I hope you’ll take a look at our inaugural Q and A Column, in which I discuss the dilemma of referring to women as “girls,” as well as explore the definition of feminism and the origins of my own activism.
Question: I am the only woman in an office of 12 employees. The men in my office have an irritating habit of referring to women as “girls.” Like when a new customer lead comes in, “We should call this girl at XYZ company back” or “The girl at XYZ company emailed me” or “The girl at the coffee shop.”
This irks me in a huge way. I don’t call them “boys,” so they shouldn’t refer to members of my gender as “girls.” Right? My friends and family have mixed opinions on whether or not this is discriminatory.
So what do you think, is “girl” sexist or not?
I think it is unquestionably offensive when anyone refers to women as “girls” in the workplace.
Note: For women reading this column who like to be referred to as a girl, by all means, you should be called what you want to be called.
Julia, I agree with the reason why you feel offended when women are referred to as “girls” in the work environment–we don’t refer to men as boys…in the workplace.
Those who may be reading this and wondering why I’m not offended when women refer to men as “boys” especially in dating/courtship situations (example:“Let’s go out and meet some cute boys”) should note that I am referring specifically to the use of “girls” in the workplace.
Of course, in the spirit of fun, pleasure, and camaraderie, women are likely to refer to themselves as “girls,” and the same holds for men and their references to “boys,” especially in social situations or environments. However, the situation is very different in a professional workplace, where respect must be paid to every person, regardless of gender. And this kind of respect is reflected in how we address our colleagues.
The workplace is supposed to be a haven of professionalism, and calling an adult, a working woman in a professional environment a “girl” diminishes her role and puts her on a different playing field than her male colleagues.
An interesting and public example of this imbalance is presented through Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has served as a distinguished United States Senator for eight years and Secretary of State for four years. In that time, I can’t tell you how many people have referred to her as “Mrs. Clinton,” including some of her close friends. A man in her position would always be given his due title as “Senator Clinton” or “Mr. Secretary.”
Some may argue that we got to know Secretary Clinton when she was First Lady and at that time, “Mrs. Clinton” was the right title to use. So, our tendency to refer to her as “Mrs Clinton” is just residual leftover.
Hogwash, I say. Male politicians who have changed titles three or four times in their lives are quickly referred to by their new title. For my American readers, examples of such men are George H.W. Bush (CIA Director, Vice President, President) and Leon Panetta (Congressman, Chief of Staff To The President, CIA Director, Defense Secretary).
My main focus with my writing is to address what I call the subtlety of sexism, the underground, everyday sexism we wave off as, “Just the way things are.”
And the tendency to refer to women as “girls” in the workplace is certainly a perfect example of that type of sexism.
I don’t believe that most of the men who refer to women as “girls” are intentionally or consciously being misogynistic, but that doesn’t make the use of “girl” any less offensive.
This subtle sexism I speak of is so often more sinister because it permeates our lives every minute, every hour, and is so deeply ingrained that we don’t even notice it.
So what’s the solution? It’s an uncomfortable one for most people (both men and women): call it out.
Yes, call it out. Every single time. That means if you hear a man in the workplace referring to women as “girls,” say something about it. And gentlemen, that means you do the same.
Most people don’t want to do this because it seems awkward (and sometimes it is) and we all have issues and concerns with being liked and not wanting to seem like an outcast.
So, another way to approach the situation is to bring it up as a topic of discussion. For example, “Isn’t it interesting that we never refer to any of the men in the office as boys, but we refer to the two women who work in accounting as “the girls”?”
This month, I’ll be writing about ways in which we can all work on fighting sexism in our own lives, but in the meantime, thank you for your question.
Q: How did you become such an advocate for women, a feminist? — Maria
Thank you for calling me a feminist.
Whenever someone uses the word feminist, I like to take it as an opportunity to clarify the definition of feminism/feminist.
Being a feminist means you believe in equal rights for men and women.
Yes, that’s it.
I bring this up because there seems to be a wave (especially among public figures like Katy Perry) of people claiming that they believe in equal rights, but simultaneously confirm that they are not feminists.
There’s no doubt that feminism and being a feminist have been vilified by anti-woman forces, but just because people who hate women have co-opted the word feminist and attached a negative connotation to it, doesn’t mean we have to allow them to co-opt our intellect.
I am Iranian and no shortage of people have attached a wholesale negative connotation to my ethnicity, but I’m not going to stop saying that I’m Iranian because some people don’t know what they’re talking about.
The same, in my mind, applies to feminism.
So how did I end up here? It’s simple…
1. I was born a feminist, just as we are all born without racial biases. Growing up, no one ever told me not to be a feminist. I had excellent examples in my mother, woman relatives, and male relatives in terms of their views on women. These men may not have been on the forefront of feminism, but they certainly didn’t get in the way of equality.
2. I am who I am because of women. Through my life, it is women who have championed me, nurtured me without reservations. And I think my story is not exceptional–most men share this story. I feel I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the women in my life and to all women for the sacrifices they have made…sacrifices that have gone on for far too long. My commitment to feminism, to equal rights, is not part-time, it is my life’s work.
In terms of my writing, I fell upon it by accident. I wrote a piece about women in politics (specifically, the lack thereof) that went viral, and after this writing experience, I felt like I had finally found the way in which I want to play a role in advocacy.
If you want to know more about my story, I hope you’ll read my column, “My Feminist Re-Births,” which explains, in detail, about how I got here.
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