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?

The Rise of the Hunk.

This article was originally published on TheVine on 9th August, 2012.

“You know the apocalypse is nigh when men want to see a movie about a talking teddy bear and women want to see a movie about male strippers,” read a friends’ recent Facebook status.

While the world may be ending in December, and the integrity of Ted is questionable at best, I think it’s high time hetero women (and gay men to a lesser extent) turn subjugation on its head and become the voyeurs, and they’re using Magic Mike as a tool to do so.

Never before in mainstream Hollywood film can I recall a movie that so blatantly puts the male body on show for the unashamed consumption by straight women, primarily. Tom Cruise may have been shirtless for the majority of Rock of Ages, and True Blood has as much male eye candy as it does female, but Magic Mike is the first of its kind to feature conventionally attractive and perennially half-naked male actors as strippers: Hollywood’s last taboo, perhaps.

The male form has been sexualised for the last few decades, notably in underwear commercials. Remember Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein’s and David Beckham’s distracting Armani ads? Or how about a shirtless Ryan Gosling in Crazy, Stupid Love, which arguably spawned the current obsession with him that has reached fever pitch? Porn star James Deen is experiencing a cavalcade of female appreciation not normally seen with adult actors. Even pay TV channel LifeStyle You is cashing in on the male body objectification trend, using in their advertisements shirtless men carrying out everyday household duties like ironing to reel the women in. (Because women are who we talk about when we talk about “lifestyle”.)

In the male stripper movie vein, there was that late ’90s UK effort, The Full Monty, which featured a bunch of average Joes getting their kit off at the encouragement of women, demonstrating that men don’t have to look like Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello or Matthew McConaughey for women to find them sexy and to want to see them naked. But there is a certain allure to rippling abs, strong thighs and loaded guns that the comedic stripteases of unemployed steel workers just doesn’t have…

Dodai Stewart writes for Jezebel of the hollering and hooting in the cinema when she went to get her Channing fix, while I noticed more of a silent sexual tension in the air. There was nary a squeal of approval throughout, which lent a certain palpability that watching a sex scene with your parents or a potential love interest might elicit. Tatum’s dance moves succeeded in getting me and—if all the mute leg-crossing, uncrossing and squirming in seats was any indication—all the other red-blooded, presumably straight women in the audience hot under the collar. As Stewart continues, “Could it be that women are so used to seeing the female body sexualised on screen—from the point of view of the male gaze—that we don’t even know how to react to the sexualized male body?”

It seems that the characters who are virgins to the Tampa male stripping scene don’t know how to react either, with Alex Pettyfer’s portrayal of Adam consisting of equal parts disgust at Mike’s occupation and awe at the perks of his lifestyle. Adam’s sister, Brooke (played by Cody Horn), is closed in on by the camera when she first sees Mike dance and a range of emotions cross her face: judgement, arousal, amazement, discomfort at the role reversal male strippers provide. Discomfort and concern are also expressed by the bank clerk when Mike attempts to get a loan, showing up with a down payment in wads of ones and fives. Presumably the teller recognises Mike from the male revue, and offers to sign him up to a program for “distressed” clients, inferring that because he gets his kit off for money, he must be either strapped for cash or lacking self-esteem. Hmm, where have we heard this before? Usually directed at women who trade on their looks and are deemed “at risk”, “battered” and, yes, “distressed” as a result. Mike even has to resort to the ol’ spectacles trope to be taken seriously as he enters the bank, an action most often utilised by hot chicks who want to appear smarter. Speaking of hot chicks, in another play on man as sexual object, Mike’s lover, Joanna (Olivia Munn), tells him she doesn’t want to talk about his feelings: “just look pretty”.

With all the double standards that come with being a male stripper in Magic Mike—female adoration, money, drugs—Caroline Heldman at Sociological Images wonders why this kind of “stripping as fantasy life” attitude would never be seen in media about female stripping: because Magic Mike still panders greatly to male sexuality.

“Make no bones about it, this movie is all about reinforcing the notion that men are in control and men’s sexuality matters more…” Heldman writes. “… [M]any (but not all) of the simulated sex acts the dancers perform in their interactions with female audience members service the male stripper’s pleasure, not hers. Dancers shove women’s faces into their crotch to simulate fellatio, hump women’s faces, perform faux sex from behind without a nod to clitoral stimulation, etc. As a culture, we have deprioritised female sexual pleasure…”

Indeed, there is no full frontal male nudity in the film (does a stunt penis in an enlarging device count?!), however Munn and the actress who plays stripper Ken’s (Matt Bomer) wife have their breasts on show, as well as several other female nude scenes. When it comes to the penis, it would seem that it is the last taboo, not male stripping.

That Tatum’s penis ever so briefly flashed onscreen during a bedroom scene means there’s hope for a full-frontal peen shot yet, with Magic Mike 2 on the horizon. You’ll notice that most of the male stars of the films’ careers have thrived on the comidification of their bodies. McConaughey is more recognisable with his shirt off than on and Manganiello has been quoted as saying he “could care less” about being typecast as a beefcake. I find it kind of refreshing that men are wanting to show off their bodies in a way that has been traditionally reserved for women.

For those who cry “hypocrite” at the women who’re now wolf whistling at the screen, as if all women find the sexualisation of their bodies oppressive, I direct you to one of the core tenents of feminism: choice. If women are deemed autonomous enough to make their own decisions about their bodies and whether they want to use them as a commodity, it stands to reason that men are, too. It might be a hard concept to grasp, but after centuries of the ingrained objectification of women, perhaps men want to try their hand at being desired as opposed to desiring.

While the mainstream media still has a ways to go towards female sexual liberation and the refocusing of the gaze onto men and away from women in a way that benefits all parties and exploits none, Magic Mike is a step in the right direction.

Elsewhere: [Musings of an Inappropriate Woman] On #DailyWife & Writing for the “Women’s Pages”. 

[Jezebel] Magic Mike, Junk in the Face & the Female Gaze. 

[Sociological Images] Magic Mike: Old Sexism in a New Package.

[The Frisky] 12 Women Who’ve Used Their Sexuality (To Get Ahead).

[Salon] Male Strippers: Please, Just Leave It On.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

While I’ve done as much reading as normal this week, it’s not reflected here. Maybe it’s been a slow news week… Anyway, here are the articles that jumped out at me.

Who run the world? White girls. Dodai Stewart asks if Girls is too whitewashed. [Jezebel]

Finally, a fast food outlet that’s making the change to animal cruelty-free products. Now, if only it was a chain that’s available in Australia… [Slate]

Street harassment on MamaMia.

Housekeeping and childrearing are still classified as women’s work, that’s why no one values them as “proper” work. [Clutch Magazine]

I’ve never been an Oprah fan, but apparently she might be losing relevance. Quick, give away a car or stage a stunt-wedding! [Jezebel]

Image via Très Sugar.

Movie Review: My Week With Marilyn*.


“Thanks for telling me the truth, Colin.”

My Week With Marilyn is concerned with truth. Laurence Olivier tries to get Marilyn to perform a truthful portrayal of showgirl Elsie in The Prince & the Showgirl, while Marilyn expresses trepidation that Olivier’s imagining of Elsie isn’t realistic. Elsie could be seen as a metaphor for Marilyn Monroe’s misunderstood likeness since she changed her name from Norma Jean and became the buxom bombshell we all know and some of us love today.

But I didn’t find that the movie delved any further into the Marilyn mystique than any of the characters she played or any of the men who loved her did when she was alive. It was really only after she died, and in a slew of “lost” letters and photos that have made up such publications as Fragments and The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe, that we came to discover that she was much more than just a dumb, sexy, childlike blonde who posed with Ulysses to make her look smarter.

It tried to go there, though, when Michelle Williams spoke such lines as “Shall I be her?” when Marilyn and Colin Clark  visit Windsor Castle, and after a fight with her husband, Arthur Miller, she says, “When they realise I’m not Marilyn Monroe they run.” But the film didn’t really show us anything different than the common perception of her.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I really enjoyed the movie and thought Williams did a great job with the script she was given. I just don’t think it was an apt representation of all that Marilyn was. As Dodai Stewart writes,

“… the biggest problem with My Week With Marilyn is that the film treats the woman who loathed being a sex object as a sex object. The story is told by a man who looked at her as a mesmerising other-worldly creature. Though he did have some intimate moments with her, a lot of the film involves Marilyn being gawked at by this slack-jawed fan-turned-friend who calls her a goddess. As a character, she is frustrated because she wishes people would see her as a human being, but she’s shot in the softest, most radiant light, frolicking through the English countryside and ever so gently batting her lashes: Male gaze ad nauseam.”

And while the film is wrapped up in a nice little package with Marilyn coming to say goodbye and thank you to Clark after having kicked him out of her bed and her life, I had the feeling he was still embittered about his unrequited love.

I haven’t read The Prince, the Showgirl & Me, so I couldn’t tell you for sure if this is the case, but even if it wasn’t, Clark was a 23-year-old boy who fell in love with the image of Marilyn Monroe, not the actual Norma Jean.

Related: Fragments of Marilyn Monroe’s Literary Life.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Elsewhere: [Jezebel] The Problem with My Week With Marilyn.

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Image via Screen Rant.

On the (Rest of the) Net.


“A Brief History of the Bump Watch.”

And for any preggo Scarlett Women out there, this one’s also for you: “What You NEVER, Not in a Million Years, Expect When You’re Expecting”.

Dodai Stewart discovers the benefits of jeggings.

In the wake of St. Kilda’s most recent sex scandal (Ricky Nixon and the same underage girl who released damaging nude photos of St. Kilda players Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo in December, for those of you who have been under a rock the last week or so), Hawthorn’s Lance Franklin has released a sexist line of t-shirts.

Also with the St. Kilda Schoolgirl Scandal, Round 2, Mia Freedman writes:

“… I think it’s extremely interesting how she is indeed redressing the power imbalance between a 17-year-old girl and high profile AFL players and managers. She’s using social media and traditional media in ways that have been both surprising and disturbing to watch.”

Freedman shares her views on Justin Bieber’s recent abortion comments, as well. More on this to come next week.

For all the single ladies (put your hands up!), “10 More Reasons You’re Not Married”, which include such gems as “you’re not good enough at fellatio or you’re too good at fellatio,” “you are too fat or too skinny” and “you want children too much and/or not enough”. It seems we can’t (or can) win.

Guest Girl with a Satchel blogger, Georgie Carroll of Frangipani Princess, talks teen magazines. “… My favourite day of the month is still when the newest issues hit the stand”; mine too.

On femme fatales.

Jenna Sauers attends a Fashion Week PETA party and “talks about animals with Tim Gunn”. Interesting stuff.

Are Lady Gaga and Rihanna really original, or “stealing other artists’ work”?

Are you a fan of kangaroo meat? Read this; it might change your mind:

“Like the seal trade, it’s brutal, but it happens away from our view, at night in the bush. According to the law, adult kangaroos should be killed by a single shot to the brain.  But in reality, many are injured in the neck or the body, and flee into the bush where they die slowly and painfully.

“What’s even less known is the terrible fate of joeys, just like the one Ray waded into turbulent flood waters to save: over a million a year are killed each year along with their mothers. How? The hunter stomps on the pouch joey’s head, or bludgeons him or her with a metal pipe.  This is enough to make you think twice about ever putting roo on the menu. The young outside the pouch are shot through the heart or head.”

Images via Romantic Dreaming, Juciytings.