As a consciously feminist act so that women are not reduced to their reproductive capacities, the word 'woman', which is generally accepted and used cheifly as a noun, is used in place of the word 'female', and 'woman' is used as an adjective to refer to women who are artists, philosophers, etcetera --- for example in these two sentences:

'Yes, she was one of the very first women philosophers of her generation'.

'She helped womankind so much by employing her skills and talents as a titanic woman theologian as which we all know her today, and as which she will certainly be remembered forevermore'.

Whilst reading Plato's Republic, I noticed that Plato used the word 'man' and 'woman' as adjectives to modify the noun 'guard' when he was speaking of how women and men ought to be trained in the same things such as education so that they can become the greatest Guardians in the State of which he is thinking up.

But whilst using 'woman' as an adjective doesn't irk me too much, using 'man' as an adjective sounds too... silly. However, I will not use 'woman' as an adjective if I am not going to use 'man' as an adjective because I want to use the words in a way that suggests equality between men and women. I think using 'woman' as an adjective and not using 'man' as an adjective would be very sexist towards men.


Sorry if this ends up as a rant.

You have realised what feminists call man as the default. In that if you don't say the word woman it is taken to be a man (unless you are discussing such things as cleaning or caring).

The man who has it all (twitter) is an excellent parody of this situation, it uses the word man in exactly the way you suggest, to show how stupid it feels in our society. here is a link of a pair of t-shirts, one saying programmer and one saying "man programmer" male programmer, wont work if you use an ad blocker

Now to the advice:

I would honestly only mention the sex of a person if it actually mattered, so in your philosopher example the fact she was a woman was notable as it made her a first. other wise I just wouldn't bother.

I think using 'woman' as an adjective and not using 'man' as an adjective would be very sexist towards men.

In fact it is very sexist toward women, as it is saying I don't need to tell you the sex of this person

"it is a man, it is always a man, unless we tell you otherwise"

I am going to give you a riddle, if you haven't heard it try to solve it first.

A father and son were in a car accident where the father was killed. The ambulance brought the son to the hospital. He needed immediate surgery. In the operating room, a doctor came in and looked at the little boy and said I can't operate on him he is my son.

Who is the doctor?

Spoiler below:

it is the MOTHER
When people are asked this riddle they often come up with a pair of gay fathers before coming up with the mother.

And this is why saying man doctor sounds silly because we ALL KNOW doctor means man unless it is adjusted.

Like the night is dark unless someone tells us the full moon made the night bright enough to travel by.

  • 3
    This doesn't address what I understood to be the main point of the Q., namely the use of man v. male as an adjective, compared with the use of woman v. female as an adjective. I do not agree that 'male doctor' "sounds silly": as indicated in my comment below the other answer, I think that man doctor sounds more unusual that male doctor, whereas woman doctor does not sound more unusual that female doctor. – TrevorD Apr 14 at 19:27
  • We’are getting used to “woman” as a substitute for female. But if a computer programmer programs computers and so does a woman programmer, what does a man programmer program? – Xanne Apr 15 at 5:51
  • The expression man midwife was used in the 18th century, meaning a doctor specialising in obstetrics as distinct from a traditional midwife without formal training. – Kate Bunting Apr 15 at 9:00

Can one use 'man' like one can use 'woman' as an adjective?

Yes, according to the below taken from a dictionary that seems to address the question quite precisely.

When circumstances make it relevant to specify sex, woman [...] is used, the parallel term being man: Men doctors outnumber women doctors on the hospital staff by more than three to one.


  • I agree with the Questioner's dilemma in that, in your quotation, "Men doctors ..." sounds 'slightly unusual' (for want of a better expression) and I would have expected it to read "Male doctors ...", whereas "women doctors" does not sound 'unusual' in the same way, and I would not think either "women doctors" or "female doctors" to sound 'out of place. – TrevorD Apr 14 at 19:13
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    @TrevorD I find there to be awkwardness about both 'man' and 'women' before such nouns. It seems to borrow the construct from terms like 'philosopher king' (which I would write 'philosopher-king'). Consider the oddness of both 'man nurse' and 'woman nurse'. I think that, if sex is relevant, I would go for 'male' and 'female' in all such cases. But in my answer, I just stick to what a dictionary says. – We oath to creation Apr 15 at 5:08
  • 1
    I don't dispute that 'male' and 'female' are probably the best option if gender is relevant. Also, I do not disagree with anything in your answer. My previous comment was merely expressing my current thoughts. I'm British: I don't know where you're from, but I wonder whether different English-speaking countries have different preferences here. – TrevorD Apr 15 at 22:45

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