I am "girl" hear me roar
Anna Rose and I heard someone use the term “girls” to address a group of college-aged students the other day, and it led to a brainstorming fervor. Is this something worth exploring? What even is a “girl” compared to a “woman”? What makes a “woman”? Is there a difference? Should there be a difference? What’s up with how we all use these terms: girl vs. woman? We didn’t have any of the answers, but we didn’t want to stop talking about the questions. So, we went to our dearest friends who we knew would be up for the challenge of our 20 questions. In this group of women there is Elle Brooks, Emma Lenderman, and Juliette Redden. All three women are Texas State University students, powerfully opinionated and inspirationally devoted to learning and questioning. So, we met at a coffee shop (go figure) and chatted about women, girls, mothers, empowerment, and growing up.
Q: Do you think there is a difference in the definition of “woman” compared to “girl”?
JR: I think there's an ownership. Girl, to me, feels demeaning. Well, not demeaning, but woman is more like you’re grown. I think when you're a girl, you're seen as small and naïve.
EB: I believe at our current age, we're women, but our parents are still very much present in our lives. It's kind of an awkward transition state. When you’re young, I think you're a girl. It’s like when a boy turns 18 or has his bar mitzvah, he becomes a man. There's never really that transition period in our culture.
EL: The biggest difference for me is “girl” seems to be a word that is put upon by others whereas, “woman” is a self-assertive word. I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently and trying to consciously make the choice to use the word “woman” when describing myself and describing the women in my life, because I think you are what you say you are. So you have to choose carefully.
Q: How do you associate with the word "woman"?
EB: I’ve never felt comfortable saying, "I’m an independent woman." I don’t feel comfortable calling myself a woman until I'm completely on my own. That doesn’t mean I'm a girl now, but I don’t feel 100 percent like a woman because I'm not financially sustaining myself yet.
EL: Before this stage in my life, I've associated [the term woman] with empowerment and moving on to be a grown person, but now that I'm experimenting with calling myself a woman it's a terrifying word because it's a huge thing to fill. I'm looking at these women in the news and thinking, "that's what a woman is, how do I do that?" and that's a huge thing to try and sort out.
Q: What do you think defines a woman and what makes you feel like one?
JR: Being a woman means that you know what you want, you know what you need, and you know how to get it.
EB: Being able to defend one another is [important]. I think that’s another part of being a woman today; to be alert and not tolerate the inappropriate or offensive.
Q: Do you think there is a shift happening that makes us aware of the difference between calling someone a woman or a girl?
AR: I was watching I love Lucy and thought, "Wow, how did they get away with so many sexist comments?" It was normalized back then. I wonder, "what am I living in right now I don’t see issues with?"
EL: Right, what am I blind to now? It makes me think of the vastness of what a female identity can be, in terms of trans women, women of color, women from all different cultures, and still the role women play in society. I know there’s this huge push to put women in positions of power and have women running the business world, which is amazing, but on the flip side, a woman as a mother figure, as the leader of her household, is just as powerful to me.
EL: It's about the choice.
LF: I feel like there is or there should be a movement to create a matriarchal household. I was raised to believe being a mom wasn't enough. I was expected to do more, but with that kind of thinking we're not raising all women up. So, then it’s like, "OK, let’s take back the household and make it a matriarch and raise women up." It should still be seen as something empowering and powerful, because it is.
EB: When I came along in my parents lives, my Mom was a huge business woman, she was making more money than my Dad. It came down to the decision as to who was going to stay home, and my Mom made the sacrifice. Now I'm starting to think about my life and my family. Of course I want children, but I don’t think I’m selfless enough to stop what I’m doing and raise children. I don’t think I could do that. Seeing my Mom and how she made that sacrifice, that’s even more empowering to me.
Q: Do you think, after hearing this conversation steer towards motherhood, that the definition of a woman comes from being a mother? Is the resistance that we feel to calling ourselves women coming from the fact that we are not mothers?
EL: That’s definitely true for me. My mother is one of the most important people in my life and one of the most important women in my life. My Mom is always the example of what a woman is, and the kind of power and assertion that I can hope to grow into. For me, it was never, "Oh, my mom has all these responsibilities because society tells her she does." It was, "Wow, my mom gets stuff done and she does it relentlessly and does not complain about it." That mother and woman connection has always been a very positive thing to me.
JR: To consider yourself a woman because you’re a mother I think it’s because you have responsibility for other people so there’s no way you can be a girl. You’re a woman.
Q: How do you associate with the term "girl"?
EL: To me, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with a girl. The only thing I get uncomfortable with is if someone is calling me a girl because they mean to belittle or demean me. Girls are smart, powerful, and independent, but I think it’s about language and who's using it and what their intention is.
Q: Do you think that it matters for women and girls to pay attention to any sort of difference between the terms? Do you think it’s necessary or do you think it’s a responsibility of ours?
JR: Yes, especially in the time we are in now and with the events that are happening now. I think it’s important to make that distinction. It adds more respect and empowerment for those around you. There's also a responsibility to lead by example for those younger than you, to show them that as women we are individuals and we respect each other.
EB: There’s a responsibility, especially if we have daughters, in teaching them who they can be. And if you’re in a position of teaching then it's your responsibility and it's appropriate to teach that sort of thing. It’s looking at your status and position and if you can use it to better communicate something then, of course, do.
EL: You can talk about it all you want, about how our society has all these issues, but you exist in your immediate world first and if you’re not going to be the kind of person you want to see in the larger world in your smaller world then what are you doing? I think having this conversation that we're having right now is awesome but more importantly, it’s about what we're doing inside this immediate tiny community. I think that's the most important distinction, act in your small community first and focus on what you are doing in addition to what you’re talking about.