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.

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Anne Helen Peterson dissects the ultimate family Christmas movie, The Family Stone. What’s your ultimate Christmas movie? Mine have always been the Home Alones (I’m partial to the second one, Lost in New York) (whose haven’t?), the Miracle on 34th Street remake with Mara Wilson and the trashy ridiculousness that is Olivia Newton John in A Mom for Christmas. The plot, for those of you unlucky enough to have never heard of it, is this: Jessica is a motherless girl who wants a mum for Christmas. She makes a wish on a department store wishing well for, you guessed it, a mum for Christmas. Next thing Jessica knows, Amy (Newton John) shows up for the holiday season to act as a housekeeper and babysitter for Jessica and her dad. Plot twist: Amy is a department store mannequin come to life. Hijinks ensue. [LA Review of Books]

ICYMI: I wrote about my unmet expectations of The Blogcademy and where I see my career going in 2015.

The dawn of female pleasure-centric sex scenes on TV is upon us. [Vulture]

The Manic Pixie Dream Guys, Dudezels in Distress and Men in Refrigerators of Disney movies. [Bitch Flicks]

This journalist should have written that the Montreal massacre of 25 years ago was an explicit attack on feminists rather than sanitising the crime to make it more palatable to readers. [Ottawa Citizen]

Mindy Lahiri was the most revolutionary character on TV this year and, finally, the female answer to the legendary antihero. [The Guardian]

Getting it right when talking and writing about gender and sexuality diversity. [Junkee]

As tensions between police and unarmed people of colour continue in the U.S., here are the 76 unarmed people of colour who’ve been murdered by police in the past 15 years. [Gawker]

US Cosmopolitan‘s seemingly new found feminist awakening. [Jezebel]

Feminist writers of the Aussie and NZ persuasion, including yours truly, are featured as part of the 79th Down Under Feminists Carnival. [Hoyden About Town]

I went as Beyoncé standing in front of the feminist sign at the MTV VMAs to my work Christmas party. Head on over to my Twitter page to check out photos from the night.

My friend, colleague and important disability advocacy worker Stella Young died on the weekend. Below are some of her pieces I have linked to in the past.

“Destroying the Joint? at Melbourne Writers Festival.”

And in her piece from Destroy the Joint, Stella insists she’d like to just be allowed in the joint! [ABC Ramp Up]

How to speak to and about people with disabilities. [ABC The Drum]

“The Case Against Peter Singer.” [ABC The Drum]

People with disabilities are not here for your inspiration. [ABC Ramp Up]

Peter Dinklage shouldn’t be fetishised at an “unlikely crush”. [ABC Ramp Up]

MamaMia spoke to Stella about the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and she also wrote there about the disability pension myth.

Image via Christmas TV, Eh!

On the (Rest of the) Net.

ICYMI: Little girls swearing is not the worst thing in the world.

Sex & the City makes me feel bad about my life. (Reminds me of a similar piece I wrote about Gossip Girl.) [It’s Okay for Intellectual Feminists to Like Fashion]

Sex and consent on Scandal‘s underaged-Eiffel-Tower sex tape episode. [Feministing]

Still with Shonda Rhimes’ creations, is How to Get Away With Murder the most progressive show on TV? [Vanity Fair]

On relatability (“To appreciate [art] only to the extent that the work functions as one’s mirror would make for a hopelessly reductive experience.”) VS. likeability (“If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble.”) [The New Yorker, Buzzfeed]

Tyra Banks is a feminist. [Mic]

Lena Dunham has tweeted and Instagrammed in support of Tom Meagher’s blog post earlier this year about the rape and murder of his wife Jill Meagher two years ago. [Buzzfeed, White Ribbon]

Wendy Squires wrote on the weekend that Eddie McGuire is leading the charge of male feminists because he built a change room for women runners to have a safe space after exercising at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne. That’s great, but here are four reasons why McGuire isn’t the feminist Squires thinks he is. They highlight why language is just as important as action. [The Age, Daily Life]

Speaking of language, stop calling sex workers “pr*stitutes” and “wh*res”. [Junkee]

White privilege is alive and well in 2014 if the recent nostalgia for Friends is any indication. [The Globe & Mail]

Anne Helen Petersen on Renee Zellweger’s changing face:

“… Zellweger’s picture personality has been about the striving performance of femininity—and a striving performance that’s rooted, always, in the appearance of twenty- and thirtysomething youth. To see her at the age of 44, amid a long period without acting work, with plastic surgery seems yet the latest attempt, and failure, to conform to the ideals of femininity, the sad second act in the latest Bridget Jones. Only this time, as the book tells us, Mr. Darcy is dead, which means there’s no man to validate her and thus save her from self-punishment.” [Buzzfeed]

We All Have Naked Bodies. Jennifer Lawrence is No Different.

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Do you ever wonder whether you’ve been a positive influence on someone who’s no longer in your life? Well, if I influenced the particular ex-friend I have in mind—the one responsible for the above Facebook status and the shitshow that followed—in any way it has surely dissipated as she took great joy in victim-blaming and slut-shaming the myriad female celebrities who fell victim to the mass nude photo hack earlier this week.

While the leaking of 101 female celebrities’ private photos from their iCloud accounts—many of them long deleted—is a “flagrant violation of privacy” as perhaps the most-high profile victim Jennifer Lawrence’s PR team put it, it is also a crime. Many a think piece has been written in the days following about how looking at Lawrence, Kate Upton, Alison Brie, Adriana Grande et al’s personal photographs makes us complicit in said crime, much like viewing child pornography is a continued violation of the abused minors. I do not deny this but, apart from Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Peterson’s take on the “scandal” as compared to the nonconsensual publication of Marilyn Monroe’s “Golden Dreams” nudes in the ’50s, I have seen nary a word written about how the naked body is not, in fact, scandalous.

If many of the comments on the above Facebook thread are to be believed, people—nay, women, because let’s be honest, the only men targeted in this mass hack are those who happen to sneak into a shot with their female partners, as Roxane Gay points out—who take photos of themselves in various stages of undress are idiots, especially if they’re famous, because it’s only a matter of time before they’re leaked for the world to see. Never mind the fact that we all have bodies underneath our clothes and that some people like to take photos of said bodies. To return to Peterson:

“The only way to prevent a market for these type of photos is to stop treating them, and the ‘secrets’ they reveal, as revelatory or scandalous. They don’t tell you anything new about Lawrence. They don’t make you think differently about her. You know why? Because sexuality isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a dirty secret. In her public appearances and interviews, Lawrence has never attempted to make it so. And just because it’s private doesn’t mean it’s dirty…”

This isn’t the first time photos of nude, female celebrities have been leaked, though. In the past few years similar photos of Scarlett Johansson, Blake Lively, Miley Cyrus and Mila Kunis have made their way into the public domain, but it’s hard to remember there being an outrage on such a level. I tend toward the fact that these hackers specifically targeted seemingly as many female celebrities as they possibly could in an egregious example of misogyny. But it could also be because Lawrence is “Our Jen”; “Cool Girl Jen”, and her almost mythical status in fangirl (and –guy) world makes us super protective of her. Those other women—Cyrus, Johansson, and even those that specifically market their sexuality as part of their brand (that’s not to say Cyrus and, indeed Johansson, don’t)—kind of deserved it, didn’t they?

From Kate Leaver in her article “Jennifer Lawrence is Not an Idiot” on MamaMia:

“This is not like that time Kim Kardashian (or, more accurately, her mother/manager Kris Jenner) ‘leaked’ a sex tape in a brazen grab at fame. This is not a staged accident, like when Nicki Minaj’s top serendipitously fell open on stage at the VMAs. This is not a seedy publicity stunt from a desperate celebrity.”

And so what if it was? Lawrence et al presumably had a certain amount of agency in creating these photos in the first place. Their agency and privacy was taken away by some hackers with too much time and misogyny on their hands. Let’s not feed into that by further denying it to women who do traffic in the commodification of their bodies for a profit, whether explicitly or implicitly. Only then can we start to accept the naked body as something that everyone has and not something that can be “leaked” and used to shame women into submission.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] Those Jennifer Lawrence Pictures Aren’t Scandalous.

[The Guardian] The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014 is Just the Beginning.

[Buzzfeed] Jennifer Lawrence & the History of Cool Girls.

[MamaMia] Jennifer Lawrence is Not an Idiot.

Images via Facebook.

TV: Orange is the New Black’s Morello’s Fractured Relationship with Romance*.

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One of the most explosive backstories on this season of Orange is the New Black has been Lorna Morello’s.

The Italian-American, played by Australian actress Yael Stone, is presumably in prison for credit card fraud, as the opening segments of her life before Litchfield in episode four of the second season that aired last night on Showcase would indicate. We see a Jersey Shore-esque Morello returning to her chaotic familial home after seeing Twilight at the cinema for the “14th time”. She retreats from her accusatory sister, ignorant father, wayward nieces and nephews and sick mother to her bedroom which is adorned with posters of West Side Story (the classic tale of Romeo & Juliet in 1950s New York, with a healthy serving of racism, which Morello is inclined to dish out), male celebrities and wedding collages. She pauses to caress the glossy face of one of them before calling a mail-order luxury clothing company to request a refund for the patchwork Prada platforms she’s currently wearing but claims she never received.

Many of the women of OITNB have been busted for financial fraud—Sophia and Gloria come to mind—so it seems logical that Morello would be in for a similar crime. But as the episode progresses, it is revealed that Morello’s inner demons are much more extensive. During a trip to the post office to retrieve parcels of designer goods she’ll no doubt attempt to get reimbursed for, she “literally crashes into” the infamous Chris-tuh-phuh, as Morello pronounces it. Christopher promptly asks her out for a coffee after their meet-cute, and the rest is history, if the future Litchfield inmate is to be believed.

The juxtaposition between the following flashback scenes—Morello getting ready for a weekend away with Christopher and her trial on charges of stalking, harassment, violating a restraining order and credit card fraud—illustrates the fractured reality she exists in. Despite Christopher electing not to pursue Lorna after their first date, Morello still believes they’re together years later.

Stone plays Morello so sympathetically the audience feels sorry for her when we—or at least her fellow inmates—should approach with caution. The consensus at Litchfield seems to be that Morello’s fantastical romance with Christopher may not be etched in truth and word slowly starts to get around that her former “fiancé” is marrying another woman. When you’re bonding with Crazy Eyes (whom the show is taking pains in its second season not to fetishise and to address by her given name, Suzanne) about unrequited love, it’s clear that something’s not quite right.

Morello’s abovementioned childlike room, her harping on about how her and Christopher’s romance is “meant to be”, like something out of Notting Hill, Pretty Woman or Cinderella, and her psychotic break that sees her stealing the prison van to break into Christopher’s marital home, shows just how damaging society’s “wedding industrial complex and… [its] need to infantalise grown women”, as Nicky puts it, can be. It’s also an all-too-common one drummed into Western women everywhere they turn.

In a recent Buzzfeed longread, Anne Helen Peterson dissects the films based on Nicholas Sparks’ novels and their contribution to a Taylor Swiftian world where men perform romance and women have it thrust upon them:

“… Many women (and some men) use Sparks narratives to replace the lack of emotional intimacy and satisfaction in their own lives and, as a result, cultivate unrealistic ideals about what a relationship—and love—should resemble…

“The Sparks narrative offers a life—and a love story nested within it—that extracts its protagonist from [the concerns of everyday life] and consolidates the demands of life into one, simple task: Open yourself to love, and love in return.”

In a way Morello is like the mirror image of the Santa Barbara shooter, Elliot Rodger: the same but opposite. Rodger took his anger at his lack of attention from women—spurred on by porn and men’s rights forums—out on the female population in general in the most violent way, whereas Morello continues her stereotypically feminine obsession with romance and fixates on one man, dangerously crafting an alternate life with him. In Morello’s fictional existence no one died, but that’s not to say she didn’t try to kill anyone. (In the courtroom she is accused of strapping a homemade bomb to Christopher’s fiancé’s car.) Think that’s too heavy handed a tar with the same brush? They are both criminals with mental health issues, after all.

In one of the closing scenes of the season, Morello simplistically attempts to explain to the cancer-stricken Miss Rosa the plot of one of her favourite movies, Toy Story (again with the juvenile interests. Though, to be fair, Toy Story has universal appeal.) Her warped grasp of the children’s classic leads Rosa to exclaim, “You have one fucked up view of the world, kid!”

*Blanket spoiler alert.

Related: Physical & Mental Health on Orange is the New Black.

Taylor Swift—The Perfect Victim.

Elsewhere: [Buzzfeed] Why Nicholas Sparks Matters Now.

Image via Bitch Flicks.