Woman vs. Girl

Written by Tabby Biddle

I’ve noticed lately that I have been calling a number of women … girls. It was my husband actually who first pointed this out to me. One day we were jogging past a woman pushing a double stroller on the sidewalk, and I called back to my husband, “Watch out for the girl.” My husband quickly replied, “She’s not a girl, she’s a woman.”

A week after this incident, I received a Facebook message from a male friend with the subject line: Woman vs. Girl. He (I’m going to call him Dan) wanted to know my opinion about whether it was ever appropriate to address women as “girls.” The irony here is that I had not been in touch with Dan for months, so he would not have known that I was currently in a phase of calling women “girls.” I figured this was life’s way of getting me to look deeper into the issue.

The feminist movement worked hard for women to be called “women,” and never girls. The term “girl” was considered diminutive and disempowering – a term associated with being a victim. The use of “woman,” on the other hand, was associated with confidence and power. In fact, as I understand it from those who were a little older than I was in the 70s, calling a woman a girl was like spitting in her face.

While I understand the argument of the feminist movement, I am wondering if today we actually give something up if we insist on being called a “woman” all of the time? Could we be abandoning our girlish playfulness and sensibilities? Could we be disenfranchising an important part of us that actually holds the key to our ultimate power as women?

The other question that comes to mind is: Is it okay for a woman to call other women girls and not okay for men to do this?

“I see many of my friends and acquaintances still using ‘girl’ when speaking of women, and sometimes when talking to a woman directly. I feel it’s disrespectful … Now, when I catch my friends speaking in this manner, if it’s an appropriate environment, I will call them on it. I try to be humble and considerate with this suggestion,” said Dan in his email.

How we address each other is important. There is no doubt about that.

I think my occasional turn toward calling other women (myself included) “girl” is a way to reclaim some of my own girl power. To me, this means a person who is fun, adventurous, exploratory and bold. A woman to me is strong, confident, responsible, nurturing and global in her thinking. Probably the most important piece to all of this is the integration of girl power with woman power in each woman herself, allowing a dance between the two.

While feminists made “woman” a hard and fast rule, could it be time to reopen the case? Could we be coming to a time when we need to reclaim “girl” to embrace all of the woman that we are?

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Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor living in Santa Monica, CA. She specializes in helping women entrepreneurs and first-time authors get their message out. Additionally, she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their journey of personal transformation.

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7 thoughts on “Woman vs. Girl

  1. For me, it’s about context. In a professional context I would strongly object to being called a girl, but in a social setting it would depend on the tone and intention. Especially if the men present are being refered to as ‘the boys’ then I wouldn’t mind at all. However, it is interesting that one rarely hears a singular man refered to as a ‘boy’. Maybe we should all start doing that, and see what happens!

    • Hi Naomi.

      Happy New Year to you!

      I appreciate hearing your perspective. I think what you said is so important — “it’s about the context.” I think this is where the hard-and-fast rule thing trips things up. I agree with you though — in a professional setting I would strongly object to being called a girl, but in a social setting it would depend on the tone and intention, as you say.

      It would be interesting to hear from some men about how they feel about being called a “boy” in a professional setting and/or social setting. What does “boy” mean to them? What does “man” mean to them?

      Thanks for writing in Naomi. It’s great to hear from you.

  2. I became aware of calling women, “women”, during my last year of college, (the year was 1991)…and it was very important to many of the folks I hung out with to be “politically correct”…and calling women, “girls”, was unacceptable.

    I had an experience about 2 years ago which made me be able to relate, on some level, to your blog story, Tabby. I got pulled over by a park ranger in the Poconos of PA, that I just move to. (For something stupid like not waiting at the stop light long enough before turning right)… anyway…after he looked over my info, and was giving me a ticket…he said something to the effect of …”well, looks like you have been a good boy and haven’t gotten any tickets lately.”

    …I was like (to myself), what did he just say????
    I have a full time job, I own a house, and have been taking care of myself for 20 years, and he is calling me BOY?

    I did write a letter when I send in my ticket payment bringing up this point…(with no response, of course!)

    sheesh, what an INSULT!

    SO I can relate…”boys” and “girls” are children. Children are wonderful, but once we mature as people and take on responsibilities, we should have earned the respect of being called what we are, not girls or boys anymore, but woman and men who are a part of the adult community. (SOMETIMES, HOWEVER, I wish I could go back to being a care-free kid!)

    Thanks for the interesting story!

    • This is great Greg to hear from your perspective. Thank you for sharing your story. I would have been completely annoyed if the ranger said to me, “well, looks like you have been a good girl and haven’t gotten any tickets lately.” This would have felt condescending and inappropriate. I am glad to hear that you that your wrote a letter about it when you sent in the money for your ticket. Although they didn’t respond, someone read that letter and hopefully learned something from it.

      I think calling ourselves “boy” or “girl” is fun when we are feeling like a care-free kid — but when we are in a role of responsible adult and someone else uses the term “boy” or “girl” with the intention (conscious or unconscious) to take away that earned responsibility and power of an adult, then it is not a good thing and should be addressed.

      Thanks again Greg for sharing your experience.

      Tabby

  3. Thanks for this topic, Tabby. From my perspective, I do find it peculiar when speaking among adult males when women are referred to as “girl,” or “girls.” If I were still in my early twenties and hadnt quite fully shifted my vocabulary, I could understand where that vernacular would still be appropriate. On the other hand, as Lori pointed out, “within these groups,” and “terms of endearment between group members,” – in this case women – “girl(s)”seems much more acceptable. There have been times I’ve regressed and inadvertently misspoken, in my opinion, and used “girl” when “woman” would have been the more appropriate word. I’m fairly confident that at my age of 46, referring to a 27 year old woman as “girl” would not always be well received.

    This is an interesting thread to me because as the son of a mother who was highly involved in the feminist movements during the 70’s and beyond, I’ve always tried to be sensitive and aware of women’s needs, maybe even to a point of awkwardness at times. When I’m with a group of men and they’re describing “this girl I know,” or “I met these girls the other day,” I question that usage It is more and more the norm I’ve noticed. I can recall a job I had about ten years ago where a co-worker continually referred to the other guys as “kid” (“that kid was in here yesterday”); granted, that employee was in his late 20’s or early 30’s.

    It would be interesting know what you think about men addressing or referring to women as “girl(s).” Perhaps, as with most anything else, there has to be some flexibility rather than rigid attitudes. It’s great that we have this forum for constructive discussions on such matters.

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