Thursday, 5 July 2012

Girls girls girls

Inspired by a Facebook discussion.

Is calling women "girls" demeaning?

Is calling men "boys" demeaning?

Is it more likely to you will get away with calling a woman a girl, because of the implication of youthful looks being seen as a positive for women, as opposed to calling a man a boy?

Don't people often refer to the All Blacks as "the boys"? 

Is it ok to refer to people younger than you as "girls" and/or "boys", and silly to use such for those older than you?

What about the tendency to call women who work in administrative support roles "girls", regardless of their age?

How do you feel when you are referred to as  "girl" or a "boy"?

What say you, dear readers?


Tamara said...

Context is everything. In a patriarchal culture is it demeaning for men to refer to women as "girls". I met someone in his 60s yesterday who referred to a woman who works with him as a professional as a 'girl'. Turns out she is about 50! He would never have called an equivalent male a 'boy'. He was very complimentary of her professional abilities but the effect is still diminishing. "Girl" necessarily implies youth and inexperience, there is no way around that.

"Boys" as a reference to the All Blacks or soldiers etc is quite different because of the context. it is used with affection and in solidarity.

Cat said...

I work in IT, in an office which is 75% male and 25% female. Being one of the females, we often refer to ourselves as 'the girls' and use either the 'guys' or 'boys' for the men in the office. Everyone is the office is working at more or less an equivalent level (with the odd manager thrown in) and I don't see it as anything other than friendly chatter...

However, if someone from outside came into the office without knowing us and referred to us as the girls, that would be very different - context is very important.

St L said...

When I was at university, one of the handbooks we were given told us it was offensive to refer to female students as 'girls'. So we began to call them 'guys' instead.

It worked for us.

Anonymous said...

Just Saying:

The lack of an informal word for women equivalent to "guys" is a problem here.

"Girls" is insulting to my ear, when women are being referred to; equivalent to adult, African -American male slaves in the past being referred to as "boys" (and by their owners' surnames incidentally).

I sometimes use "girl" when talking with older people and referring to very young women, often those I've known all their lives, but I do try and correct myself.

Youth may be highly valued in society, particularly in females, but describing an adult as a child can only be demeaning imo. I never refer to my peers as "girls" and don't think of them as such either.

But there are many complexities in the issue. My mother refers to women in their sixties as "girls" in the plural only, and means it as a compliment, as a sign of affection and friendship.

Anonymous said...

@anon, yeah its undoubtedly the equivalent of a term used for black slaves


Karen said...

I agree that it is all about context. I & other women at work often refer to ourselves as 'girls'. Yet when one of the older male managers replied "good girl" to me (i'm 45) I had an apoplectic fit at him. Totally not acceptable.
He tried to explain that he referred to all the women working for him as his girls & that he's been spending a lot of time with his grandkids.
I had to explain that I wasn't 7 & I did not belong to him


Moz said...

In response to boy I normally say "woof?". That would also work for girl.

It is very context dependent though. When it's used as a put-down, even jokingly, I get a bit cranky. I do agree, somewhat reluctantly, that "girl" is worse and more often used in a derogatory or denigrating way. It shouldn't be, but it is.

Brett Dale said...

Worked in many offices, it would seem men get called boys and woman get called the girls.

In soccer men get called "the Lads" in Basketball they get called "the guys"

Placebogirl said...

I don't love the term "girl(s)" when referring to adult women, and try not to use it myself, however unlike many women I know I am not distressed when included in a collective "guys". Having said that my online handles include the word "girl" as it is a better fit with my personal gender identity than "woman" or "guy".

Finally, I think Melissa at Shakesville has a really interesting take on the use of the word "woman" with negative connotations--and I think her intuitions abotu the use of the word woman may have something to do with teh funny looks I get when I use it.

Katherine said...

I don't say anything against other women roughly my age using it to include me in the group, but I'm pretty unimpressed with it in any context. I'm pretty sure I hit puberty a while ago, pretty sure I have an adult job, pretty sure I have an adult relationship. Especially annoying when men (boys?) younger than me call me a girl. But these days any group of women are called girls regardless of their age or what they are doing at the time.

katy said...

"Yet when one of the older male managers replied "good girl" to me (i'm 45) I had an apoplectic fit at him."

Fair enough! My daughter is 7 months old, even at her daycare the teachers deliberately avoid saying "good boy/girl" to the children.

LudditeJourno said...

I used to call men "boys" deliberately, to draw attention to the fact that when we describe adult women as girls we may be infantilising them. It was a conversation starter, and way of talking about context and drawing people's attention to language.
And then one of my dearest friends, a Bajan woman, pointed out to me that for men from the African diaspora, that term was irrevocably linked with slavery, and with infantilising Black men. She asked me to be careful in how I used it, which has actually led to me largely dropping it as a strategy.
My father called the women he worked with girls his entire career. EVERY time he did it after I was about 15, I would affect surprise and say "Do you have children at work?" He would gruffly admit, every time, that no these were women in their forties and fifties. I'm still working on him :-)

St L. said...

To be brutally honest, I think it just shows a measure of insecurity about your place in the world.

I have no objection to being called a boy. Never have. My mates and I often use the term when referring to each other. We have no objection to others using it towards us.

Like I said, I think it just shows how insecure you women are. Grow up and stop taking offence at things that are not offensive.

Katherine said...

Ah how wonderful, a boy has popped in to tell us what is and isn't offensive to us, based on his objective boyish logic.

St L. said...

No, I gave my view on the subject. You can find whatever you like offensive. It is my right to hold an opinion as to whether I think you taking a reasonable view.

And I have no issue at all with you calling me boy.

That is, largely, my point.