The 'Girl' or 'Woman' Conversation

Should you call me a Girl or Women?

To me, it’s about the respect put into the word – you can be called a girl as long as you are still respected as a woman.

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The word ‘girl’ has mixed connotations, especially when being used to address a woman. At what point does a girl become a woman and is it rude or demeaning to call somebody a girl once they identify as a woman?

At the most basic level, I feel like it comes down to age. We refer to young females as girls, shifting to young women as they approach adulthood, then finally reaching woman at a certain point. I agree with this, feeling that the word ‘woman’ is reserved for people with life or career experience. For example, I wouldn’t call a mother ‘girl,’ nor would I use the moniker in a professional environment.  I feel that ‘woman’ is meant to indicate an acquired sense of maturity and self-respect that ‘girls’ can sometimes lack.  

For example, look at pop-culture such as Lena Dunham’s American Series Girls. The characters in it are ‘young women’ in a sense, but presented as spoilt and immature as they learn to deal with real life. In this sense, the shows title is accurate and probably intentional.

Professor of Anthropology Susan Greenhalgh believes that the ‘girl/woman’ debate “highlights the limits of our language.”

The terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ are gender-neutral, but not especially desirable for describing social issues, since they signal biological aspects of gender. For college-aged ‘males,’ we have the helpful term ‘guys,’ which allows us to avoid both ‘men’ and ‘boys.’ For ‘females,’ there is no similar term, forcing us to choose between ‘girls’ and ‘women.’ I vote for young women to embrace the term ‘woman’ and work harder to create meanings around it that are positive and empowering.
— Susan Greenhalgh

I agree with this, that the word ‘woman’ should have positive connotations – but similarly, we should also be working to create positive meanings for the word ‘girl.’

When we use words to describe adult women, that are typically used to describe children, it changes the way we view women, even unconsciously, so that we don’t equate them with adult men.
— Mayim Bialik

The word ‘girl’ can be demeaning or patronizing if used in certain contexts. For example, back in 2015, a photographer got called out for shouting “morning girls” at Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Energy Secretary Amber Rudd – this is because they are fully grown women. Morgan, who was also Minister of Women at the time was unimpressed. It also comes across as belittling when paired with words like ‘little’ or ‘baby,’ or when used in phrases such as ‘like a girl.’ These give impressions that girls are lesser - when do you hear the phrase “you throw like a boy.”

However, in the reverse of this, we as women, can own offensive names by using it towards each other in positive ways. Like I said earlier, we should be working to create positive meanings for the word ‘girl.’ Examples of this are the Always #LikeAGirl campaign and This Girl Can.

I use the word ‘girl,’ saying “hey girl” when talking to my friends, but I fully believe it depends on the context. It’s all about the respect you put into the word – I will happily be referred to as a ‘girl’ if I am still afforded the same respect as given to a woman. Beyoncé’s female anthem “Who Run The World (Girls)” gives a positive and empowering meaning to the word, as it is used with respect. Similarly, phrases like Girl Boss, Girl Power, or the feminist phrase ‘Girls Support Girls,’ are all said by women, to women, who recognise that we are women - it is used respectfully and in a positive light. Men can use the moniker too, but it should be in the appropriate setting (i.e. not in any professional environment) and it should be afforded the same level of esteem.

At the end of the day, people are going to call people whatever they want to call them. Some people might not find the term ‘girl’ disrespectful, some may even like it. It comes down to each person. If somebody calls you a ‘girl’ and you find it offensive, tell them. If somebody refers to another women as a ‘girl’ and you think it’s disrespectful, tell them. Like I said before, the word ‘woman’ should have positive connotations, but lets also create them for the word ‘girl’ too - because we girls have to stick together.

Stay Perfect, Messy People