It used to mean “child.” It wasn’t until the 1600s that the word “girl” meant only a female child.
Why does the word make so many people angry, while for others it is empowering? Like everything else in the world, there are many opinions and many legitimate reasons for those opinions.
History has lessons about how simple words have been used to keep women in their place. But today, when a girl hears the phrase “like a girl” after some particular action, it is meant as an insult. (Despite the fact that girls do many things very well and as good as boys, whatever that means.) And an adult female has every right to not be called a girl; she has earned her status, Bowever, we should not let girls think that being a girl is not an amazing and wonderful stage. This will only make them believe they need to grow up as fast so not to be the awful thing called a girl. Not good. Prematurely having “woman” or “adult” status conferred upon you is not a good outcome. Ask any girl of color since the 1500s at least.
“Girl” is not inherently negative. It is a choice to let a word hurt your feelings or make you feel bad about yourself. Sure the person wielding the word may wish to inflict harm, but ultimately you can walk away, close the screen, or shut off the device. That is where we must work on our empowerment. You have NO obligation to give anyone power over you with their words – or anything else. This may seem a privileged position, and it is very adultist. Actual girls, those under 21, who have no legal or political power, are subject to the whims of other’s words. Phrases like “trust me” and “it’s for your own good” do not always work out so well for girls.
For me, “girl” is when I was the most happy. The most powerful. The most myself. Every time I am reminded of the girl I was, it makes me want to do better as the woman I am.
Is it all just semantics? Yes.
Are words important? Yes.
Can you control the actions or words of others? No.
But you can control your reaction and response.
Let girls be girls – in whatever way they are.
And try to remember what it was like for yourself…it will make you smile.
-Ashley E. Remer
Head Girl (and proud of it)
Girl Museum Inc.