If not used when misgendering, making unasked for assumptions about gender or in a hostile context, can usage of the words female/male be insulting?

More specifically: can a non-native speaker be accidentally insulting by using female/male describing human genders, for example in a internet discussion.

Background: In my native language Swedish, the term used for animals' genders differs from the one most commonly used to describe human gender. If you would use the words for animal gender for a human it would either sound a bit weird/unusual/humorous or insulting/demeaning depending on context. I used Google Translate for:

  1. Swedish (the terms used for animals)->
  2. English (got female/male)->
  3. Swedish (got the terms used for humans).

I could interpret this as English lacks the distinction but human-specific gender-words exist in English as well: woman/man. A quick websearch show me a lot of usage of female/male for humans so clearly it can be used without being odd/insulting. In order to avoid being accidentally insulting in the future: are there times when I should not use female/male for humans?

Edit: Found an example of someone (seemingly) offended by "female" in the comments to this question (Look for user33333) Word a male can use to refer to a female that is not old or young (girl/lady/woman)

  • 3
    This question is entirely unanswerable without context. Who are you talking to? In what dialect and register? Where is your example sentence? Absolutely any word at all can be insulting in proper context, you female daffodil.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 11:11
  • 1
    Okay, so how would you say in Swedish, "Is that giraffe male or female?" and "Is that human male or female?"
    – Ricky
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 11:11
  • 1
    "Male" and "female" are used for humans, mice, insects, and electrical connections. The terms are not generally considered insulting. Note that there is no "undetermined sex" term, however, nor is there an "undetermined sex" version of "he"/"she".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:04
  • @RegDwigнt I altered the question, it includes why "female daffodil" does not apply. Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:13
  • @Ricky "Är det en han- eller hon-giraff?" and "Är det en man eller kvinna?". Similarly for gendering young animals and human babies: "Är det en hona eller hane?" and "Är det en flicka eller pojke?" Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 12:21

1 Answer 1


I think the issue in your link is referring to people with the terms "a female/females" or "a male/males," used as nouns rather than as adjectives. This can sound somewhat clinical or reductive.

If you Google the term "feeemales" (which represents a stereotypical pronunciation of this) you'll find people generally use it when trying to parody misogynists/clueless sexists.

The words "male/female" are generally not taken as offensive when used as adjectives to refer to body parts, conditions or ideas associated with human men/women. (Examples: "the male/female body," "male/female voice," "male/female depression")

When referring directly to men or women, there is sometimes a choice between using male/female as adjectives and using man/woman as noun adjuncts. Using a noun seems to be more common for women than for men (see this question for more details: Female adjective re job title). But in general, using the adjectives male and female should not be offensive, provided that there is a reason for mentioning the person's sex at all: phrases like male authors and female authors are commonly used.

I also found a Reddit post by someone who claims they find the word "feeemales" "repulsive." Not a good source for grammatical analysis of the word, so just ignore all of that, but it's a source that shows that this attitude you've noticed does exist.

  • "feeemale" seems like a form of sarcasm which I'm not sure is all that applicable to the OPs question.
    – DA.
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 5:03
  • @DA. well, it might be significant that it is not "wooomen." Then again, "women" can be said in an insulting tone.
    – herisson
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 5:48

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