Updated: Aug 23
I have been called out on this blog several times for referring to myself as a “girl.” There are people out there, mostly women, who hate the fact that I occasionally refer to myself as a “girl.” The feel the need to point out that “girl” is a way of infantalizing women and taking away their power.
Its true. Some people, especially in the corporate workplace, use “girl” to diminish a woman’s power. And yes, as some of you have pointed out, men are rarely referred to as “boys” unless it is in a racially derogatory context.
When I have opted to use the word “girl” to describe myself, I do it fully aware of the language politics of feminism. I use the word on purpose. I use it because, at times, that term is way more fitting than “woman.”
When I use the term girl, it is in reference to times that I feel girly. Those times when I get bubbly, giggly, and a little silly. Times when I don’t want to be “rooted in the power of being a woman.” Sometimes I don’t want to take up the mantle of womanhood, all that women bear to maintain and care for society, times I don’t want to be deeply connected to the feminist movement and the powerful women that make it possible for me to be here today.
It is not a condemnation of these women or the movement for women’s equality. I would hope that after reading a few entries of this blog readers would be well aware of my dedication to balancing power, to honoring the women who struck trail before me, and to the fact I a deeply committed to increasing equality. However, there are times I just want to be me, to be in love or lust, and not have to worry about the larger political ramifications of every action I do. By the way, being aware of your own political impact on a moment-to-moment basis is exhausting.
I use girl for the times I feel like a girl. I think denying that “grown-ass women” can and do have times where they get in touch with the more free, bubbly, princess inside them is damaging. We have been given this time on the wheel of life to love and be loved. And for me, that means at times I feel more like a girl than a strong, resilient woman. Equating the use of “girl” to hating women is actually a way of telling women that if they don’t take up the mantle of strong womanhood, they are betraying other women. Its okay to put that down on occasion and just enjoy the lighter side of life.
I have fought this battle over language and all things girly before. When I was the head of the California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, I was charged with the project of redesigning their logo. Any logo with pink, even a “strong pink” was rejected because the members of my board felt the need to move away from all things girly. They felt that shades of pink were weak and ineffectual. They wanted neutral colors. Orange was about the closest thing to pink they would consider (orange was acceptable because its the color of California’s state flower). They wanted “strong, bold” fonts. A forceful image for our logo.
Think about that. Women, who believed themselves to be leaders in the women’s movement, felt a need to distance themselves from the feminine because they saw it as weak. If that is not embracing a male dialogue and denying the power of women, I don’t know what is.
I hated the direction they were going. They were embracing ideas of male leadership. Men lead from the left brain. The values in the workplace which are valued are logic, order, hierarchy. Men tend to use force to get their way. The women on my board felt we needed to embrace this in order to be “powerful women.” UGH!
You see, many of the issues we are currently facing as a society are because we have focused on the more male/left brain ways of leadership. We cast issues as zero-sum games where there have to be winners and losers. We value only things that can be quantified. We want to increase hierarchy and authority.
What if we, as a society, valued women and right brain leadership? What would happen if we valued what are deemed “soft” skills and looked at situations where there doesn’t have to be a “winner” and a “loser?”
Take healthcare. The American healthcare system is super shitty – largely because we have focused on it through a male lens. If person A gets excellent care – a doctor who takes the time to actually diagnose a patient and focuses on holistic care – then other patients lose because we believe there is neither the time nor resources to help them. We value only what a few agencies measure in terms of outcome.
So, we have a system which has reduced patients to a unit of care and an insurance payment. When I saw Western physicians to treat my Bipolar disorder, they considered it successful treatment when I was completely emotionally numb, was rapidly gaining weight, and my cognitive abilities were severely impaired by their prescriptions. This was a “success” because I was not actively manic or suicidal and they could put in the right ICD-10 code to get paid for a med check visit. My ability to actually function and engage in life was never a consideration to them. Any pushback to change medication so that I could write again or feel love was seen as being “resistant to treatment” and “insane.”
Look at the average workplace. Soft skills are not compensated. When an employee makes the environment a decent place to work, helps negotiate issues between co-workers, and can figure out how to mentor others so that they succeed the employee is not compensated for this. You can be a horror show to work with but if you clock in on time and make your minimum output requirements, you get a good evaluation. We reward people for sacrificing their family and their health for the job. This is why there is a plunge in equal pay for women as soon as they have a kid. Leave work on time to pick up your kid from school? Then you are not a team player. Take a vacation and not return emails or phone calls to the office for four days? You are irresponsible. This is a male-centered idea of success and a “good employee.”
We need to stop devaluing women. This means we also need to stop devaluing the feminine. Pink is a great color! I should be able to feel like a girl, refer to myself as a girl, and not have the women of the world feel like that is a bad thing. Equality means women can embrace who they are, embrace the feminine, and lead like women tend to lead without being told they are hurting our political cause.
Yes, it is important to educate people about the politics of language. People need to be aware of mindlessly using terms like “girl.” But, when someone chooses to use these terms or wear pink and they are aware of the politics behind it, everyone needs to calm themselves and see it for what it is. I am a strong women, embracing all that I am. That includes my girly side dressed in pink.