Jewish World Review August 1, 2002 / 23 Menachem-Av, 5762

Tresa McBee

Tresa McBee
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Consumer Reports


Girl: The new
four-letter word


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | I'm a girl, and it's OK if you call me one.

Chances are very good I won't be offended. Having been born well before yesterday, I can probably tell the difference between a speed-dial nod to my gender and the patronizing little woman routine.

Some, however, struggle more. They must, because the use of "girl" and all its bothersome, potentially patriarchal connotations are the latest cover story on Women's Enews, an Internet-based news service founded "on the need for a media outlet to distribute news of concern to women."

I'm a woman, and sometimes I'm concerned, so I investigated.

Not having participated in the Second Wave of feminism in the 1960s and '70s (the First Wave having taken place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), I was reminded that feminists during the era of free love took exception to the use of "girl" when describing females beyond late teens.

Indeed, putting the have-your-girl-call-my-girl banter between boys -- um, men -- behind us (almost) and opening up professions to women beyond that of teaching, nursing and secretarial work have benefited Gen Xers, who nonetheless can't relate to barriers faced by women before us. We weren't there. It makes a difference.

But "girl" has crept back into the lexicon, and some women who fought the fight back back in the day have taken note. As one, a sociology professor, tells Women Enews, " 'Girl' is an infantilizing term for women." Still another, a 58-year-old linguistics professor, thinks perhaps the offending term is back because people believe feminism has reached its goals. Oh, and also because "feminism itself has become an object of scorn for many women, especially younger ones, who don't know their history."

Not the first time I've read that one. Second Wave feminists do that a lot when the younger sisters aren't behaving properly -- claim we just don't get it, because our world isn't theirs and couldn't possibly be.

Second Wavers may have succeeded in banishing much of the derogatory girl talk, but we're still surrounded by girls and girl-promoting media everywhere.

Skinny models with nary a womanly curve to disrupt straight lines sell preteen-size clothing. Movies pair men with women their daughters' age, pushing aside any ability to suspend reality by casting comparative youngsters like Denise Richards as nuclear scientists. That Meg Ryan can still find a script at 40 is big news. Monica, Rachel and Phoebe have spent eight years at 25.

We implant, suck and tuck ourselves into earlier decades. We inject one of the most poisonous toxins into our faces and foreheads during Botox parties to erase any sign that we've felt, loved, lost, cried, laughed, had babies, gained wisdom, grieved, survived and rediscovered joy.

Second Wavers would argue that's why feminism isn't finished. Many Gen Xers would say they're missing the point. The updated point. It's why many younger women are reluctant to call themselves feminists. Doors once closed are open. Fly in space, perform neurosurgery, run a board meeting, sit on a high court. Pick one. Or two. All while wearing lipstick, styling hair and wearing fashionable shoes without believing we're compromising The Cause.

And we don't like the association feminism carries with man-hating. Many of us actually like men in all their maleness and don't place the blame for all ills at their hairy feet. So-called issues such as whether a private golf club catering to the elite admits women -- last week's "Outrage of the Week" on the National Organization for Women's Web site -- aren't outrages to young women coping with the consequences of opportunity.

It's an embarrassment of riches, to be sure. American women have so many doors to walk through that choices aren't simple. We've grown up, gone to work, gotten married, had children or fretted about waiting too long, gotten divorced, struggled with child care and guilt and urges to be home and worries about the future if we do.

Super Mom -- the one who was supposed to come after bra burning and just before glass ceilings cracked in every boardroom-- doesn't exist. And if she does, she's an exhausted shell of her former you-go-girl self who realizes, even if only to herself, that something and usually someone, somewhere had to give. Coming a long way, baby, means we often have to stop and figure where we're going next and if we want to go.

So use "girl" or don't. Most young women are occupied elsewhere. In the day to day. It's not so much that we don't know our history but that our present is more important. Selfish, perhaps, but such is the result of progress. Second Wavers think we don't get it.

Do they?



JWR contributor Tresa McBee is a columnist for the Northwest Arkansas Times. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Northwest Arkansas Times