Thursday, March 25, 2010

Women Girls

An old post on the topic of referring to college-age or older female people as girls vs. women got a lot of comments back in 2006, and the topic still pops up now and again in comments and conversation. As far as I can tell, these days, girl is the more common term used to denote young(ish) female persons.

Certainly the term girl is also used by some older women, some of whom are related to me, who tend to refer to groups of other older women as girls, but my topic today is the relative use of girls vs. women to refer to young(ish) female persons.

It took me awhile to get used to the term girls when applied to young female adults, and I still tend to use the term women, but I suppose that just shows my age. As long as girls is used in parallel with boys/guys, rather than with "men", however, I no longer think it is offensive to refer to young women as girls, especially if it is used by other young people to refer to themselves and their peers.

I admit that with some reluctance, so I guess I can't say that I am really used to it, even now, because I still find it a bit startling to hear someone in their 20's-30's, or even older, referred to as a girl. The sheer number of adults who don't consider it demeaning to be referred to as a girl, however, suggests that the term has no particular negative connotation about capability or maturity.

At the same time, I think it is too bad if woman is viewed as a technical, formal, stodgy, and perhaps even offensive term. Female children are girls, and at some point when these children become adults, they are women, just as boys become men. When I was 5 years old or 9 years old, I was a girl. I couldn't imagine wanting to use the same term for myself when I was 30.

Nevertheless, girl is a pervasive term these days. For those of us who feel disappointed by this trend, perhaps we can come to an understanding with those who do not share our disappointment: those who prefer the term women can try to realize that girl is not necessarily an offensive way to refer to an adult female (except in the circumstance in which males are men and females of the same age are girls), and those who prefer the term girl can try to realize that woman is not an offensive or inappropriate way to refer to an adult female.

60 comments:

Dr. Confused said...

There is an emeritus professor in our department who occasionally still haunts the hallways. Every time he exclaims "Good girl!" at me it is a shock, and it has happened dozens of times.

"How are you settling in here?"
"Pretty well. I'm writing a grant proposal on X"
"Good girl!"

Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!

Once he used my phone to call his wife. "What are you doing? Oh, the ironing! Good girl!" I assume she is in her 70s like him.

Jo said...

As an under 30 woman, I prefer "gal" myself.

Ross said...

I refer to this as the "guy" problem. At least in my dialect (Western Canadian university student), "men" and "women" seem formal (and usually are only used for adults who have got past the binge drinking stage). "Boys" and "girls" refer to children. So there is a gap, from late teenagehood through the college years, which aren't really accounted for.

Most people I know use "guy" age-neutrally (and even gender-neutrally in the plural) and can fill the gap with this, but there isn't any equivalent for a single female. ("Gal," at least to me, seems almost comically informal.) Hence the problem of deciding between "woman" and "girl."

To tell the truth I am often have a hard time with this choice unless there is a parallel with "man" or "boy." I'm young enough that I still feel kind of weird talking about a "man" or "woman" who is younger than me, but in a couple years I think my choices will largely be based on judgements about the subject's maturity.

estraven said...

As an FSP who was adressed as "girl" into her early forties by elder male colleagues (who wouldn't dream of using boy for male professors of any age) I used to find it deeply offensive, usually on a par with a top aministrator's habit to address me as Mrs (and my male colleagues as Professor).

As a woman in her forties, I sometimes use it with my female friends and so do they. None (I hope!) is offended, and we view it as a running joke to remind ourselves that despite white hair, adolescent children, and so on, we're still young at heart.

Klaas said...

To me "woman" in English and in Dutch is just one little step away from derogatory. As in "that woman!". Doesn't work the same way for "that man". That is why "guys" referring to men and girls :) is a good option.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if you have heard of a British panel show hosted by Stephen Fry, called QI. Apparrently their 'elves' found that girl used to denote children of both sexes and boy used to refer to servants.

Just an anecdote to confuse things further. XD

Anonymous said...

Very interesting topic! I have noticed this divide as well. It seems that authority figures (e.g. profs) in their ~40's prefer to use "women/men" for anyone college age or older, while I have always felt somewhat uncomfortable being called a "woman," even in my mid-20's.

Somehow "women" seems inappropriate, stodgy, or overly P.C. to me, particularly when it is used to describe college freshmen who often aren't even the age of majority. It's definitely an irrational feeling I have, though, and I think reflects changing usage/norms. Females (and males) in their 20's are increasingly putting off traditionally adult activities such as marriage, kids, etc. It's likely part of the same social trends (good or bad) that we prefer to put off adult labels like "woman" as well.

BB said...

It's offensive in the same way that calling adult (black) males "boy" is. It's considered pejorative and doesn't belong in the professional setting.
You may hear your colleagues refer to FSPs as women but the secretaries as girls. That is out-and-out wrong.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I have given this some serious thought. This is not the only example of language trivializing women. You could give literally hundreds of examples, lots of data and of course, anecdotes.

As far as I can see, there is only one solution. The solution is to replace the English language (aka Oldspeak) with Newspeak. This Newspeak would be created by cutting the English language to the bone, destoying thousands of extraneous words.

For instance, the trivialization of women by referring to them as "girls" could easily be removed if we could get rid of all the words like "man", "woman", "boy", "girl", "guy", etc. We could refer to a female between 20-29 as a "f2", a male between 10-19 as a "m1" and so on... you get the idea of the naming scheme. A person whose age is difficult to determine would simply be referred to as "m" or "f". An added advantage would be that the letters "m" and "f" are of the exact same length and hence we would lose the implication that the word "female" has been obtained by modifying the word "male", thus implying the inferior status of women.

The point is to make Newspeak such that sexist ideas are impossible to express at all in a coherent manner. Although in Newspeak it might be possible to crudely convey sexist ideas, like we could say a sexist Newspeak sentence:

m>f

but everyone would realize that its an obvious absurdity. The feminist revolution will be complete when the language is perfect.

Anonymous said...

I think that "girl" became a casual/friendly term for woman around the same time that "guys" started to be used for men.

Part of the issue may be that males seem to have one more option (boys, guys, men) whereas for females, girls seems to be tha standard equivalent of boys or guys. I'm in my late 20s and tend to you "girls" to caually decribe women of my own age bracket, "women" just often sounds a bit to formal.

Micro Dr. O said...

I'm 32 and can appreciate the term "girl"; although I often use it when talking about us "girls" goofing around/having fun, as a more informal term. "Woman" gets used when I'm being a bit more formal, e.g.: "She's an incredibly smart woman and scientist." I don't think I'd ever view the usage of either term offensive.

Another note on the male-female issue. I freely refer to the "boys" in our department (even the senior professors) when they act like boys, and men when they act like men. So, at least in my mind, there's not really a male-female divide on this one.

Alyssa said...

I had this exact problem when writing a recent blog post. The situation involved two other women, but I initially put "girls" because they are in their early 20s, and I thought "woman" just sounded odd (I still don't see myself as a "woman", and I'm 31!). But, calling them "girls" felt like I was looking down on them, and using "females" just sounded ridiculous. We need a new word!

franglais said...

I find this fascinating, particularly since English is not my mother tongue (I live in the US). When I teach a Freshman seminar, I would not dream of calling the female students girls, no way. I am happy calling them women, or young women. In French, "girls" would not be used in a professional environment, except in a very informal way, often by women of any age (Allez les filles..). The terms are "femme" or "jeune femme", with "jeune" having become older with time. Therefore, my reflex is to use women and young women, although I see some people frawning at the term "young" because mention of age, even in a relative way, is not PC. At the other end of the spectrum, one does not use old woman in French. The phrase is softened either by talking about a woman "d'un certain age", or "d'une vieille dame". Terms I don't like to use are male and female, too technical, even biological. I suspect what controls my usage of the words girls, women, etc. is still very much influenced by my first language and culture, and what I read in the comments shows that, even for native English speakers, there is as much variation of usage and understanding of meaning of these terms.

Anonymous said...

On my running teams in high school and college we always called each other "ladies" in plural when we were cheering, etc. We were proud of the fact that we were no longer "girls." I still use that term (I'm 30), though I'm not sure that others do or what they think of me when I say it, but I think it works much better than "girls" at least for more than one. If you're just talking about one "lady" anyway - why not just use her name? Or say "person"?

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, FSP. It's high time we stodgy old biddies get over our irrational objections to 40 yo girls. I'm going to start referring to every female person as a girl, I really am, just as soon as we start getting paid the same as our equally qualified male peers, get access to the same resources for our research as our equally funded male peers, get our contributions to science acknowledged and respected, when we stop being mistaken for the secretaries of our male colleague whose offices are next door, etc. etc. etc.

In other words, no time soon.

STP said...

I was infuriated while watching the winter olympics and the announcers would refer to the female athletes as girls and the male athletes as men. Since I mostly only watched women's hockey (being a player myself), and many of those women are in their 20s and 30s (some with children!), the term girl was very shocking. I think girl is incredibly demeaning and in this context reinforces the idea that female athletes are inferior to male athletes. The same is true in any professional setting.

Anonymous said...

FSP, thank you. Commenters, thank you. You have no idea how timely this post and ensuing discussion are.

I am a postdoc. I just received an email from a male graduate student in my lab. The message was sent to both myself and a new female graduate student in the lab. The email reads something like this:

"Ladies,

A is what I did for you last night. It would be nice if you could do B, and if you are feeling ambitious it might be nice to see C.

Signed male grad student"

The only paraphrasing that I did was to replace details with A/B/C, the rest of the language is verbatim.

UGH!!!!

butterflywings said...

I do find 'girl' insulting.

The 'good' woman society wants us to be *is* a girl - pretty, compliant, speaks when spoken to or when required to entertain. Likeable, yes. To be taken seriously? No way.

So no wonder the label 'woman' seems slightly stodgy, PC, even pejorative...because society does not want us to be women.

No-one would refer to adult me as boys. I don't find 'guys' the same.

And anyone calling me 'good girl' would rather soon come to regret it.

'Females (and males) in their 20's are increasingly putting off traditionally adult activities such as marriage, kids, etc.'
Erm - you can be an adult without being married or having kids.

Anonymous said...

I agree with everyone's comments. I think there should be a feminine equivalent to guys. To me boy/girl refers to persons 17 and younger. Men/women refers to person 40 and older. Guys refers to males between 18-39. There is defiantly a hole in the english language. Gals just seems weird to me ...

Female post-doc said...

I have a hard time immediately identifying as a woman even though I am 30. I will say when I refer to myself as a woman, it does make me feel empowered somehow. I have recently tried to stop myself from using "guys" when referring to a group of women, although I still use it when it's a mixed-gender group.

I remember being in high school and a male teacher greeting my two female friends and I with, "Hi ladies." That is the first distinct memory I have in which I realized I was supposed to be growing up, for whatever that means, but I think it also showed respect from his side, which is great.

Buttered Toast Master said...

One of my coworkers in Grad school constantly referred to himself and his peers as "kids." Therefore, I agree with Anonymous 7:17 about people "putting off traditionally adult activities such as marriage". It's probably just language following our culture's extended childhood expectations.

I don't have any such expectations of mature people, and accordingly try to refer to anyone with a high school diploma as a man or woman, period.

Sharon said...

I brought this up in the comments of the last post, so let me reiterate.

Some of this may be my age -- having been a college student in the 80's and requesting to be called "woman" rather than "girl" even at age 19. I do see some of your points.

But, I disagree that just because some young women (even if it's the majority) are comfortable calling themselves girls, the term is therefore okay. There are other social conventions that people have become used to over time that portray one group in a more negative light, and that doesn't mean it's okay.

It may seem like it's simply language, but language does have power. It affects how we perceive people. So if faculty refer to young women as girls, and young men as men, or even guys, it is setting up differences in perceptions or expectations that can potentially be harmful over time.

steph said...

I will probably always refer to my female friends as my "girls" and say things like "girls night out". Hopefully I will still be saying those things until the day I die. But an adult male calling me a girl would annoy me.

Anonymous said...

i think ross described everything i would have said perfectly!

(i'm a 21-year-old female grad student)

basically, i feel weird calling anyone who's in their twenties OR who i consider part of my "peer group" (e.g. a 30-year-old friend and fellow grad student, or 31-year-old officemate) "man" or "woman." the real problem for me then is that while "guy" is a good thing to call male people in this group, there isn't really an equivalent alternative for female people.

Thinkerbell said...

I just got scolded for referring to a grad student as a girl. Being a 30+ female myself, I guess I think of anyone younger than myself as a girl ( this is going to become ridiculous as I get older, but we'll see what happens). I don't know what I think about myself, but not 'woman'.... I agree that we need the female equivalent of a guy. I would like 'lady' to be that word. It's perfect. I vouch to try and use it.

Sarah said...

I certainly go to a women's college, not a girls' school (but my sister's all-female high school is still a girls' school). We make a conscious effort to refer to other female scientists as women. Even when you're not in science, calling us a "girls' school" is very insulting.

Anonymous said...

I'm in my 20's and still refer to myself and my female peers as "girls." "Women" sounds much too mature for us. I don't think of stuffy or anything when I think of a "woman" but I do think of someone who is more mature than myself. I wear t-shirts and jeans to work still, I paint my fingernails green for St. Patrick's Day and I wear my hair in pigtails from time to time. These don't sound like womanly things to me. I think 30 is about the age I would start to consider myself a woman rather than a girl; then again, when I was 10 I thought I'd consider myself a woman at 20. Knowing some of my friends who are nearing 30, I'm inclined to say we still don't feel quite adult enough for these grown up words.
I use guys and boys to describe my male friends. It would be super awkward for me to refer to them as "men." I do use female and male sometimes rather than girl and guy. Gal seems perhaps more appropriate than girl (gal is to girl as guy is to boy in my book).
In a nutshell (having read Ross's comment before clicking "Publish) I agree almost completely with Ross.

balanced instability said...

As a female scientist, I actively avoid using the term "girls" to talk to young women. Not only do I find it slightly demeaning, but especially when talking to undergrads and graduate students I want to convey the sense that we are all grown ups in a professional atmosphere. I will hang out with "my girls" and sometimes will use the term "ladies" (and "gentlemen"-not "guys") but I generally refer to young men and women when teaching, etc. I know this makes me sound a little old-school for someone in their early 30s, but I think it makes for a respectful tone.

inBetween said...

A friend of mine refers to her one year old boy as "little man" and her 6 year old daughter a "little girl". Drives me bananas.

Anonymous said...

An old issue, indeed. But I have to protest against the word "lady." This should only be used if we're also talking about gentlemen. I think some of the discomfort with the word "woman" (which I quickly got over when I started college, and I wish everyone else would too) comes from this old distinction that a proper, well-behaved adult female is a lady; to call someone a woman implies something less that that -- lower class, not quite of the same moral standing, something along those lines. (There's a scene in an E.M. Forster novel where the English butler reports on who's at the door: "There's a... woman here to see you." Speaks volumes.) I thought this distinction had mostly disappeared, but reading some of these comments I see it hasn't.

As for girl, I do use it occasionally to refer to young women in a casual setting, but there's nothing wrong with the word woman.

amy said...

On language issues, I follow a two-step rule. First, I try to use a word that will not offend anyone, regardless of what I think of that word. For example, I don't use the word "retarded" anymore, because I know some people are offended by it. Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with the word in itself -- it just means "slowed" or "stalled", and that's a decent description of what can happen to the cognitive capacities of someone with a developmental disability. But if people with developmental disabilities don't want to be referred to as having mental retardation because of the connotations the word has picked up, I respect that. Now I always thought that nobody would be offended by "woman", whereas some who are over 18 would be offended by "girl", so I've always used "woman" to refer to anyone who appears to be older than a child. Now, though, it sounds like some people are offended by "woman" because it's old and stodgy, so I have to follow rule #2: when any word I choose is likely to offend somebody, then I make a judgment about which offense is the most justified. In this case, "girl" literally means female child, and "woman" means female adult. So I think it's completely justified for a woman to feel offended at being called a girl. But even if "woman" has connotations of being older than 30, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being considered to be older than 30. If we weren't living in such an ageist society, people would feel honored to be referred to as mature adults. So I don't care if women under the age of 30 are offended when I call them women. Therefore, I will continue to do so.

Rosie Redfield said...

A few days ago the always-interesting linguistics blog Language Log (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2200) had a nice discussion about refering to groups of women (or containing women) as 'guys'.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the various people who say that the issue is that "girl" is the closest thing to a female equivalent of "guy". It's an informal term. Unfortunately, "girl" also means a female child. I almost think of them as different words that happen to be spelled and pronounced the same.

I'm 24, a female in computer science, a politically active feminist. I'm not offended by "girls" if it's being used as an obvious parallel to "guys" (or "boys") by a peer.

If I'm being called a girl to patronize or demean me, that's another story. Like my officemate's client at work, two years ago, who asked him, in front of me and clearly intending me to hear, "[Officemate], how were you so lucky to get to share an office with such a pretty girl?" I think "girl" should pretty much never be used in a professional setting.

It's all about the context.

Ann said...

Interesting how many young women say they are uncomfortable with being called women, or using the term woman for a peer. Does this have something to do with young people being unwilling to be considered "grownups"?

When I was in college (a million years ago), I would have been insulted to be called a "girl".

Anonymous said...

I think most women my age (mid-20s) would use "girls" in casual conversation (i.e., "girls' night out") as an equivalent to "guys" (and I would also use "guys" to refer to a group of peers, whether mixed-sex or all-female, as in "What do you guys want to do tonight?"). My grandmother uses "gal" in contexts I would use "girl," but I feel like that sounds quite old-fashioned.

However, I use "women" in more formal contexts--for example, "Why aren't there more women in this department?" I have also been consciously trying to refer to individual adult females as women for the past year or so.

I've also noticed myself referring to my undergrad students as "young people," which makes me feel quite old (this is what my mom uses for young adults and people in their 20s!).

I doubt that this has much to do with the putting off of traditionally adult responsibilities, as my grandmother's generation had terms that correlate to ours as well.

Anonymous said...

P.S. I should also say that if someone ADDRESSED me as "girl," that would be quite offensive. At least in my experience, however, the sexist in universities have managed to learn how to correct the most egregious language errors, without correcting the underlying problem. I worked in finance for a few years after undergrad, however, and especially among the reps (95% of which were male at my firm), I was constantly receiving comments that reduced me to my attractiveness and age.

Ms.PhD said...

I don't care that much about girls vs. women. I actually hate the word gal. It's outdated and I tend to associate it with things like "Gal Friday". Very Mad Men, if you will.

Lately I'm disgusted by my friends with boy babies who insist on using the phrase "little guy". As in "the little guy did this" and "the little guy did that". Get over it, he's a BABY. He's not growing up any faster no matter what you call him.

Fia said...

I find it surprising that nobody here notices why this may be, - women in their twens and thirties being called girls, and some of those even liking it.
It's because in our societies today, women are not allowed to grow up, - we've got to stay size 0, childlike with tiny waists, sweet faces, childlike, to be liked by men.

It is demeaning, and it is reflected in how many of us choose to clothe themselfes. I rather be calles a women my age than being told I look 10 years younger than I am. I think this issue is about allowing women to grow old(er) gracefully and not expecting them to look like 16 until they ar 50 years old.

I hate it when someone calls me "girl". It's nothing like guy. It's like boy, and everybody who calls me "girl" gets called "boy" in response.

Anonymous said...

My grandparents use "gal" with aplomb. I think it would be perfect if it didn't sound so strange coming out of the mouth of anyone under 80.

Anonymous said...

How about the oh-so-slang, but gender neutral "peeps". As in

"Hey peeps, waz up!!"

Okay, seriously, I am trying to break my habit of starting out collaborative emails with "Hey guys," (I am a girl/female/woman)... what do I use instead?

Hi people,
Hi all, (current favorite)
Hi everyone,
Hi,
(no greeting)

Anonymous said...

it's tricky cuz the double standrd already exists.

girl ~ young attractive female
woman ~ stiff authority figure

nobody likes to be a stiff authority figure, so when you call a 28 yr old female a "woman" it's not as charming.

or something like that.

Anonymous said...

What's fascinating about this to me is that I didn't have the chance to read your post yesterday, and yet I was thinking of exactly this same issue as I was walking across town.

I pretty much concluded that only "women" will do in this situation (for me, anyway; I'm a "guy," so your milage may vary).

"Girls," can be perfectly well-used in an informal situation for things like "girls night out," or "hanging out with the girls," etc., but if I were a woman and one of my colleagues called me a girl in a professional context, I'd be inclined to commit an act of violence.

The fact that some people are willing to accept it without taking offense doesn't mean that it isn't rude.

And while some people here have suggested "ladies" as an alternative, I've always found that a problematic word.

It could be just me (or maybe my age cohort: early 30's), but I feel as though it can be used in two ways: 1) Formally -the parallel to "gentlemen," not "guys;" and thus more formal and stodgy than "women", or 2) Informally, in a way that has always sounded a tad belittling to me (except when used by people of a certain age).

I don't claim my feelings on this are necessarily correct, but "ladies" used informally by people not pushing retirement age has always made me cringe.

"Guys" used in a unisex way, and "gals," for those who can pull it off with aplomb both seem fine for relatively informal situations to me, but if I ever have the need to discuss a group of female human adults in a professional setting, I think I'll stick with "women."

Anonymous said...

I am a '30' woman who sometimes has 'girls night' with my girlfriends. However, in a professional sense, I always prefer woman and I strive to refer to the other women I interact with (college -aged and up) as such and not as 'girls'.

One thing that bugged me during the Olympics was that during the downhill skiing the announcers referred to the women skiers as 'girls'. Some of the 'girls' were nearly my age! The description seemed inappropriate and disrespectful. Unfortunately, I didn't get to hear the announcers for the male skiers, but I am betting they were not 'boys'!

Maggie said...

When I went off to a women's college 20 years ago, we were told to eradicate the term "girl" from our vocabularies, except to refer to those under 18. It felt painfully unnatural at first to refer to each other as "women." But within just a few weeks, it came to seem perfectly normal to the point that it was grating when an outsider would use the term "girls."

That said, I am not offended by the use of the term "girls" to refer to very young women, because I understand there aren't a lot of alternatives. I was annoyed when someone referred in a work context referred to a 45-year old professional as "that girl."

Anonymous said...

I have noticed another irritating phenomenon. I often have the sense that some men will bend over backwards to use almost any word but the word "woman." They stumble around awkwardly until they finally spit out "lady" or "female." It is almost as if they think the word "woman" is an insult. My father-in-law admitted that he actually was worried that "woman" is an insulting word.

On the one hand, part of me says I ought to sympathize with men who are confronting linguistic territory that seems to them fraught with peril. On the other hand, my immediate reaction is irritation. It seems to me that they think being a "woman" is an unfortunate or embarrassing condition for which they need to find a euphamism, and that assumption is insulting in itself.

Anonymous said...

As a youngish female person I find the term girl offensive. I tend to respond by referring to anyone who uses the term as a boy or an infant. Being called "a female" is irritating as well because it brings to mind breeding stock of various livestock species.

Anonymous said...

I see no problem with using the word "woman" to refer to adult females. To me it gives the connotation of maturity and responsibility and makes the very real tangible distinction that you are an adult not a child. If being an adult, being mature and responsible equates to being "old and stodgy" then that's more a sign of insecurity in the mind of the subject, than reality. I'm a woman in my early-30s.

Anonymous said...

Every year the RAs in my all-female dorms have started most of their emails by greeting us as ladies. They then use that pronoun throughout their messages. (I searched my inbox, and the only other instance of ladies starting an email is when a TA called our discussion section "ladies and gentlemen.")

Whenever I read it, it feels like we're playing dress-up in the term.

amy said...

"It seems to me that they think being a "woman" is an unfortunate or embarrassing condition for which they need to find a euphamism, and that assumption is insulting in itself."

Aha! I've always wondered why it bothers me that some people seem unable to use the word "woman", and why I often feel annoyed by their reliance on "lady" or "female" instead. I think you've put your finger on it!

Madscientistgirl said...

I think one of the anonymous comments gets it exactly right: "At least in my experience, however, the sexist [sic] in universities have managed to learn how to correct the most egregious language errors, without correcting the underlying problem." I would rather be called a girl by someone who will listen to me and treat me (otherwise) with respect than be called a woman by someone who otherwise doesn't treat me with respect. But I have seldom met a native English speaker who refered to women as "girls" in a professional setting who was not sexist in other ways too.

There are many more harmful expressions of sexism than calling women "girls," but this is something easy to prove because it's objective. If I consistently get unfairly harsh evaluations or get fewer invited talks or get less grant money than my male peers, it's harder to prove if it's sexism, even if my qualifications and accomplishments are similar. If I'm trying to prove that a male colleague is sexist, it's easier to document that he calls women girls than, say, that he has a long history of "personality conflicts" with women and no history of conflicts with men.

But then, I also think that some of the problem is that people insist that we have enough proof to win a lawsuit before they'll even attempt to address the problem. If I come to my supervisor and say Dr. Jones insults me constantly and he tries to make me do all of the menial work and he treats all of the men in the lab differently, why can't my supervisor sit Dr. Jones down and discuss the problematic behavior with him? Why does the behavior have to get bad enough that I could win a lawsuit? When I went to the spokesperson of one of my former collaborations with Sherry Towers' paper on gender discrimination in the allocation of invited talks in D0 and said, hey, look, their invited talk allocation procedure is exactly the same as ours, shouldn't we evaluate our procedure and make sure it's fair, was the only response really to say that one should not even consider this unless and until I had proven objectively that our procedure was unfair and that the women weren't really just not good enough? I admit, I seize on things like calling women "girls" when I'm having problems with a male colleague, but I only do this because other complaints aren't taken seriously.

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Well it really depends on the kind of women or girls you’re talking to. As for me I find it very offensive to call me girl well I’m not a teenager anymore and in-between.

Police jobs said...

To me calling me as girl means lack of worldly experienced, Immature. Hmmm! But I think it really depends on how the word was used or delivered that makes it offensive or not.

Anonymous said...

I (a youngish woman) use "ladies" informally with all-female groups of friends as an approximate equivalent to "guys"... but I would be offended if I were addressed this way in professional context by colleagues (exception: colleagues who are also good firends, female, close to my age).

mOOm said...

"Woman" was considered derogatory when "Lady" was the accepted term to refer to a female person in some English dialects/classes. I was often corrected for that slip when I was very young (1960s/70s) That's why some people still have a problem with it I think. I'm surprised to hear that there is a swing back to "girl" from "woman".

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Franglais. I work in a French lab, and I (nearly 30) am regularly called a 'girl' whereas younger men are always referred to as 'men', sometimes in the same sentence.

What also drives mes mad is that on the CNRS application form (for permanent jobs), there are three boxes: Monsieur, Madame, Mademoiselle. The missing box is of course 'Doctor', showing that they don't care if you already have your Ph.D. or not, but find your marital status relevant.

Dr. Psycho said...

I remember reading an article in a magazine aimed at teenaged girls (that must have been awhile ago, back when I had some of those in my home) in which the author confessed to "'guy' envy": she wished there were a word less formal than "woman" but less minutal than "girl". She nominated "guy" as the substitute (just as women had co-opted jeans, sneakers, &c.).

I would prefer the revival of "gal" myself, but hey....

Jeff said...

As for the (not especially analogous) man/guy/boy situation, as an early 20s guy I'm kind of averse to the word "men" and especially the singular "man;" I think it's less that I don't want to be thought of as an adult, as that I don't want to accept my grandfather's gender roles.

"Man" strikes me as kind of a purple word, in a Churchillian kind of way. ("The power of man has grown in every sphere..." "...but we must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man..." and so on.) There's a glory to it. Sometimes that's good, but I don't want to be smacked with it every time I specify my gender, and I especially don't want our only good word for that to be itself so gendered.

I feel really awkward calling myself a man; like I'm puffing myself up involuntarily and might have to fight someone, or at least grow a huge beard and stride around campus ramrod-straight glaring at people all day. That's largely why I prefer "guy;" there's none of that in there. It connotes a sort of easinessgoing that I actually possess.

"Boy" is also a good word, but lends itself to different purposes.

I think we can agree that the gynonym problem should be settled to the satisfaction of the gynaikes in question (the satisfaction ton gynaikon?) and not to mine, but I will say this: for me as a guy to call someone a woman strikes me as kind of distancing, in a "how do you do madam" sort of way. Not language that connotes a genuine rapport. Gal however doesn't have this problem -- sure, it's kind of old-world-celtic, but so was "guy" until recently, and apart from that "gal" has all the right connotations.

I will say, though, that I'm horribly averse to the word "lady;" my grandmother, for example, considered its antonym to be w****. When I hear "lady" I hear it as "you appear virtuous enough, for now" and it chills my blood a bit. I'd sleep easier if we could bury that word for good, along with a number of others.

Jeff said...

By the way, as a compromise that satisfies no one, I frequently refer to groups of people (of either or mixed gender) as "folks;" in the salutations of emails for example. This strikes me as mostly guy-ish, but perhaps insufficiently equalizing. How do we disciples of FSP feel about it?

Anonymous said...

When I can call my boss a boy I might consider allowing myself to be called a girl. But I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

What is wrong with referring to people as people, a person as a person, a child as a child, etc. The person-hood of everyone seems to be the missing link in all situations where people are speaking or acting inconsiderately toward others.
Perhaps in some situations we could even say "humans", since there are definitely "people" among other species also? We already have enough humans on this planet, talking about each other with words that emphasize sex all the time might be part of the problem. If we emphasize what we have in common it might be easier to treat each other well automatically!