Why Do We Insist on Calling Women Girls?

This article was originally published on TheVine on 24th February, 2015.

Pop culture would dictate that women are girls until they’re too old to warrant being a part of public life: so, like, 50. I probably internalised this as it’s only in recent years that I’ve felt a) old enough and b) confident enough to call myself a woman. Up until then I was, to borrow a line from Britney Spears, “Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”. Now that I identify as a woman, I find it all the more noticeable when other people refer to women as girls.

As one of the strongest influences in many people’s lives, how certain cultures and minorities are represented in pop culture informs how we feel about them in wider society. Just listing the shows and pop groups with the word “girl” in the title already says a lot.

There’s Gilmore Girls, about a young woman and her mother; Gossip Girl, which follows the trajectory of high schoolers to just-as-immature adults; Girls, the brainchild of one of the most influential women in pop culture currently, Lena Dunham; and Gone Girl, about a very-much-adult woman who disappears. The Spice Girls are now grown women who still trade on that moniker. Even Sex & the City, which follows the lives of four 30-somethings, and later 40-(and 50!-)somethings in the ill-fated movies, insists on referring to Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda as “girls”. “I couldn’t help but wonder about brunch with the girls”, Carrie would muse from her laptop.

In actuality, all but a few of these pop cultural representations could more accurately be described—and titled—with the word “women” in mind. Calling the career women of Sex & the City or The Spice Girls… erm… “girls” undermines the positions they are in their careers and personal lives.You would hardly call a Samantha Jones-type an “It girl” in her field if you met her in real life. Anne Helen Peterson continues to unpack the notion as it pertains to “It Girls” in a recent article for Buzzfeed.

Further to this, in a 2008 piece on Jezebel, Dodai Stewart writes, “A girl is insecure, incomplete; a woman is confident, competent.” With this in mind, calling the women of Girls girls might not seem as out of place as using it to refer to, say, Beyoncé, who sings about being a ‘Grown Woman’ on her self-titled album. (I am well aware that she also has a contradictory song called ‘Run the World [Girls]’).

Madonna addressed the stigmatisation and violence that trans women and girls face in ‘What It Feels Like for A Girl’ in 2000. Her voiceover states that boys who want to look like girls are “degrading, ’cause you think that being a girl is degrading.” Certainly, in some communities there is no distinction between women and girls: they both wield a dismal amount of power. The transmisogyny that Madonna sings about surrounds Bruce Jenner’s rumoured impending transition and shows that we might not be as progressive about gender relations as we fancy.

It’s not always necessarily about explicitly saying “girl” but the sexist connotations applied to the word. This is perhaps none more evident than in sport, as we’ve seen at the Australian Open. World number seven Eugenie Bouchard was doubly infantalised by the male interviewer who called her and her fellow female tennis players “you girls” and asked her to twirl in her pretty tennis duds.

The distinction comes down to the sexist ideal of girls being perceived as fun and fancy-free and women as hard-to-please shrews. Women have agency and aren’t afraid to ask for what they want; girls are agreeable to anything.

Law professor Kate Galloway writes further about this relationship between language and treatment at law blog Amicae Curiae, specifically referencing how the “girls” of our Olympic basketball team travelled to the London Games in 2012 in premium economy while the male team flew business class.

This, along with the lack of mainstream support and coverage, would seem to indicate an obvious disregard for women’s sports. “Throw like a girl” being used as an insult solidifies it. The term was, however, used positively in the recent Superbowl commercial for feminine hygiene brand, Always, and was the title of the Spike Lee-directed doco about baseball player and Associated Press’ Female Athlete of 2014, Mo’ne Davis.

In daily usage, we may not be actively diminishing the independence of our women friends when we “catch up with the girls” but it’s amazing how prevalent the term is. I’m just as guilty of it. I’ll sometimes refer to the saleswoman who presents as younger than me as “the girl who served me” or I’ll comment on something on social media with the cliché, “You go, girl!” Sure, “girl” can be used as a term of endearment between equals, just the way “queer” has been reclaimed by the gay community.

But as Galloway says, “I acknowledge that sometimes it might be [okay] to be ‘one of the girls’… I use the term to refer to my women teammates or close women friends. For former women team members now commentating on their sport at the Olympics, it may likewise be acceptable during an interview to refer to ‘the girls’. It should not however be presumed that any woman athlete can acceptably be referred to as a girl.”

When being a girl—indeed, being a woman—is still seen as less than, whether blatantly or more insidiously, I’m making a conscious effort to instead interact with and encourage my fellow women without pigeonholing them as “girls”. Women are capable of so much more than the gossiping, brunching and winging our pop cultural compatriots would reduce us to when they call us that.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] The Trouble with “It Girls”.

[Jezebel] Ladies, Let’s Be Honest: Are We Girls? Or Are We Women?

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Asked to “Twirl” By On-Court Presenter Following Australian Open Match.

[Amicae Curiae] Don’t Call Me Girl. I’m a Woman.

[Daily Life] Eugenie Bouchard Deserves Better Than Sexist “Twirl” Request.

[Bitch] Is “Girl-Power” Advertising Doing Any Good?

On the (Rest of the) Net.


Rachel Hill’s book The Sex Myth, released on Wednesday, is excerpted here. [Sydney Morning Herald]

And I interviewed Rachel on the book. (An extended version to come.) [Junkee]

I also wrote about how I Am Cait might be the turning point in reality TV. [Spook Magazine]

35 of the 46 women who have accused Bill Cosby of drugging and/or sexually assaulting them have been photographed for and told their stories to New York magazine. [The Cut]

How that story came about and how they recovered from the DDoS hack. [Mashable]

What happens to mass murderer groupies when their subjects are convicted? [Slate]

In the wake of last week’s Twitter hubbub, Taylor “Swift isn’t here to help women—she’s here to make bank.” [Gawker]

Is there room for the Legends Football League in the recent revolution of women’s sports? [Grantland]

A history of World Wrestling Entertainment’s racism. [The Atlantic]

Orange is the New Black fails its Asian characters. [Hyphen Magazine]

On the “racebending” of Hermione Granger. [HuffPo, Buzzfeed]

ICYMI: My thoughts on Hulk Hogan and racism in wrestling.

Image via Musings of an Inappropriate Woman.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls”‘ emphasis on looks dates the song. [Pitchfork]

The reemergence of talking about abortion. [WaPo]

Jurassic World didn’t have to be “overtly feminist”, just “overtly not sexist”. [Vulture]

The return of the teen movie. [The Dissolve]

Just when you thought Mad Max: Fury Road couldn’t be milked (pardon the pun) for any further feminist viewpoints, someone writes a breast milk article. [Bitch Flicks]

The rise and rise of In Touch magazine. [Buzzfeed]

ICYMI: “The Perception of Power in Orange is the New Black.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Rihanna met gala 2015

The red carpet allows women to take up space they wouldn’t normally. [Spook Magazine]

In defence of the Supergirl trailer:

“It’s Supergirl. It’s supposed to be aimed at teenage girls. If you’re not one, and it bothers you that it’s aimed at someone who isn’t you, just think: now you have some understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl (or indeed, grown woman) watching another TV show/movie/video game trailer and thinking ‘oh right, another TV show/movie/video game aimed at men.'” [Den of Geek]

A love letter to Betty Draper. [Buzzfeed]

Deconstructing the effort that goes into being Kim Kardashian. [The Atlantic]

Kardashian’s Selfish calls to mind “another struggle of a young girl inventing herself in and out of the spotlight amidst Southern California insanity, hedonism, and wealth, but at the epicenter of the most highly charged racial trial of an era; where the black man won at the same time as her body became deformed, shaped, changed.” [Vulture]

If Anna Kendrick’s not a Cool Girl then what is she? [Buzzfeed]

Since when did giving the least amount of fucks become cool? [HuffPo]

Joss Whedon’s reproductive coercion and forced motherhood. [Bitch Flicks]

Not wanting children doesn’t make you selfish: actually, having kids does. [Catherine Deveny]

ICYMI: My (just!) three problems with Married at First Sight.

Image via Mirror.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

greys anatomy you are the sun

Following on from last season’s “lean in” motif, this season on Grey’s Anatomy it’s all about its women taking time for themselves, whether that’s personal or professional. [Bitch Flicks]

Personal space is a feminist issue. [Sociological Images]

Loving football (and, indeed, wrestling) doesn’t make you a bad feminist. [Kill Your Darlings]

How will you know when you’ve made it? For me I think it will be when I’ve been published a) on Daily Life and b) in the American market; headhunted for something; verified on Twitter; and when those I admire in the same industry see me as a peer. How will you know? [The Hairpin]

And Rachel Hills ponders what it means to have made it, and ways to pass the time while you’re waiting to. [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman]

Young, single and successful women are increasingly living alone in affluent cities. [Daily Life]

In defence of Amber Rose:

“Amber Rose is hot. Amber Rose is also a mom. Amber Rose was also a wife. And if T.I. can be a convicted felon who’s rapped about sex, guns, and drugs and still be ‘father knows best’ on The Family Hustle once a week, why is a sexy woman suddenly an unfit mother just because she posts photos in her lingerie? If you don’t like what you think she represents, make sure you’re just as vocal about these less-than-angelic men raising children while bragging about one-night stands and trappin’. If they’re just entertaining and expressing themselves, then so is she. If they’re just living up to an image and a brand, then so is she.” [The Daily Beast]

And while we’re at it, in defence of Rihanna. [Buzzfeed]

Can World Wrestling Entertainment #GiveDivasaChance to be in the main event of WrestleMania 32? [Between the Ropes]

It wasn’t Jackie’s responsibility to get the details of her rape correct; it was Rolling Stone‘s. [The Guardian]

Stop calling women crazy. [Birdee]

ICYMI: the ties that bind us in menstruation and do you ever feel like you’re trapped behind a screen?

If these links haven’t sated your appetite for feminist goodness, the 83rd Down Under Feminists Carnival has arrived featuring much more from Australia and New Zealand. [Opinions @ BlueBec]

Image via Tumblr.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

how to get away with murder penis dead girls phone

Grey’s Anatomy. Private Practice. Scandal. How to Get Away with Murder. I ask if Shonda Rhimes has a mistress problem. [Junkee]

I wrote about how to make sure your beauty cabinet is full of cruelty free goodies. [TheVine]

What this season’s new crop of diverse shows means for the future of television. [Flavorwire]

Roxane Gay was in Australia and she had lots of smart and funny observations of our culture. [Junkee]

The problem with #choreplay: men are human adults who should know how to do housework and want to live in a clean, somewhat orderly environment, not robots who do chores to get sex from women. [The Guardian]

Further to that, why are we urging women to lean in to unequal labour dynamics? Shouldn’t we be trying to figure out a system of work and wages that benefits more than just white, middle class men? [Buzzfeed]

Leisure time is a feminist issue. I know it certainly is for me. I hate cooking so I make sure I’ve got enough food to last me lunches and dinners on the days I work ’cause the last thing I want to do is come home and spend my spare time preparing food. On the work front, I’m really busy with three jobs (day job, freelancing, Outback Championship Wrestling) and I was recently offered at (paid!) internship but I had to turn it down because I’m already burning the candle at both ends. And that’s the reason I won’t have kids: I don’t want to be an angry, resentful mother like my own mother sometimes was because I don’t have enough time for myself and no one appreciates me. So in a nutshell: I can relate. [Daily Life]

Australia has a dire domestic violence problem. [The Monthly]

Amy Gray gave the International Women’s Day address at the Queen Victoria Women’s Centre in Melbourne. Here‘s the transcript. [Pesky Feminist]

Mia Freedman laments the criticism she receives from the “packs” of “Twitter feminists” every time she says something about women. Did you ever think that’s because the things you say about women are worthy of criticism? [MamaMia, TheVine]

Quinn and Emma are the characters Glee should have written as trans men, not the predictable and oft-shat on Coach Beiste. [Bitch Flicks]

ICYMI: World Wrestling Entertainment will never #GiveDivasaChance as long as they employ and celebrate intimate partner abusers and rapists.

Image via ABC.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Women-hosted podcasts are the next big thing. Glad I’m on the bandwagon then, as I just hosted my first podcast for Outback Championship Wrestling, interviewing TNA star and Amazing Race contestant, Robbie E. I’ll post it here when it’s available. [Bitch Magazine]

And I also recapped last weekend’s Outback Championship Wrestling show featuring Robbie E.

I wrote about Cristina Yang’s radical unlikeability and feminism. [Bitch Flicks]

Also, the unlikeability of Hannah Horvath and Girls. [Kill Your Darlings]

An interview with Caitlin Stasey about her website, Herself. [Jezebel]

My third roundup of links for feminaust is now live.

In defence of Blair Waldorf. [Bitch Flicks]

And Kim Kardashian. [The Hairpin]

Ross Gellar is a men’s rights activist. [The Frisky]

Katy Perry’s religiosity. [Buzzfeed]

What it means for men’s masculinity to not “hit below the belt”. [Sociological Images]

“She’s just so… Black!” The politics of Blackness. [Salon]

ICYMI: 50 Shades of Grey is 50 shades of boring, and am I a Bad Feminist?

If these links weren’t enough weekend reading for you, check out the 82nd Down Under Feminists Carnival. [A Life Unexamined]