Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Male-Female and Woman-Man

Although we are 14 months away from the election of a new president of the United States, many people are anticipating the election with enthusiasm, including those associated with the election who are using grandiose and hyperbolic words to describe the candidates and their promises. I’ve heard the following statement or a variation of it dozens of times in the past year: “We are ready to elect the first woman president of the United States.” The country may be ready for her to win, but I am not ready to accept language misuse over the next year to get her elected. So, we have the topic of today’s post.

In my opinion, the correct sentence should read: “We are ready to elect the first female president…” The words “male” and “female” are adjectives for a reason (they can also be used as nouns, as shown later), and they should be used as adjectives when obvious. Here are some correct but nuanced examples:

- female shoes, woman’s shoes, or women’s shoes (not woman shoes or women shoes)
- male slacks, man’s slacks, or men’s slacks (not man slacks or men slacks)
- female principal (not woman principal)  

Consider these other correct examples:

- The next president will be a woman who will have a male or female vice president.
- Our current president is a man who has a female Attorney General of the United States.
- I wear shoes that are made for a man, not for a woman.

A good way to catch mistakes in this gender-centric area is to think about the statement to see if it sounds right. If it sounds right, then it probably is. But as we have seen, many journalists, candidates, and others think that “a woman president” or a “woman doctor” sounds right and is perfectly correct; I understand, and this is their opinion. This debate is not new, and it has been talked about for years in references to non-presidential settings because it singles out women, rightly or wrongly. According to professional grammarians, language constantly evolves and exceptions are made. Some will disagree with my opinion on this topic, and one day these may all be acceptable phrases—but as of now, it is not a correct usage that’s widely accepted. As a society, we are not gender neutral (rightly or wrongly), and until that time arrives, my suggestion is to stick to the rules as much as you can or be as neutral as you can. Possibly, we can quit referring to people as a “male this” or a “female that.” How about just indicate their profession or situation without the adjective?

Thanks for tuning in, and for all of you who are reading today’s post, I hope your favorite candidates—man or woman, female or male—win in the many elections next year. But I must predict, however, that the next president will not be a man president nor will she be a woman president. Sorry.

Randall Ponder, Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA     @randallponder

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