Well, HI THERE!
Welcome to another edition of
Andi’s ramblings because her brain is full of weird-ass crap that she sometimes indulges Fangirl Friday!
So a couple weeks ago I read a book by a dude author who I’ve read in the past and really enjoyed. He writes suspense/thrillers, and generally tells a good story. Normally, his protagonists are also dudes (generally cis, het, and white), but he has an okay range of secondary and tertiary characters, including womenfolk.
But a few years back he decided to write a different series with a lady protagonist, also cis, het, and white. I gave it a chance because I like this author but jfc within thirty pages I was smdh. By halfway, it was pretty painful but I decided to finish it — i.e. skim the rest — and then I tossed it onto a pile of other books that I like to call my “plz get this the fuck away from me kthx” pile.
My first annoyance came with the clichéd descriptions of the protagonist. The author wrote her in first-person POV and then proceeded to use the ol’ “looking in the mirror to describe myself” trope and, of course, the author included the MC’s bust size. Not only is she tall, athletic, attractive, but she’s got a particular bust size. I blocked it out because wut the actual fuck.
dafuq. As if all women look in the mirror and then remind themselves of their own bust sizes. That’s pretty much all women do, is think about their bust size all the time. Right? RIGHT?
This character did, though (at the behest of the author, of course). I believe there were at least four mentions of the MC’s bust size and a couple of mentions of another woman character’s bust size in this story and every time I came across one, I gritted my teeth. Like, the character would literally be thinking about some dude and then she would think about her bust size. Because somehow, she forgot what size bra she wears and needed to think about that in that moment (let’s not EVEN start addressing the Bechdel Test…we’ll be here for days)
jfc SO obvious a cis straight dude wrote this book. And probably the editor of it was, too. Or maybe the author fought the editor to keep all this mess in here.
The other major annoyance — and this is a huge peeve of mine — was that the author used the term “girls” or “girl” to refer to grown-ass women. With bust sizes, mind you.
Lemme break this down for you, author-I-will-not-name. The term “girl” refers to an actual child. It’s legit to refer to female-identified persons as “girls” if they’re babies or pre-pubescent children. Maybe to the age of 12 or 13ish. After that, I tend to use “young woman” to refer to female-identified persons from about 13-18ish. Then I use “woman.” Because that’s what they are. Women.
They’re not “girls” anymore, and using the term “girls” to refer to women in their late teens, 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond diminishes them, removes their agency as strong, powerful women and drops them back to a child-state. It ignores a woman’s maturity and the things she’s accomplished, and dismisses her as simply “a girl.”
I mean, that term is everywhere in society to refer to grown-ass women. You never hear the term “boys” used to refer to grown-ass men (except in snark or among dudes yukking it up in their packs). Once a boy hits puberty, he’s not referred to as a “boy” anymore. He’s a “guy” or a “young man” and then he’s “man.”
When was the last time you read a book — say a thriller — in which the male protagonist who was in, say, his 30s, was referred to as a “boy” by the author (through the character’s POV) and other characters? Unless it’s being used in the book by a villain, say, to diminish another character. Because men understand that when you call another man “boy” in certain contexts, it’s to diminish him. It’s designed to do that, and it’s an insult.
The historical baggage that comes with “boy” isn’t just about gender. It’s also about race and class, and we all know that it was weaponized especially against men of color in this country’s history — still is, in some respects.
So you don’t see it as often.
But DAMN you see women reduced to “girls” in books, movies, TV shows, songs, ads…it’s everywhere.
I even see it in F/F fanfic. Women writing fanfic who are telling stories in which women are the primary characters — often strong, powerful women — reduce them to “girls.” Even these authors, who are seeking to tell strong women’s stories through the medium of fanfic, seem to default to referring to women as “girls.”
That’s how ingrained it is, to diminish and infantilize women in this society, that “girl” as a descriptor for women appears everywhere, even in books written by LGBTQ/feminist women.
It’s also weirdly ageist, because if you’re referring to all women as “girls,” the connotation is that she’s only valued as something childlike and youthful, and the moment she’s referred to as a “woman,” she’s no longer valued in some way because she’s no longer “young” (and that carries a whole other suitcase full of sexualization…).
Which is SUCH a load of shit.
And yeah, I get it. There are some contexts in which “girls” might be okay. Like “girl power” or when a group of women are teasing each other and getting ready to go out and party. Or when you look at your friend and say something like, “gurl, please.” Or “guuuurl.” It becomes an inside joke, then, something tossed around between friends.
That’s different than seeing it in a book, for example, as a constant reference to the female protagonist in her 20s or 30s.
And some of you may not be bothered by this. If not, then try something for a few days. Notice how the term “girl” is used and in what contexts and think about if a man would refer to other men as “boys” in those contexts.
Language is important, friends. It plays a role in the construction of power and hierarchies. And when you start paying attention to it, you begin to notice things that aren’t all good. And hopefully when you do, you work to change them or make things better.
Happy Friday and may the odds be ever in our favor.
Other articles/videos that explore this issue:
Bustle, “Why We Need To Stop Calling Women ‘Girls'”
Actress/neuroscientist Mayim Bialik on this issue.
The Guardian, “Stop calling women ‘girls’. It’s either patronising or sexually suggestive”
XOJane, “Why I Don’t Call Grown Women ‘Girls’ Anymore”