By Lavanya Narayan Nov. 03, 2016
Can we please stop using the word “female” as a term of abuse? Stop letting sexism get in the way of our swearing, especially when we already have such a colourful arsenal.
“Oh, you’re talking about that female? Yeah man, she is always like that, so annoying.”
“Females are just the worst.”
“Jeez. Why are you acting like a female?”
Female. An adjective denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilised by male gametes. Also used as a term of abuse by people who are able to reduce one half of the world to their reproductive purpose.
Even though I love cussing, I have always been squirrely about the use of the word “female”. On a regular day, I’m like Colin Firth’s character in The King’s Speech, letting out more F-bombs than I do other words. But there are some words – like “female” – that I staunchly avoid… or those that refer to an individual with words that are alternates for vagina and penis.
I was guilty of this once. I had first heard the words cunt and pussy, both referring to female genitalia, used frequently in a lot of English films I watched as a teenager, and used them from time to time. Bitch was an important part of my high-school vocabulary. Dick, prick, and twat were not too far behind. And even though I have never used them, the words tramp, slag, and trollop seemed to reign supreme among a plethora of cuss words.
Most of these words refer disparagingly to female genitalia or to women. Pussy is used to refer to someone who is considered weak, scared or fearful. Bitch to refer to a difficult or unpleasant individual. Tramp, slag, and trollop are synonyms for the words “slut” or “whore” (which, through a lot of discourse, has been classified as highly offensive.) I am always reminded of the film Mean Girls where Sharon Norbury, a character played by Tina Fey, the queen of everything, says that women using the words slut and whore to refer to each other only encourages men to refer to women the same way.
Does anybody ever refer to a man as “a male”? No. It does not make sense in the least bit. Furthermore, it reduces men to suppliers of sperm alone.
But since the first time I heard “female” being used in everyday conversation by both men and women, I always knew there was something off about it. Its usage and meaning sounded really wrong, but I was never able to put my finger on it.
It isn’t merely the fact that this is a toe-curling Indianism in the same league as “hairs” and “proudy”. It isn’t just about the visceral reaction it draws from me: Anybody using it as a noun makes me writhe on the inside and peel my skin off to the bone. It is the equivalent of that scene from Alien where the eponymous character comes bursting out of the first victim’s chest. It’s like Subramanian Swamy’s reaction to any member of the Congress party. It’s like how pissed off Devdas’s mother would get whenever he hung around Paro in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s version of grandiosity and sexism. It’s annoying as fuck, basically.
In most contexts, the word only has derogatory associations. A woman is only ever referred to as “a female” in a negative or inferior connotation.
Our society thrives alarmingly well with the usage of this word. Forget men, women casually and frequently use the word like our politicians use the term anti-national, fast and loose, without actually comprehending its context or the ramifications it might have. Does anybody ever refer to a man as “a male”? No. It does not make sense in the least bit. Furthermore, it reduces men to suppliers of sperm alone. In this epic battle of equality of genders, it does not seem fair to box men within that term. So why are only women subjected to this? If double standards were the norm, we would all end up like that American presidential candidate with a dead cat for a toupee on his head and an adulterous past filled with bankruptcy and elitism.
As you can see, it riles me a lot. A friend and I discussed this once and he pretty much hit the nail on the head with his theory. He spoke about its patriarchal connotation, a line of thought that believes the whole idea of being “female” itself is derogatory.
Here’s a thought: When we already have an arsenal of abuses at our disposal, why resort to one where you have to equate a person with their gender or genitalia, in order to insult them? Why reduce people to mere body parts? For the love of all that is not Chetan Bhagat’s idea of feminism and Indian women, stop letting sexism get in the way of our swearing. It’s disrespectful, offensive, and just bloody rude. Just call someone an arsehole or a fuckwipe. You’ll avoid being sexist, at any rate.
Lavanya is a wayward gender-bending writer and actor who deals with boozing, being culturally confused and hugging her cat and dog on a daily basis. If not for this, she would have been Meryl Streep's butt double.