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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?

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    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, 2013 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". Nov 18, 2013 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, 2013 at 16:44
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    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, 2013 at 16:55
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    @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. Nov 19, 2013 at 14:02

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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.

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    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. Nov 19, 2013 at 14:39

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