Guys and, erm, Dolls?
Ma’am Missus Miss Ms Woman Girl Lady Female Gal
Recently my attention was drawn to a book review where the reviewer shares this experience.
One night at a dinner table at a wedding, I got into an argument with a female guest about terminology I was using. She was asking about my dating escapades and I kept calling females “girls”. After a while, she took offense:
“We are not girls, we are women.”
I said: “No, I call most females girls. Women are different than girls.”
She asked me to explain my terminology for females*. I responded:
“Girls are girls until they have a baby. Then they become women.”
She asked: “And what do they become after they are moms?”
I said: “Well eventually they become ladies.”
Hrm. When you put it that way, some people will never be adults.
While this guy is obviously (to me) out of touch, I can understand people who refer to women, especially young women, as girls. Aging carries so much baggage and negative repercussions, (especially for women) that it is quite understandable for people to tread carefully. I fully understand feeling reluctant to call a woman “ma’am” or refer to her as a “woman” lest you are taken to be calling her, gasp, old.
At the same time, referring to adult women as girls fits right in with the trends set by advertisements that sexualize children, and infantilize women. A trend which is problematic for all sorts of reasons.
So what do you call female people? I tend to use “lady” a lot. I understand that for many people “lady” feels behaviorally proscriptive- which is to say you have to fit in a box in order to qualify as a lady. It doesn’t carry that baggage for me. I hear it as a respectful term, the feminine equivalent of “sir.” What do you think?
Also, I can’t have this conversation without hearing this in my head:
*Just in case you didn’t know, don’t use ‘female’ as a noun when talking about people. Just… don’t.