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.
Photo credit iStockPhoto
[…] (No sexism intended with the man-to-man comment; have you read my take on that at Women of HR?) […]
As with most women, I like being a “girl” when it suits my mood! Although I do agree, it sometimes has negative connotations – all depending upon context, of course.
So Robin, please understand I am not being condescending when I say, “You Go, Girl”!
Thanks everyone for reading and commenting. And I guess it is quite a niggle for me (love that phrase @Jennifer!)
@Lyn – I know what you mean – when females call each other “honey” or “girl” (especially here in the south), we sort of expect it/pass it off. But is it laying a foundation of acceptable terminology in the office? People hear it and absorb it….and make inferences from it perhaps without realizing it.
@Matt – when I first moved from the Midwest (#HRcheeseheads unite), I was SHOCKED at the “honeys” and “sweeties” that flew around in the workplace. I truly hit the wall when an applicant for a MANAGEMENT job came into the interview and greeted me with “hello Darlin’”.
@Gretchen – see my comment to Matt, and perhaps it’s not growing up with the language, but I can tell you there is probably no time I ever liked being called ‘hun’ at work.. Perhaps it’s because my position/value/role was so belittled when I was called the “HR girl” in a male-dominated workplace (sigh)
@Debbie – I do the same thing; I will find myself using the word “girlfriends.. but I am very conscious of NOT using the “G” word when discussing co-workers, candidates, employees, etc
It’s a topic with numerous opinions, and various interpretations – and I always find it to be an interesting conversation.
I don”t know what I say- I will have to tune in and report back- I do know that if I am in a casual conversation at the office and telling a story about my girlfriends- they are still my girlfriends and always will be no matter how old we are- isn’t that funny?
I guess for me here in the South some terms seem to be taken by others ok such as darlin’ and honey even in the workplace. I kind of enjoy it now when done in the right manner. However, when I hear my boss call me by saying, “Come here little girl” in any tone it’s wrong. If the top leader in an organization talks to people in the workplace in that manner it’s difficult to give any credence to HR led harassment training. No matter how good the program.
When we say we’re going out for “girls night out” isn’t usually tongue in cheek? Kind of a fun way to say, “wait we’re still young enough to do this and old enough to know better”. 🙂
Thought provoking for sure.
This used to be a niggle with me as well. Then, at some point I started to not care about being called a “girl”. For two reasons:
1. People no longer have the power to trivialize me (if that’s their intent) because I’m confident enough to let it roll off my back.
and (on a lighter note)
2. Hey, if someone wants to point out my “youthfulness” by calling me a “girl”, then I must not have yet reached the dreaded “old hag” status. 🙂
Great post that gave me pause this am. I get this. But, I feel it is totally a context thing. There was a “girl” in my office that called everyone “honey”. It was Southern endearment. When she said it you did not mind. But, if a guy were to say something like that in a professional setting, flames might shoot out of my eyes. The connotation is immediately taken as subservient.
Also, gestures and the request asked, depending on a woman’s position in the company, could step over that Southern sweet boundary. Like if they say it with no eye contact, waving while asking you to fetch her a coffee or something off the printer. Like Jessica said, there is a time and place for everything.
“Honey” just don’t step over that line of disrespect.
In total alignment with you Robin! I love “girly” things in social environments however at work, there is a perceived value of an individual’s contribution by the descriptors of their peers. I have often heard statements (by men and women) such as “the girls make the coffee,” ” the girls mostly answer the phone”, etc. Does that infer that men are incapable of coffee making or phone answering?
Consider how an individual would feel if they earned an operations management role and their peers referred to them as the admin?
Competence is communicated by using respectful language.
Like Trish, I was raised on Marlo Thomas and “Free to Be You and Me.” I simply wonder how much of “girls” is culturally and geographically-based? I heard “sweetie” and “honey” a lot more when I lived in Mississippi, then I do hear in the North.
I completely understand where you’re coming from with this. There is a woman in my office who refers to a few of the women in the office as girls. While she is really sweet, I feel that she does it because she assumes we’re younger than we actually are.
At the same time, I guess personally when I have a night out with my girlfriends it’s always “Ladies Night” and when I have a night out with my gay friends…well that’s more commonly Girl’s Night.
Meaning, there’s a time and a place for everything. Referring to a group as “girls” at work seems a bit unprofessional to me. Outside of work is supposed to be more relaxed, so it’s acceptable.
Ok, Robin. I’m a ‘Free to be you and me’ fan like you. In fact, I own the DVD and my little girl just watched it this weekend and of course, I had to sit down with her and watch. But, I can honestly say that I’ve never even had it cross my mind that someone calling me a “girl” or “gal” was negative. I guess because I’m guilty of sometimes calling a group of men and women “guys”. I’m interested to see if other readers weigh in differently.
Great thought starter for sure Robin!