After nearly a year of reading progressive blogs, I am finally starting to speak of myself as a woman. Not a lady: that implies that I need to act in a certain way. Or it implies that I am someone’s possession. And no, I am not a female. Use female when you’re either talking about lower animals or when you’re involved in a scientific environment.
I am a woman. And I am trying to call other women that, too. But after years of being involved in the patriarchy, it’s difficult. It might be that I hadn’t been doing this for that long. It might also be that the word ‘woman’ sounds far more serious than ‘girl’ or ‘lady’. Or it might just be that every new habit takes a bit of time to ingrain itself into our conscious.
I do still tend to correct people – those who call a woman a girl – to say ‘lady’ instead. ‘Lady’ has a more ‘pleasant’ sound; it is not as ‘fierce’ and ‘threatening’ as ‘woman’.
But why am I doing this? Surely there are more important things to worry about? You know the drill: FMG, blatant sexism, children starving in Somalia…
It matters because using the word ‘girl’ to refer to an adult patronises and trivializes her. The usage of ‘girl’ infantalises women, ie, we never think of them as competent adults who could run for office or demand change in the work place. Such a woman will forever think of herself as less than the men around her. And the men, too, will see her as a play thing, an amusement; they have no reason to take her seriously. Which means they might not vote for her should she decide to run for office. They’ll call her other names, too. And they might even create a group on Facebook called ‘Hillary Clinton: Stop running for president and make me a sandwich.’ Or they’ll just call her a ‘racist little girl‘.
Why is it that so many women in my generation – 25- to 35-year-olds – have a problem with the word ‘woman’? Does it sound like something you’d call your mother or grandmother? And do you also call men ‘boys’ instead of ‘men’? Jezebel asks a great question in their article: When does a girl become a woman? Could it be that women, on average, are getting married at a later age than they had before? Do we equate believe that ‘woman’ should be paired with ‘married’?
And what about the menz? Why do they insist on calling us ‘girls’, as though we’re all still 14-year-old with crushes on that cute guy from Science class? Perhaps for the same reason that I mentioned above — ‘girl’ doesn’t sound threatening. By calling someone a girl, you’re reducing her worth and putting her several levels below your own.
We need a female version for ‘guys’. Guys is an awesome word that can apply to all penised creatures. ‘Gals’ just sounds horrible, but that’s just me. There are many women who don’t mind calling themselves and others ‘gals’. Ooo, and let’s not forget about Grrrl.
I’m in good company with Second Wave feminists, it seems — they, too, eschewed calling other women ‘girl’. Third Wave feminists, however, seem to be reclaiming the word. And others, too: ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’. But I am not a Third Wave feminist; I am just a feminist. And identifying as a Third Waver does not mean that one should accept all the ‘tenets’.
Feel free to call me a girl; just make sure that you use the corresponding label for men – boys.
I will, of course, continue to call women just that – women. The more often I do it, the easier it will become. And hopefully I will have a few converts along the way.