Law School Discussion

Nine Years of Discussion
;

Author Topic: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'  (Read 6762 times)

Jessica Rabbit

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 12
  • I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #60 on: February 21, 2009, 01:33:01 PM »
I mean, I did it just this morning with my high schoolers (who are supposed to call me Ms. Cadysson, but I couldn't take it, so they call me by my first name).

Being called "girl" by a peer is offensive, but getting called by your first name by minors is not?  Doesn't being called "Ms." recognize your adulthood in the same way being called a "woman" does?

Yes; no

If I didn't invite them to call me by my first name, it would be a problem - but I did (I'm also not their regular teacher - I go in once a week to teach a class). I'm really not comfortable with a lot of the pedagogical trappings of the classroom. Almost all of my undergrad professors asked us to call them by their first names, in large part because they understood class to not just be about them imparting wisdom, but about all of us having a conversation and learning from each other. And that's how I understand my particular role. So my students calling me by my first name is about a relationship I've established with them, the parameters of which I've defined.

That's fair.  I still find it odd to be uncomfortable with "girl" yet comfortable with kids calling you by your first name as if you were one of them.

Jessica Rabbit

  • Jr. Member
  • **
  • Posts: 12
  • I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way.
    • View Profile
    • Email
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #61 on: February 21, 2009, 01:43:18 PM »
I struggle with the Mr./Ms. thing.  I find it unnecessary and uncomfortable when people refer to me very formally.  However, as most of you know, I have a job where teach students, some of them older than me and all of them in my age vicinity.  I do feel that maybe it's important to have a level of formality so they don't think I'm their buddy necessarily...  When the children are younger or if you're middle-aged, I feel that you have more leeway since none of pupils could mistake you for their peer.  I'm sort of conflicted.

I think a big part is that society has changed quite a bit with regard to age.  Age used to be respected and embraced.  Now age is an undesirable liability and youth is the ideal.  Many of us who are coming of age have grown to love our youth and want to hold onto it--thus being uncomfortable with more "adult" terms like Ms. and Mr. or sir or ma'am rather than girl, boy, chick, dude, or just your first name.  The more formal labels make us feel old when we want to stay young.

Susan B. Anthony

  • LSD Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 6571
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #62 on: February 21, 2009, 01:55:10 PM »


That's fair.  I still find it odd to be uncomfortable with "girl" yet comfortable with kids calling you by your first name as if you were one of them.

Well, that's fun for you I guess. I don't see anything odd about allowing 17 and 18 year old students to call me by my name when I've asked them to because it fits in with my goals for the class and the ways I generally interact with people. As I already stated, in that case it's about a relationship that I have defined, and about dropping formalities that I'm not comfortable with for a variety of reasons, both personal and pedagogical.

Whether I'm called a girl or woman by peers is an entirely different issue. I am not a child. I don't understand someone calling me by my first name when I have asked them to to indicate that I am a child, but I do understand someone calling me a girl when there are other, more appropriate terms to indicate that I am not an adult.

sheltron5000

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 1416
  • All weather operation. Batteries not included.
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #63 on: February 21, 2009, 03:17:35 PM »
Alright....

1)  Cady, are there really that many people calling you any sort of "girl" "woman" type words. I can see using it when talking to a 3rd party, "I met this girl at the bar" or "I met this woman at the bar" but I can't imagine calling someone a girl or woman to her face.  The 3rd party stuff is relevant too, but I'm just curious under what circumstances someone has called you either a "girl" or "woman" to your face.

2) Gretchen - I know you're just joking with the "I guess you're a better person than me" stuff, but lets be clear -  Cady is not "right" or "wrong" here - this is her opinion.  She doesn't speak for all people, all women, or even all feminists.  Cady, you said something earlier that when you're talking about a 19/20 year old, you err on the side of caution/respect.  That's fine that in your opinion it's disrespectful - but it's not a fact that it's more respectful to call a 20 year old a "woman."  I think almost all 19/20 year olds would consider themselves "girls" and would find it at the very least weird if someone referred to them as a "woman."  And like I said, my 27 year old gf would find "woman" a little weirder than "girl" - same with Gretchen.  I imagine some would even find it offensive.  When I was growing up my friend's mom got offended when we called her "Mrs. X" instead of her first name, and my mom got offended when my friends called her by her first name instead of "Mrs. Bosco."  So anyway, my point is just that you're making normative judgments - not stating facts.  I know you know this, and it's cumbersome to say "I think" before every post, but jsia.

3) I think sheltron and gretchen alluded to this point earlier.  "Girl" has a meaning to most people.  Let's say for most people, they would refer to anyone under 25 as girl, over 25 as woman.  I don't really get why you make the leap that calling a 19 year old a "girl" means you're infantilizing her, comparing her to a 6 year old, etc.  When you refer to a 19 year old as a "woman", are you saying she's the same as a 70 year old woman?  If "girl" means someone under 25, it means someone under 25, not someone who is 6.  Is it offensive to call an 11 year old a girl because you're saying she's the same as a 3 year old?  Really, your argument has to be that you want to change the meaning of "girl" to something like 17 and under.  Otherwise I don't really follow you.  If most people think the term "girl" includes 19 year olds, how exactly is it offensive to call a 19 year old a "girl?"

nice summary bosco! :)
LSN

I'd love to join this LGBT club.  It's the Legos, Gobots, Barbies, and other Toys group, right?  I'll show up with an armful of toys.

Susan B. Anthony

  • LSD Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 6571
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #64 on: February 21, 2009, 03:44:03 PM »
I totally speak for all people, and especially all feminists. I don't know how you missed that memo.

I don't know that I was talking about what people called me to my face - perhaps this confusion comes from JR's question about what she perceives as inconsistencies in my position, or I wasn't clear at some point. I'm actually particularly concerned with how people describe me and other women when they aren't talking to us. I think in one of my first posts I stated, for instance, that I would have a problem with a coworker referring to me as a girl ("this girl I work with" or the like). It becomes less problematic to me where there is a personal relationship. But, generally speaking, my concern is with how we as a society conceive of young women in general, the ways the words we use do or do not express those ideas, and the ways in which we can undermine problematic ideas. I'm not, for instance, embarking on a crusade against the word girlfriend or something (particularly since its usual analog isn't manfriend or the like).

Also, for the record, I think it's really rude for you to chastise someone about something that you then say that you know the person knows. What's the point? Either you don't actually think they know it, or you're taking it upon yourself to lecture anyway. Relatedly, I'm actually trying to break myself of the habit of prefacing every argument or statement I make with "I think" - as my 10th grade English teacher hammered into our heads, if you're arguing it, it should be clear to your audience that it is your position (or the position you're adopting for the sake of argument). It has been my experience that women in particular are expected to preface their opinions or thoughts in this way, which can serve to undermine their statements/arguments in some contexts. Please note that I'm not saying that you're necessarily being sexist here - its just one of those things that I've been thinking about a lot lately.

And finally, I wonder if there's an argument to be made that a lot of women around my age would feel weird about being called women because that isn't how we're treated/addressed/expected to think of ourselves - it feels weird to think of ourselves like that because it's not habit, just as it feels weird to start calling adult females women because it's not something we're used to. If that's the case, then from my position I'm not particularly concerned with whether certain women would find it strange to be called women, because that would be symptomatic of what I perceive to be the problem. (ETA: That is not to say, of course, that I don't think that individual women should have the agency to say what they'd prefer to be called)

This is certainly not my Number One Feminist Concern, but I'm very interested in the ways that how we're described impacts the way we see ourselves and the way others see us. I think that language is very important, and while I'm not looking to argue that "woman" is a fixed concept with a concrete definition, and nor am I seeking to make it such, I do think that there are better choices that we can make when we are faced with a choice - which was the question posed here.

CTL

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 3553
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #65 on: February 21, 2009, 05:01:34 PM »
Wow.  This thread is getting good.  I'm glad both of you are posting - there is a lot of insight in both of your perspectives. 

This might sound somewhat inane, but bosco's posts about our conceptions of words as they relate to age got me thinking...

In American English, we pretty much have girl/woman as our primary descriptive words for female humans.  There are other words, but these are the two most common and socially acceptable (in most circumstances...obviously, we are debating the appropriate uses now).  It seems that the crux of our disagreement turns on WHEN a girl ceases to be a woman, or at least, when you should no longer refer to a female of a certain age as a 'girl'. 

Now, in American English, we have roughly three words to refer to male humans: boy/guy/man.  However, it seems that man is reserved for very specific uses.  These uses seem to imply certain gender stereotypes, even more so than the uses of the term 'woman'.

For instance, many males and females from a wide variety of ages refer to males as 'guys'.  I can think of instances where males as young as 12 and as old as 80 might be called guy without a second thought.  'There's this guy at school...I work with a guy...This old guy...'  Anyway, when people use the term 'man', it seems as though they use it to bestow a certain masculinity on the male they are referring to.  It seems to be an even more problematic term than 'woman'. 

I'm wondering what your thoughts are on this.  Do we reserve 'man' for males we think fit the decription, or am I in the minority here? 
If looks could kill, you would be an uzi.

Matthies

  • LSD Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 5988
    • View Profile
    • Tell me where you are going to school and you get a cat!
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #66 on: February 21, 2009, 05:22:43 PM »
I think this debate has a lot to do with patriarchal history of treating women based upon how they related to men. I remember when I was a kid there was always thought given to how to address a women when I first met her (or in a formal letter). We had descriptive titles that were basically based on whether or not she was owned by a man (i.e. married). We had Ms./Miss/Missy/Mrs./Widow ect (the purpose of which was often to tell the man if it was ok to court her, not so much for her benefit). But we always just had Mr. - no connotation was ever needed for a man - be he single, married, or a widower.

He was always Mr. A women’s title would change based on her age and her relationship to a man. Hence today we have more terms for women, such as girl that are ingrained, and sometimes offensive, because we have always had more ways to refer and categorize females and those are left over from when they were considered the property of the man. We never had this sort of categorization of men, so different terms with different meanings never really came to be used like they have for women. 
*In clinical studies, Matthies was well tolerated, but women who are pregnant, nursing or might become pregnant should not take or handle Matthies due to a rare, but serious side effect called him having to make child support payments.

Susan B. Anthony

  • LSD Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 6571
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #67 on: February 21, 2009, 06:43:52 PM »
Totally just lost a really long response, and totally just re-sprained my bad ankle, so if I don't make sense, please let me know.


Gotcha.  I'm with you here.  I think I just misinterpreted what we were talking about earlier in the thread.

I may also have muddied things up. Glad we're back on the same page.

Quote

I actually wasn't chastising you, that paragraph was mostly in response to Gretchen.  Your tone in this thread seems like "here's what people need to do, and if they don't they're either being disrespectful or lazy.  This might be hard at first, but don't worry you'll get used to doing things the 'right' way"  To me it's very debatable whether calling a 19 year old a "girl" is disrespectful, and it seemed like some people were just going along with you on that.  Like I said, I think Gretchen was probably joking with "You're probably just a better person than me" but I just wanted to make it clear that a lot of people would disagree with you on those points.  And it had absolutely nothing to do with your gender - I've noticed recently that almost all of my posts start off with "in my experience....this is just my opinion....I can only speak for UChicago, etc."  I probably preface and qualify way too much, and I'm trying to break the habit too.  Really, that paragraph was just meant to point out that you're making a lot of claims that are debatable, and some people seem to be taking them as fact.  But sorry for the "I know you know" line - I switched back and forth there between talking to you and talking to others in that paragraph, and I didn't want to make it seem like I just assumed that you thought you were stating fact.  If that makes sense.

I know that was mostly directed at Gretchen, I just can't keep my nose out of things ;) And it really is something that I've been actively thinking about lately.

I certainly don't think that my thoughts are the only valid ones here, or that reasonable people can't disagree. I enter into conversations of this sort knowing this, and assuming that other people both know this and know that I know this, and if someone agrees with me it's because they share my opinion or think I'm really really persuasive and amazing, not because I'm some fact-giver come down from on high (most of the time). This is not always a valid assumption, but it usually works pretty well. And I think (there I go again!) that the context of this conversation differs somewhat from the advice-giving context, in which I do think it's very important to offer advice about law schools, careers, etc., with the caveat that your opinion is based on your particular limited experience (and other relevant information).

All that said, I can get rather holier-than-thou (heh. thou.) when I get up on my soap box, so I'm usually open to people calling me out on assuming facts not in the record, or wanting to back up and debate my premises rather than my conclusions. I do stand by my argument that it's lazy and/or disrespectful to stick to a not-as-desirable word-choice because it's easier, though - assuming that one agrees that the word choice in question isn't as desirable.

Anyway, I appreciate the apology, and I get what you were getting at with your comment now, so no hard feelings/sorry for jumping down your throat a bit. (I don't know where Nice Cady came from. I'm losing my edge)

(Oh also, I'm realizing as I'm typing this that I generally use "I think" in debates/arguments/discussions to connote something that I'm still working out, or unsure of, or needs some clarification - so I don't like to use it to preface my general arguments/comments)

Quote
Yeah, I get what you're saying.  I'd probably just repeat my #3 from before.  I think where we disagree is about whether it's a "problem" and whether it's a habit that we should try to break.  If the meaning of "girl" just means under 25, it's just a word that means a thing.  If someone refers to a 45 year old as a girl, I'm with you that it's wrong.  And if someone refers to a 10 year old as a "woman" I also think that's wrong.  But to me referring to a 19 year old as a girl is just referring to her as someone who meets most people's definition of "girl" - we might disagree on where the line is drawn, but I think if I was talking to a friend and said "this woman I met at the store" and then my friend later found out I was talking about a 19 year old, he'd be surprised.  I think most people would draw the line at an older age than you or the poster who said 16.  I think you just want to change the definition of "girl," which maybe isn't a bad idea - but as long as it has this definition (and we might disagree on what the actual definition is) I don't see how it's disrespectful to use a word to describe someone when they meet the definition of that word.  I think if you take your argument to its conclusion, it would have to be that you want to get rid of all terms like baby, child, etc.  Maybe I'm missing something though.

The crux of my issue, I think, lies at least in part in CTL and matthies' comments above (which I'll try to come back to if I don't feel like I address them here, because I think they're interesting).

I think that it is problematic that we might use the same word to describe a group of five year old females as we would use to describe, say, a group of 17 year old females, and even moreso a group of females in their early 20s - particularly since most people would not do the same thing with the same groups of males, and especially in light of the various and very serious problems that so many young women have being taken seriously as professionals/academics/people. This is something that I've experienced, and that I've watched friends and colleagues experience, and it is incredibly frustrating and can be very disempowering. Therefore, given the choices that we do have, I'd prefer to see people err on the side of using an adult word to describe adult females (this, of course, necessitates defining "adult" - I generally go with 18+, but there's definitely space for debate/wiggle room) than a childish one.

So...you're right that, if the definition of girl includes people that I would consider to be adults, which I'm not necessarily conceding (but, given the discussion here, is very much at issue), then I do want to redefine girl. If (or when, if I were to get my way on redefining girl) the definition of girl does not include adult females, then I have a definite problem with referring to adult females as girls.

I don't think that my position leads to a logical conclusion that we should get rid of baby, child, etc., if I'm understanding correctly what you're saying. Girl isn't problematic in itself (unless we want to delve really deeply into the sex and gender are constructs line of argumentation); it can convey useful information. It becomes problematic when it's used in a way that undermines the individuals to whom it refers, and I would argue that in a lot of contexts, referring to adult women as girls can do that, and it's better to err on the side of caution so as to not undermine women/break the habits & cycles that perpetuate the problem.

I've been trying to work through the various contexts in which I'm okay with using girl/boy to refer to adults and find a generally applicable rule...and I'm coming up a little bit dry. I'm somewhat comfortable, though with the following:

By way of example, I don't have a problem when people (myself included) say "I met a boy/girl" to indicate that they've met someone in whom they are interested. This is in part, I think, because the fact that one is interested in the other person romantically/sexually indicates that the person is an adult (assuming that one isn't a pedophile)...but the problem I would normally have is maybe also somewhat mitigated by the boyfriend/girlfriend nomenclature (i.e., among my friends "I met a boy" is sort of a shorthand for "I met a boy who I'd maybe someday like to be a boyfriend but I obviously can't call him that yet, so for now he's just a boy")? I think this is also part of my whole, it's not as big of a deal when you're talking to/about someone with whom you have a personal relationship, thing - perhaps because, at least among those I generally associate with, I know and the person who is being referred to probably knows that it is not meant to undermine.

So what it comes down to, I think, is that I don't think that any person who refers to adult females as girls is necessarily sexist or trying to undermine female authority/experience/self. Individual instances may not be problematic. However, we operate in a society in which the authority/knowledge/experience of females often is undervalued/devalued/undermined, so it's probably a good rule of thumb to err on the side of caution and make word choices that are less likely to do that, and to especially try to do this when talking about individuals/groups with whom you don't have a close personal association (particularly in professional/academic contexts).

sheltron5000

  • Sr. Citizen
  • ****
  • Posts: 1416
  • All weather operation. Batteries not included.
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #68 on: February 21, 2009, 07:50:55 PM »
Good post SBA, I totally get what you're saying. I just have one contextual example that might help me understand better.

It seems like you're okay with the age flexibility of "girl," so if someone was at work, for example in a generic office, and they asked someone if "they've met the new girl."

How does this usage strike you?
LSN

I'd love to join this LGBT club.  It's the Legos, Gobots, Barbies, and other Toys group, right?  I'll show up with an armful of toys.

Miss P

  • LSD Obsessed
  • *****
  • Posts: 21337
    • View Profile
Re: Referring to a fully mature female peer as a 'girl'
« Reply #69 on: February 21, 2009, 08:05:24 PM »
Good post SBA, I totally get what you're saying. I just have one contextual example that might help me understand better.

It seems like you're okay with the age flexibility of "girl," so if someone was at work, for example in a generic office, and they asked someone if "they've met the new girl."

How does this usage strike you?

Retrograde.



The new girl is the one sitting at the typewriter.
That's cool how you referenced a case.

Quote from: archival
I'm so far from the end of my tether right now that I reckon I could knit myself some socks with the slack.