Sunday morning, February. We lie in my bed as the light shines through the window. He picks up my phone to absent mindedly play with it. I panic and grab it from him. Phones are not to be shared.
Me (smiling): I’m a woman who is very protective of her phone!
His face grimaces.
Him: Ugh, I don’t like the word ‘woman’. You’re not a woman, you’re a girl.”
I smile, bemused.
Me: Are you a boy?
Him: No! I’m a man.
I laugh. We’re in the flat I own (he rents), I earn three times his salary, and I have a Masters to his GSCE Levels. If one of us is a child, it’s not me.
Four years later, Sunday 1 March 2015, I’m sitting in a café near a group of retired women. The waiter approaches their table, “What can I get you girls”? These “girls” are in their seventies.
Sigh. The word “girl” continues to haunt me.
There are the office “girls”, the girl on reception, the bargirl, the girl at the gym. Males work in the office, serve at bars etc. but are never called office boys, the barboy, the boy at the gym.
It’s an insult to call a man a boy. It’s common place to call a woman a girl. But women are not girls, because adults are not children.
Words. Words are wonderful. But they’re also weapons, and they’re powerful. They subtly reflect and create the views of a culture.
- Twice today I’ve heard the expression “he’s a family man”. I’ve never heard of a “family woman”.
- I’m sometimes referred to as a “career woman”. I don’t know that I’ve heard of a “career man”.
- There’s the word “emasculate” but what is the female equivalent? What’s the word that deprives a woman of her female role or identity?
- News headlines scream about “murdered girls” who are in their twenties. I’ve not seen a male in his twenties referred to as a boy in the media.
- Women occasionally talk about their “girlfriends” (e.g. “A few of my girlfriends met up at the weekend”). Why not just “friends”? I’ve never heard a heterosexual male say he’s “meeting his boyfriend for a few drinks”.
Words are important, they make us laugh, reflect, cry. Without words, we’re grunting animals (too often we’re grunting animals even with words).
Blurring the line of women (adults) and girls (children) through our words is dangerous. It sends a subconscious message. If we call women girls, then the sexualisation of actual girls becomes more acceptable because all females (adults/teenagers/children) are “girls” and since it’s okay to have sex with “girls” (adult women) it becomes mentally acceptable to think sexually about actual girls. Those “she’s all grown up” media headlines are skin-crawling.
It’s argued that some women prefer to be called girls because it makes them feel younger. The glorification of youth (particularly female youth) is another problem in itself, though it’s linked to the value of women. It partners with society’s emphasis on female appearance. Yes, women can now succeed in business … but they must look “hot” while doing it.
There’s nothing wrong with being a girl, if you are a girl. Female children (girls) are loud, quiet, funny, serious, strong, vulnerable … they are young humans who encompass all the talents and frailties that humans (young and old) have. The ad campaign “Run like a girl” poignantly illustrates the negative perception that many people have of girls and this must change.
However we are not girls. We are women and we need to call ourselves what we are.
I look forward to International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March.
Joss Whedon (noted writer/director/producer of feminist characters) gives a fantastic talk on equality for women and discusses the word feminist. The speech is here as well as a good article about it.
Some great twitter accounts to follow for information about feminism are: @glosswitch @Jsoosty @FeministPics @EllieCumbo