Woman. This is an extraordinarily difficult word for a foreigner to use correctly, and many true-born Englishmen and Englishwomen display a far from sure touch where it is concerned. The main difficulty is that the further down the social scale one goes, the more strongly women object to being called women. Educated women prefer it, uneducated women resent it. There are, however, one or two subtleties and complications which have to be observed. In the uniformed services, women are always women. ‘Police ladies’ would be as unthinkable as the Ladies Royal Army Corps. And then, at the upper end of British society, women might be women to one another, but they might well expect to be referred to as ‘ladies’ by their own kind of men. At work, it may be ‘women staff’ or ‘female staff’, but never ‘ladies staff’ or ‘lady staff’. The problem used to be dreadfully complicated with lavatories, since no matter whether one labelled them ‘Ladies’ or ‘Women’, somebody was bound to be annoyed. The problem has been solved by using a symbol, which can be interpreted, according to choice, as either ‘ladies’ or ‘women’.
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