Is "female" a bad word?

William Safire accuses feminists of ruining our own name. Plus: Good news on Helen Thomas and the FDA's Office of Women's Health!


Page Rockwell
March 20, 2007 5:11AM (UTC)

New York Times Magazine: Sounding about 127 years old with the crotchety factor to match, William Safire tackled the terms "woman" and "female" in this Sunday's "On Language" column, lamenting/generalizing that "feminists everywhere have begun to turn on the word female." I wasn't aware that Feminist Central had issued a position paper on the "female" thing, and was kind of surprised; while I sure hate the use of "female" as a noun, and I can see why describing the "female voter" might seem more reductive than the more individual-sounding "woman voter," I don't necessarily mind "female" as an adjective. Anyway, Safire rebuts this feminist wave with words from linguist Robin Lakoff, who notes, "Since we feel so strongly (still) that a president is necessarily male, every time we say 'woman president,' we reinforce that view: that only a man can be commander in chief, symbolize the U.S. (which is metonymically Uncle Sam and not Aunt Samantha, after all) and make it harder to conceive of, and hence vote for, a woman in that role." An interesting point, though I don't immediately see why saying "female president" is any less male-normative. Thoughts?

Huffington Post: Venerable White House Press Corps reporter Helen Thomas got her front-row seat back this weekend! And, as our tipster noted with satisfaction, "Fox News stays in the second row."

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Babble, also thanks to a reader tip: Washington state is mulling Senate Bill 5659, which would require businesses to "give eligible employees up to 5 weeks of paid family leave to care for a new baby, adoptive child, ill family member, spouse, or for personal sick leave." If the bill became law, the state would cover the costs through a (2 cent per employee per hour) hike in payroll taxes.

BBC: Groups like Britain's National Christian Alliance on Prostitution report that increasing numbers of women in the U.K. are being coerced into sex work under threat of being sold into sex slavery abroad.

HealthDay News: Anorexia and bulimia, usually considered young women's -- and sometimes young men's -- illnesses, are increasingly affecting middle-aged and older women. Doctors and researchers aren't yet sure whether a generation of eating-disorder sufferers is just now hitting middle age or some women are turning to unhealthy habits in response to menopause or life stress.

Washington Post: The Maryland Senate narrowly voted down a bill that would have eliminated religious restrictions that "prevent spouses from remarrying after obtaining a civil divorce." State Sen. and bill sponsor Lisa A. Glidden says she proposed the legislation to protect Orthodox Jewish women, "who said they were unable to obtain a divorce because their husbands would not grant them one," the Post reports. On the flip side, the state senators who voted against the bill expressed understandable reluctance to mix church and state.

Washington Post, again: It's too rare that the current crop of policymakers make the right choices regarding women's health, but happily some FDA staffers came to their senses late last week and decided to fully fund the Office of Women's Health, after initially seeking to cut its budget by 25 percent.


Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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