One holiday several years ago, I found myself seated next to my aunt’s mother-in-law. Let’s call her Mrs. Danvers.
Mrs. Danvers was terrifying in her prime, and at this point, she was in her 90s and still scary. She looked around the room with a disapproving eye and had a vibe that just screamed, “Everyone I like is dead. And now I’m stuck with you people.”
Obviously, I was thrilled with the seating arrangement.
But I got Mrs. Danvers talking about our shared alma mater, a women’s college that she attended in the 30s. She got very animated telling me about taking the train to campus, and the great fun she and her friends had in school. She said, “Even later in life, those girls were some of my best friends.”
It really struck me to see this mean old lady get positively wistful and to refer to her female friends as “girls.” She was in her 90s, yet the girl she had once been was still alive inside. And she saw her fellow girls in her mind’s eye. Her girls.
My very closest friends refer to ourselves as “girls.” It’s not a term that I use lightly because it feels so intimate. It seems appropriate only for those female friends who remember that horrible haircut you had in 1989 or who have patiently and compassionately held your hand while you cried all of your makeup off. “Girl” is a term of endearment that is not easily earned. It means you’ve seen each other’s inner children … or have been friends long enough to remember being children.
So, maybe that’s why I have a hard time being referred to as “girl” in the workplace.
Yes. Today at Globotron, my boss’s boss – a woman – referred to me and my 2 fellow female writers as “the girls.” In an email. For the world to see.
I barely know this woman. I’m sure she used the word as a female version of “guys” and didn’t even think about it. In that way, I should just write it off.
She certainly doesn’t fulfill my personal criteria for earning use of the term “girl.” And the usage felt infantilizing in a corporate environment. I’ve worked too damned hard to build my skills and my career to be referenced as a child in the workplace. Especially by another woman, who more than likely knows how difficult it is to hold your ground – not to mention gain any – in what is still a very male-dominated environment.
In the workplace, I’d rather be called “bitch” than “girl.” Bitches have power. And you can take that brand of name-calling straight to HR. But “girl?” It’s more insidious. It’s a not-so-subconscious way of making women feel small.
Would you ever refer to a group of knowledgeable, capable, professional men as “boys?” Hell no. So why the double standard?
Am I being overly sensitive here?