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MDSchafer
09-30-2015, 07:33 PM
I've run across recently where most of the commonly held synonyms for woman could be considered sexist when either a male character or male author uses them. Since I'm a male author, and I don't write a lot of female main characters, I've had trouble finding words that other than "Woman" to describe female gender individuals that other readers of this site don't find sexist.

When you look up "Woman," in the Merriam-Webster thesaurus what comes up is "Female, Lady, skirt, dame, gentlewoman, madam, madame, senor, babe, beauty, belle, chick, damsel, doll, gal, girl, ingenue, lass, lassie, mademoiselle, maid, maiden, miss or senorita." All of those terms either don't sound natural coming out of someone who lives in today's world.

Miss, even though it's commonly used in the South, sounds sexist to many women, as I've experienced on my trips to the north. Many women consider Ma'am to be matronly and not used outside of the South. The English have a number of slang words for women, none of them non-sexist.

The problem I'm coming up with is that there's no alternative words to woman for when a first-person male narrator encounters a female. There's no female equivalent to guy, dude, bro, or dude. Any thoughts?

Kylabelle
09-30-2015, 07:39 PM
I'm not someone who is generally offended by fictional characters' speech patterns and word choices, so I'd say all that language is fair game as long as it is in character.

Also, I have the sense that "dude" is becoming unisex. I hear it directed at females all the time.

Sis, sister, Mama, gal (do people really have issues with "gal"?) -- depending on context -- are all pretty neutral, but again, context rules. In my personal communication I will use "ladies" as a term of friendship, and yet I choke a little at "girls" -- though less and less as time passes.

Myrealana
09-30-2015, 07:41 PM
What's wrong with "woman?"

But seriously, if you're writing in 1st person, you refer to them the way the MC would. If it's slightly (or overtly) sexist and it's what he would think or say, then that's what you use.

I'd say "gal" is the female equivalent to "guy."

I'd also say "dude" and "bro" are terms as loaded as "chick" or "doll" -- just with different ammo.

Osulagh
09-30-2015, 07:42 PM
Find whatever works for your character's voice and use that. You can't make everyone happy, and some people will flip out over anything. You can split hairs all day and decide if certain words are slightly sexist or not, but it's not going to do you any good because at the end of it all you won't have words to use.

zarada
09-30-2015, 07:42 PM
can't think of a term other than the listed ones. ok, 'sheila', which don't help, either.

but i think you should use whatever term comes naturally to the character whose eyes you're seeing 'her' through at the time -- whether sexist or otherwise.

Gilroy Cullen
09-30-2015, 07:51 PM
I've run across recently where most of the commonly held synonyms for woman could be considered sexist when either a male character or male author uses them. Since I'm a male author, and I don't write a lot of female main characters, I've had trouble finding words that other than "Woman" to describe female gender individuals that other readers of this site don't find sexist.

I think you're overthinking this. If the character would use any of your listed terms, what's the big deal? It's the character, not you. Shoot, I have a character that refers to his girlfriend as a "gun-maul for hire." (His is a twisted mind. It's why he's the antagonist. On second thought, just don't ask.)

Since the story is first person, focus on what the character would do. Don't worry that someone's briefs are in a bunch because a word the character would use is sexist.

Seriously, done right, any word can be made sexist...

ElaineA
09-30-2015, 08:08 PM
I like sheila. :D

Hopping on the bandwagon with "what your character would say."

This is one of those things we spend a lot of time fretting about, but I suspect readers don't really notice things they might find offensive in real life as long as it's grounded in time/place/character. I'm not automatically offended by a character using "sweetheart" if it feels right in context, but at the grocery store, when a checker calls me that...grrrrrr, I bristle. Keep it real for your character.

Twick
09-30-2015, 08:44 PM
Have to put in with the others - use whatever is natural to the voice of your MC. Which means you'll have to have an ear for that sort of voice.

Now, if you want people to like your narrator, having him think, "Nice piece of ***!" or "Uggo! Would not ****!" whenever he sees a woman is probably not the way to go. But that's because he's not a nice person, not because of the language he's using.

buz
09-30-2015, 09:14 PM
What's the context? Everything depends on context...

Hapax Legomenon
09-30-2015, 09:17 PM
Are you writing a northerner? Maybe you shouldn't be if you're having this much difficulty with his speech patterns.

You're asking a question that is extremely context dependent. There are situations where "woman" is inappropriate and offensive and other situations where "bitch" is not.

Jamesaritchie
09-30-2015, 10:50 PM
I think "sexist" means saying a woman is somehow, someway, inferior to a man. A woman shouldn't be a firefighter, or a police officer, or a CEO, or anything else, just because she's a woman.

It's true that many women prefer "ms", but it's equally true, that even in the north, many woman don't give a rat's whiskers whether you say "ms", "miss", or Mrs." Or even "ma'am".

And the simple fact is that if all your characters do not speak the way real people speak, and do not believe and think as real people believe and think, you have lousy characters. This holds true even when something they say, think, or believe actually is sexist.

MDSchafer
10-01-2015, 01:09 AM
The reason "woman" doesn't work so much is that a college aged guy probably isn't going to use, "Woman in her early twenties," which while accurate isn't keeping with the voice. Honestly, I'd used girl or chick, but since I'm writing YA, and most of the agents, editors and readers are women I'm trying to find something that works within the voice that doesn't come across as sexist.

Hapax Legomenon
10-01-2015, 01:16 AM
The reason "woman" doesn't work so much is that a college aged guy probably isn't going to use, "Woman in her early twenties," which while accurate isn't keeping with the voice. Honestly, I'd used girl or chick, but since I'm writing YA, and most of the agents, editors and readers are women I'm trying to find something that works within the voice that doesn't come across as sexist.

You sure finding synonyms for "woman" is your main problem?

rohstod
10-01-2015, 01:22 AM
If it's the story I'm thinking of, using the word "chick" made your narrator seem a little bit like a jerk, but it might have been a totality of the circumstances type issue. I'd stick with "young lady" or "young woman" or simple pronouns like "she" or "her." You could also avoid the issue by making up a nickname. I think she was a fake FBI agent or something wearing a really elaborate outfit? Call her Captain Cosplay?

It's been a bit since I was in my teens, but I don't recall anyone ever calling me a "chick" in a respectful way. I, and the people who responded to your story, might have looked at it from the perspective of older women. You might find it's not an issue with a younger audience. I don't know. You'd have to test it.

Best of luck to you! It was a fun story.

Latina Bunny
10-01-2015, 01:35 AM
It all depends on your character's voice and speech style. Simple. *shrugs* (I myself use all sorts of terms, including chicks, women, girls, ladies, gals, etc, and I'm a woman.)

WriterDude
10-01-2015, 01:48 AM
Agreement with the context specific points. Use whatever term is colloquially appropriate.

Whatever you choose will be wrong on some level to someone, but that's because of the historical back drop, where women are viewed as objects and possessions, and there aren't many non clinical words that don't reflect this.

Why not just invent a word which means "person equal to a man but anatomically distinct". It might catch on.

Hapax Legomenon
10-01-2015, 02:07 AM
Language is wonderfully subtle. People have remarked that "dude" is becoming gender neutral. "Dude, what are you talking about?" you may not be able to tell the gender of the person being addressed, but "some dude at the bar," you assume the 'dude' is male. Same with "Honey, what are you talking about?" and "some honey at the bar" -- in the first case, you don't know, but in the second, you're assuming the 'honey' is female.

Chick is a subtle word. If a guy meets "a chick at a club," he probably ain't a saint but you might not think much of it -- if he says he "talked to some chick at a law office" for legal advice, that seems much more inappropriate. 'Chick' implies sexuality. In a context that can be assumed to have a sexual atmosphere anyway, like a club, viewing someone primarily sexually isn't offensive to most people, while viewing someone primarily sexually in a place without that sexual atmosphere is much more offensive.

There's a lot of this subtlety in language. If you pay attention, it makes language much more fulfilling.

In my particular geographical location and social strata, people will call anyone of their age group or younger "boys" or "girls" informally. So, if you're talking about a college age guy looking at a woman in her early twenties, well, there's more subtleties to be had here. A lot of college age individuals have not fully grown up and accepted their adultiness, or at least would not think of themselves in the same age strata as someone not in college, in which case this person might be a "woman." If the college-age male accepts this person as part of his age strata, she'd probably be a "girl."

But the primary worry is that you can't have a college-age viewpoint in a YA novel. Just doesn't work. Can't do it. Unlike gendered terms, this is a pretty cut and dry fact.

Samsonet
10-01-2015, 02:08 AM
What about words that describe the person's occupation? The student, the dog-walker, the tour guide? People default to male, yes, but if you use feminine pronouns that should make it clear.

I use "lady" when talking about a woman whose name I don't know, but I am a teenage girl, so that may or may not help with your character's voice. :P

MDSchafer
10-01-2015, 03:28 AM
You sure finding synonyms for "woman" is your main problem?

It's not my main problem, but it's something interesting I discovered in the course of writing it. I think originally I had written "College girl," because it's accurate and something a freshman would use, but obviously that has some issues.


But the primary worry is that you can't have a college-age viewpoint in a YA novel. Just doesn't work. Can't do it. Unlike gendered terms, this is a pretty cut and dry fact.

The MC is 18, and a month out of high school, so he's not really "College age," so much as he's a kid who graduated high school a month ago. If that's a major issue I can easily make him 17 between the Jr and Sr years of high school.

Thelassa
10-01-2015, 03:31 AM
Agreeing with the majority. If a character would use a term that you personally would not, it's still acceptable for that character to use the term. Your characters do not reflect your opinions or beliefs. Any reader who is putting that much effort into finding something sexist in your work is going to find it no matter what you write Also, "dude" is a totally acceptable term for any gender.

jjdebenedictis
10-01-2015, 04:02 AM
Whatever you choose will be wrong on some level to someone, but that's because of the historical back drop, where women are viewed as objects and possessions, and there aren't many non clinical words that don't reflect this.It's a bit like how the phrase "mentally retarded" was invented by doctors as a kinder way to describe mentally challenged people, because the general population had started using the previously-used terms like "moron" and "imbecile" as insults.

Then the general population started using "retard" the same way, and so we had to invent another phrase to use when we want to be kind. The problem isn't the words; it's the fact that mean people exist just as surely as kind people do, and then the words pick up baggage from the way the mean people use them.

Writer MMS
10-01-2015, 04:20 AM
Non-sexist? Just pretend you're an alien scientist and be all like "the she-sapien walks on two legs and has a maximum speed of 15mph."

ElaineA
10-01-2015, 04:40 AM
Both my college-age sons call their female peers girls. Or by their names. My youngest lives in a house with the "guys" downstairs and the "girls" upstairs. (his words)

Anna_Hedley
10-01-2015, 04:42 AM
Is there any reason 'girl' would be considered sexist in this context? I mean, she may be slightly older than him but he can't tell her exact age by looking at her, and there's not a lot of difference physically between an eighteen-year-old and someone in their early twenties. I tend to think of that age group as girls/boys.

Writer MMS
10-01-2015, 04:53 AM
people are so PC and gendernormasensitive nowadays so I'm not suprised this question is asked on forum.

Anna_Hedley
10-01-2015, 04:58 AM
people are so PC and gendernormasensitive nowadays so I'm not suprised this question is asked on forum.

Is there actually a cabal of "PC" people who are ready to jump out and pillory anyone who makes a statement that, when taken at its worst interpretation, could be considered racist/sexist/homophobic? I've seen this asserted a number of times but the closest I've ever seen to it actually happening is a couple of Tumblr blogs by young teens who are a bit overexcited about the idea of activism.

amergina
10-01-2015, 05:17 AM
Use what the character would use.

It's really not that hard, folks.

William Haskins
10-01-2015, 05:22 AM
best to not use "female" as a noun.

slhuang
10-01-2015, 07:05 AM
Words I've used when my characters are describing or talking about women:

woman, lady, miss, ma'am, sister (not for someone related), gal, chick, sweetheart, madam, babe, dear, darling, honey, bitch (affectionately), missy (he got punched for that one), female.

Nobody's called me sexist yet... (yet...)

Context is indeed everything.

Kylabelle
10-01-2015, 07:33 AM
Chica is kinda nice. Biyatch is better.

Roxxsmom
10-01-2015, 07:55 AM
I've run across recently where most of the commonly held synonyms for woman could be considered sexist when either a male character or male author uses them. Since I'm a male author, and I don't write a lot of female main characters, I've had trouble finding words that other than "Woman" to describe female gender individuals that other readers of this site don't find sexist.

Isn't it a matter of context?

For instance, if someone says his wife is having a "girl's night out with her female friends," it's not sexist, any more than saying he's going to have a "boy's night out with his male friends." Likewise for girlfriend/boyfriend.

But referring to all sexually mature women as girls when he doesn't call his male friends boys in the same context? Not necessarily intentionally sexist, but it's a sign of the way men and women are viewed differently by society (which is institutionalized sexism). Likewise, referring to males and females in a biological context, like I was today in my class when we were talking about reproduction. But if you see someone referring to men as men, or guys, but women and girls are always "females," then it might be sexist.

As for ladies, it's the feminine equivalent of "gentleman," meaning a person of refinement and good manners (in the modern US, at least), and is a polite generic term too (as in, "go ask that gentleman/lady if they need help finding something"). But if you're using lady as a substitute for woman when you're not also calling men "gentlemen" it's possibly sexist. For some reason, there's been a reluctance to call women women. It's too raw, or associated with sex, or conjures up images of maturity (which aren't as desirable for women as men). Those reasons stem from sexism.

And of course many terms for women: chicks, dames, broads, birds, bitches etc. have been used primarily by men to objectify, even demean women individually or collectively. They're not words women came up with for themselves.

So the thing to consider is, even if the individual doing this doesn't mean anything bad or sexist about it, their word choices reflect some underlying inequalities between the genders.


Miss, even though it's commonly used in the South, sounds sexist to many women, as I've experienced on my trips to the north. Many women consider Ma'am to be matronly and not used outside of the South. The English have a number of slang words for women, none of them non-sexist.

There are indeed regional variations. I remember a thing some years back where a man complained about an elderly clerk in Washington DC who called him "hon." He said it was sexual harassment. She was southern, and to her it wasn't a sexual term, but a gender neutral thing she called everyone. For some reason, traditional female salutations get changed with age and marital status in English, but men's don't. This is an institutionalized form of sexism. So men are always "sir," but women go from "miss" to "ma'am" in middle age.

Except in my part of the US, almost no one gets called "miss" anymore, and younger men don't get called "sir." Younger people and store clerks start calling you "sir" and "ma'am" when you hit middle age. It's more symmetrical up here, but we're less formal as a culture. If someone needs to get the attention of a young adult they don't know, we just go, "Hey."

Having said this, if someone calls me "Ma'am" or refers to me as a "lady" I smile and suck it up. And if someone holds a door open for me (male or female) I smile and say thanks. And I'll hold doors open for men or women if I'm in front of them, or they're carrying something, or look like they need some extra help. I'm as feminist as they come, but I'm not going to assume bad intent.

On a writing forum, though, things are different. If we're discussing communication, feminism, gender issues etc., these things seem more natural to talk about.


The problem I'm coming up with is that there's no alternative words to woman for when a first-person male narrator encounters a female. There's no female equivalent to guy, dude, bro, or dude. Any thoughts?

No there really isn't at this point, except "gal" as an analog to "guy." This can also be regional. I know women and men who just use "dude" for everyone in casual conversation. I think words tend to show up when a need develops (like firefighter instead of fireman), but given the history of derogatory or patronizing words for women coming from men, it should probably be something women themselves come up with first (I suspect guy, dude, bro etc were coined by and for men first).

Once!
10-01-2015, 01:37 PM
When I rule the world I am going to ban thesauruses. Thesauri. Either that or I will jump in my time machine and assassinate Roget, Merriam and Webster. In that order.

Thesauroses don't tend to seem to be updated in the way that most dictionaries do, so they end up with a long list of words that almost no-one would say these days. Belle? Maiden? I wouldn't say that they are useless, but on a sliding scale from useless to indispensable they are much closer to the left hand side of the scale. They cause more problems that they solve.

"Woman", "girl" and "she" seem perfectly fine to me. We are writing fiction not a PC manual. Or be a bit more specific and call her a doctor, a professor, a friend, whatever. What we should avoid is constantly running to a thesaurus to find a different word because we are afraid to over-use a common word like "woman" or "girl". Far better to repeat a common word than to make it obvious that we have swallowed a thesaurus.

HeavyAirship
10-01-2015, 02:17 PM
Ladybro is probably ok. Yeah, just use that all the time.

Kylabelle
10-01-2015, 02:21 PM
:roll:

*points and laughs harder*

I guess the gender opposite of "ladybro" would be "gentsis", right?

jlmott
10-01-2015, 08:58 PM
I have nothing to add that hasn't been said already in answer to your main question, but I did wonder about one thing you wrote:


Since I'm a male author, and I don't write a lot of female main characters ...

You seem to assume this as a given. You shouldn't. I am also a male writer, but in the book I am currently working on, all the MCs are female. It's been done many times before, sometimes with great success (Joss Whedon and Buffy, for example).Conversely, no reason for female writers not to have male MCs (J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter, for one).

Not trying to criticize, but only suggesting a broadening of your perspective.

heza
10-01-2015, 09:05 PM
But referring to all sexually mature women as girls when he doesn't call his male friends boys in the same context? Not necessarily intentionally sexist, but it's a sign of the way men and women are viewed differently by society (which is institutionalized sexism). Likewise, referring to males and females in a biological context, like I was today in my class when we were talking about reproduction. But if you see someone referring to men as men, or guys, but women and girls are always "females," then it might be sexist.

Ugh! This just happened in a meeting at work. Men are all "guys" and "men" when management is talking, but any time women need to be mentioned, they're "females." As in, "We've interviewed several men this past week; you might have seen them around. For now, the females in the administration department will be handling those duties."

ETA: How do I mention this to managers. I am the only woman in my department, and I'm a little tired of my gender being referred to as if we're a different species.

Twick
10-01-2015, 11:19 PM
"Gal" unfortunately has a jaunty 1950s sound to it that "guy" doesn't.

Personally, I have no problem with someone using "girl" for someone up until they graduate college. After that, they need to become women.

If the OP wanted to give some actual sections of what he's writing (or simulations of such if he doesn't want to reveal his current WIP), perhaps we could be more helpful. There are times to use "woman" and the times to use "chick," and it's all dependent on voice and context.

kuwisdelu
10-01-2015, 11:39 PM
Lucy: Well, WE'RE girls!

Ethel: We are?

Lucy: If you divide everybody into boys and girls, we're girls!

Fruitbat
10-02-2015, 01:00 AM
The issue gets confused when we talk about what a character would say vs. what is nice to say in real life. Characters should say what they would say. I can't think of anything more boring than characters who exist only to carry out little public service announcements.

In real life, parallel/parity(?) is fair, I think, same level each way. Men and women, not men and girls. If people are on "honey or "sweetheart" terms with eachother, then safest bet is the same understanding and use of it both ways. Dudes and chicks. Ladies and gentlemen... Or even "Prospective penii" vs. "Where's the wool?" because the power issue behind that is equivalent, too.

JetFueledCar
10-02-2015, 01:20 AM
One of my betas was put off by my male narrator assuming that the breadwinner of a house was the husband. I didn't change it because that's what he would do. So it matters more what the character would say than what you the author think is appropriate.

But to go to the college/YA point: A first-year college student is still YA, just barely. See Fangirl​ by Rainbow Rowell.

EMaree
10-02-2015, 01:27 AM
Nothing wrong with "woman" or "lady". "Girls" can work among females that are friendly with each other or of a similar age range, but a random bloke using it would definitely come with some baggage.

Honestly, this is a college, so wouldn't they mostly refer to people by their years? eg "Freshman girl" (if your protag is older than a Freshman), "a woman from the senior class"* etc?

"Female" only works if you intend to sound like a Ferengi.

(*I don't have the foggiest what Americanese is for a senior student, sorry.)

Latina Bunny
10-02-2015, 06:39 AM
Nothing wrong with "woman" or "lady". "Girls" can work among females that are friendly with each other or of a similar age range, but a random bloke using it would definitely come with some baggage.

Honestly, this is a college, so wouldn't they mostly refer to people by their years? eg "Freshman girl" (if your protag is older than a Freshman), "a woman from the senior class"* etc?

"Female" only works if you intend to sound like a Ferengi.

(*I don't have the foggiest what Americanese is for a senior student, sorry.)

^This.

It all depends on context, and your character's voice. Besides, all sorts of characters can be the main character or POV character, from nice people to murderers, etc.

Also, to answer Emaree's question: A senior student in America is called...well, a Senior. Lol. Simple as that. XD

JetFueledCar
10-02-2015, 06:42 AM
Also, to answer Emaree's question: A senior student in America is called...well, a Senior. Lol. Simple as that. XD

If you want to specify their gender, I'd use "senior boy" or "senior girl." If they're still in undergrad, I consider them kids. I think I did that even when I was a first-year--otherwise I'd have had to admit that I was on the verge of becoming an adult.

Fuchsia Groan
10-02-2015, 04:51 PM
My book has two narrators, teen male and teen female. Both talk about people into their early twenties as "girls" and "guys." He occasionally uses "chick" (or "dame," but only because he loves noir movies, and in a jocular context). Both sometimes refer to older women as "ladies," which is something I have always done even though my mom told me when I was a kid that the word was sexist. My editor changed a few of those "ladies" to "women."

So basically, I just imitated my own internal voice, which is not terribly PC. :)

Roxxsmom
10-03-2015, 08:51 AM
"Gal" unfortunately has a jaunty 1950s sound to it that "guy" doesn't.

That's an issue, or sort of a western feel. My dad always used the term, and he was of that era. It does pop up out here in CA sometimes, though. Maybe it's the complete lack of informal, non-derogatory or pedestal-izing words for women that drives it? They have "lads" and "lasses" in parts of the UK, but that never caught on in the US.


There are times to use "woman" and the times to use "chick," and it's all dependent on voice and context.

"Chick" was always fairly derogatory in my part of the country--something men called women when they were objectifying (let's go out and pick up chicks), or something people would use when they wanted to imply that the woman or girl in question was rude or lacked sophistication (so this chick comes up and gets in my face about...).

The strangest one were the people who pronounced the word woman "woah-man," though.

It would usually be in a sexist context, like a boss I had years ago who had a story about boarding a plane and realizing that there was a "woah-man" pilot, or saying something like, "There's this ugly, rude "woah-man" who works at the DMV." I haven't heard it for a long time, and it was mostly people in my parents' generation or older who did it. I think the implication was that she wasn't behaving in the expected feminine way (or appearance), hence the deliberate mispronunciation of the word, since she wasn't a proper woman?

For fiction writing, though, you really have to refer to men and women the way the characters in the book would. In contemporary college, rightly or wrongly, college students often refer to women undergrads as "girls," whereas they call man undergrads as "guys."

However the universities themselves have been using the terms "men" and women" in an official sense since I was an undergrad. "Men's residence halls" and "Women's residence halls," the "federation of university women," "Women's and men's basketball programs," "Women's health clinic," etc.

Latina Bunny
10-03-2015, 08:01 PM
Being a young woman, I still call other young women, "girls". I've seen young guys also say "girls", too (or guys who are older than the young women).

I don't think it's sexist, unless it's a guy calling a middle-aged or older woman, "girl". Maybe. But even then, it would depend a lot on context, and how familiar the guy is with said woman. It also depends on the personality of the guy and his outlook on women. How he says it is also another factor.

ETA: It also depends on what the woman would like to be addressed as, or wouldn't mind being addressed as, too.

Medea
10-03-2015, 08:31 PM
For undergrad, "girls" or "young woman" is fine. If she's above the age of 22, though, I wouldn't call her a "girl".

"Chick" always rubs me the wrong way because it dehumanizes, but that may be right for the character, so it depends.

Latina Bunny
10-03-2015, 08:59 PM
For undergrad, "girls" or "young woman" is fine. If she's above the age of 22, though, I wouldn't call her a "girl".

"Chick" always rubs me the wrong way because it dehumanizes, but that may be right for the character, so it depends.

My mom still says things like "girls' night out", and sometimes refers jokingly about hanging out with her "girls" / "girlfriends". She would also still call me and my friends "girls", even if some of us are older than 22.

Now, a guy saying that (especially for older women)? Hmm...

kuwisdelu
10-05-2015, 08:14 AM
My mom still says things like "girls' night out", and sometimes refers jokingly about hanging out with her "girls" / "girlfriends". She would also still call me and my friends "girls", even if some of us are older than 22.

Now, a guy saying that (especially for older women)? Hmm...

I just gave my 90-year-old grandmother a birthday card calling her a sassy girl.

Roxxsmom
10-05-2015, 09:48 AM
As all these examples suggest, context is everything, as is the relationship one has with someone.

And Kuwisdelu, you're a saucy rapscallion for calling your grandma a sassy girl ;)

aruna
10-05-2015, 10:35 AM
What's wrong with "woman?"

.

My thoughts exactly. Are we becoming so sensitive that we can't use the word woman or "girl" any more?

aruna
10-05-2015, 11:14 AM
best to not use "female" as a noun.

In the UK police-speak, female and male are used as nouns. EG: "We have a female running across the motorway here, please send an ambulance."

Roxxsmom
10-05-2015, 11:51 AM
I don't think anyone had a problem with woman, it's more that it's the only universally non offensive term for an adult, female human. But every other term has a context when it works and a context when it doesn't so well.

I'm writing a novel set in a fantasy society where women have a lot more social autonomy and economic control than they have in our own history. I'm trying to come up with a casual, inclusive term for women that's equivalent to "fellow, guy, dude, chap" etc. that women have come up with for themselves (so all the historically sexist terms like "tart," "basket," "doll," "bird," etc. wouldn't work). Trying to find some different casual terms for men too. The only things that come to mind, really, are lads and lasses, but that gives it such a Scottish vibe. The frustrating thing with making up terms for something that doesn't really exist in our world (or hasn't existed in a comparable time in our history) is that they tend to feel so darned contrived.

It's really

Maythe
10-05-2015, 12:22 PM
I'm also working on a fantasy setting where women are more equal (it's actually matrilinear since you can be certain who your mother is) and polyamory is the norm. I really have to keep an eye out for inappropriate words seeping in and, as you say, created terms tend to be rather contrived sounding. I'm using lifemate, partner and lover to signify relationships with differing commitment levels.

One difficult thing can be creating insults used against men that aren't somehow about insulting them by comparing them to women or gay men, since neither being female nor gay is seen as 'lesser' in my world. Arsehole is a good one, but bastard doesn't really work since there's no such thing as illegitimacy in my world and almost everything else we use as insults are sexist/homophobic. I have to go for scatalogical insults like 'he's a shit' instead. The world I've made is strictly heirarchical though so insulting a member of the citizen rank by likening them to a peasant would work.

Roxxsmom
10-05-2015, 12:33 PM
Since clans are matrilineal in my world, being clanless is an insult of character similar to bastard, and it works for both genders.

Male gentalia are useful insults for men. I'm trying to come up with some statement or standing joke about penises and how unreliable the are ("soft when you need them hard, fast when you want them slow" kind of thing). The soft, fragile nature of balls seems like a good source of disparagement too. And yes, excrement references are insulting in pretty much every culture that has ever existed.

It really is amazing, though, looking at casual terms for women throughout history. Nearly all the ones I can find are focused on the woman's sexual "virtue," which isn't really a thing in a matrilineal culture. Or they refer to her class, or appearance/nubility. I just want words for both sexes that substitute for "guy" in our modern language that don't necessarily denote low character, attractiveness to the other gender, or sexual looseness.

Though come to think of it, an objectifying word for men used by women would be kind of fun. It could cut both ways.

Maythe
10-05-2015, 12:58 PM
I've been using 'friend' as a term of address between people of the same rank. There's also 'mate' among the lower ranks and I could do with a posh version of some sort.

I like your idea of the unreliable penis joke. There's certainly some mileage there! It's really funny that we say 'grow some balls' to mean 'toughen up' when they're the least tough part of a man. Well, it's funny and also illustrative of the illogical nature of gender roles and stereotyping but there you go.

Roxxsmom
10-05-2015, 01:05 PM
Maybe "gird your balls" would be a good "toughen up" phrase for guys, but not really an equivalent for women.

Now we're back to that thread where people were looking for a female equivalent to the "man up" phrase :Jump:

Maythe
10-05-2015, 01:17 PM
If a writer can't find a good alternative to 'man up' I'm going to worry about their imagination and vocab!

Latina Bunny
10-05-2015, 02:30 PM
I just gave my 90-year-old grandmother a birthday card calling her a sassy girl.

*sigh*

Is why I said, "Hmm..." It depends on context, who's saying it, and the relationship between the man and woman he's talking about.

In this context, well, that's your grandma. You related to her, and I assume you have a friendly relationship with her.

(And you always seem to have an exception to the rules for many things, Kuwi, lol.)

I'm more iffy about men saying it about female strangers, or calling a woman girl when she doesn't like to be called that. When I hear men saying it, both in real life and in (old) entertainment media, it's usually kind of used in a patronizing way, I noticed. Maybe it's a generational /old fashioned term thing for the older men who uses that term?

It all depends on context, of course. But if someone keeps using the term and the woman in question doesn't like it, then that person's probably a (sexist) jerk.

Latina Bunny
10-05-2015, 02:41 PM
In the UK police-speak, female and male are used as nouns. EG: "We have a female running across the motorway here, please send an ambulance."

Sometimes, (online anyway; I never heard it in real life yet), "female" is used in a derogatory manner by some sexist dudes. I don't know why, but I guess it makes women/girls sound "alien" in a "us vs them" kind of way. :P Those devilish females.

morngnstar
10-05-2015, 04:30 PM
I guess you could get creative. Presumably the origin of the word "guy" is from a man's name. Like "sheila", but that has baggage. So you could have your characters refer familiarly to women as "sues" or "janes". It's odd but I guess your readers would catch on.

I can understand why you wouldn't want to use "girl" as it imputes immaturity in a way that "guy" doesn't.

EMaree
10-05-2015, 05:53 PM
Yeah, "girls" is a really subjective thing. The ladies in my office who know me well can call me that, and I'll call them girls too, but if a manager or visiting air condition technician calls me that there's going to be trouble. You need to have earned a baseline of friendship or respect from me first.

You do get outliers who can just spark a friendship instantly, charming even my stone-cold Scottish heart. But you really don't want to bet on being an outlier.


In the UK police-speak, female and male are used as nouns. EG: "We have a female running across the motorway here, please send an ambulance."


Sometimes, (online anyway; I never heard it in real life yet), "female" is used in a derogatory manner by some sexist dudes. I don't know why, but I guess it makes women/girls sound "alien" in a "us vs them" kind of way. :P Those devilish females.

Things are definitely muddier over in Britain -- female gets used quite a lot in really inoffensive ways, like it's not uncommon to go to the doctors and ask for a "female Doctor" because you want to talk about birth control or sex or something you're uncomfortable talking about with dudes. In a lot of professional situations it can feel more appropriate than asking for a "lady Doctor" and suchlike. Police-speak also uses it, but police-speak is odd and stilted and not a great barometer for language use.

(Also, having worked with police, their formal speak is MILES apart from how they actually talk. Never in my life have I been called "love" and "blud" so much.)

Females is definitely still used to alienate ladies here too, though -- you can hear it a lot whenever a group of "old boys" wants to make a sexist joke but still have it fly under the radar. British forces and ex-forces, who are used to watching their language, are particularly fond of it. So are management.

kuwisdelu
10-05-2015, 08:39 PM
(And you always seem to have an exception to the rules for many things, Kuwi, lol.)

Only when they're adequately amusing.

shivadyne
10-13-2015, 09:18 AM
since it doesn't reflect your thoughts or the way you personally perceive women, i'd say that you go with how your character would think of them. sometimes, characters are sexist. it doesn't mean that we are, but that we're acknowledging sexism exists, right? so yeah, i wouldn't worry too much over it.

Devil Ledbetter
10-13-2015, 04:27 PM
This question reminds me of a joke that goes What do you call a woman who has had sex with more than 25 people?

Her name.

I agree with the advice to use your character's POV and not stress too much about sexism. But I do wonder why these women in your story will need so many synonyms for "woman." Do they not take the stage as named characters? If not, why not? What are they doing in the story if they'll never become important enough to earn a name? Are they just part of the wallpaper? If so, that probably is sexist.

Persevere
10-13-2015, 04:35 PM
The reality is, some people, therefore, some characters, are sexist. It's not you, it's the character. Having every character PC and carefully written not to offend anyone might make for a very boring story. When in doubt, ask others to read the passage you're concerned with.

Twick
10-13-2015, 08:58 PM
I just gave my 90-year-old grandmother a birthday card calling her a sassy girl.

You know your grandmother. SOme people would cut you out of the will for that.

In any case, what you call your nearest and dearest is irrelevant to how you deal with people who don't have a particular affection for you. Would you refer to your VP of Corporate Affairs as "a sassy girl of 50" in your company handbook?

kuwisdelu
10-13-2015, 11:06 PM
Would you refer to your VP of Corporate Affairs as "a sassy girl of 50" in your company handbook?

God forbid I ever work anywhere that has a VP of Corporate Affairs! Sounds horrible!

Liosse de Velishaf
10-17-2015, 09:51 PM
If it's the story I'm thinking of, using the word "chick" made your narrator seem a little bit like a jerk, but it might have been a totality of the circumstances type issue. I'd stick with "young lady" or "young woman" or simple pronouns like "she" or "her." You could also avoid the issue by making up a nickname. I think she was a fake FBI agent or something wearing a really elaborate outfit? Call her Captain Cosplay?

It's been a bit since I was in my teens, but I don't recall anyone ever calling me a "chick" in a respectful way. I, and the people who responded to your story, might have looked at it from the perspective of older women. You might find it's not an issue with a younger audience. I don't know. You'd have to test it.

Best of luck to you! It was a fun story.


Is there any reason 'girl' would be considered sexist in this context? I mean, she may be slightly older than him but he can't tell her exact age by looking at her, and there's not a lot of difference physically between an eighteen-year-old and someone in their early twenties. I tend to think of that age group as girls/boys.

As everyone has said, it's an issue of context. I notice myself and a lot of my peers dividing the line between "girl" and "woman" along whether they consider the person a peer or not. I tend to call any girl or woman I know from my peer group a "girl", and often the guys are "boys". Anyone younger than me I tend to think of as a girl or boy, as well. Once someone gets significantly older than me or is my age or older but I don't consider them part of my peer group, I tend to switch to "woman" or "guy/man", and it also depends whether I'm talking to someone in my peer group or social circles. Most of the people my generation or younger that I've talked to consider things similarly. I imagine when I'm 40, the words "girl" and "boy" might tend to snap back into their more common and objective usages. For perspective, I'm in my early-to-mid 20s. As I intend it, there's no respect issue, although in a more formal context, I might call even my peer group women and men, especially if I'm speaking to an out-group person.

I think in-group and out-group has a lot of influence on the implications behind using various terms.

I do sometimes use the word "chick" to refer to someone who meets the criteria for "girl", though I don't think I use it for anyone who doesn't. Thinking about it, I don't think I use it for people I consider children, so I suppose there might be some sexism or objectification implied, depending on the circumstances, although I wouldn't say that's the case every time. I also think I tend to use it most with a certain type of person, though I've used it when talking to both boys and girls.

I think the "miss" vs "ms" vs "mrs" thing is interesting. I don't see "miss" as inherently sexist, although I guess it does sound a bit southern or rural in many cases. Still, it's in common use in my region. So is ma'am. There's a certain bias for age in usage, but I've seen both applied to the same person by different people or in different contexts. They're both only used on strangers and as a form of address, as opposed to as common nouns, though.


Plus what everyone said about matching the character. I've enjoyed (if not necessarily liked) plenty of characters with a lot more issues--in the sexism department or otherwise--than the term they use to refer to women.