The female of the species
But not the human species, sadly. Have you noticed how often women are defined as a type of animal? And not in a good way. The examples are numerous:
Usually used with ‘old’ as in ‘old bat’. The Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE) explains that this is an informal term (sounds so harmless, doesn’t it?) meaning, ‘a woman regarded as unattractive or unpleasant’. It also notes that ‘bat’ can mean ‘prostitute’. No mention that the term might be offensive.
An informal British word (says the ODE) meaning, ‘a young woman’. That’s OK then.
‘A malicious or unpleasant woman’, says the ODE. It’s cheerily noted as an ‘informal’ term. And just to cover all bases, ‘dog’ is an option, too (see below).
Ah yes, the famous bunny girl. A double whammy here — an animal combined with a child. Here’s the ODE’s solemn description: ‘A club hostess or waitress wearing a skimpy costume with ears and a tail suggestive of a rabbit.’
As in, for example, the phrase, ‘Who’s she, the cat’s mother?’. One definition of ‘catcall’ is, ‘a loud whistle or sexual comment made by a man about a passing woman’. And it is usually women who are described as ‘catty’ meaning spiteful.
The ODE describes a chick as, ‘a young woman’, and helpfully suggests the following use: ‘She’s a great-looking chick.’ I’d be lost without my dictionary.
‘Chick’, of course, refers to a baby bird, thus also helping to infantilise women.
The ODE provides the following definition: ‘An unpleasant or disliked woman.’ It doesn’t bother to mention that the term might be ever so slightly offensive. Apparently, it’s just ‘informal’.
Usually used in conjunction with ‘old’ as in ‘old crow’. This apparently became a term of abuse for older women in the sixteenth century, perhaps due to the association of crows with death and witches.
‘An unattractive woman’, says the ODE, grudgingly conceding that this one might actually be ‘offensive’. Radical.
A ‘humorous’ term, evidently. ‘A lively girl or young woman’, says the ODE. Unusual in that it doesn’t mean something offensive, but not exactly side-splitting. And who wants to be called a horse?
A loud woman with coarse manners.
The word ‘harridan’ probably comes from the French word ‘haridelle’ meaning ‘old horse’. Now, of course, it means a strict and bossy woman. The ODE takes the trouble to suggest the handy everyday phrase ‘a bullying old harridan’. (Note the helpful suggestion to add ‘bullying’ and ‘old’ there — just in case you feel that ‘harridan’ by itself won’t quite cut the mustard.)
I’ve included this because I think that ‘hen party’ (usually used to describe a woman’s night out before a wedding) makes for an interesting comparison with the male equivalent ‘stag night’. I’ll just leave that hanging in the air for you to ponder.
A ‘derogatory (and mainly British) term for a woman’, says the ODE. One of the few deemed offensive, then. Well, pass the sherry.
Now, go thy ways; thou hast tam’d a curst shrew (from The Taming of the Shrew)
And less poetically from the ODE: ‘A bad-tempered or aggressively assertive woman.’ This is not even termed ‘informal’, let alone ‘offensive’. It does, however, explain that: ‘There is no male equivalent to “shrew” because men are never bad-tempered or aggressive.’ It doesn’t really.
An informal (there’s that word again) for a ‘spirited or quarrelsome woman’.
And there are some other truly vile animal-related words used about women which I won’t go into here, but you know what they are.
So — not to get too heavy about it all, but it’s interesting, isn’t it? Just another example of how language is used to denigrate and disrespect women. I challenge anyone to come up with a similar list relating to men.