“You’ve got this, girl”
“You go, girl”
“This girl I work with”
The use of the word girl when referring to an adult female is commonplace in our society. I know I’ve been guilty of it. When phrases are ingrained in a culture their use becomes second nature. We don’t think twice about it. But what happens when we do think twice about it?
The more I’ve thought about the power of language and considered how using the word girl to refer to a woman has become a social norm, the angrier I’ve become by it. I went from questioning the use of these phrases and terms to making a pointed effort to not use them.
I’m sure there will be eye rolls at this post. Judgements made that I’m looking too far into things or being too sensitive or creating something where there is nothing.
But just stop and think about it for one minute. Why do grown women–and even men–refer to other grown women as girls?
Language carries consequences that run deeper than surface level expressions and phrases. While we may think we’re just exchanging a casual sentiment, we’re actually setting the tone and providing the foundation of how we perceive one another and how others perceive us.
“Language is the power, life and instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation.” – Angela Carter
Replace any of these common “girl” phrases with “boy” and envision them being exchanged in everyday settings. Have you ever heard anyone say, “this boy from work” when referencing a male colleague? Or picture a group of men shouting excitedly for “boy power!” Or envision a man offering a serious sentiment of encouragement to a male friend by saying, “you’ve got this, boy“.
When the word boy is used in a serious manner to refer to a man it is condescending and disrespectful. So why do women, and men, routinely use the word girl to refer to a woman? Why do women not only accept this, but go as far to frame it in a positive light?
Even when used in an encouraging manner or in an attempt to express friendship, when women address other women as girls we undercut our identities and place ourselves in a subservient position of power.
One of the easiest steps women can take towards achieving equality and parity in our society can be accomplished through making conscious decisions in how we address one another, support one another, and lift one another up in our choices in language. We have the power to elevate each other in the words we use. We also have the power to speak out against words we won’t tolerate. The next time someone describes a female colleague as “this girl I work with” question them. Stop perpetuating the acceptance of “girl” as a descriptor for an adult female. Choose to elevate all women by referring to one another as the powerful and capable individuals we are.