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?