there’s the double standard that no one would accept the term ‘womansplaining’ but they are often happy to accept the term ‘mansplaining’.

    Also, if a person assumed that the only possible reason why less women are coming is because the men are sexist, that theory is, well, sexist. There are less women atheists out of the closet in our society, so of course there are going to be less women at atheist meetings. It is wrong to blame that on the men at the meeting. Are there things that some of the men could do better? Sure. But that’s true of some of the women at the meeting as well.

    Using an adjective as a noun doesn’t necessarily suggest that that person feels that that is the most important quality about them. If I say “males in colleges are more likely to join a Frat than they used to be” that doesn’t suggest that that’s their gender is the only thing interesting about them. The same goes for other races and genders.

  • Rollingforest

    @TychaBrahe: But your claim only holds true if the term “female” was seen as derogatory as the term “godless”. I would argue that a random person in our society would be far more likely to be accepting of a women than they would be to be accepting of an Atheist.

    I think you are correct that “playing like a girl” is an example of sexism. (though I’m not sure I agree with your other point. women often refer to men as acting like ‘dicks’. How is that any better than a man being referred to as a ‘pussy’ by other men?). But if you were to ask a random man “do you think a woman could be a good president?” almost all of them would say yes. If you ask a random Christian “do you think an Atheist could be a good president?” the majority would say no. That’s the difference.

  • Miguel

    people always find something to find offensive….. those males… those men… those females, those women… no. They are not offensive. If a ‘Female’ finds it offensive then suck it up. (And FYI, for the sickos out there, No pun intended).

  • beckster

    Here’s a thought experiment.

    Everyone think of several words that describe you.

    Now men, how many of you thought of the word man first? How many of you thought of something that you do (teacher, doctor, dad, etc)first?

    Women, how many of you thought of the word woman before something that you do?

    I am guessing far more women define themselves first by their gender and then by what they do. This is what it means to be a member of a privileged group. You define yourself by what you do first rather than some unchangeable characteristic like gender, sex, race, or sexual orientation. This may explain why women are more sensitive to the terms others use to describe their sex/gender than men are. (Hopefully this thought experiment works as it is supposed to)

  • @Jesus Fetus Fajita Fishsticks – You are awesome.

    Pointing out the obvious FTW!!!!

    I didn’t even notice that the “Jen” herself uses the term… and she uses it often.

    Can we end this debate now? It is so obvious that there is a double standard here that the debate about the use of “female” should be considered closed.

    And… the next person to accuse someone of “mansplaining” better be prepared to justify their blatant sexism.

  • As a female, myself, I have no problems being called a female. I also refer to men as “males” in certain contexts. I do think that, in general, if you are using “men” to refer to males, you should use “women” to refer to females. It just seems weird not to but I wouldn’t assume that either choice of words dehumanized me.

  • Guest

    @Jesus Fetus Fajita Fishsticks

    The objection is to using “female” as a noun, not an adjective.

  • Anon


    The paragraph has one underlined “female” that is used as a noun.

  • Zietlos

    Sigh, you double-x’ers and x-y’ers are all crazy. I mean, first the affronted double-x’er uses the offensive term to describe their own ilk, while the ilk of the x-y’ers are not allowed to? Is “female” the double-x’ers word? Are x-y’ers not allowed to say “their” word?

    Really, it seems niggardly to focus on that. I am an x-y’er, have been as long as I can remember, though personally I think being a double-x’er would be awesome to try out, just to see the other side of things. It is difficult for an x-y’er to see from the perspective of a double-x’er, but the reverse is of course also true. Chromosomism exists on both sides. As the Avenue Q song goes: “Bigotry has never been exclusively white”. The same applies here. While wage gap falls into the favour of x-y’ers, double-x’ers could have a compensating factor, perhaps pursestring gap falls more often into favour of double-x’ers. That is theoretically, double-x’ers, for possibly variety of reasons, make less than x-y’ers, but should the two be in direct comparison, it is more accepted for a double-x’er to spend an x-y’ers money than the reverse.

    …Do you SEE how annoying that gets after a while? There is a reason we use male and female, boy and girl, lass and lad, woman and man, dude and dudette, lord and lady, p**** and c***, b**** and b******, king and queen, XX and XY. And those are pretty much the common usage pairings outside nobility titles. English has so many near-synonyms that can be adapted to fit any situation. So many tools. Use ’em well. Well, I’m going to for now insist any misogynists and misandrists (Look! Another pair!) on this board begin fixing themselves by identifying people only by genetic code, even if that makes one of my friends a “Double-x-y’er”.

  • Aj


    Essentially I think the problem is that the use of an adjective as a noun suggests that the speaker believes this quality to be the most important characteristic of the subject, in the same way that calling people “blacks” or “gays” suggests that those are the most interesting things about those people.

    You’re right about characteristics, wrong about adjectives. Female is a noun, and nouns can convery characteristics. “Woman” has the same problem, and I agree that the human cultures that I know base their languages and actions around gender, gender roles are a large part of these cultures. Males and females, wear different things, act differently, and talk differently, language is just following us. We could always refer to a person or people, perhaps when our culture has progressed.

  • Lauren

    To attract more female members I suggest creating a mascot like Jesus, but specifically altered to attract our target audience, the common female. So lets start with Jesus. Topless is good, just needs more muscles, and glitter. He should also be a vampire, but one that does not kill women, he just makes love to them. And he should be immune to sunlight, so he can go to the beach. Throw away the cross, it kills the mood. Beard has to go too. He should ride on a unicorn. Pants and hairstyle should change according to latest fashion. Also needs nice shoes. Women love shoes. Oh wait, Jesus was the son of a carpenter, lets make our mascot the son of a shoemaker, even better. Lastly, the name. Lets leave it at Jesus, but pronounced the Spanish way “Jesus”. Sounds so mysterious, so wild, yet so comforting and familiar. Perfect, that will get us all the bitches.

    +1 Daniel K. You rock my world..

  • Alex

    To me, as a woman, to be called a “female” for no practical reason when anther word could be used equally, it seems as though I’m being carefully removed from the human population. “Female” is OFTEN used by men as a form of insult and I have had this happen to me numerous times, it’s often used to make some baseless generalization (females can’t drive, how typically female, you can’t trust females). Think about the way Quark uses the word “human” in Star Trek, and yes I know that’s a nerdy analogy but it works. Female has come to mean less-than-male.
    Forgive me if I’m wrong about you personally, but atheism tends to lead us toward humanistic principles, we’re shooting ourselves in the proverbial foot if we allow women to be treated as second class nonhumans.

  • Zietlos

    Alex: Really? Whenever I opt to make disparaging sexist remarks, I tend to say “women”, if plural. “Gah, women can’t drive!” to me, sounds far more fluid and easier to say when one cuts you off in traffic, than “gah, females can’t drive!” See how much smoother the former sounds? Really, though, I tend to err on bad driving assumption of male, though, and say something like “Damn cocky bastard”, since it is hard to check genders of people while driving safely and I default to assuming my own gender.

    And no guys I know say “How typically female”. Now, some do say “Women, eh?”, which expresses the idea much quicker. And similarly, I’ve never heard someone say “you can’t trust females”. “Bros before hoes”, sure, that’s a common one about trusting.

    I’m male. But in this case, it is not “mansplaining”, since you say men say these things, I assume to each other since to a women you’d get shot or slapped or stabbed. …At least around here. Women in these parts sometimes only get 6 months in prison for Murder One, including time already served. If some guy goes up to you and says to your face “females can’t drive”, slap him. One sexism in your favour is a woman is entitled to slap any man for any reason whatsoever with no repercussions.

    Sure, you’d be kind of a bitch, but funny thing about negative reinforcement: You beat down enough people, and the rest get the message. Even if it only sends it to the back of their minds, not vocalizing it, it will help future generations since it won’t be vocally reinforced.

  • It sounds a bit stilted and formal to substitute the word “male” for all other designations of the gender but it really doesn’t bother me beyond its clumsiness.

  • Aj

    1. “Female” was used as a neutral noun for over a hundred years.
    2. Jane Austen and Emily Brontë used “females”.
    3. Merriam-Webster suggests that it was argued against because journalists were using it, they were using it because of confusion between “women” and “ladies”.
    4. The word “women” was pejorative, class and status specific. Woman also means “servant”.
    5. The argument against it makes no sense.*
    6. Who are you, anyone, or some Victorians to say what language is correct?

    * The argument is that because “female” doesn’t explicitly denote humanity, using it is dehumanising. Yet as this is clearly not the case as a rule. Referring to “he”, “she”, and “they” are perfectly acceptable. “Hunter” is a noun used to refer to a human, a horse breed, or a working dog. We use context all the time to implicitly suggest attributes, and not only that but not explicitly referencing all attributes does not deny them.

    The issue is not with the meaning of the word, but with deference, it’s about social prohibition and authority. It’s like insisting that people refer to your rank, outside of an official setting, or social class. In this case there seems to be a hierarchy of the animal kingdom we must keep referring to. Personhood is not about the labels that are used, it’s about the rights that entails.

    On the first point it was right to dismiss the objection as obviously fallacious. On the second point we should be asking ourselves why then and now are people trying to control our language. Why is it important at all to being up at an atheist meet? Especially when there was a discussion of how males treat females at these events.

    p.s. The arguments against using “woman” and “women” are better.

  • lookadeez

    pretty stupid experiment. At first I was gonna try it, til I tried in a sentence “he’s a good male”– I wouldnt even use females like that. I rarely ever use “female”, and when I would, I would likely say “male” as well for the opposite sex.

    #fail…. or #fefail

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