I just want to be a noun when I grow up

I just want to be a noun when I grow up

I’ve talked about this before, and it just came up in the conversation I was having a few minutes ago… but I’ve got a linguistic bone to pick with using the word “women” as an adjective– as in, “women journalists,” “women bloggers.”

Whenever you do that, you are stating that the default gender for that job is male, and you need to add a qualifier before it to make it female. Can we all now, together, say that “women” should only be a noun? I know the dictionary has an adjective entry for it, but sometimes dictionaries are stupid.

Do you want your daughter to be an adjective or a non when she grows up?

If you want to refer to women who are doing a particular job, say, “women who are bloggers,” or “women who are journalists.” I know it’s longer and a little more cumbersome, but it makes women the actors and agents of the situation.

This has been a public service announcement from the nerdy linguistic department of Deanna’s brain. Please commence enjoying your weekend now.

  • heather
    Posted at 01:54h, 01 March

    Fantastic point!

    Although I’m not one, the phrase “mommy bloggers” really bugs me for some reason, too. I know fathers who blog – about their kids even! – and no one refers to them as “daddy bloggers.”

    Also, I’ve learned to embrace my Texanness and liberally use “y’all” instead of “you guys,” a phrase I had switched to in high school to force the Texan out of my speech. Now I find it charming, and more appropriate when addressing a group of women or mixed company.

  • bob ashley
    Posted at 14:06h, 01 March

    Important post. The “women” adjective really is discriminatory as you assert. It ain’t nerdy at all!

    Some progress has been made, though not enough. E.g. “Fishers”, not fishermen, Firefighters, not firemen, postal carriers, not postmen, poets not poets/poetess.


  • Sarah Chaffee
    Posted at 07:50h, 02 March

    I happen to represent a lot more women than men in my gallery but I never make a big deal of it. Not only is there an assumption that the male gender is the default for most professions but there is a stigma in being a female….. as in “not quite there yet.” If it is never made an issue for the buyer then it becomes a non-issue and thus a level playing field. (Cumbersome sentence- hope I got my point across.)

  • E.J. Graff
    Posted at 18:34h, 02 March

    Or use “female.” As in, “female journalists.” As in, “why are there no female journalists on this panel?” (Answer: everyone knows know that women can’t be real journalists, silly!!!)

    Deanna, delighted to find another grammar nerd in my feminist universe …

    • deanna zandt
      Posted at 11:51h, 03 March

      See, I think it’s the same problem, using “female.” You’re assuming that the noun it’s modifying is male by default. Unless you can get everyone to say “male journalists,” too, I will continue to advocate for the longer, clumsier version. :-)

  • mousumi sultana
    Posted at 10:26h, 10 March

    we are not woman. we are man. and we want to say this woman conference
    mousumi. Bangladesh

  • eden
    Posted at 15:41h, 22 March

    Reading the title of your post reminded me of the book “I Seem To Be A Verb” by Buckminster Fuller. I believe it still might be worth experiencing.

    Thank you for pointing out this form of sexism that is still relevant… or is that prevelant? The same be-littl-ing happens to many groups (“That black President. That Jewish worker. That southern writer. That homosexual playwrite. Etc.”). When they use one of these adjectives they are saying that you are part of a littler group and therefore not in the same class as someone who can speak for the whole group.

  • LarryV
    Posted at 10:56h, 13 April

    Whenever I was in a relationship where the girl i was with didn’t want to be defined as a girlfriend but I still had to introduce her I would say “This is my noun. We’ve been verbing for 3 months now. Its very adjective”

  • amanda
    Posted at 12:21h, 13 August

    Once I heard a story about someone (specifically, as I recall, the minister of my church) trying to introduce a famous (female) poet. I forget exactly who the poet was, but the teller recounted starting to introduce a “lady poet” and got hissed at. He tried “woman poet” got booed, even tried “poetess?” before someone in a back row finally said “Poet will do.”

    I don’t remember the point of the story (it had nothing to do with nouns and something to do with learning on the job–he was telling it to a youth group. We were probably 15 years old, if that.) but I think of that often. Poet will do.

  • Jean F
    Posted at 07:58h, 18 September

    Re: “Do you want your daughter to be an adjective or a non when she grows up?”

    I surely do not want my daughter treated as a NON. But I believe you meant to write “noun” in that sentence. Sometimes even mistakes speak the truth, though, eh?