The senior managing editor of the D.C.-based monthly magazine Washingtonian Bill O’Sullivan penned an article in which he opined that the phrase “start a family” be banned on the basis that it’s offensive to single people and couples without kids.
In the op-ed entitled “Loathsome Phrase of the Day: ‘Start a Family,’” O’Sullivan lays out why it’s so offensive:
What this euphemism means is get pregnant—or try to get pregnant, or have a baby, or adopt. So say that. Start a family devalues any couple who doesn’t happen to have kids, for whatever reason. It even sells single people short, who may not have children but do have “chosen” families of friends—not to mention families of origin (the ready-made kind, no assembly required).
Twenty or more years ago, I would have said this expression was heterosexist, but now it’s in the everyday lexicon of LGBT people as well. (Though I have to say I still hear it more often from straight people. Just saying!) For the sake of all the ways to be in the world, it’s time to put an end to start a family.
He goes on to explain that he’s still shocked to find the word “congressmen” instead of “members of Congress,” while editing. According to O’Sullivan, using the word “congressmen” shows “lazy writing habits” and “lazy thinking” that’s born out of sexism on the part of the writer, considering that nearly 20 percent of Congress is made up of women.
Speaking of women, the word “female” is also apparently offensive. O’Sullivan echoed one of his readers’ tweets that the word has “connotations of criminality.” For example, “Suspect is described as a white female, medium height, medium build.” Besides the criminal connotations, the word “female” smacks of biology class. Quoting his reader:
“We describe animals as males and females, not people. I hear a female much more than a male, which irks me. Most people wouldn’t think twice about referring to a male doctor or politician or hang-glider as a man.”
[And here I thought it was in vogue to refer to humans as animals, and vice-versa…you know, like “pets are people too” and referring to us as “human animals.”]
He concludes his piece:
Which brings me back to start a family. It sounds innocent enough. But why would you want to turn off a whole chunk of your readership when the solution is so simple? Let your language reflect, and be sensitive to, the world we live in.
So, while “female” is “dehumanizing,” saying “start a family” is perhaps too humanizing. “Get pregnant” is much preferred.