Kathleen Murphey is an associate professor at Community College of Philadelphia. She has a Ph.D. in American Civilization from the University of Pennsylvania. She has been writing alternative fairy tales, like the “Troll Council and the Intersex Savior,” for a while now. More information about her can be found at www.katheenmurphey.com.
What does Girl mean?
“Sugar and spice and everything nice”
Thanks to expressions like “Go Girl!” and “Girlfriend!”
Today, in America, “girl” refers to any human female
from an infant to a senior citizen:
Powder Puff Girls, Golden Girls, Spice Girls, Two Broke Girls.
It matters that we are calling adult women girls.
The labels and the language we use matter--
what we call things, what we call people--
Calling a woman a girl
is complimenting her internal youth, you might say.
Really? or are there other messages lurking beneath the surface?
Rewind, in 1950, when a White man or woman called
a 40 year old Black man a “boy,”
he or she wasn’t complimenting his “internal youth,”
he or she was insulting him to his face,
reminding him that he was second-class citizen
and that if he got out of line,
he could be lynched,
or perhaps worse,
his family members could be victimized
In that light, fast forward to today, when we call women girls.
Girls are children and minors.
A girl is a prepubescent female.
A young woman is female after puberty or should be considered so.
Because if she is a girl, a child, a minor, after puberty,
can she make her own decisions?
Is she in charge of herself, sexually, as a young woman?
But if we write her off as a child,
adults (men and young men) can ignore what the child wants,
can impose what they want (because they see themselves as adults)
on the girls (who they don’t see as adults),
so whether it’s coercion or rape,
men and young men thinking of women and young women
as girls is a dangerous mistake.
But we call men boys, you might say.
But do we?
Xmen, Kingsmen, Men at Work, Two and a Half Men.
We call them all men
even when they are children and teens
even when they are girls and boys
The almighty Male
Why does He still define us all?
But please note, he is seen and labeled an adult
even when he is not.
But we call men guys, you might say.
Sure, but the counter part for guy is gal, not girl.
And, sure, gal gets occasional use,
but we normally pair up girls (children)
and guys (which can mean either boys or men).
Of course, in 1955, Guys and Dolls was a Broadway hit
followed by a movie--
but even before today,
people could see the offensive nature of calling
a woman a doll--
an inanimate object and a plaything to boot!
Beyond girls and boys and gals and guys,
we have ladies and gentlemen and women and men.
Both of these latter pairs
we can associate with adults,
but we don’t use young ladies or young women
as much as we use girls for sexually mature human females.
If we childize women,
don’t we undermine their status as citizens?
The 19th Amendment gave women voting rights in 1920.
The 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from twenty-one to eighteen.
But thinking of women as girls puts them in danger.
In popular culture, Bella Swan is eighteen,
but her husband doesn’t consider her opinion when they realize she’s pregnant.
He plans for his father, the doctor, to terminate the fetus,
with no discussion of the matter.
Jacob, his rival, thinks the same:
“She’s small, drug her, and rip it out!”
—how charming from Team Jacob!
Edward and Jacob saw Bella as a girl,
a child, who didn’t know her own mind,
so they tried to make decisions for her--
and worse—for the most part, she let them,
and millions of readers have found the story sweet
instead of creepy and unsettling.
Call them women or young women because
that’s who they are!
Calling women girls trivializes them all.
Don’t give anyone an excuse to treat women as second-class citizens
or people who don’t know their minds.
What we call young women has consequences.
Take Bruno Mars’ “Young Girls”
“All you young, wild girls,
you make a mess of me.
Yeah, you young, wild girls,
you’ll be the death of me,
the death of me.
All you young, wild girls,
no matter what you do,
yeah, you young, wild girls,
I’ll always come back to you,
come back to you.”
If he really means young girls—what is he talking about?
Six or seven year olds or younger?
Presumably, he means “of age girls,” i.e., women,
eighteen, nineteen, twenty year olds,
but he doesn’t call them young women (which they legally are)
He calls them young girls
(minors, children, females whose decisions can be overridden).
And he throws in “wild” to sexualize these girls and absolve himself of blame
So what exactly, is he suggesting, he’s doing with young wild girls?
It sounds like statutory rape even if they are willing!
That our culture is teaching women to embrace being called girls
is a patriarchal triple-whammy.
We’re infantizing ourselves
while encouraging men to do the same
and telling them we want to be treated this way
through the label of girls.
Names matter, language matters.
Where are the women?
Men only want to f*ck girls--
that’s what we teach them--
Bruno Mars and little “wild” girls
—that should be a gross out
Not an off-the-chart hit!
Maybe we’re afraid to name
young ladies or young women appropriately
because, to do so,
their sexual maturity
and their potentials
as fully aware sexual beings.
In our porn saturated culture,
where we sell everything, it seems, by linking it to sex
and sexualized young women,
we’re surprisingly prudish about discussing
positive female adolescent sexuality.
We can push young women to want to look “hot”
and dress like “Prost-a-tots”
but we can’t teach them or talk to them candidly
about what it means to be
empowered female sexual actors
who understand their own bodies and
what gives them pleasure and what doesn’t.
So after this rant,
please give some thought,
to when, and to whom,
you should apply the term girl.
Do you know what a porn star does to look
like she likes anal sex?
is for something to come out.
or a punching bag
and to be verbally assaulted with the most
—all, while wearing an artificial smile
or moaning in pretend ecstasy
—till it’s over--
and she can recover alone
and show her true face and emotions
—which say what?
You’ll never know
because it was pretend.
But without a prostate gland
to stimulate through the anus,
it’s doubtful “her pleasure”
was anything more than artificial.
And if her pleasure wasn’t real,
do you dare to imagine
what she did feel--
being treated like that?
The One-Eyed Snake
What if the snake in the Garden wasn’t the Serpent?
The manifestation of Lucifer,
the Prince of Light,
the Left Hand of God,
fallen into the Darkness?
What if Woman and Man existed in the Garden in perfect harmony?
As God made them,
in God’s own image,
perfect and divine,
a balanced pair,
kind and fair?
No one remembers, Genesis One.
They only recall Adam and Eve.
But go back to Genesis One.
What if, the first Crime wasn’t Fratricide?
What if, the first Crime was Rape?
God told Woman and Man to be fruitful and multiply
and that they were good.
What if they did and what if they were?
What if they knew each other intimately,
in every way possible?
not shyly—but with no shame or hesitancy?
Her pleasure adding to his.
Tenderness and intimacy.
Caresses and kisses.
Love and trust.
Passion and companionship.
But where is the Betrayal?
What if Man turned from Woman?
What if he cared more for himself?
What if the snake in the Garden wasn’t the Serpent?
But the One-Eyed Snake?
Man, turned into his own Demon, without other help?
Man turned bestial instead of divine?
A Man of force and violence
instead of love and kindness?
The Passive Female
The Passive Female, a girl’s or a woman’s ideal state.
She’s pulled, pushed, and prodded.
She’s kissed, groped, and f*cked.
She lies there, limp,
because good girls don’t participate.
They don’t like it; they endure it.
Cinderella, saved by the Prince, never lifts a finger against her abusers.
Sleeping Beauty only awakes to “true love’s” kiss.
Little Red is saved by the Huntsman.
Take it; lay there; don’t save yourself.
Even the egg supposedly lies there
while the “fierce, aggressive” sperm
swarm, vying to be the One
to penetrate, violate, and dominate.
Isn’t it time we demanded more?
Active females commanding their lives,
sexual and otherwise?
Their sexuality not limited by purity, virginity, and passivity?
What would the stories be, if girls and women could be like that?