Thursday, November 15, 2012

Because there's a time and a place for everything.

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.

However.

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? 

9 comments:

jan said...

No, you are not. I am retired, but when i was working, and overheard someone use 'girls' I would remind them that we did not hire children and the correct term was "women". It drives me crazy!

Average Jane said...

You're not overreacting at all. That's sexist and belittling.

Gary's third pottery blog said...

Not overly sensitive at all. For those of us baby boomers and gen x it became repellent as an expression, because it implies you are inconsequential. These days young women use it a lot, referring to themselves and their friends, perhaps because they prefer to seem young. In the 90s I liked how it was "riot grrrrls" which took it and made it pissed off. I s'pose I am sensitive to it as a man because my wife is so very intelligent and sweet and HATES it when adult women are called girls, and my azzhole father used it as an insult to me, like you may have seen in movies where a coach or Marine Corps sergeant is like "alright you girls, get moving!".

Gary's third pottery blog said...

and thanks for visiting :) you have an amusing blog here

cookingwithgas said...

OH, I get this. My girls are my friends and family.
Plus I work with the husband.
Now if you want to talk about se*ual harassment in the work place....I think we have set things back.
here it is encouraged and the only "girls" are the ones that ride with me.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I have the same reaction. My "girls" are my closest friends. In a professional sphere that's an insulting, demeaning term.

J Starkenburg said...

You are not over reacting at ALL. The term "girls" in this particular email invites that you are all a close knit group, which is just not the case. Besides, it was totally unproffessional to attach that term to a company wide email. Jeez.

Sharon Lee Kubichek said...

not really over-reacting. but, having grown up in the south, i know things are weird there? so, depends on the person saying it???
to one of my uncles, all women were 'sis', but, in fairness to him, all men were 'bubba'.
and, there was my co-worker from california...he was scrupulously polite to the secretary, but with the rest of us in the academic science research group, he used pretty coarse language. when i pointed this out to him one day, he was really embarrassed, but said it was because he knew there weren't many women in science research, so he wanted to treat us just like the male "guys" on the team.
he didn't mean to insult us, he thought it was a complement that he wasn't babying the female science end of the team.
i have still not figured out how to take that because he's also the one guy who took in, defended, got assistance for, got a lawyer for, got housing for, etc. , the custodian for our floor who was abused by her husband and lost her baby.
life is weird and confusing.
i do concur that some folks use "girls" as condescending. i've run into those kind of jerks. sometimes the guys don't know...but, i do think another woman ought to know the difference.

Trixie Bang Bang said...

Eh, I think I'm alone in thinking it's not a big deal. I wouldn't use that term at work, but it only has power if you let it have power. The world is made up of 2 genders (not counting the transgenders, then I guess 3) and it's girls/boys, women/men, tomato/tomatoe, we're all just one & the same... Bigger things to fret in this small world. Shake it off.