“You’re really such a nice girl.”
“Well, girls like you deserve better.”
“I’ve never met a girl who liked history as much as me!”
“Seriously, a girl your age shouldn’t be alone at night.”
“Girls just don’t understand.”
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard infuriating rhetoric like this.
And never mind the bias. Never mind the close-talk and the high-pitched voices and the pity, like I’m being talked down to. The thing that bothers me most, actually, is the fact that I get called a girl more often than is acceptable.
And this is a pretty real issue for women worldwide, too. I’ve talked to my mother about it, my friends. We’re called “girls” on a daily basis even though we’re all legal adult women, and look like it, too. And I’m not the only one bothered by it. There’s a lot of women who don’t like being called girls.
“Girl” is the default term that some men tend to use when addressing or talking about us, even when we’re clearly grown women. Why is that?
I can’t speak for the men who do this, and truly I believe that this habit is mostly subconscious, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. My belief is that internalized misogyny — and the ability to talk down to women and treat them as beings that are “less than” men — has fueled mens’ ability to constantly address us as girls rather than women. And sure, it’s just a word, but when you’re a woman and you hear this all the time, sometimes the meaning behind the habit is a lot more powerful.
Most of the time, when I’m called a “girl,” it’s by someone who, in the same breath, calls himself a “man.” There really is no meaningful distinction to be seen, except that the first word that rolls off of his tongue for me is “girl” and yet he sees himself as some macho, powerful, adult creature. He doesn’t seem to see me the same way.
I’ve had men call me a girl when they’re mansplaining. “Well, girls just don’t get it,” they’ll say often of a subject that I clearly understand but just have differing opinions about. Or they’ll spew crap like, “Ugh, girls are so dramatic and rude,” when I know they’re referring to a group of twentysomething women who are really just being misunderstood (because, of course, we have the problem of using extreme language like “always” to generalize women, too).
The double-standard is clear: it is socially acceptable to call women “girls,” but when a man is called a “boy,” it’s construed as offensive. That’s not right.
The point of this is more than just the fact that I hate being called a girl. The point is that men don’t do the same for themselves. They don’t refer to themselves and their buddies as “boys” (unless they’re talking about hanging out in a group or something). You never hear a man say to another man, “You’re such a nice boy.” No. They’ll say things like, “You’re a good man.” Man. But with women, the word “girl” seems to roll seamlessly off their tongue without a thought about how dehumanizing and condescending this language can actually be.
The word “girl” when used to address a grown woman is condescending and diminishing.
It’s usually the word a man uses to refer to you right before he tries to tell you something you already know. Or the word he uses to refer to you and your woman friends right before he makes some huge generalization about all women. Or the word he uses to counsel you about something that you already have plenty of knowledge about. Or the word he uses to tell you you’re nice or that you deserve more or that you’re “smart for a girl.” It’s not the type of language he would use in the workplace towards another man. It’s not the type of language he’d even use towards a friend. But he’s using it to you, because subconsciously, society has taught him that it’s socially acceptable and even common for woman and girl to be synonymous with one another. Somewhere along the way, he learned that it was OK to talk down to women, to pity them, to stereotype them, to dehumanize them with language that sounds innocent but really harbors a lot of internal sexism.
So, I guess I’m a girl, but you’re a man.
Except I’m not a girl. I’m a woman.
We deserve the empowerment that comes with the word woman. We deserve to be known as mature, experienced, knowledgeable individuals without fearing condescension and prejudice.
We have never questioned your right to identify as men and address all of your peers as men, too.
Why question ours?