9

I listen to BBC Radio 4 a fair bit. They pretty much always use "woman" as opposed to "female" - like "a woman pilot".

To me this just sounds completely wrong, and most stuff I can find online about it seems to agree with me.

My first thought was that there might be a gender equality reason for saying "woman" (Radio 4 is fairly good about promoting gender equality), but if there is one, I can't find it. I found another question that almost suggests the opposite - that "woman driver" is a derogative term.

What do all y'all think? Do Radio 4 have a reason for this or are they just being sloppy?

  • 2
    The only reason I can think of always using woman instead of female is to specifically imply that the person or persons being referred to are adult females. Female has no implication of age whereas Woman does. – Doc Nov 18 '13 at 16:35
  • @Doc do you think "woman" is a more legitimate adjective than "man"? Because "a man pilot" just sounds entirely wrong. Maybe with a hyphen? "a man-pilot"... but certainly no direct replacement for "a male pilot". – Robin Winslow Nov 18 '13 at 16:38
  • Personally, both sound wrong to me. That said, I believe it is technically proper and correct. If it were me, I'd use male/female and if I felt it was necessary would also specify adult such as "an adult female pilot". That said, I would think that when discussing pilots and drivers it is safe to assume the person is adult. As such, you would only need to specify that the person was NOT an adult if necessary. – Doc Nov 18 '13 at 16:44
  • 1
    I listen to Radio 4 too, and haven't noticed this. But what annoys me is the opposite case, the use of e.g. male as a noun, especially prevalent in crime reports. – DavidR Nov 18 '13 at 16:55
  • 1
    @KristinaLopez My point is, you're creating a straw-man. In most cases a person's skin colour is actually not relevant. By bringing it up, you're highlighting race. I don't think relevant details should be left out, or that people's racial differences should be ignored (black people are unlikely to have melanoma, even if they have similar symptoms), but I do think that often people are all too aware of peoples' race and it propagates discrimination. – Robin Winslow Nov 19 '13 at 14:02
7

The only reason I can think of always using woman instead of female is to specifically imply that the person or persons being referred to are adult females. Female has no implication of age whereas Woman does. Technically, the use of woman in place of female (in cases such as you point out) is acceptable and is proper english; however I believe many native speakers would agree that it comes across as awkward. It's a rather atypical use of the word.

That having been said, if it were me, I'd use male/female unless I felt it was necessary to indicate age. In such a case I would also specify adult such as "an adult female pilot". However, I would think that when discussing pilots and drivers it is safe to assume the person is adult and as such, you would only need to specify that the person was NOT an adult if necessary.

  • 3
    A fried of mine mentioned that in specific cases where the difference between biological sex and gender identity is important, a "woman pilot" might be one who identifies as a women, whereas a "female pilot" would be biologically female. However, in the majority of cases this distinction probably isn't relevant. – Robin Winslow Nov 19 '13 at 14:39
-2

They are just being sloppy. In Merriam- Webster online dictionary the definition is this:

1 a : an adult female person b : a woman belonging to a particular category (as by birth, residence, >membership, or occupation) —usually used in combination 2 : womankind 3 : distinctively feminine nature : womanliness 4 : a woman who is a servant or personal attendant 5 a chiefly dialect : wife b : mistress c : girlfriend 2

As you can see, woman can not be interchangeable with female as an adjective because woman itself is not an adjective

  • 1
    Other dictionaries define "Woman" as either a noun or adjective, and the Oxford English Dictionary specifically states that it can be used as a modifier (oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/woman?q=woman): [as modifier]: a woman doctor [with modifier] a female person associated with a particular place, activity, or occupation – Doc Nov 22 '13 at 18:42
  • @Doc +1 for both this answer and the comment. The English language is not standardised, and I personally don't think it should be. However, if all dictionaries say "female" is an adjective and only some say "woman" is, you'd think people should just go with the consensus. – Robin Winslow Jan 8 '14 at 14:13
  • 1
    @Doc Arguably, those dictionaries are wrong, though obviously it can function attributively (like any noun). As an aside, the dictionary you've linked to is not the OED; oxforddictionaries.com is an interface to various Oxford dictionaries including the ODE and NOAD, but not the OED. – snailcar May 19 '14 at 2:13

protected by tchrist May 19 '14 at 1:35

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.