Thursday, 16 February 2012
Deadlier than the male
Truly lethal. The word 'female' can kill a sentence stone dead with never a backward glance.
As an adjective, it is generally patronising; as a noun, it is contemptuous - copperspeak at its worst.
Nearly a century after the Suffragettes and forty years after the sexual equality act, women are still seen as a strange species whose every achievement, however modest, has to be underscored with that deadly explanation.
'The restaurant's female owner' writes a Times reporter. As opposed to the orang-utan owner or the Martian owner?
The sentence didn't end there. It was completed with a comma and her name - which might have been the clue the reader needed. The picture of her outside the restaurant might also have offered a hint.
And even had the name not appeared at that point in the story, how about 'the woman who owns the restaurant'? Would the author have contemplated writing 'the restaurant's male owner'? Of course not. Indeed, we've even stopped (thank goodness) referring to 'male nurses'.
It is sad, but too many journalists still mentally confine women to particular roles and feel it vital to emphasise their gender in any story that deviates from the stereotype. 'A female doctor', 'a female bus driver' and so on.
Sometimes, of course, it's relevant - as in the first woman on the moon or even the first woman prime minister. But in most instances 'a doctor....' with the woman's name or the pronoun 'she', high up in the story will do the job.
and if, as a reader, it comes as a jolt to learn in the second par that the subject of the story is a woman, well shame on you for prejudging.
Tip for subs: try substituting the word 'black' for 'female'. if it feels wrong, change it.
Oh, and as for that Times report: hurrah for the sub who removed the offending adjective in the second edition.
Thank you for sticking with it to the end. Please do share your thoughts below. And please take a look at the other posts. They are all media related.
Sold down the river the Beeb's flotilla and fireworks fiasco - and a feeble fightback. Why didn't the top man have his hand on the tiller?
Hello and goodbye to Wapping a personal diary of life inside the fortress in the days before the strike that changed newspapers forever
Out of print a love letter to newspapers in this digital age. Why they don't have to die if we have the will to let them live and thrive
Why local newspapers matter Why we should care about the revolution in the regional press
Missing: an opportunity How the hunt for Madeleine McCann could be turned into a force for good instead of just a festival of mawkish sentimentality
Riding for a fall Does buying a ticket for a jolly day out at the races mean you are fair game for the snobs who sneer and snipe?
Just a pretty face Illustrating the business pages isn't the easiest job in the world, but spare us the celebs who aren't even mentioned in the story
Food for thought a case study in why we should take health advice with a pinch of salt (and a glass of red wine and a helping of roast beef)
The world's gone mad Don Draper returns and the drooling thirtysomethings go into overdrive But does anybody watch the show? (But there is more Whipple in this post!)