The "Woman" Question

I hate "women". I hate "women doctors" and "women professors". I hate "women bishops" and "women presidents", both in potential and reality. They are wrong and unnatural. And "women" does not belong there.

I am, of course, referring to grammar. Grammar and much much more. For it is not just because of the rules of grammar that I find the use of "woman" or "women" as an adjective frustrating. In fact, a noun can be an adjective, especially if it is in common use (the classic example is 'chicken soup'). However, one is not supposed to use the noun if there is a perfectly acceptable adjective on offer. Which there is. "Female" denotes the sex of a noun, just as "male" does, and one does not say "man doctor" or "man president", even in cases where it may be a rarity signifier, such as as nurse - it is a "male nurse", not a "man nurse".

And certainly we do need some sort of rarity signifier - we need to be able to speak about women who are bishops, scientists, professors, presidents and so on. But why is it "women" instead of "female"? Ideas have been raised, but I certainly don't find any of them satisfying, and the fact that it has such precedent (some would suggest as early as 1300), doesn't exactly reassure me, given that it's only in the last 100 years we've made real strides against systemic misogyny, especially as regards the professions. The fact is it recalls derogatory usage (one tends to think of "women drivers" and the like) and strangely forces two nouns together - making it not only a rarity signifier, but subtly expressing something slightly unnatural and strange.

A "female scientist" is different than a "woman scientist". The former is primarily a scientist, who also has the attributes of being a female - the latter takes semantic priority. The latter is both a woman and a scientist, and a great deal of emphasis is placed upon her identity as a woman, in a way that not only qualifies, but almost interrupts her identity as the latter.

I am in full support of women bishops, women MPs and all the rest, but I don't really want to be. I'd much rather support female bishops, female MPs, female scientists and female professors. Professionals (or otherwise) who just so happen to also be women. The reason for using an adjective as attached to such terms is to advance a cause of equality, but I fear that as long as we continue using it, we are hindering, not helping, such a project.

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