Don’t Call Us Girls

The best way to discuss a phenomenon is to start with a little memory recall.

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  • What Cyndi Lauper song refers to people having fun?
  • The mid-’80’s hit ‘ Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ .
  • What is the name of the highly popular yet highly controversial T.V. show by Lena Dunham?
  • Girls on HBO.

See a pattern there?

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Cyndi Lauper twirling in the music video

Dig Deeper:  When Lauper sings ‘Oh girls, they wanna have fun’ she is referring to a community that she belongs to and is thumbing her nose in the face of the stodgy patriarchy. She is referring to her friends and herself as ‘girls’ but it is evident she is talking about young women who want to ‘walk in the sun’ and refuse to be shut down/shut away or diminished in any other way by conventions and societal mores.

Time for those who are NOT women to stop calling women ‘girls’. This type of language is problematic and should be avoided at all costs. Using ‘girls’ instead of women reinforces traditional sex roles and erases their adulthood as a consequence. 

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By calling grown adults ‘girls’, you are essentially robbing them of their personhood. Their agency and their impact, their careers, their decisions, their feelings  as adults are all trivialised by the consistent labelling and use of such language.

Treating someone like a child is infantalization, and  it can be applied in several different ways, and often for different reasons. A solid example would have to be the way Lucy, the main character in the I Love Lucky t.v. show, is often talked down to and even spanked by her husband, Ricky, for laughs.

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Ponytails in Popular Culture: Depicting Women as Girls

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Popular culture does not miss an opportunity to depict women as inexperienced and naive. This peculiar social pressure on women to appear youthful extends to even makeup trends, where eyeliner is applied to mimic the larger eyeballs of young children.

Women are told, repeatedly, that they must act submissive, and uncertain to appear desirable. Men maintain their status and power in this flawed projection of gendered traits; being womanly, however, is equated to childhood and complete vulnerability. 

Overwhelmingly, the attempt is to show women without power or maturity.  Observe photo shoots in leading fashion magazines and the postures and expressions render the models pictured as powerless yet sexually available .

Women in ads are made to pose in ways that resemble children – with blank stares, knees bent, and hands place in or around the mouth. Men, however, are shown standing up straight and tall, completely in control – much like an adult.

The Bratz Phenomenon

Rampant Sexualization of Young Girls

We have, not one, but two disturbing phenomenon at work here. The  infantilisation of women is accompanied by the trend of sexualizing young girls for commercial purposes. Advertisers increasingly market clothes, makeup, t.v. shows and even toys that promote the sexualization of girls (meaning actual children). Let’s not forget the extremely disturbing beauty pageants industry catering exclusively to little girls.

In the article titled “Behind the Cultural Imperative for Women to be Sexy and Cute,” Wade explains that:

“The sexualization of girls and the infantilization of adult women are two sides of the same coin. They both tell us that we should find youth, inexperience, and naivete sexy in women, but not in men. This reinforces a power and status difference between men and women, where vulnerability, weakness, and dependency and their opposites are gendered traits: desirable in one sex but not the other.”

There you have it! Portraying women as childlike and pushing sexualized fashion and music on girlhood- are part of the same disturbing societal problem. 

Is there a solution? In fact, there is more than one way to correct these prevailing trends. We will explore those in the next few blogs.

For starters, let’s stop calling women ‘girls’.

-Mariam Shoaib