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I recently watched an interview where the interviewee (a native speaker from the US) used the word female to refer to a woman. Instead of describing the context of this word usage, I will point you to directly to the source (or more precisely to the last minute of it): Henry Rollins: The One Decision that Changed My Life Forever

Why did he use the word female instead of woman when he said "…maybe I would have gotten some female pregnant"? Could it be that it is meant to be understood in a (slightly) pejorative way?

  • if he had said woman instead of female, would that be pejorative? – JonMark Perry Apr 7 '16 at 11:59
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    It depends on whether it's said with a sneer or not. – Hot Licks Apr 7 '16 at 12:01
  • (In that use it's quite "neutral".) – Hot Licks Apr 7 '16 at 12:05
  • @Hot Licks Connotations depend on the hearer as well as the terms involved and the mode of delivery. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 7 '16 at 14:37
  • (I am curious as to why you focused on this one word in an interview that runs 7 minutes and is apparently a part of a larger set. What's the significance?) – Hot Licks Apr 7 '16 at 17:01
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It can be, and it certainly comes off as such in your example.

Male/female are more often used as stand-alone nouns in detached situations like medical or in scientific studies where people are studied, effectively, as animals. When describing someone as simply male or female where we would expect man or woman, the effect is a bit dehumanizing. By taking the person out, and leaving just the gender (understandable and even desirable in some circumstances, e.g. studies), he ends up describing this woman reduced to her animalistic/biologic properties of baby incubation.

Seen a different way, consider the difference between when a policeman says "I saw a male running down the street" (interpretation: more likely criminal) versus "I saw a man running down the street" (interpretation: more likely morning jog).

  • Very clearly and eruditely expressed. Well done. – WS2 Apr 7 '16 at 16:04
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It's all about context. "Female" and "male" might apply to non-human animals; "woman" and "man" specify humanity. There's nothing inherently wrong or pejorative about "female" and "male," and often they're perfectly appropriate. But in some contexts, other features of a statement may lead the listener to question the choice of the less specific word.

Most people won't object to these usages:

"I'm female."
"The student identifies as female."
"I just feel more comfortable with female advisors."

In your example, other elements of the statement create a dismissive tone.

"...maybe I would have gotten some female pregnant."

"Some" is already generalizing. Had he said, "Maybe I would have gotten a woman pregnant," he would have more neutrally suggested the same possibility; by using "female" here, Rollins leads the audience to question why he didn't use the more specific and humanizing word.

  • I'm guessing that "gotten a woman pregnant" was simply not a phrasing that would occur to him, and "gotten a girl pregnant" would have invited (even more) invective. – Hot Licks Apr 7 '16 at 12:28
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    I think your examples don't quite fit the question because in them you use female in an adverbial or adjectival manner while in the video female is used as a noun which (at least in my subjective experience) adds a certain flavor to the meaning that you don't get with adverbial/adjectival usage. If he had said "…maybe I would have gotten some female person pregnant" it wouldn't have the same effect on me (although it would sound kind of awkward in another way). – zepp.lee Apr 7 '16 at 12:35
  • @HotLicks I doubt that... "gotten some girl pregnant" doesn't sound nearly as bad, probably in large part due to "girl" being readily applied to women up to 30 (or older). – guifa Apr 7 '16 at 12:36
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    @guifa - If you listen to the recording there is absolutely no hint in the inflection to suggest that the term "female" is intended to be derisive. – Hot Licks Apr 7 '16 at 17:24
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    It worth remembering Rollins is (from Wikipedia) a musician, writer, journalist, publisher, actor, motivational speaker,television and radio host, spoken word artist, comedian, and activist. Shame to focus and pick on just one word. – k1eran Apr 7 '16 at 21:46

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