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Remember back in the day on Saved by the Bell when Jessie would get on A.C. Slater about using the word “chick” and other slang terminology, instead of woman, to refer to her and her female classmates? Boy do I wish there was a show on TV now that could address the same issue with the word “female.” Black-ish are you listening?

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened. All I know is one day I logged onto the Internet and suddenly in the eyes of men — most of whom are black — women no longer existed. We were all just a bunch of females — organisms that produce eggs, no species (you know, like human being) specified. One would think that distinction would be explanation enough for why the use of “female” in reference to women is problematic. But try engaging a group of men who still casually use b-tch, ho, and thot to refer to our gender and you’re sure to only walk away with one outcome: a headache.

Two arguments usually rear from the human male species in this debate. The first is a tired line along the lines of “every woman is a female but every female isn’t a woman. Simply using that argument proves men know there’s a certain level of degradation associated with the use of female. And yet, many would rather offend the masses by choosing to use female as a blanket term for all women rather than elevate the status of one they deem to be nothing more than a female to a woman. Because God forbid female homo sapiens be granted unearned dignity in their gender-bias hierarchy. The second argument in this debate is often that the use of female is just a semantic preference and holds no real weight as far as how the man feels about the opposing gender. I wonder if those men would feel the same about a white man calling them “boy” or worse.

Word choice is rarely just about preference. The way we choose to refer to people affects the way we treat them and is a reflection of how we see them. This is evident in the way our male counterparts pride themselves on growing from a boy to a man and why grown men take offense at being referred to as anything less. It’s the reason the notion that fathering a child doesn’t automatically make one a dad comes up every Father’s Day and lives on in the absentee father debate. It’s the reason women don’t want to be stripped of their humanness and referred to as females.

When you strip away a person’s humanity, it gives you license to do with them as you please. I wouldn’t go so far as to say any man who refers to a woman as a female is a rapist or abuser or a proponent of gender inequality, but I do believe there’s a link between such language and the pervasiveness of rape culture, sexual violence, and domestic abuse. If I don’t see someone as human, I can treat them inhumanely, even if my subconscious doesn’t recognize that’s why I’m behaving a certain way. One might see this connection as a stretch, I’d argue that while it may be low-hanging fruit on the tree of gender oppression, it’s still a variable that plays heavily into the way in which many men treat women. And the way in which men argue for the right to refer to women as such is just as shameful as white people questioning why they can’t call us the n-word. The history of “female” may not as dark and deep-rooted as nigg-r, but the incessant desire to use both says a lot about one’s character. The sheer fact that so many women feel the hair stand up on the back of their neck when they hear a man refer to them as a female and communicate as much should be reason enough for men to stop. But if it were that easy, we wouldn’t still hear men argue that street harassment is just a misunderstood compliment — the misunderstanding being on the part of women, of course.

The pervasiveness of female in everyday vernacular isn’t a problem we can blame on rappers, and though I’m inclined to call for a ban on memes like #FemalesBeLike I know that’s not the answer either. And I certainly won’t argue that this behavior would go away if women stop answering to that label or referring to other women as such themselves because it’s time out for monkey-see-monkey-do ignorance. The bottom line is men need to take a look around. It’s “females” that are raising them. It’s “females” arguing their lives matter when police in cities all over the world demonstrate behavior to the contrary. It’s “females” who are raising their children and if that mother isn’t doing a good job, just know that reflects poorly on you as the father as well.

I’m not one to police words used in a moment of passion because in those times we tend to not be thinking clearly and virtually anything can come out of our mouths. But when, in casual conversation, the go-to word for members of the opposite sex among men has become “female” something is very wrong and the trickle down effect very grave. If, when in a sober state of mind, referring to women as nothing more than organisms that produce offspring is your M.O. you have a problem. It doesn’t matter if that’s all you heard growing up, it doesn’t matter if that’s all the men around you now say. If you want to call yourself a man, part of the responsibility of that title is to recognize your female counterpart as a woman. If no one ever told you that before today, let us be the first ones to spread the news. We are woman, not female, and if you keep referring to us as such you will hear us roar.

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