Male Call: Call Me By…A Name


By James Roberts –

This month we tackle a subject that is bound to get us in trouble. But that’s how we roll!

The question is: What to call adult persons of the “XX” DNA persuasion, also known technically as the homogametic sex or, if you want to go all Jane Austen on us, the distaff side?

Let’s start out gently, with a simple academic distinction that causes grief mostly to headline writers: Are women candidates winning more in 2018…or are female candidates? Was Hillary the first female presidential nominee from a major party or the first woman nominee?

Our go-to source for these kinds of wonky distinctions is usually Mignon Fogarty, aka “Grammar Girl,” and she says that since ‘woman’ and ‘man’ are primarily used as nouns, to say someone is a woman nominee is placing ‘woman’ in an adjective position. (OK, that doesn’t sound too woke but that’s how she says it.). However, she goes on, nowadays the most common use of the word female as a noun is to refer to lower animals: “The female apes gathered to defend against attackers.”

Although Grammar Girl votes in favor of “female” for the candidate question, we found pretty much equal usage in our Google search.

Now on to trickier stuff.

The Male Call Advisory Board™ (MCAD) has been querying women…er, ladies…er persons, for several years on the question of the various terms they like and dislike.

“Ma’am” — universally disliked. “Don’t you dare ma’am me unless you want a kick in the shins,” we were advised once. Occasionally, OK, though, if used in a respectful tone by a sales clerk, especially in the South.

“Lady” — much disliked by women in our surveys, but apparently more by younger ones, in the, say, 20-50 age group. Oddly, the 13-year-old club volleyball female team players that I used to coach, regularly referred to themselves with this term. “OK, ladies, let’s step up our defense!” (Tip to guys: Never say “Hey, lady…!” or “This lady tried to cut in line…”). Still acceptable for bathrooms though.

“Girl” — Only women are allowed to call themselves this (and rightly so), as in “girls’ night out” or “The girls are getting together later for their Chat ‘n Craft.” Exception: In mixed-doubles tennis, when there’s mismatch of too many men, one of the guys may be designated “a girl” for purposes of, well, whatever. Also, women can self-designate themselves as Grammar Girl, That CAD Girl, Science Babe (but don’t get us started on that term).

“Gal” — We found a surprising, if mild, dislike for this term among the…persons. The MCAD has always thought this was a perfectly reasonable complementary term to “guys” — which no one objects to. Go figure.

“Ms.” — always suitable, except for wedding invitations, as an honorific for both unmarried and married women — a suitable equivalent of “Mr.”

“Mx.” — an honorific that does not indicate gender, though we have yet to find a person of any persuasion that actually likes or uses this. We have to admit it does fill a grammatical need for “non-binary” people; nevertheless, we’re not predicting a rousing success for the term. Maybe once letter-writing goes completely out of style, we won’t need any of the standard honorifics.

So there you have it, guys…er…gents.

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Photo by Photographing Travis on / CC BY
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