If you still call yourself a girl and you’re over the age of 14, I’ve got news for you. Based on the average age of first menstruation in the US, you are technically no longer a girl.
Many of us say it. We have “girl’s night out” or “boy’s poker night.” We tell folks that “the boys are coming over to watch the game” or “the girls are going shopping.” When my grandmother and her friends were well into their 80’s and 90’s, they still referred to themselves as ‘the girls.’ My husband will call me ‘his girl’ as a term of endearment. And you may tell me I’m ‘girly’ when you learn that I like pink, sparkly things and shoe shopping and that I have a mad, unrequited crush on Johnny Depp. I’m totally OK with that.
But I’m not OK being called a girl at work.
I often wonder why, in some work settings, it continues to be acceptable and common to refer to groups of women as ‘girls.’ Sometimes it’s applied across the entire work group – particularly when it’s a predominantly female work group: the girls in Customer Service, the girls in the office, or the girls in HR.
I have three primary issues with the use of the word ‘girls’ in the work setting:
- The lack of a parallel term for males. While we may call men in the predominately male tool-and-die shop ‘guys’ or ‘dudes’, I highly doubt we call them ‘boys.’
- An implied sense of triviality. Referring to adult working women as ‘girls’ within an organization implies a sense of triviality and a lack of importance for their contributions to the organization. If 50% of the members of your leadership team are women, do they get referred to as ‘the girls in the C-Suite?’
- The message sent. Common use of the phrase internal to an organization makes it much easier to use it externally to customers and clients. If I’m a customer of your company and you tell me that ‘the girls’ will help me, I want to leave and go do business with some adults.
Am I being overly sensitive? Did my adoration for Free to Be…You and Me as a child lead me to place too much importance on this issue? Am I contradicting myself when I attend a ‘girl’s weekend?’ Or am I, hopefully, making you rack your brain to see if you’ve recently referred to a whole group, department, or class of working women as ‘girls?’
*I must note, we are all thankful that girl’s nights out (GNOs) exist for it was at a GNO that the seed for this blog was planted.
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