On Life and Love

Conscious decisions

It came to my attention this weekend in a discussion with WO that our culture has an unsurprising tendency to call women “girls”, especially in my age group. “Guys” is considered equivalent to “girls”. Not a big deal, not really a belittling of women worth noting.

Or is it? While it may not be as prominent an issue as using “cunt” or “gay” to be pejorative, I think it does shape our view of gender.

In following a thread of links about [tag]pornographer[/tag]s calling their actresses “sluts” and “whores” today, I ran across a well-written piece by a porn photographer denouncing such practices. He went on to say that those sort of descriptions digust him, and that he’d never call his girls anything like that.

Um, what?

Calling someone a “girl” reduces them to being a child. In this culture, that takes away the validity of their reasoning ability and reduces them to someone who needs to be taken care of, guided. Those women are not coworkers, they are his girls.

So I’m making a conscious decision. That decision is to be very aware of the context in which I use the word “girl” and to make sure to decide if there is a better substitute I could use… like “woman”. Or “person”. Or “vaguely humanoid entity”.

[tags]feminism, conscious word choice[/tags]


  • jed

    I will have to start calling every human/ape/monkey I talk to a ‘vaguely humanoid entity’

  • A

    I’ve felt rather awkward with such words, and I have a completely different reason – though perhaps attacked through an orthogonal situation. See, we constantly show deference to others in typical conversation. Thus with different group, I sometimes find myself at a loss as to what I am in respect to others.

    So, when I’m here or talking about people here to others older than me, I talk of girls, guys, and kids (‘the kids at school were…’) – and I’m serious: school here is often a playground. Too, I feel that college links us to school, and the attitude is strikingly similar – so I feel awkward refering to others as men and women; it’s not my place to rank others that way, I can only rank others as high as myself – some transitional point that will flux until I live by myself (or get married, whatever). In the end, I think ‘girls’ and ‘guys’ defines young adult, whereas ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ defines children.

    I never use the word as a perjorative, but I suppose that since we use ‘girls’ as a blanket term for both age groups, some women could take offense at it. I am content that I have been called a ‘man’ by people I respect, and also called one of the ‘boys’ by the same. I have been called many things. When I am older and more mature, I would expect less confusion, but I don’t think twenty-one-year-olds are as mature as society makes us out to be. But maturity is an entirely different rant; thanks for listening 🙂

  • Bob S

    What do you think of “gals” or “ladies?”

    I’ve noticed when Kate and I mock eachother she’ll usually call me “Boy!” and I’ll go “Woman!” Wives don’t like being called “Woman!” Her sister claims she’s the only one who can call Kate “Lady” and gets pissed whenever I use the term.

    It is interesting that “Woman!” can be considered demeaning because a woman is a full grown female. I get “Boy!” because you’re saying a grown man is acting childish. This may be some inherent sexism.

    To avoid complications I say “Hey Kids!” when entering a room. Which is quite funny at work considering I’m one of the youngest there.


  • Lissa

    Bob: I think it’s all in the tone, really. “Gals” happens to be derived from “girls”, but I find it be less… “loaded” than “girls”. I don’t mind being called a “lady”, myself, but I could see where other might think there are connotations of the old-style simpering maiden, incapable of wiping her ass without assistance. *shrug, grin*

    I’m more worried with the casual equality of “girls” with “guys” these days. “Guys” definitely implies teenage or older in men, while “girls” is used almost regardless of age.

    I think the “Hey kids!” is the solution to everything, now that you brought it up. Because really, shouldn’t we all be more childish in some ways?

  • Lissa

    Andrew: I understand the dilemma you bring up–I remember having a hard time decided where men in college are on the spectrum. Are they men? Maybe; am I qualified to judge that? Still boys? Naw. I finally settled on “guys” as a young-man equivalent.

    And what am I? What level of responsibility do I have to take on to qualify as a full-grown woman or adult? (And is that the best way to look at the situation?) Only very recently did one of my parents say to me, “Wow, you’ve taken on so much responsibility. As much as a real adult.”

    I don’t know that I care to look to my parents for that validation, but the question remains: what am I with respect to professors, my peers, my parents, my colleagues?

    One I still don’t have an answer to.