Originally Published on CLUTCH in 2010.
I like him. He’s a giver, and sweet, and always checking to make sure I’m OK. We have awesome long conversations about all kinds of things that don’t necessarily center on my politics (insert dreamy eyes). However, as Angela Davis asserts, politics, specifically our personal politics, insinuate themselves into our everyday lives regardless of if we would like them to or not. That being said, dating while being a feminist can be a very tedious, and often emotional, experience.
Case in point, my new boo uses the word “female” instead of “woman.” The first time I heard him say it I blinked, but decided to hold my tongue. I am a person who attempts to deal with gender politics from a vantage point of intent. I understand that most men do not mean to insult or demean women when they make patriarchal statements. I am also fully aware that many black men are able to clearly identify and pronounce racism, and its associated oppression, but often have a very difficult time recognizing and addressing gender oppression. For these reasons, I always find it difficult to determine when to speak on such comments or behaviors, and when to allow things to flow forward. After our early morning conversation I decided that his use of “female,” and how it makes me feel as a woman, is a talk we should have face to face. In the interim, I thought I would cover with you why I prefer to be called a woman instead of a female.
Historically, both nationally and internationally, black women have been denied access to womanhood. We have certainly served in every capacity that one believes a woman should serve in, maybe more so than any other women on the planet. We have been breeders, cooks, and cleaners. We have nursed many a child (and adult), both the products of our wombs and not. We have been partners, working beside our men in fields and factories, while still maintaining our obligations at home. Within our struggles for freedom, we have also struggled for our humanity. For these reasons, I am sensitive about being referred to as a “female.” I feel that it challenges my personhood, a personhood that my mothers and I have had to fight to establish and maintain for generations.
Someone asked me this morning as I contemplated my feelings on this topic: Don’t female and woman mean the same thing? Well, not exactly. A female is defined as: “of, relating to, or being, the sex that bears young or produces eggs.” It is a biological definition that denotes one’s sex. The “one” in that sentence can refer to any animal with the capacity to reproduce. Woman, however, is described this way: “the female human being (distinguished from man).” In observing these definitions, one can conclude that being called a woman establishes humanity. I am human. I am woman.
Some men, and even women, will dismiss this word choice desire as something overblown. Does it really matter? Do we damage women by calling them females if we don’t have malicious intent in doing so? I have talked to men who have dismissed the need for this distinction as much ado about nothing. My response to them is to use an example of how words challenge one’s identity. I remind them of black men marching through Southern streets shouting and carrying signs that simply read: I am a man. I ask them how would it make them feel if a white man, today, called them “boy.” Would these black men, who have also struggled to be recognized as men and not things, dismiss that word choice as being no big deal since said white man holds no malicious intent. I argue that the answer is no. We must remember that all of the “isms” are founded in a desire, whether conscious or subconscious, to continue institutions of hierarchy and power. We are fighting the same battles here. We have to be tender with one another. It is how we have survived, it is the only way we will continue to do so. Therefore, when you speak of me and my sisters, please use the word woman. I thank you in advance.