When does a girl become a woman?
June 19th, 2009 by teragram

A friend recently told me that she knows some people nearing middle age who hesitate to apply the word “woman” to themselves. They still consider themselves girls. It’s been rolling around in my head since, so I wanted to blog about some of my thoughts on the matter.

As with anything, once you start thinking about it, you see examples everywhere. A poster advertising a TV program seeking a new models refers to the (at least mid-twenties) contestants as “girls”. Marketing executives insist on referring to “females”.

I am a thirty year old mother of one. Married for nearly 6 years (6 years!). And I find I also hesitate to use the word woman for myself. Why? Girl certainly doesn’t apply, and lady is just wrong. Perhaps part of my problem is that I don’t know where the boundary between “girl” and “woman” is; I have never had a rite of passage that explicitly confirmed my new status. Do you stop being a “girl” when you have your first period? When you hit 18? When you get married, or have a baby?

The TV show I referred to above is (I think) called “Are you a model citizen?” (I can’t find it online) and it proposes to take some number of hopefuls and choose one to become a model. Thinking about why they used the word “girls”, I realised that “women” is not a word for attractive (read sexually-objectified) females. The word “woman” conjures up an image of a strong, stable, independent person, but perhaps also dowdy and unsexy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, vast audience.


11 Responses  
  • Tanya writes:
    June 19th, 20097:01 pmat

    This is something I’ve become very conscious of. I only say “girls” if I would say “boys” in the same context. If I’m talking about some gender difference, for example at work, I’ll lighten it by saying “girls tend to do X, but boys tend to do Y”, but in general I’ll use the words “women” and “men”. For myself, woman, definitely. And yes, isn’t “females” just vile? Like we’re looking at these fascinating creatures through a microscope.

    Here’s some Bill Bailey for you:

    BB: Are there any men in?
    (no response)
    BB: Any women?
    Female voices: Yes!
    BB: Ah, you see, there’s this crisis in masculine identity at the moment. Women, totally at home with their sexuality. ‘I am woman, wo-man, I, wo-MAN.’ Men ‘Er.. (awkward expression) Someone else’ll shout out, I’ll be alright’. Alright, is there any blokes in?
    Masculine voices: Yeah!
    BB: You see, there’s a term that men feel more comfortable with. Bloke, blokey bloke bloke. It’s a kind of friendly term. ‘Oh, he’s a bloke, lovely bloke, nice bloke, blokey bloke. I’m a bloke, you’re a bloke, wahey!’ It doesn’t impose any unnecessary demands on us as men. ‘Bloke’, that’s just basically ‘carry stuff, don’t get in the way’. ‘Man’, that’s all kinds of other things, isn’t it? That’s nobility, gallantry, wisdom… that conjures up some image of a bloke in a cardigan with a pipe saying ‘Cover up those table legs, mother, they’re inflaming my sexual ardour’.

    We need a word like “blokes” or “guys” for women, but I don’t think we have a non-diminutive one. Lasses, eh?

  • Tanya writes:
    June 19th, 20097:28 pmat

    Oh yeah, and

    Thinking about why they used the word “girls”, I realised that “women” is not a word for attractive (read sexually-objectified) females.

    That’s because “adult” is not a word for attractive (read sexually-objectified) females 😉 We’re already past it, m’dear.

  • teragram writes:
    June 19th, 20097:33 pmat

    “We’re already past it, m’dear.”

    Exactly! It’s awful when you think about it.

  • Disapproving Ex-Housemate writes:
    June 19th, 20099:20 pmat

    No way, I for one objectify you both.

    I’m such a charmer.

  • chick lass babe broad dame doll lady WOMAN « clairebo writes:
    June 23rd, 200910:03 pmat

    […] 23, 2009 by clairebo Teragram is doing some thinking over here based on a conversation we had a while back in my livingroom about how the women in my life are […]

  • Saoili writes:
    June 25th, 20091:47 pmat

    I agree, now that you mention it, that there should be some sort of rite of passage thing. I guess maybe turning 21 counts?

    I think any human female that has gotten married, had a baby, or turned 30, is a woman. I am a woman on one count and approaching the other two. But you, my dear sister, are definitively a woman :).

  • Clairebo writes:
    June 29th, 200910:44 amat

    Saoili I couldn’t agree with you less.

    Supposing a woman never gets married or has a baby. Is she a child til she turns 30?

    We become young women somewhere in our mid-teens. That doesn’t mean we’re finished learning or growing at that stage, but we are women nonetheless!

  • teragram writes:
    June 29th, 20091:05 pmat

    In fairness to Saoili, I don’t think she was saying that any of those things is *required* for womanhood, but that each of them is *sufficient*.


  • jimlad writes:
    July 4th, 200911:11 pmat

    mmm, women

  • Tracey writes:
    November 24th, 200912:48 amat

    I’m a women and have been since the age of 18. I object to being called a girl especially in work situations because men would not call themselves boys. I find that when women are called girls they get dumped with the shit jobs. I have a name so I ask people to say my name (eg Debbie and Tracey, Tracey and Debbie if there were two of us) and I’ve repeatedly said sorry but I will not answer to “the girls”. My union backs me up.

    Did you know the terms boy and girl when referred to adults can mean insulting things including lower class, slave and servant. Many years ago m
    my grandfather was appalled when a man was called “boy”, the man in question was black and it was said in that way. I am not black but when its said its usually make the tea/tidy up and other crap jobs. This is why I stick up for myself.

    Women to me says can pay her own way, stand up for herself, in control. Girl says stupid, beneath men, silly. Lady says older (50+) delicate in a way I never want to be. When dating I will buy drinks, I will buy meals, 50/50 in my relationships like the song.

  • Tracey writes:
    November 24th, 200912:49 amat

    ps, I have never been married or had a baby, and I am not a girl because of this, probably more sensible for saying no to Mr Wrong!

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