Friday, February 28, 2014

Day 207 of 365: Girl/Woman

I've made a very small, subtle, but important change in my life.

I've stopped calling all females over the age of 18 "girls".

I was noticing this when I was editing my first manuscript. How, even though I was writing about twentysomethings coming to grips with the real world, I was using the word "girl" constantly. Some would say that's perfectly fine: I mean, isn't it on the same level as "guy"? Guys and gals, guys and girls. Why not?

You don't need to know what the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis is -- shit, you don't even have to have ever taken a semantics class before -- to know that language shapes thought. Preclude a video by saying, "In this video, a car will bump another car," and they audience will see the accident differently than if you had said, "In this video, a car will crash into another car." Make the tiniest change in your verbiage and you go from people disagreeing with you to agreeing with you. Say something is "over 200 years old" and you'll get a more impressed response than if you had said something is, "almost 250 years old".

Language shapes thought, plain and simple. It's why "semantics" is a thing in the first place. And there's a problem with the idea that "guys" and "girls" are on the same level -- any that's because they're not.

At the end of the day, "girl" is incredibly infantile. You think cutesy. You think non-threatening. You think someone who cannot fully fend for herself yet.

Don't believe me? Take a second to read these two sentences and try to see what image pops into your mind when you do: "The girl picked up her phone and said, 'Hello.'"

"The woman picked up her phone and said, 'Hello.'"

If you're not being stubborn and attempting to keep both images identical, you can't help but see the first sentence in a much more passive light. Maybe she's gingerly holding her phone. Maybe she's tensing up her shoulders that way little kids do when they talk to an adult on the phone. Maybe she's saying, "Hello," in a slightly higher pitch. On the flipside, maybe that woman picks up her phone just a little bit differently. Maybe you imagined her answering her phone in that annoyed way we all do when we're busy with something important and just can't be bothered.

And what is the girl wearing? How about the woman?

At the end of the day, "girl" is not on the same level as "guy". It's not a casual way of referencing someone. It's a subtle shift in semantics that can have some serious effects.

I know it's these very things that make people roll their eyes and go, "Ugh. Feminists." Like I'm two blog posts away from burning my bras (which would never happen; there are few agonies quite like free-balling when you're a chesty lady). But these are the very things we have to keep on eye out for. We can avoid the Mac truck barrelling down the highway with his horns blaring. But can we avoid all the subtle cracks in the road that will eventually pop one of our tires off?

Language shapes thought. Thought shapes actions. End of story.

And maybe you're reaching the end of this rant and are still rolling your eyes so hard that the tendons are starting to strain. But I will say, from personal experience, I've already noticed a change, replacing "girl" with "woman". I can already feel that separation from the pro-infantilizing attitude that is so pervasive in our culture that we don't even realize it's happening. I feel more empowered, and I see the women around me as more empowered.

And you don't need a dissertation on linguistic relativity to recognize that what works, works, and it's worth giving it a second of your time.

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