Female (derogatory)

Women join together in the face of uncertainty. Photo courtesy of Hannah Busing.


Surround yourself with a group of young men, and I can absolutely guarantee you that within the first hour, you’ll begin to start hearing the word “female.” The vapid and cruel way that it leaves their mouths as they begin to degrade and tear down women could make anyone shudder. But, when you bring up the fact that the way they say it is insulting, they see nothing wrong.

Why is that? How has this innocuous word become yet another way for women to be targeted? And, on an even more unbelievable note, how are young men not understanding the issue at hand?


The word female is used to describe sex assigned at birth based on anatomy, but also in reference to animals that can bear children or eggs. Now, I understand that we humans are technically animals, but I’d prefer to not be referred to on the same level as cattle out in a field. It’s dehumanizing and rude that young men are being allowed to live in the narrative that this type of language is acceptable. 

The issue here is not a technical one, but one of morals, one of character. The world has continued to allow the abuse and belittling of women to pop up decade after decade in new ways every time. The next generation of young men should be trying to stop these social issues, not creating new ones. 

The ignorant and frankly tone deaf approach that men have continued to take towards this issue is the reason that women are still an oppressed group. When women speak about the verbal abuse they’re forced to endure, a man’s only obligation should be to genuinely listen. 

Furthermore, men who refer to women as “females” almost exclusively do so in a secretive, backhanded manner. The guilt is so apparent that men don’t even realize that it’s controlling them. Never have I heard a man call a woman a female to her face, only in reference to her when she’s not around. 

The most concerning part about this is not that men are using the word female. It’s the context in which they are using it. Young men are establishing an entirely new connotation around the word that further continues the shameful way women are looked at in our society. 

I spoke to Rahul Konakanchi, a first-year finance major at Butler. The men’s opinion on this issue is the one that’s the most crucial to analyze. We talked about whether he and his friends had used the word female in reference to women. 

“It was one of my friends,” Konakanchi said. “It was a joke thing …  I didn’t say it to her face.”

There are a few things wrong with this. But I think the part that bothers me the most is the subconscious recognition that this is an insult, alongside the verbal response that it’s not that bad. He’s saying it’s a joke, and it’s innocent, but in the same sentence says he wouldn’t say it to her face.

The use of the word female in a derogatory manner is even more problematic when it is applied to people who do not identify as women. 

You may be saying to yourself, “Well, female is still the technical term for a woman.” It’s not technically wrong, as many people who identify as women were assigned female at birth. However, sex and gender aren’t synonymous. Gender is the internal identity and expression of oneself, and forcing a label onto someone is one of the most damaging parts of this word when used in a degrading context. 

Dr. Ashley Hutson, a lecturer of sociology and criminology here at Butler, teaches “the F-Word: what is feminism?” first-year seminar course, which focuses on the history and evolution of feminism. Hutson expressed her opinion on how men use the word female. 

“To refer to an entire group and reduce that group to assumed reproductive functions is to … assume someone’s sex without grounds to do so and therefore invalidate anyone who does not align within the gender binary,” Hutson said.

Hutson’s perspective shines a light on how young people using the term female helps to reinforce patriarchal values that damage them through toxic masculinity. In turn, men don’t even realize their own self sabotage when it’s staring them dead in the face. 

“It is dehumanizing to people of every gender and … assigned sex,” Hutson said.

While the use of this word in such a context is an attack on women, it’s damaging to other genders as well. It puts people into the box of women whether they identify with it or not and reduces them to the most biological aspects of themselves. 

Hutson briefly discussed the issues that this language has caused in the classroom as well as in her personal life. 

“I’ve made really intentional comments on [gender studies-related] papers,” Hutson said. “I have had to, in the last few years, actually make full announcements to classes that deal with sex and gender to recognize that there is a difference between the two and provide a rationale for why it’s important to distinguish between the two.”

It’s disheartening to think that this rhetoric has become such an issue that Hutson is having to include it in the first few weeks’ curriculum. 

I also spoke to Grace Granato, a first-year biology major. She brought a unique perspective of the use of the word female by young men in a college campus setting, noting that it felt to her like more of a biological classification than an acceptable descriptor of personhood. 

“Being a woman is something people take pride in,” Granato said.

The idea that being minimized to “just” a female destroys pride in being a woman and feels like a stab in the heart. The use of this term is an attempt to strip women of any feelings of pride so they cower as they did hundreds of years ago. Furthermore, this issue affects marginalized communities more, like women of color and trans women. These communities of women struggle even more to feel a sense of pride in their femininity, and this problem just makes it even harder. What should be the real eye opener when examining this issue is the attempt of men to make women feel as degraded as possible. 

Change at the systemic level is where the most progress can happen quickly. Recognizing that people in power aren’t addressing this issue effectively is our obligation as a society to start making change. 

Sexual Objectification 

The most interesting part about interviewing one of our fellow male students is the fact that midway through the interview, Konakanchi began using the term female as interchangeable with derogatory terms for women. It was almost hard for him to understand the difference between the two. 

This further supports the ideology that men have continued to carry: that women are merely sex objects. Konakanchi stressed to me that women are much more than that, and he does not view them as such objects. However, the proof is in the pudding.

Especially in college, this type of language is a huge issue. Hearing young men on campus talk about women usually makes me physically uncomfortable. It’s hard to sit still when listening to the vulgar and completely disrespectful way in which they address women. And these discussions are almost entirely about sex. It almost feels like, as a woman, you’re walking around with a huge, red bullseye on your back. 

In college, a lot of young women feel like they are the prey that men are looking for every chance they can to pounce on. With all the change, confusion and loneliness a lot of young women feel upon entering college, it makes them an easy target for sexual assault. This also affects women of color and trans women disproportionately as they are more susceptible to these attacks than white women.

Women are constantly viewed as sex objects above all else. So it should be no surprise that there is a correlation between the use of female focused derogatory speech and sexual assault.

Kylie Knuth, a first-year biochemistry major, says that rape culture and the objectification of women through language are undeniably related. Knuth talked about how the use of the word female makes her feel and how using this word in a derogatory context reduces women to less than what they’re worth. 

“I would feel as if I was just an object or [being used for] my physical anatomy,” Knuth said. “I think that, in a way, when men use that term, it justifies that I [should] not feel as equal to them as a gender.” 

Insults towards women tend to be related to sexual activity. Whether it’s about a woman’s history or what a man would like to do with her, it’s nearly impossible to listen to a man talk about a woman this way and not feel reduced to an object used solely for pleasure.

Knuth makes an interesting point that the use of this term makes her recognize the disparities between her and men. This brings to light the underlying feelings the men have towards women, that we are not equal. 

While language is not physically harming anyone, it does force women into a very tight corner. It makes them decide between internalizing the problem or potentially putting themselves at risk by standing up against this issue. On top of that, it promotes the disgusting patriarchal views we’ve had as a society for far too long, which allows men to live in a world where their misogynistic and violent behavior is encouraged and not looked down upon.

The majority of the word female is made up of the word male. And in this situation, it’s rightfully so, as the majority of the responsibility to change things falls on their shoulders. Whether men view it as a pressing matter or not, they are indirectly allowing the men who look up to them to continue this tradition of disrespect and ignorance.

So, correct your friends. Recognize that this issue starts on the interpersonal level and if we can change the way we interact with each other, maybe we can change how the world interacts with us. 

In the end, it’s a war on women, and the only way we have a fighting chance is if men start joining our side instead of working for the patriarchy. 


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