Why do we continue to call women, adult women, girls?
When I hear the word, girl, I assume you are referring to a child.
Whether you realise it or not calling an adult woman a girl is undermining, patronising and diminishes everything about her.
I know many people will respond or react saying that I am making a big deal out of something small & am being overly sensitive. I can hear it now…..it’s just a word…..it doesn’t mean anything.
Actually, it means a lot. Language is purposeful. Every word has a meaning.
The meaning of the word girl is ‘a female child’. Is that what you are? I know I am not.
I am on a mission to remove the word girl as a description for any women over 18.
I have been on my own journey over the last 4-5 years to remove this word from my vocabulary, unless referring to a female child.
I had my own horrible moment on this exact topic. On a stage in front of approx 3,000 women in 2016 I referred to 3 women as girls. You can’t even begin to imagine what went through my brain in that nano second after I realised what I had done. I quickly weighed up whether I should have called out what I had just done, or gloss over it.
I made the wrong decision.
I decided to say nothing. As the moderator of this panel, my rational at the time was the focus was on the three very talented women I was interviewing and not myself. Also, I was embarrassed and mentioning it would only bring more attention to my mistake.
When I look back now I wish I had made a different decision. I wish I had stopped for the 10 seconds it would have taken for me to acknowledge my own error. I had the opportunity to impact over 3000 women and I didn’t take it. I won’t make that mistake again.
It’s happening all the time
If you think these are isolated incidences, they are not. It is happening every day and in all environments.
I recently listened to a podcast hosted by a highly successful woman. Her guest was an educated man. During a response to one of her questions he referred to himself as a man and to her as a girl…..in the same sentence.
I follow a very inspiring woman on Instagram who regularly refers to the clients she coaches as girls. I am sure this is just a habit and she means no ill intent. However, as a coach she needs to be elevating these women.
Why does it matter
Our mission is to always elevate women in society.
Whether you recognise it or not using the term girl to refer to a woman is one of many microagressions we, as women, face.
If as a woman you say that you have no problem with being called a girl you are feeding into the problems we are facing. While you may not have an issue with being called a girl, are you aware of the implications?
Misogyny continues to be an issue we face. Misogyny is a word that gets thrown around a lot, with little understanding of what it actually means. It can be described as a dislike, contempt for or ingrained prejudice against women. Everyone woman I talk to will be able to share at least one (and in some cases many more) ways that she has been impacted by these prejudices.
Being called a girl takes away our power and our kick ass abilities. It is belittling, and makes women smaller, less powerful, more childlike and therefore less independent and self sustainable. It is so much easier for girls to be dismissed. It is much harder to dismiss a woman.
The world needs to change
We continue to live in a world that infantilise’s women. Many advertising & movies portray women as childlike, immature, incapable of taking care of themselves without a man. Regardless of your gender identity, you are shown women as helpless, high emotion, weak, and in need of protection. This is not an accurate portrayal of the women I know. They are strong, independent women who are more than capable of taking care of themselves.
Given we continue to live in a world with gender inequality, we will not achieve gender equality while we still call women “girls.” It might seem like a small change but it is one in many steps that need to be taken to move forward. It is also something that you can hold yourself accountable for.
We already live in a world of patriarchy, with male privilege and entitlement. It is our responsibility as women to call out behaviour that perpetuates the stereotype of powerless, needy, girls!
Intent versus Impact
If called out on this behaviour most will say they had no ill intent and I say the intent is not relevant, the impact is.
I know I know….you didn’t mean anything by it.
It doesn’t matter. If you accidentally stepped on my foot and hurt me you would apologise right? Your intent was not to hurt me, but you did so and you are willing to apologise.
The same is true of racism, misogny and so many other issues we all face in our society today. Your intent is not what you should be apologising for. You are apologising for the actual impact.
As the world (hopefully) becomes more aware of the reality of intentions versus impact this a great article to help explain further.
What about you?
While a group of men may be called boys, we never call a singular man a boy, especially in the workplace.
Would you ever go home at night and tell someone about this boy at work? No, you might refer to him as a man or a guy, but I have never heard boy.
However, I can imagine you would go home though and tell them about a girl at work?
Listen to conversations around you. How many times in a day do you hear women referred to as girls. I challenge you to pay attention!
My horror at synonyms
As I was writing this article I wanted to share with you alternative words, other than lady or woman, you could use to refer to an adult women so I did a search using the term ‘words you can use to refer to women’ otherwise known as synonyms.
I was horrified by the first post on page one! Read these words and tell me what you think and what emotions these evoke in you.
RELATED WORDS AND SYNONYMS FOR FEMALE
Not one word here is flattering (except female) towards women and immediately turns everything in something about how you look.
My personal view is that woman or lady is totally sufficient. Yes, you will find that it doesn’t naturally roll of your tongue to start with, but changing any habit takes a little time, self awareness and action.
I’m definitely not the first nor should I be the last
I am not the first nor will I be the last person to talk about this topic. As I started my own journey on changing the language I used to describe women I came across this amazing youtube video from Mayim Bialik. As a neuroscientist she is fully aware of the impact words have. There are also a number of other articles out there. If you want to learn more about this important topic these are insightful articles and videos.
What can we do about it
We need to call out people calling grown ass women girls.
Now before a bunch of men get up in arms this call out is to everyone. It is often women I see referring to women as girls. I am asking all genders to change their behaviour and pay attention to their language.
Women need to lead the way if we want to see change.
Go forth and change (the world)
Change you and others around you.
We often under estimate the impact of small changes.
Sometimes it can seem like there is so much work that needs to be done for gender equality, but we have to start taking action. This is only one small way in which you can impact women’s advancement in society but it is one way.
In a world that often takes women less seriously than their male counterparts this is just one tiny step we can take to continuing changing our society for the betterment of everyone