Perhaps one of my biggest pet peeves is being referred to as a “girl.” I spent most of my last relationship correcting my ex when he would refer to women in their 30’s and 40’s as girls, and reminding him that they were, in fact, women, and should be addressed as such. I cannot stand the phrase “girl boss,” or “girl gang.” I don’t even like the phrase “girl’s night out,” considering that it usually refers to consuming some form of alcoholic beverage and going out; definitely a woman’s activity.
The common practice of calling women “girls” seems innocuous, yet this patronizing habit does not serve women, or the girls who will inevitably become women. The language is undermining at best, and dehumanizing at worst. The term “girl” refers to “a female child,” not an adult woman. Infantilizing women is not new, and no matter how accomplished women have become, many are still treated this way in the news, media, and professional environments. With sexism still a norm, pay still unequal, and women being seen as less competent and hireable, (even with the same experience and skill-sets), calling women ‘girls’ has got to go.
Perhaps one of the most interesting places to discuss this, is in relation to the popular terms “girl boss” and “boss babe”, which most often refer to movements and sentiments related to the empowerment of women in business settings. These terms and the movement around them generally refer to “women who run things” in a world where patriarchy still runs rampant and women are still underrepresented in business. Though intentions are often in the right place, and the work done in these spaces and environments has been well-meaning and positive, using these titles still infantilizes women founders and bosses.
If that was not enough to have you re-think calling women girls, or even calling yourself a girl if you identity as a woman, let us not forget the sexual undertones “girl” connotes, as it continues to objectify women and even sexualize actual girls. We must also remember we do not call men boys. Calling Black men “boys” has deep roots in racism, othering, and dehumanizing behaviour. “Boy” is not benign, and frankly, neither is “girl.”
Ultimately, language matters. One goal of radical feminism and womanism is to deconstruction boxes, and boxes are framed by language. The idea is that if we take away the boxes, the sky is the limit. Being viewed equally and treated fairly as humans, and not objects, IS an option.
When we continue to refer to women as girls, we keep women from being viewed in the empowering way I think many of us would like for them to be viewed. Removing condescending language from our vocabulary is part of the process. This applies to those who are not women when referring to women, and even to women when referring to ourselves.
Claire Fountain (@cbquality) is the wellness culture of tomorrow. A writer, therapist, and celebrity yoga instructor whose globally recognized TrillYoga continues to influence the fitness industry. Claire inspires with her unorthodox and realistic approach to yoga and mental health, while promoting a conscious lifestyle through insight and education. Her work focuses on the intersection of women, well being, mind body integration, self worth and the stories we tell ourselves with experience ranging from over half a dozen e-books and articles to international classes and speaking engagements.