ご婦人からどうぞ。

English Translation

Ladies first.

How does 婦人 differ from 女性? Does the former have the connotation of “lady,” carrying more respect, while the latter is a more standard term of address, “woman”?

@ericaw
Your definition is accurate. But let me add some points.

婦人 means “(mentally and physically) grown women” and 婦人 is sometimes limited to “married women” whereas 女性 includes from little girls to old women in any social status.

Here are examples where the two words are not interchangeable:

  • 婦人科 = gynecology — little girls don’t need to see gynecologists, so we don’t say 女性科.

  • 男女平等 = equality between men and women — it doesn’t matter how mature they are, so we don’t say 紳士婦人平等 (equality between gentlemen and ladies).

  • 女性初の大統領 = the first female President — it’s just about gender, not maturity, so 婦人初の大統領 is wrong.

The following examples are interchangeable:

  • 婦人用お手洗い = restroom for women — お手洗い is a graceful indirect expression of “toilet” as “restroom” and “bathroom” are in English. Even though a public restroom is open for all ages, users are supposed to use the restroom in a proper and elegant “ladylike” way. So, signboards sometimes use 婦人用 instead of 女性用 although 女性用お手洗い is also very natural.

  • 婦人参政権 = political rights of women — We also say 女性参政権. Historically, however, voting rights were limited to grown-ups with a certain social and economical status. That is probably the reason we say 婦人参政権, expecting that female voters have decent abilities to elect the best candidate.

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