It was claimed in this comment on this meta thread on The Workplace SE (referring to this Workplace question) that it is insulting to refer to women as "a female", instead of "a woman".

She's female. She's a woman. She's not a female. Google "women females" for further details.

The poster then later posted an answer to the question, which ended with this comment:

All this in mind, I've reverted JakeGould's edit. And please remember that the OP is a woman or female but she's not "a female"

However, there appeared to be significant disagreement with the poster in the threads on the offensiveness of the phrase.

Is it considered insulting in general to refer to women as "a female", and if so, under which circumstances is it so?

Additionally, would the degree of offensiveness change if the implicit noun was added, making the phrase "a female person"? Would any offensive implications be changed, if the masculine versions were used instead (e.g. a male or a male person)?

  • 8
    Related question, Can “female”/“male” be insulting?
    – user140086
    Dec 10, 2015 at 9:36
  • 1
    @Josh61 I read that article, but I am having trouble understanding why it would be considered insulting (I have absolutely no issues being referred to as a male or an Asian). The grammar seems to be perfectly fine, considering that the noun is implicit. Saying "an Asian" or "a German" are similar examples.
    – March Ho
    Dec 10, 2015 at 9:36
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    As you have found, different people find different things insulting, so answers to this question are inherently opinion-based; there can be no objective answer unless one says "some people find it offensive therefore it is." But in some circumstances and for some people that's not true.
    – Andrew Leach
    Dec 10, 2015 at 9:49
  • @AndrewLeach Hence the question about "considered insulting in general".
    – March Ho
    Dec 10, 2015 at 10:04
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    The male/female word choice is usually used in demographic research or medical terms. In conversation man/woman is common. As Andrew Leach said above this is a opinion question and there is no direct answer. All I would add is that calling a woman a female is not inherently offensive as would using curse words; but context is everything and if in context a speaker means it to be offensive it will be.
    – Skooba
    Dec 10, 2015 at 13:41

1 Answer 1


What's offensive is deeply personal. What offends depends on who you're talking to, on your relationship with them, what about, and what you really mean.

Unfortunately, it also depends on the words you choose to say it with. Which is dumb. It's called PC or Politically Correct. Scanning your speech for banned words or phrases and censoring them will not keep you from being a bigot.

It will only keep your opponents from being able to take cheap pot shots at you. The way the news media works that can be critically important. Which is ridiculous but true.

But it doesn't mean that this is any good way to judge people. People's careers get destroyed because in an unguarded moment they repeat a phrase they've heard without knowing it's history. "Hug the tar baby" has been repeated by people that had no idea they were wandering into one of the most racist and hurtful expressions I've ever heard. Should everyone who's used it lose their job? Should I be banned because I used it just now?

If you think so, I apologize. But I ask for your tolerance. Please take the time to think deeply about what I've said before you label me a bigot.

Words can hurt. They do have power. They can kill.

But they can be twisted. They can be misunderstood. They can be taken out of context. And they can be laid like traps to bring down those unaware.

So, with this in mind I'll say, "I'd like to get a female perspective". Since I am a male and I don't care if a woman or a young girl provides one.

You may start shunning me now.

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