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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Guys and dolls

DED Space has an interesting post today about how women are infantilized in everyday language use by people using terms like "young lady" or "girl" where they would not use the equivalent "young man" or "boy" if the sexes were reversed. It is troublesome, frankly I can't really think of a good excuse at all for using "young lady" unless you would use "young man" if only the sex of the person were different.

But "girl" is problematic, because it is used as the companionate word for "boy", but it is also used more often as the companionate word for "guy". And there is good news--in the not-too-distant past, it was quite common to pair "man" and "girl", such as "The man asked the girl to marry him," but that usage has fallen mostly out of favor. You'll still see the words used together, but rarely in a direct parallel, but more just in the same context, like seeing Maxim call its readers "men" and the models "girls".

Is it a problem that the companionate word for "guy" is "girl"? Well, yes, but I don't know what anyone can do about it. "Guy" is here to stay--it's a perfect word. We live in casual times where a lot of people lean more on their friends than family and we need a word instead of "man", which is too stuffy and frankly too authoritative. As a feminist, I certainly don't find it a problem to deflate the traditional self-important masculine stance that all too often accompanies the word "man". But there is no female equivalent that isn't too juvenile.

So I can't get too ruffled at the word "girl" when I know it's being used as the equivalent of "guy". If there was a true equivalent to "guy" like "gal" used to be, most of the people who say "girl" now would switch over. It's just a matter of getting a new word into common usage, which is easier said than done.

13 Comments:

Blogger Diane said...

Exactly. Context is everything. "Guys" and "girls" really is like "guys" and "gals." No problem. And sometimes we say "boys" when we are speaking affectionately of men, just as they say "girls" when they are speaking affectionately of us. That is totally acceptable.

It's when--in a professional or non-casual context--that women are reduced to something less than women that it becomes offensive.

Another thing I really don't like is everyone, regardless of gender, being called "dude." It's just the contemporary version of "you guys," and "hey, man," I guess, but I find those offensive, too, since I'm not a guy-man. The first time a woman called me "dude," I know my mouth must have fallen open.

For a long time, it seemed there was a lot of effort made to avoid using the word "woman," though that has changed a bit. You could say "chairman" or--if you were "enlightened" but knew the person in charge was female, you could say "chairperson," but oh, my, you just didn't dare say the "w" word.

11/18/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

That annoys me as well. It's not like we're going to be offended at being called "women", though I have no idea how previous generations felt.

Can I say how thrilled I was the first time I watched Madeline Albright on TV and someone called her "Madame Secretary"?

11/19/2004

 
Blogger roy said...

Why not just use "gal"? So what if it's an antique word. I prize my antiques. I refer to blackguards, wastrels, poetasters etc. all the time, and like to think my language and my readers are the richer for it. The illiterate may be confused, but that's not really your audience anyway. (They lost you at the compound sentences.) Respect your elder vocabulary!

11/19/2004

 
Blogger Stentor said...

To me, the antiqueness of "gal" means it carries a mild sexist connotation. But I don't know if other people hear it that way.

11/19/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Astute observation, Stentor. Here in Texas, you will still hear "gal" occassionally, like, "Alright guys and gals, let's get going." And I suspect that people dropped "gal" precisely because they thought it sounded sexist.

11/19/2004

 
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