Thus Spake Zuska

I was catching up on reading at Female Science Professor’s place and came across her post: Women Girls.

FSP, as far as I can tell, seems to be saying that the young ones these days are all hip with the term “girl” for women even into their 30’s because…I don’t know why, it’s a peer thing, and we old biddies wouldn’t understand. We must accept that the times they are a-changing. Girls just wanna have fun?

Perusing the comments, I gather that “woman” is stodgy, or P.C. (!), and too mature and “girls” these days are putting off adulthood, and can’t think of themselves as women.

To this, I say, what a load of horsecrap we have have been sold…

As other commenters noted, if you are a secretary, no matter how old you are, your (usually male) boss is going to refer to you as a girl, and that is not meant as a status enhancer. (Probably he is also just the sort of douche to tell you to smile.)

One theory proffered was that our society loves youth, that we resist growing old, and that young women today resist labeling themselves as women because they are clinging to youth culture. Instead, they hold on to the status of girlhood.

Again, this is complete and utter bullshit.

Boys are ever, ever so anxious to reach the status of manhood, aren’t they? What “boy” in his mid-twenties or early thirties daydreams about being referred to as a boy, instead of a man? Ask a man of color how good it feels to be called, imperatively, a boy. (This was also noted in at least one of the comments on FSP’s post.)

Girls, however, musn’t ever grow up. That would be too scary. They might stop smiling!

Okay, so the horseshit sandwich you’re eating is this: we want our men to be manly old dudes and we want our women to represent eternal youth and loveliness and girlhood. So grown women want to call themselves girls – and yet girls in our culture have, if possible, an even lower status than that of women. If you doubt this, just ask any boy what are the two worst things he can be accused of acting like: a girl, and gay. Girls may be admonished not to be tomboyish but their status is not really diminished by adopting (what are considered to be) boy-like traits.

The problem, my friends, is not that we lack a good word equivalent to “guy” to use for women/girls. The problem is that women are so universally despised that no one wants to grow up to be one, and girls are so looked down upon that girlhood has become a tarted up caricature of womanhood, and real girls have no room left to breathe. The problem is that the patriarchal backlash wasn’t content to settle for just making grown women afraid to describe themselves as feminists even when they hold many core beliefs that could be described as feminist in nature. No, it had to go a step further, dirty up and taint the word woman, make grown women fearful of claiming a word that describes their adult status even as d00ds all around them are desperately striving to prove their manful d00dliness.

Screw that.

I was a girl once, and it was wonderful. I ran around in the woods and fields, I played hopscotch and jumprope, I played with baby dolls and Barbie dolls, I brought my mother dandelion bouquets that she put in shot-glass vases, I read books, I went on camping trips with my family, I laughed, I skinned my knees every summer, I went fishing with my dad, I got a dime from mom for ice cream cones when the Goody-Goody ice cream truck came around town, I went to the firemen’s carnival and rode all the rides, and best of all, I sat with my younger sister and my beloved Pappap in his favorite chair to watch Gunsmoke and when he wanted an Oh Henry! candy bar one of us would drag a chair over to the counter and climb up and reach the top cupboard and get him one and then he would say “and get one for yourself and for your sister, too”.

And then then I was a teenager, and high school was awful like it is for everyone, and then I grew up.

I am not a girl.

I am a goddamn woman, and you better believe you will hear me roar. Because I most definitely know too much to go back and pretend I am a little girl. I am strong. STRONG. I am fucking invincible. I am WOMAN.

Now take a look-see at Helen Reddy on the Midnight Special – yeah, that’s how we did our feminism back then, in elephant bell jeans, live, and on stage at t.v.’s funky musical variety show. And once you’ve looked, consider whether you might want to stop calling yourself girl, recognize that you are woman, think about what actual little girls today need from grown woman in this crazy world we live in – and maybe give a little roar.

Comments

  1. #1 becca
    April 6, 2010

    I would just like to note how awesome it is that “WWZD” is now a category.

  2. #2 Kim
    April 6, 2010

    When I was in grade school, I used to sing along to “I am Woman.” Except that I misheard the lyrics, and sang “I am invisible.”

    Not sure if that’s funny, or if it’s just sad.

  3. #3 Alex
    April 6, 2010

    While I certainly am not contesting the devaluation of feminine identities (whether “woman” or “girl”), as a mid-20s guy with lots of (mostly white, mostly college-educated, mostly middle class) mid-20s guy friends, there *is* a pretty strong reluctance to call ourselves “men”. Men are grown-ups and have responsibility – we’re all definitely “guys”. And esp for the queer subset of this group, I think there’s a feminist-influenced connection of “man” with “the Patriarchy”.

    Like I said, not questioning the rest of the break-down, just wanted to put that out there as part of the gen-y crowd.

  4. #4 Jim Thomerson
    April 6, 2010

    If you watch enough shoot-em-up type movies, you will hear the grizzled leader say to his coterie of roughnecks, “OK, girls, time to saddle up.” Also groups of people, regardless of sex, or mixture of sexes, get referred to as “You guys.” In movies, grizzled trappers say, “This child . . .” Being both white and more or less Southern (Texas), I occasionally ask, when conflicting points of view clash, “What’s a boy to believe?”

  5. #5 benvolio
    April 6, 2010

    I’m with you on this. The color commenter on the women’s downhill skiing this past olympics repeatedly used ‘girls’ to describe the athletes, all of whom were adult, and all of whom could kick any and all the ass they want. And the color commenter was another woman. Gah.

  6. #6 Ted
    April 6, 2010

    Gen y to gen y, the patriarchy doesn’t need to be in scare quotes bro.

    The professional/familiar delineation is important, as FSP notes. Calling someone a boy or girl in a professional setting is inappropriate, full stop.

  7. #7 Zuska
    April 6, 2010

    Kim, let’s make it funny – and pretend that invisibility was going to be your superpower!!!!

  8. #8 Alex
    April 6, 2010

    @Ted – Not scare-quotes. I was just using quotes to grammatically set apart the concepts I was putting in my word-equation.

  9. #9 Erin
    April 6, 2010

    I always used guys in the gender neutral sense. I also refer to everyone as dude. Occasionally I’ll use “gal”. Rarely do I use “girl” except when referring to animals or my sister (who is younger, so I naturally think of her in the diminutive, especially since she still is a girl). A friend of mine (a woman as well) uses female and male, which is a nice literal way to put it without saying anything about age or culture and I’ve adopted the expression as well.

  10. #10 Isabel
    April 6, 2010

    What I had never heard of until I read the comment thread of FSP’s post was the surprisingly common opinion that the term ‘woman’ has offensive connotations.

  11. #11 maxh
    April 6, 2010

    Oh snap Benvolio!

    The British commentators were both men (I think) and I recall one such comment went something like this:

    Commentator: And here’s the frenchman….. sorry girl, an experienced skiier and a favourite in the competition.

    WTF is wrong with frenchwoman? Or even frenchman? She was like 35 years old! Argh I nearly emailed the BBC about that but decided I had already complained to them enough last month and I should probably give it a rest!

  12. #12 Isis the Scientist
    April 6, 2010

    You are on freakin’ fire today, Sister Z.

  13. #13 LadyProf
    April 6, 2010

    Nice try, Erin, but other people aren’t using guy and dude gender-neutrally. When people say “The guys’ team has a nicer locker room and more money” or “I thought you were a dude,” do you pretend not to understand? As for female and male as nouns instead of adjectives, some take offense.

  14. #14 ....
    April 6, 2010

    *ROAR*

  15. #15 Treespeed
    April 6, 2010

    What about dudette? (doodette?)
    Or is that offensive?

  16. #16 Adair
    April 6, 2010

    Ugh, definitely. This needs to be pointed out more often!

    I was recently looking for housing on facebook and so many women were described (by themselves, their landlords, or their roommates) as “girls”. Sweet girls, fun girls, etc.

    I wanted to scream: You are not girls! You have struggled through educational and career plans, you have stood in front of hundreds and spoken on important issues, you have organized events, you have helped yourself, your mothers, or other women out of abusive relationships, you have responded to the death of a loved one, to illness and accident, to the injustices and uncertainties of the world.

  17. #17 Dr. Free-Ride
    April 6, 2010

    Yup, adulthood is not to be feared just because one is not a man.

    And if “woman” is a word that one does not find appealing for whatever quirk of subjective aesthetic preferences, there are many possible alternatives — scientist (or philosopher, or engineer, etc.) for those whose identity is enmeshed with their work, guy or dude (for those of us who learned each of those words, on opposite coasts, as non-gender specific), friend, jokester, etc.

    In any case, I think it’s a very bad move to assume that an adult will be OK being referred to as a girl because it’s what the kids are hip with nowadays. The kids are also hip with piercing various parts that protrude from their faces, and you wouldn’t do that to someone without her explicit consent, would you?

  18. #18 Chrissl
    April 6, 2010

    I am proud to say that the private high school I used to work for changed its self-description about ten years ago to “a college preparatory school for women.”

  19. #19 mo
    April 6, 2010

    I like the post.

    As a male person, let me tell you, being “a man” is not fun, but hard. Being a boy was fun. But the women want you to be a man, and if you are not, you stay alone. It’s probably a work comes before reward thing.
    If you are female, it seems possible to stay somewhat childish and be accepted in some ways and get a partner and friends… So in that way it can be said you have the freedom to stay a girl and be accepted for it.
    You can of course be a woman. But women are scary to immature men :-)

  20. #20 Katherine
    April 6, 2010

    Exactly, Zuska. Anyone that calls me a girl gets called a boy, if they are male that is. I am not sure how to deal with women calling me a girl, and I usually just let it go because they are usually using it as a friendly, inclusive term.

    My mother always used to call my sister and I “you guys” and it stuck well; I think we should take over “guys” as a gender neutral term.

    I had an older chap running a course that I attended, and he kept trying to call us all “chaps”. Every time he said it, he paused, remembered that some of us were female, and added “and chapesses”. Sometimes he said “Ladies and Gentlemen” without a pause though. I mentioned that he needed to find a new generic pronoun on his evaluation form.

  21. #21 skeptifem
    April 6, 2010

    conversation with coworker

    d00d: see you later, LADIES (obviously trying to reference the dude still sitting with me)

    me: Am I really what you would call a “lady”?

    d00d: uh, see you later, GIRLS.

    me: I am not a girl, either.

    d00d: … see you later… womens. *blushes*

    what an asshole. He isn’t comfortable talking to me anymore. OMG, I hope I am not missing out !!1111

  22. #22 Ian Musgrave
    April 6, 2010

    From a different perspective, my 87 year old mother, a feisty lady if ever there was one, and her lawn bowling friends all themselves girls. And my beloved spousal unit and her friends (all 40+) also call themselves girls.

    But were Australians, maybe we don’t get the”girl” thing.

  23. #23 Isabel
    April 6, 2010

    Helen Reddy looks pretty “hot” AND comfortable from head to toe. What a concept!

  24. #24 Brigindo
    April 6, 2010

    Not just elephant bell bottoms but a pink crocheted halter top…you can’t get more 70s than that. My 21 year old daughter refuses to let me call her a woman. She doesn’t want to be grown up yet (even though she acts like the adult she is); to her girl is an identity she embraces. I would have been livid if someone called me a girl at 21. Likewise I called a colleague out for referring to a graduate student as a girl in an email (which he would not have done if the grad student was male) and got the “that’s just the casual vocabulary I use” speech. In thinking through all of this, I did realize that I refer to myself and my two closest friends/colleagues as “the girls.” It is the only instance in which I think of myself as “a girl” and I use it not as being in opposition to “woman” but because we don’t have a good equivalent to “the guys.” I’m not sure why “gals” doesn’t fit but it doesn’t.

  25. #25 Paul Murray
    April 6, 2010

    “The problem, my friends, is not that we lack a good word equivalent to “guy” to use for women/girls. The problem is that women are so universally despised that no one wants to grow up to be one,”

    The cripples face a similar problem. Every word that means “cripple” comes to be pejorative, so they have to pick new ones (or reclaim old ones, like the niggers and gays have done). The difficulty, of course, is that each word becomes pejorative not by some magic, but because it means what it does. The difficulty is not that ‘girl’ means ‘young’, or ‘woman’ means ‘stodgy’, it’s the underlying societical opinion of the fairer sex.

    Guys don’t dream of being called “men” or “boys”. Both imply a specific gender role (child/adult is a gender distinction) that’s inappropriate in the workplace. My boss and coworkers use my name.

  26. #26 Ian Musgrave
    April 6, 2010

    Oh yeah, and as another data point we Australians often call adult males “boys”. Myself and a bunch of 40+ and 50+ blokes went off on a boys weekend a few weeks ago. Maybe when when my beloved spousal unit, the Bettdeckererschnappender Wiesel, refers to me and my codger mates as boys she’s being ironic, but it’s fairly widespread in Australian culture (although when they refer to adult rugby union players as “boys” maybe they are referring to mental age). But then, this is the culture that bought you “blokes” and “sheilas”.

    (ps in my previous post, were should be we’re)

  27. #27 MadGastronomer
    April 6, 2010

    How the hell are child and adult gender roles?

  28. #28 Ram
    April 7, 2010

    How about we call people what they prefer to be called? If some women (such as Zuska) prefer to always be referred to as women, even in non-professional settings, then that’s what they should get. However, if others (such as the majority of my female friends – I’m in my 20s) prefer girls, then we should call them girls. What’s wrong with that?

    By the way, most of my male friends have no problems being referred to as guys or even boys, and probably prefer it to men.

  29. #29 Ace
    April 7, 2010

    Thanks for posting this.
    Every time I get called a girl at school or at work, I want to scream. I would like to see just one of the guilty parties tell a male engineer that he’s a good little boy for jotting down a message for them. Or, I would like to hear a machine shop call my bosses “honey” when they call to order parts. And the shittiest part might just be that when I vent to my colleagues and some of my friends about this, all I get is a dismissive attitude and the impression that I’m somehow being whiny or demanding by expecting to be referred to as a woman.

    Oddly, I think I get referred to as a man by speakers addressing a large group, or people so used to talking to men that it gets ingrained in their vocabulary to call everyone “man”, far more often than I get called a woman.

  30. #30 PeggyL
    April 7, 2010

    Thanks for telling it like it is, Zuska!

  31. #31 MissPrism
    April 7, 2010

    I use “girl” among my friends in a tongue-in-cheek (maybe even reclamatory?) way. As in, “Let’s have a girls’ night out,” or “I feel like a girl-drink rather than a beer – how about a Cosmo?” Among very close friends, I’ll even say “bint” (reclamation again, I suppose, and also for some twisted reason I find the word “bint” inherently funny). But if anyone called me a “girl” in a professional setting I’d be horrified.

    I loved your paragraph about the joys of being the actual human-female-child kind of a girl, and it’s really making me think about how we might have more joy in memories of childhood if we truly claimed our adulthood. Thanks again Zuska.

  32. #32 Sharon Astyk
    April 7, 2010

    I’m 37, solidly Gen X, kids, mortgage, career, stretch marks, low tolerance for stupid…all the obvious hallmarks of one particular version of female adulthood, but I do sometimes use “girl” or “chick” to refer to myself – mostly either comically or ironically (as in “nice jewish girl” or “apocalyptic prophetess doom-chick”.) None of this represents a desire not to grow up or a fear of adulthood, but the fact that the words simply don’t play for me exactly as they do for some other people. I realize they can be demeaning in other people’s hands, but I also think they can be usefully reclaimed and played with. That doesn’t make it ok for assholes to call me a girl – but there are languages that can be used in community, but respectful members of the same social groups for effect that simply don’t read the same way, as we all know. I don’t call my gay male friends “faggot” but they call each other that all the time, and I respect their right to reclaim and make use of the word, and I think that’s part of the process of removing some of its sting.

    I like being a grownup – I have no taste for youth, and don’t have the slightest desire to get younger. I liked being a little girl, and hated just about everything after that until at least my mid-20s, and think that every year that takes me away from 14 is a good one. But I’m not sure I buy the idea that most words, even if used derogatorily, cannot be reclaimed. I do not mean to imply that every 30 something that calls herself a girl is doing something so conscious or thoughtful – just that that can be part of it.

    Sharon

  33. #33 Zuska
    April 7, 2010

    Ram, if that horseshit sandwich tastes good, you keep right on chewing. It is excellent nourishment for Apologist for the Oppressor-type work.

    Your male friends have no problem being referred to as guys? That is a stunner!

  34. #34 FrauTech
    April 7, 2010

    I just got an email from a female colleague addressed to me and many males that started off, “Hey guys(and [FrauTech])”. I was perfectly comfortable with being lumped in with “guys.” Kind of reminds me of foreign languages with genders where a mixed group is also referred to the in masculine. Whenever someone refers to a girl around here, “That girl over in HR…” I always think, we hire children here? Sometimes I use “chick” b/c i think it’s actually more neutral than girl, but it depends on how well I know the person and the person I’m talking to. An older woman who I used to work with got me into the habit of using gal/gals for a group of women, and I think it’s actually pretty neutral. I can see how “that woman over in accounting” can come off as a little rude to the individual you’re referring to, even if/especially if you didn’t intend it that way, lady sounds weird and ladies seems to give a certain connotation you usually don’t want. So maybe it makes me sound like somebody’s grandmother, but I’ll stick to gal and wince every time I overhear someone calling someone else a “girl” or worse greeting me with “hey girl-girl.” *shudder*

  35. #35 Comrade Svilova
    April 7, 2010

    I’m 22, still in college, and used to refer to myself as a “girl” (still do, sometimes, out of habit) until my (male) partner pointed out that I was *not* a girl … but a woman. All of sudden “woman,” which had seemed stodgy, scary (do I want to grow up?), etc. became empowering, appealing, sexy, adventurous, confident, strong etc. A great moment and a great memory. He’s also the type of man who genuinely doesn’t care if I don’t shave my legs, don’t bleach my upper lip, don’t remove my public hair … and I wonder if the term “girl” is linked to the current societal preference for hairless, pre-pubescent looking women?

  36. #36 SargassoSea
    April 7, 2010

    @Kim –
    I’m with Zuska!

    My personal 70’s lyric faux pas was the Bee-Gees’ “More than a Woman” -> Banana woman, banana woman to meee…
    which, naturally, leads directly to: I’m Chiquita Banana and I’m here to say I’m the best banana in the USA…

    Ah, 70’s culture. ROAR!

  37. #37 Zuska
    April 7, 2010

    ZOMFG, I LOVE “Banana woman”! The rest of my life whenever I hear that song I will hear it that way!

  38. #38 Anonymous
    April 7, 2010

    Thank you for this post.

    Although I loathe being called a girl, I would totally be willing to let it slide – it’s just a word, right? – if all other things were equal. And by that I mean, fucking EQUAL. Equal pay, equal opportunity, equal access to equivalent demeaning terms for men ….

    I have always love that song, and I also thought we were invisible. But now when I see the video, I can’t help but notice the backup singers, not in the spotlight, not in comfortable bell bottoms, all women of color (?) supporting the white feminist, and decidedly not roaring.

  39. #39 Ray Ingles
    April 7, 2010

    Minor point of interest – ‘girl’ (in the form ‘gyrle’) originally (~1200s) meant just ‘child’, of either sex. A century or two later it had come to mean only female children. I seem to recall reading that diminutive terms tend to migrate over time toward applying to specifically feminine traits…

  40. #40 Zuska
    April 7, 2010

    Anonymous, that is an interesting point about the video, and reflective of ’70s establishment feminism at large, which had a difficult time dealing with anything outside white middle to upper class straight women’s issues for a long long time. Women of color had a tough time getting their white sisters to listen and learn and work with them, as did lesbian women with their straight sisters. In general, however, I think the women’s movement as a whole has done a better job over time of listening to and incorporating the voices of previously marginalized groups into the mainstream of the discussion that mainstream culture itself has (which may be damning with faint praise, but still…)

  41. #41 DFH
    April 7, 2010

    Anyone who has three migraines a week is a woman.
    You can call me anything you want; I probably deserve it, although, please don’t call me late to lunch. Silly? Kind of like when and who can use the ‘n’ word silly. Or it’s Dr. Jones, not Jim; and it’s not Jim it’s James; no, make that James Jr. Nope, today I want to be called Dr. James Jones Jr. -because I think you are an ass and I enjoy making you feel inferior. What’s that you say? Go what myself? How uncivilized.

  42. #42 becca
    April 7, 2010

    70s culture reference… fail. Sadly. I digs me some midnight special (though mostly though association with the beloved eponymous radio show), but “I am woman” will forever be associated with Trick (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VN335oq2pk) for me. Sorry!
    RAWR!
    /gen.com

  43. #43 Anon
    April 7, 2010

    Benvolio @#5 (and others since)

    Of course, just as it was the girls who were skiing down the slopes, you will also find that the women’s soccer teams will often play a man-on-man defense, unless a red card forces them to play a man down.

  44. #44 Zuska
    April 7, 2010

    becca – a bunch of dancing hot shirtless gay dudes and a drag Helen Reddy singing I Am Woman? What is not to love?!??!?!

  45. #45 Roi des Faux
    April 7, 2010

    Around the time I was 20 (sort-of cisgendered kind-of man, btw), it struck me that while boy was the counterpart of girl and man of woman, the counterpart of guy was…girl. I concluded that this stemmed from devaluing feminine maturity, and resolved to use “woman” as the counterpart of “guy”, with a cutoff at 18. I was surprised to learn (from the 2006 post by FSP) that this was a generational thing that I was merely “rediscovering”.

    Also on topic: I am always hungry.

  46. #46 SKM
    April 7, 2010

    If you are female, it seems possible to stay somewhat childish and be accepted in some ways and get a partner and friends… So in that way it can be said you have the freedom to stay a girl and be accepted for it.–Mo

    What you refer to as freedom is more completely described as societal lack of power. Until quite recently in North America (and still in many parts of the world) female people never gained full adult status; they were legally indistinct from their fathers or husbands (coverture, etc.) with no rights to own property, vote, bring legal cases, etc.

    So the “acceptance” of women remaining child-like is only a “freedom” in the most limiting of ways. It’s accepted because it is in our culture to deny female members full agency and full adult power.

  47. #47 Comrade Svilova
    April 7, 2010

    @46

    As SKM points out, just because someone else is jealous of what they perceive to be an “advantage” of an underprivileged group doesn’t make that perceived “advantage” really a “freedom.” My partner, a male who loved the 80s because he could dress outrageously without being discriminated against, often talks about how women have more “freedom” to wear whatever they want, while men (in the 90s and 00s) have to conform to a boring suit-slacks uniform. However, after some good discussions he realized that, although it is unfair that our society penalizes men who dress in bright colors, fitted outfits, accessorize, etc., that doesn’t mean that women (who are compelled to do all those things and more) have it better. We just have different clothing-related oppressions under Patriarchy.

    So yes, perhaps men suffer from pressure to act more mature (I’m not sure that that’s even true, but since the OP was arguing that…). That doesn’t mean that women have more freedom. Rather, it only means that they are constrained to a different social role. And perhaps (I would say definitely) *more* constrained.

    (And considering the slate of Judd Apatow movies and the enduring popularity of that type of male, I wonder if men really are under so much pressure to be mature. But that’s a side-comment.)

  48. #48 SKM
    April 7, 2010

    @Comrade Svilova, it seems to me that women are under more pressure than men to be mature, while still getting pressure to appear and even act child-like. To wit: women are expected to do the emotional work in relationships; to be gatekeepers of men’s sexual behavavior; to do the bulk of child and elder-care work (which takes shit-tonnes of maturity); to be empathetic; to be generally the civilizing “Angels of the House”. All while looking and being referred to as a cute little girl who looks up to men as her Heros.

    Men are expected to constrain their emotions (perhaps partly in order to appear mature), but they are held to a lower standard of mature behavior. Not good for any of us, naturally.

  49. #49 Comrade Svilova
    April 7, 2010

    As always, SKM, I can’t agree more with your point. I wanted to address the issue within the framework that Mo had proposed, to show that even if those premises are granted the argument doesn’t hold. But as you so clearly articulate, the premises are not valid.

  50. #50 Ram
    April 7, 2010

    Zuska, you are being hypocritical. You say that calling women girls is demeaning and denies them the full status of being equal, adult human beings (which it does, in some cases). Yet, you are unwilling to let some adult women decide for themselves what it is that they wish to be called. Maybe their reasons for wishing to be called girls are wrong in your eyes, but in your ideal society do women not ever disagree with you or have the power to be called whatever they wish? Sounds a lot like the bad old patriarchy that you’re trying to eradicate.

  51. #51 Zuska
    April 7, 2010

    Grown women are free to refer to themselves as Big Daddy’s Schoolgirl Wetdream, if they so choose. I am free to point out to them that doing so carries with it a set of meanings and consequences. You are free to label that hypocritical, but you would be wrong.

  52. #52 Katherine
    April 7, 2010

    You know, why can’t people greet a group of people with “hi everyone” or something similar? Why does it always have to be “hello ladies/women/females/girls/men/guys/gentlemen/boys” when any of these terms are acceptable? Why is “hello everyone” only appropriate when the group is mixed gender, and not even then, as people seem to prefer “hello ladies and gentlemen/boys and girls/guys and girls/men and girls/chaps and chapesses”? Why is gender so important that people need to address it in greetings? We don’t say “hello australians/lesbians/feminists/scientists/geeks/cross-stitch-fanatics” except very rarely.

    I am going to start trying to use the phrase “hello miscellaneous persons of my acquaintance” when I remember. Ok, I’m not, because I don’t use greetings like this (I just say hi by itself). But I WANT to. I want to use “hello old fruit” when I’m feeling british, and “greetings program” when I’m feeling Tron-ish, and “hi engineers” when I’m at a conference with only female engineers, and “hello nurse” when I meet a nurse (ok I’m kidding about that one).

  53. #53 OleanderTea
    April 8, 2010

    As a Gen-X’er and former gothlypunkzine sort, I prefer the term “grrl” to “girl”; (un)fortunately they are pronounced the same.

    Use of “girl” comes down to what’s appropriate. If my friends want a “girls’ night out”, I’m fine with that usage (unless they screw up the apostrophe, but that’s another story). But if some guy I didn’t know (or at work) referred to me as a “girl”, you can bet that he’d be called a “boy” in reply and might well get a quick rundown on gender politics in the twenty-first century.

    That said, I think we do need to reclaim “woman” as the default term for female human beings, for the reasons noted.

    As to what has been mentioned about addressing groups, I fall back on my Southern background, and say, “Hey, y’all!” It’s all-inclusive AND non-specific!

  54. #54 Kim
    April 8, 2010

    Here’s what made me saddest about FSP’s post: the sense that younger women were rejecting 40- and 50-something women as boring and stodgy. I don’t get the sense that 40- and 50-something men are rejected in the same way (and that’s from experience seeing undergraduates interact with male professors). The 50-something women scientists I know succeeded despite a world that was against them. I wish they were admired for what they have achieved against the odds, rather than rejected for not being young and hip any more.

  55. #55 theshortearedowl
    April 9, 2010

    I guess I am a gen-Y (or even Z, or have we given up abusing poor Douglas Coupland’s ideas for lack of our own imagination?) female. I can’t relate to the term ‘woman’ – for me, women are those older people when I was growing up who were constrained by their gender and society’s expectations of them; who wore skirts and high heels and make-up; who would think less of a man who said ‘fuck’ in their presence; who expected to take the more domestic role in their marital arrangements for the sake of their husbands’ careers. Screw that. I will remain a girl until a better alternative presents.

  56. #56 MK
    April 9, 2010

    I’m going to be 30 this year and am a proud woman. Women in my family worked outside of the home, wore heels and dresses because the dress codes at the time forced them to, and were unafraid to cuss and call men (including their husbands) on their BS when the need arose. Yes, they are older, but aren’t we all going to be older women someday?

    I learned the term “needle-dicked bug fucker” from my grandmother. She’s still a force of nature at 87. I want to be a woman just like her.

  57. #57 Ace
    April 10, 2010

    MK, I love your grandmother. That’s the best new expression I’ve learned all week.

  58. #58 Ace
    April 13, 2010

    I find that I tend to use the term ‘girl’ because I think of myself as one. To me, a woman is a female with a certain amount of responsibility, maturity, and experience – someone who is no longer adolescent either in physical form, or attitude. Whereas ‘girl’ reflects that level of immaturity and inexperience.
    On a related note, though, I’ve always used ‘guys’ when addressing a group, as do many others I know, and used to provoke amusement by absent-mindedly greeting people I liked and respected with ‘hey man’ even if they were, in fact, women.

    And in response to comment 26, yeah, in Australia I hear the term ‘boys’ used about men even in their 30s+ all the time.

  59. #59 Ace
    April 13, 2010

    That said, if I had a guy use it in a sense that was clearly demeaning, I would be all over that.

  60. #60 skeptifem
    April 14, 2010

    The thing is that men can use the word ‘woman’ as an insult too. Like ‘quit being such a woman’, or ‘what were you thinking, woman?’, etc. What we are is an insult. Using crappy condescending words like girl is still insulting though.

  61. #61 SKM
    April 14, 2010

    To me, a woman is a female with a certain amount of responsibility, maturity, and experience – someone who is no longer adolescent either in physical form, or attitude. Whereas ‘girl’ reflects that level of immaturity and inexperience.

    I agree with this connotation. That’s why I do not call myself a girl and encourage others not to either. (I’m 36, but still get mistaken for an undergrad).

    Also, given the connotation, I’d say that guys calling me a “girl” are being clearly demeaning, whether they consciously intend to or not*. They may simply be so used to treating women as overgrown children that they don’t think about it. It’s still disparaging.

    *obviously, there are exceptions. If someone says to a group of adults, “OK, boys and girls!” that’s different. Yet time and again, I hear “men” and “girls” used to mean “men” and “women”. Grrr…

  62. #62 SKM
    April 14, 2010

    Also: I was born and raised in California, so I do have a “dude” habit–for men, for women, for groups, as an exclamation. It’s good for anything really!

    But I don’t pretend that my using it for women too makes the term gender-neutral. I’d say it’s a gendered word and I’m working on it.

    I think that “hey guys” for groups (and “dude!” as an exclamation) have become lexical units in their own right. But our male-as-default-human culture is the only reason these gendered terms could gain such lexical-unit status.

    Try to imagine a world in which you could approach a group of heterosexual cisgendered men and say “hey, ladies!” and have them not take it as an insult.

  63. #63 Synthia
    April 19, 2010

    Seriously, most of you especially the OP need to stop and wipe the sand out of your vaginas.Most women are pussies and useless nowadays. You want to be called women? Act like them.

  64. #64 Zuska
    April 19, 2010

    Seriously, most of you especially the OP need to stop and wipe the sand out of your vaginas.

    But I haven’t been to the beach in months! Not that I wouldn’t love to go, mind you. Just been too busy.

    Most women are have pussies…

    FTFY. We can only say “most” not “all” because many fabulous women may not have pussies. But they are definitely not useless.

  65. #65 Comrade Svilova
    April 19, 2010

    You want to be called women? Act like them.

    Ah, I love being told to act like a woman! There’s the comforting thought that there’s one way to be a woman and that all must conform to that model. Fantastic!

    Anyway, I do love the phrase “act like a woman” or “act like a lady” … because it makes it so glaringly obvious that gender is performative, rather than innate.

  66. #66 joy
    April 28, 2010

    I think the fact that many people are OKAY with, and even embrace, being called “girls” is because we have been desensitized to it by the backlash against feminism (“funfeminism”, in certain corners of the internet).

    I’m included in this legion, but only because I’d rather “girl” than “cunt,”, “whore”, “slut”, etc. But that doesn’t mean “girl” is a neutral term, FFS.

    Also, I wish my granny was half as cool as MK’s. (Both of my grannies are deceased.)
    But barring that, I will aim to become that kind of older woman myself.

  67. #67 Mordecai
    June 16, 2010

    I’m an early 20s guy: I call women what they prefer to be called, and default to “woman” if I’m not sure. (I wish I could use “gal” as a “guy” analogue, but it’s not my call.)

    By the way, in my Pacific Northwest youth, the two worst accusations would be “momma’s boy” and perhaps “creepy.” To be called “girly” or “gay” wasn’t without sting, but it was a bit absurd; using either as an insult could get you laughed at.

    My impression is that the language is (slowly) changing — “man” to me for example is less a value-neutral gender term and more a slightly purple, over-the-top Churchillian affectation. To me it connotes my grandfather’s gender roles. Sometimes that’s fine, but I don’t want to be my grandfather, and “guy” just suits me better. I’ve long suspected something similar was happening with “woman” and “girl,” but that it’s early enough that it shouldn’t change how guys use the words.

  68. #68 Zuska
    June 16, 2010

    Shorter Mordecai: `When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

  69. #69 Matt
    July 4, 2010

    I have often wondered why referring to an adult female as a “woman” – which is obviously what she is – is considered impolite by some people. Does the word “woman” still have negative connotations now?

    Certainly, calling an adult male a “man” is not seen in the same way. I have seen one or two toilet signs that read “mens” (note mens) and “ladies” – why don’t they put “womens” on the sign? “Ladies and Gents”, yes, but “Ladies and Mens”???

    I have noticed that even when people are simply talking about a woman in ordinary conversation they call her a “lady”, but a man is just a “man”, “guy” or “chap”.

    Someone saying “boys and girls” or “ladies and gents” is OK with me, it is “men and girls” or “ladies and men” that I find irritating, similar to what SKM mentioned.

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