My neighborhood is pretty close-knit. A couple of times during the year, there will be a “Girls’ Night Out” or a “Boys Night out”, and we are not referring to all of our children. “Boys will be boys”, “You go girl!”, or “OK, boys and girls. Let’s get this done!” are applied to grown men and women as much as to underage teens and grade school children.
It is ambiguous territory, referring to men and women as boys and girls. When we make those references to ourselves it is usually light-hearted, in jest, with a wink, or a nudge. Of course we know we aren’t really boys or girls anymore, but it is an acknowledgement of what we once were and recognition that there can still be a sense of youthfulness and playfulness even amongst the geriatric crowd.
It is more problematic when “boy” or “girl” is applied to an adult in a way that implies lesser status. Although I have no military background, I suspect military recruits are often called “boy” or “girl” by drill sergeants and commanding officers in boot camp where the concept of rank is crucial to the process of turning young men and women into soldiers. It passes over into a sign of disrespect however, with its message of superiority/inferiority with the use of “boy” when referring to men of color. I know it still happens in certain circles, but I hope it has passed into the realm of completely unacceptable among our civic and national leaders.
I had hoped the same would be true with the term “girl”. This morning on Meet the Press (I watch it so you don’t have to), David Gregory asked Rand Paul for his thoughts on his wife’s assertion that the Monica Lewinsky affair would tarnish Hillary Clinton’s chances for the Presidency. Whether Bill Clinton’s indiscretions should be used against his wife is for the electorate to decide, as is the issue of his taking advantage of an adult in his employ. But Rand Paul’s description of Monica Lewinsky gives us an example of just how clueless the Republicans are when it comes to the “War on Women”. Monica Lewinsky was twenty-two years old when she started her internship at the White House, yet Senator Paul kept referring to her as a young girl. Not just a girl, but a young girl. He did it pointedly several times.
My mother was married and had two children by the time she was twenty-two years old. I had graduated college, married, and moved to another state by the time I was twenty-one. Eighteen is considered old enough to fight for our country, old enough to vote in elections, and old enough that one can’t always be claimed as a dependent by parents. Even the age of twenty-one is old enough to drink. I will make no claim to being as wise to the world then as I am now, but by the time I was in my thirties I was really tired of being called a girl, even by men my age and at the same time they were being called men. It was then, and continues to be a subtle put-down regardless of whether it is done unconsciously, simply because it is so ingrained in the thought processes and conceptions of females in our society. Calling a grown woman a girl does not seem to have passed completely into forbidden territory in public discourse.
Just like Mike Huckabee invalidated women’s right to control their own sexual and reproductive lives by claiming they aren’t able to control their libido, Rand Paul has reduced young adult women to “sweet young things” who are utterly defenseless and unknowing when it comes to the big bad world of men. At what age do the Republicans consider females to be adults? When do we get to shed the perpetual childhood Republicans seem to want to chain us to, and be rightfully called women?
Link to video here. (Sorry, still haven't figured out how to embed video.