I remember the first time I saw a woman complain about the word ‘female’. It was on twitter and she was ranting about how it was offensive to refer to women as ‘females”. At the time, I rolled my eyes to the back of my skull and sighed as people began to bash feminism.
Fast forward a few weeks, and I started to see her point. I realised that whenever the word female was used in a tweet, it was only in a derogatory manner. Besides, it is not grammatically correct to say a female. A female what? A female sheep is a ewe. A female lion is a lioness. A young female human is a girl. An adult female human is a woman. Using females just sounds daft.
My outrage was short lived though. I soon realised that it is not the word that is offensive, rather how it is used. Banning the word will not erase the offensive feelings that drive it. A person who uses female in a derogatory manner will simply transfer the feelings to the word “woman”. Then what? We ban the word woman? We cannot allow words and symbols associated with us to be overtaken by negativity. We cannot simply stop using a word because some people start using it negatively.
I then began to see this pattern everywhere. So many groups are discarding certain words and fighting to be disassociated from them because of the negativity they imply. How many times have you heard someone say “I am not a feminist, I prefer to be a womanist/humanist/blahblah”? More often than not, these people are rejecting the word feminism because of the negative stereotype attached to it. So they think referring to themselves as womanists will insulate them from the negativity of the word feminist. The problem here is that feminist in itself is not a bad word, it is what it stands for that offends people. Simply changing its name will not change the perception.Whatever variation of the word will still receive the same hostility given to feminist. It will only be a matter of time before people start to talk about the womanazi.
I have also noticed this issue with dwarves. For a long time, I knew one of these words-dwarf, midget- was considered offensive, but I could never remember which one it was Then I read somewhere that they were both offensive and that they would rather be referred to as little people. I am very reluctant to refer to a dwarf as a little person. That sounds so patronising to me, especially if the person is not a child/older than I am. I started wondering how exactly the words came to be offensive. Dwarfism is a biological condition, it is not a slur coined to degraded those with the condition. How then did dwarf become offensive? Midgets are dwarves whose limbs are proportional to their bodies. Again, how did this become offensive?
My opinion is that society is not as kind as it could be towards dwarves, thus making the word acquire a negative connotation. I can just see people using dwarf as an insult. Is it any surprise that they wish to distance themselves from the word? Midget was also acceptable once upon a time, but slowly became an offensive word too. I read somewhere that young dwarves use midget the way black people use nigger. It is offensive so you cannot say it, but we can.
Again what needs to be changed is the attitude towards dwarves, not the name. Changing the acceptable word changes nothing, if people still harbour negative feelings. These feelings will simply be transferred to “little people”.
Calling a woman a bitch is offensive, because the word means female dog. Nigger is also offensive because it was coined to be so. There are other offensive words like these. However innocuous words should not be discarded simply because they have been hijacked and made to have a negative connotation. The sentiments will follow us no matter how much we distance ourselves from the words.
I will still roll my eyes when I see someone talking about ‘females’(ugh), but I won’t go on a longwinded rant. It is just not worth it.