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Woman or Girl? - cellophane
the story of an invisible girl
renniekins
renniekins
Woman or Girl?
A friend write a post this morning that got me thinking. She mentioned that somebody had referred to Hillary Clinton as a "girl", and that seemed wrong. In the context of her post, her reaction made a lot of sense. However this got me mulling over my own relationship to the words "girl" and "woman".

When I was in high school and younger, we were "girls" and that was that. When I went to college on the East coast, all of a sudden we were "women". There was a strong push to call all the female students women, and the word girl was even considered offensive. People joked about it, but it was also very pervasive. I and all of the females I knew were now to be called women. I modified my language accordingly.

After college, when I entered the real world, the word girls came back. It surprised me at first, given how essential it had seemed at college to refer to females out of high school as women. Many of the women I met and worked with referred to their friends as girls, and I found myself relaxing with the term.

Later I came to think that all of the fervor in college probably had to do with "coming of age". As college females tried to find their identity and embrace a grown-up status, they considered the word girl to be backtracking. It was a name for children, and we were trying to grow beyond childhood. Yet at the same time, we really weren't adults yet. We were almost all full-time students, almost all just out of high school. We were all at different levels of maturity, trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up, even while pretending to already be grownup.

College females, I thought, insisted that they be called women because they weren't secure in their identity as such. It's a little bit like the way I used to be desperate to look unique in my clothing choices when I was younger, for example. I fought to proclaim to the world that I was different and interesting. Now I'm more secure -- I know I'm different and interesting, and I don't feel a need to shout it out with my clothing or hair or whatnot.

Now that I am more settled and more comfortable in my womanhood, I no longer am bothered by the word girl. Well, most of the time. Informally, I use it all the time. With friends, I'll use the words girls, women, or even ladies when being playful. In fact, the word women almost seems too formal and pretentious for casual use.

I think of myself as a girl most of the time, I suppose. After all I'm the JAVAGRL, and a girl geek, and I like some girly sorts of things. But at the same time I am also a woman -- strong, confident, self-sufficient. But at the same time I'll talk about Girl Power and whatnot. Maybe the difference in the terms is whether I'm feeling playful or serious. I'm not sure.

Professionally, it still seems that "woman" is a more appropriate word. This is particularly true with women I do not know well, or when referring to them with others. I feel uncomfortable to be called a girl by colleagues, even though I'll occasionally refer to myself as one when joking around.

I remember at my first job, I shared a cubicle with a woman. She and I had the same first name. A colleague of ours would stroll in often and say "Hi girls." We three (all about the same age) shared a friendly relationship, and joked around all the time, but it still felt weird. We bugged him about it until he stopped. He asked us, "Well what should I call you?" We suggested "guys is fine, women, folks, people, ladies, or maybe just use our name -- we even have the same one after all!" (I don't remember if he switched to another term, or if he just started saying something different when he approached us. It was awhile ago.)

It's an interesting question, and language is a funny thing. Part of the problem is that there is no female version of "guy". Although we embrace it in the plural, and a group of women can be called guys, it still isn't quite right to call one woman a guy. So in casual conversation I'll call women "girls" -- but to make up for it, sometimes I'll call men "boys". I figure that evens things out a bit.

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Comments
atdt1991 From: atdt1991 Date: June 18th, 2008 05:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
See, I think "girls" can have multiple definitions, and it is awfully difficult to tell what someone means in context.

I think that "girl" and "guy" are parallels just as "girl" and "boy", but that they mean very different things.

If someone refers to me, in the singular, as a boy, they'd better be a close friend or old, or mean it in the same way as you'd use "dude!". "girl", to me, is similar - if it's used like "dude" (as in, "girl, I don't even know about that!"), I think it's totally acceptable (I know I'm a guy, but I have opinions too. :) ).

On the other hand, "girl, could you get me coffee" is different, and "she's such a girl" is different, and "listen to what I say, girl" is wayyy different, and all totally uncool.

Plurally speaking, I am totally comfortable with "girls" "guys" and "boys" all being used. I find "women" and "men" to be uncomfortable formal in most informal contexts. When someone says "Hey girls!" I see it as equating to "hey guys!", but I can see how it might be uncomfortable depending on the position of the person saying it. And "hey boys!" can be used in a playful context.

I use "lady" and "ladies", but in the same playful manner that you do, I think. And never to call over some random stranger, I know enough to know you might as well append "old" if you're going to say that. :D

Ma'am and Miss are harder, I think. I almost never use Miss, and would prefer it would die in a fire and people pretend it never existed. If everyone could be Ma'am and Mister, things would be easier on everyone. Yes, I know the original Madame denoted marriage, but this is 2008, and we need a fair and respectful term to refer to women, and Miss implies superiority in some way, in my opinion, and Ms. has implications of divorce.

What do you think?
pi3832 From: pi3832 Date: June 18th, 2008 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ma'am and Miss are harder, I think. I almost never use Miss, and would prefer it would die in a fire and people pretend it never existed. If everyone could be Ma'am and Mister, things would be easier on everyone. Yes, I know the original Madame denoted marriage, but this is 2008, and we need a fair and respectful term to refer to women, and Miss implies superiority in some way, in my opinion, and Ms. has implications of divorce.

In SE Louisiana, Miss is used as an honorific for women, along with a first name.

So, a boy would call a friend of his mother's "Miss Karen." (Similarly, "Mister Mike.")
renniekins From: renniekins Date: June 19th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting, I never thought Ms implied divorce or had bad connotations. I've always thought of it as more of a "my marital status is none of your business". If I pick a salutation when filling out a form, it's always Ms. I'm okay with children calling me Miss though.
dragonvpm From: dragonvpm Date: June 19th, 2008 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)
I was inclined to disagree with your interpretation of Ms so I did some googling and Wikipedia came up with the following (which covered the most ground):

"Ms (UK) or Ms. (USA), (pronounced /mɪz/ or /məz/[1]) is an English honorific used with the last name or full name of a woman. As with Mrs. and Miss, Ms. is a contraction of the honorific "Mistress", which is the feminine of "Mister" or "Master". However, unlike Miss and Mrs., it does not presume the addressee's marital status. Ms. originated in the United States and was popularized in the 1970s. In the U.S., the Emily Post Institute states that Ms. is the default form of address for business correspondence with a woman."

Which is pretty much how I learned it growing up. Personally, I can say that it's been my experience that unmarried women who aren't fairly young often seem to prefer Ms. to Miss and certainly to Mrs. and that's definitely what I use when addressing a woman in business correspondence.
atdt1991 From: atdt1991 Date: June 19th, 2008 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
I wasn't referring to business correspondence, which is trending away from using any honorifics anyway - I was referring to my personal experience.

I am aware that the textbook definition is that it does not presume the addressee's marital status, but as the child of a divorced mom with a divorced grandmother and two divorced aunts, it was my experience that unmarried women were miss, married women were mrs, and divorced women were ms.

My point was that whether the connotation was intended or not, that was what I experienced, and so I avoid it.
dragonvpm From: dragonvpm Date: June 19th, 2008 05:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, ok, I misunderstood. I didn't quite parse Ms = divorced was your specific interpretation.

I've been around a fair number of divorced people too and if a woman preferred Ms. it was usually as a negative reaction against being referred to as Mrs. If you consider the options, Miss is seen to imply youth (and perhaps naivete/inexperience) and Mrs denotes marriage and even implied possession (for example Mrs. doesn't go over well with some of my married friends who did not change their name when they got married).

Although, ultimately this conversation probably proves the overall point in the girl/woman debate, in that people's reactions to the terms are highly personal and anyone's preference to a term is largely a function of what baggage and experiences come along with it.
operatic From: operatic Date: June 18th, 2008 05:54 pm (UTC) (Link)
[Off-topic] Thank you for the nice card! (It got here yesterday.) :)
renniekins From: renniekins Date: June 19th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)
You're welcome! (:
lahabiel From: lahabiel Date: June 18th, 2008 06:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
My college comedy troup had a superhero sketch, with the character Woman Girl. She was the romantic co-hero of Man Man, but not the mother of Boy Man, his faithful sidekick.

JavaGrl sounds like a good name for a heroine -- a really jittery, high-energy heroine.... :)
renniekins From: renniekins Date: June 19th, 2008 03:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Pretty cool, both items!
autographedcat From: autographedcat Date: June 18th, 2008 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
One of my sweeties, sweetmusic_27, is fond of patting me on the head and sighing "Yep, you're a boy." whenever I do something particularly laddish. I find it endearing.

Just as a datapoint. :)
lizerati From: lizerati Date: June 18th, 2008 07:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's all about intent for the most part. That, of course, means it's situational and there's no hard and fast rules. I think the one exception is work. "Girl" in the office can be demeaning because it kind of takes you back to the time where the girls did the typing and coffee making and the men did the thinking and deciding.

Also, if women use it at work, it makes me think of a gaggle of gossipy older ladies that are always on a diet.
From: bloggingchick Date: June 18th, 2008 07:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've always pondered the question, too. Usually when referring to other "women" I say female, i.e. "that female just threw a piece of paper on the floor..." I don't know why, I just do. I suppose if she looks younger than me (or acts a lot younger) I say girl. Other times I say woman. But then I find myself thinking about the saying "that's no woman that's a lady", meaning ladies have better manners than women do. But if I don't know the female, how would I know if she has manners or not? Does the saying still even apply these days?

As for men, that is more difficult. I generally use "guy" although if it is a guy who looks older than I, I tend to use "man" more. If he looks much younger, like late teens through age 29ish, I tend to call him "kid" (well, not to his face): that kid has a nice car. Others I call "dude": That dude held the door open for me.
dagibbs From: dagibbs Date: June 18th, 2008 10:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
For an adult female, I like neither "girl" nor "woman". As you say, woman sounds too formal. Girl sounds too dismissive, male privileged and sexist. I would love a female gender equivalent to "guy", and somehow "gal" just doesn't cut it. I'm not sure why, but it doesn't. And, I don't like "guy" for the same reason that I have a mild dislike for he/his as the gender-neutral pronoun, it tends to be non-inclusive to females.

For me, it is a feminism issue in a lot of ways.
mbumby From: mbumby Date: June 25th, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ms. is my address of choice.

I remember in Sunday school, when the teacher said something about growing up to be ladies, and I corrected her "women", she scornfully told me that perhaps I would be a woman, but _she_ was a lady.

Woman is my address of choice. Girl implies pre-pube. So when somebody says "I was dating a girl..." I will probably smart-aleck them.

I don't have problems with "Girls night out" though. Maybe because that's a fun, playing, perhaps childlike occurrence.

I try to speak so that if it would not be correct to call a male a "boy" in that circumstance, I don't call a female a "girl". If I call a man a boy, it is probably saying something negative about his maturity, responsibility, or whatever.

Unfortunately I fall prey to something that I think too many others do. Name the candidates? McCain, Obama, and Hillary. I try to catch myself, but sometimes it slips through.
renniekins From: renniekins Date: June 25th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, good point on that one. That's a good thing to watch out for in my own speech!

Ms. Clinton has made it extra awkward by having a previous president's name. Still our current president is called Bush at least part of the time (other times I've heard George W).
mbumby From: mbumby Date: June 25th, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or just Dubya. Or the Shrub. Or things that George Carlin would blush to say. Or if they're talking abouit both of them, I think it's "Bush 41" and "Bush 43".
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