BY KACIE GROSSMEIER
When was the last time you thought about the words people call you? My guess is quite recently. When there is a plethora of derogatory names society can spew at females, it is easy to get caught up in these directly offensive labels, which I will not repeat here. These words are meant to be hurtful, if not degrading, yet are thrown around loosely by our modern culture as it continually oppresses and objectifies women.
But we all already know that. What we may not be paying enough attention to, however, is the supposedly gender-neutral “guy” and the not-so-innocent “girl.”
In casual conversation where labels are meant to be positive and not steeped in sex, the term “guy” is used for any male above age 10 at which point, or soon after, he reaches puberty and is no longer a “boy.”
By the same token, females are called “girl” until they reach age 10 or so, but this is where it changes. Females don’t graduate from “girl” to something else. Instead, they’ll continue to be called “girl” throughout post-adolescence into early adulthood.
For whatever reason, there is no casual, overarching label for females after they hit puberty that isn’t either sexual or stuffy.
“Woman” feels too formal, and “chick” and “doll” have negative and/or old-fashioned connotations. “Gal,” mostly thought of as the best homophone and equivalent to “guy,” is just awkward.
Most often used is “lady,” yet even “lady” has sexual notes as it implies the conventional and traditional societal expectations of proper female behavior. But it’s 2015, and females are wearing pants, becoming CEOs, taking birth control if they so choose and running for President of the United States. The past concepts of who and what makes a woman a “lady” are far outdated in our current day and age.
The defense rebukes that “guy” can be used as a gender-neutral term, which is true to an extent. I can address a group of people as “you guys,” and we would all know I’m not just saluting the males in the room. But if I told you I was talking to “some guy,” one would automatically think of a male. If she were a female, I would inevitably have to use “some girl.”
Yet “girl” is so juvenile. I would not refer to a male peer in my class as “some boy.” Using “boy” is emasculating. This is a 22-year-old male spending a semester in Italy and managing his LinkedIn account, not a kid with light-up sneakers and an eight o’clock bedtime. He has graduated from “boy” into “guy.”
Females have no such luxury, and thus when I am called a “big, strong girl” because I can carry a 50-pound box, I can’t help but get offended. A big, strong girl is a nine-year-old who helps her dad haul branches after they cut up a tree. I am closer to the age of having to buy my own health insurance than the age of that little girl, yet our labels remain the same. Maybe it wouldn’t be so shocking to my co-worker that I am capable of moving bulky items if he didn’t have to think of me as a girl but as something more of his equal, equivalent to his “guyness.”
What we need is a new word entirely, for the old labels to lose their sexist meanings or for “guy” to make a concrete shift toward gender-neutrality. In light of our growing awareness of the LGBTQ community, the latter may befit society best. However, in order for that to happen, all-gendered usages of “guy” need to be abolished, something that would take time and persistence.
As of today, 10- to 30-year-old females being called “girl” isn’t cutting it. A new label must come to the forefront, so that one day when we have kids of our own, our little boys can one day become “guys,” and we won’t have to explain to our little girls that a “girl” is all she will ever be.