Thursday, December 22, 2016

Is It Offensive to Call a Woman a "Girl"?

I'm not the kind of girl to get all upset over vocabulary.

See what I did there? Now you know my personal feelings about the word "girl."

But before you go accusing me of being a traitor to my gender, you should know I do have some feminist leanings. Sure, I don't care one whit about gender-specific words. "Girl" doesn't bother me. I've never felt the need to replace history with herstory. You can refer to the entire human race as mankind all day long and I won't bat an eyelid. I was never even bothered by the now archaic practice of using "he" as a generic pronoun in formal writing. It's just easier than saying "he/she" or "s/he".

But I do get my feathers ruffled by some things. I have a strong disdain for chivalry, which makes me something of an odd nut considering that I'm a Christian living in the Bible Belt. In many of the social circles in which I move, chivalry is alive and well. And I know men don't mean anything offensive by it when they hold a door for a woman. I know they're just trying to be gentlemen. To do what their mamas taught them and treat all women like queens. But still, it irks me. Okay, we make it to the door at the same time and the man reaches out and opens it then lets me go in first, fine. I can handle that. But if he sees me walking toward the building from halfway across the parking lot and he waits at the door just so he can open it for me, I'm like, "Seriously, dude?" I mean, why? Just why? But...honestly? I think it bothers me not so much because I find it offensive to women, but because I find it offensive to men. "Huh?" you say? Think about it. Why is there this unwritten rule that men should suffer just so women don't have to? Why should that poor guy have to stand out in the rain and the cold so he can hold the door for me like his mama taught him? Just go in and get warm and dry. Please. My gender should not make me entitled to an easy ride at your expense. Just, please.

The Quandary of the Word "Girl"

It was brought to my attention that some women find "girl" offensive yesterday. I started a thread in an online writers' group, asking about my wording of this passage from my WiP:

Damian was more of a beer guy than a wine and Champagne guy, but this was his Valentine’s gift to his fiancée and Jenn liked to indulge in the finer things in life. So if she wanted fancy, he’d give her fancy. No one could accuse Damian of not knowing the way to his woman’s heart.

I was worried about the word "woman". To me it sounded macho. I envisioned a scruffy guy with a beer gut wearing a wife beater (picture Onlsow from Keeping Up Appearances) coming home from work and saying, "Woman, you better get in that kitchen and get me a sandwich and a cold beer or else!" "Girl" reminded me more of high school sweethearts. You know...he takes her to the fair and wins a huge stuffed animal for her. He pins her corsage to her dress before taking her to the prom. He always addresses her parents as "sir" and "ma'am". That kind of thing. So to me, "his girl" was similar to saying "his sweetie" while "his woman" sounded more like "his bitch."

When the first commenter suggested that "girl" was condescending, that was the first time I'd ever been introduced to the idea some people found the word offensive. Then two more people commented with the same sentiments. Huh. It hadn't even been on my radar, but apparently it's becoming a rule that no one should refer to women as "girls". It had never even occurred to me to be offended by that.

What I Found Out About the Word "Girl"

I was confused as heck, so I had to do a Google search. I had to know if this was really a thing. Turns out it is. From what I learned, it seems to be mainly an issue for women in the workplace. If a woman wants to be taken seriously as a professional, she's going to get upset if her male coworkers refer to her as a girl. Okay. Makes sense. No one takes a girl seriously, but you'd darn sure better take a woman seriously.

But Damian is not Jenn's coworker. Or her boss. He's her fiancé so what the heck is wrong with him calling her his "girl". It just sounded endearing to me. I still haven't quite figured out the answer to this. It has something to do with seeing women as sexual objects and not respecting them as people. But to me "woman" has more of that feel to it than "girl". Again, your "girl" is someone you take to the prom and bring home to mama. Your "woman" is someone who'd better do what you tell her or she's going to see the backside of your hand. Think of The Godfather. In the beginning, Kay is Michael's girl. By the end she'd morphed into his woman. But maybe my view is outdated. Like I said, I've only learned of this "offensive" word in the past twenty-four hours, so perhaps I need some time to digest it.

Why It Bothered Me That People Would Find "Girl" Condescending

I got upset about this. I mean really. I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time. Even shed a few tears. Yeah. Tears. At first I couldn't figure out why I was crying over it. I thought maybe it was the shock of finding out that something I consider normal, even endearing, could offend someone else. I think everyone's probably been in that situation at least once. It's not an easy thing to experience.

The more I thought, about it, however, the more I realized I was offended. Why? Because the people questioning my use of the word "girl" were also questioning Damian's use of the word "girl". They were saying Damian was condescending. If you're a writer you know how easy it is to fall in love with your characters. I've fallen in love with Damian. He's my baby. I created him and he's mine. My own. My precioussss.

Oh...sorry. Not sure what happened there. Anyway, you don't insult Damian in front of me. Basically, if you want to hurt my baby, you have to fight your way past me first. (That's an odd thing to say, because I allow other characters in the book to hurt him badly, but whatever). So I was perfectly fine with him saying "girl". I very well could have changed what I had written (I didn't, thank goodness) and I would have been fine with it. But I would have made him vulnerable to attack. I would have given people an opportunity to call him condescending and a chauvinist. Wow. I really dodged a bullet on that one. Or, rather, he dodged a bullet.

What "Girl" Means To Me

I was sixteen when I started dating my husband. I was his girl. I'm now thirty-seven, and I hope I'm still his girl. I hope that when I'm eighty and my boobs are dragging the ground, my crow's-feet have spread over the rest of my face, and my legs are riddled with varicose veins, I'll still be his girl. I hope that he will still be able to look at me and see that cute redhead who caught his eye on the football field at band camp back in the mid 1990s. Because that's what I think of when I hear the word. I think you're saying I'm youthful and spunky. Wide-eyed and full of life. Optimistic about what the future holds. I don't think you're calling me unintelligent or immature. But then, maybe I need to get out more. Who knows?

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