Ladies, Let's Be Honest: Are We Girls? Or Are We Women?

Illustration for article titled Ladies, Let's Be Honest: Are We Girls? Or Are We Women?

Gourmet magazine has a story (via Newser) about Jaime Araujo, a "Napa Valley Girl" who has made a splash in French wine making. "A lot of what I do is psychological," Ms. Araujo tells the magazine. "Changing the identity of a wine that's been in your family for four hundred years is hard, and it takes a lot of hand-holding." She also says: "France is a much more macho culture." But what about American culture? After all, she's being called a girl. A valley girl — a Napa Valley Girl, a play on words. It's a joke. But still: Jaime Araujo is 37 years old. When does a girl become a woman? And why are grown women so often called girls? And can we get fired up by a magazine calling a grown woman a "girl" when we're guilty of doing so ourselves?My mother calls most women girls, unless they are older than she is. Therefore, if she says, "I saw this girl wearing pink sneakers," she could mean an 8-year-old gradeschooler or a 47-year-old lawyer. I am guilty of the same thing: I sometimes use the word "girl" to describe women my age or younger. Of course, as I grow older, it becomes less and less appropriate. Sometimes, when speaking in disparaging tones about silly, trendy, teetering intoxicated college-age women wobbling through the streets of New York, "drunk girls" seems incredibly apt. But the truth is, it's reductive. It's insulting. It strips a female of her power to dub her a "girl" and therefore not mature. A girl is insecure, incomplete; a woman is confident, competent. Calling a woman a "girl" is not a compliment, and many females who marched and protested for the right to vote and for the ERA would be happy to explain why. On the other hand, there's a casual, comforting nostalgia in saying, "I'm having drinks with the girls." And I'd feel the same way if a man said he was going to "have drinks with the boys." There's a playfulness there, and in this day and age — when thirtysomethings are wearing pink sneakers and dark jeans just like schoolkids, when video games and indie bands are enjoyed by thirty-two year olds and two year olds, when no one wants to grow up — there's often no hidden meaning in teasing friends by saying, "girls, let's go shopping!" or "get it, girl!" or the dreaded "you go, girl!" Plus, while you can casually refer to a young man as a "guy," there really is no equivalent for females. Something slangily in between girl and woman that has a lightness, a joie de vivre, a femininity without the seriousness imparted by the use of "woman." ("Chicks"? No.) But maybe such a word does not exist because such a thing does not exist? Are you either a girl or a woman? And by trying to soften and strip the word "woman" of power, do we do the same to the females we call "girls" ? Napa Valley Girl Makes Splash In French Wine Marketing [Newser]



@aloysius: Just saw this. I doubt that anyone is offended when I call my guy friends and/or boyfriends boys, whether they are black or not. That's imbuing the word with too much power.

I don't see this as a "demeaning" issue, really. It's more of a weight issue. "Man" has more weight than "boy," just as "woman" has more weight than "girl." It's not getting in any ditches to prefer to use terms of equal weight when referring to the genders.