Girls vs. women

8 May 2012

I’ve been thinking back to my first semester of college, when I met a confident, gorgeous, funny 3rd-year woman student in my dorm named Maria. She had long, beautiful, straight hair and a penchant for practical jokes, and she was a standout geology student (which made me, temporarily at least, also a geology major).

The fact that I refer to her as a woman is because of her. “There was this woman in my high school,” she’d begin a story — and for someone like me who’d grown up refusing to call myself a woman, this casual reference was mind-blowing. At the first reference, I actually found myself wondering if this “woman” in her high school was a middle-aged mom who’d gone back to school. Gradually, it occurred to me that embracing the notion that I was a woman rather than a girl could be liberating. “Want to go out with me and a couple of women from the frisbee league?” she’d ask, and I’d feel like I was part of a new and very, very cool club. A club of not-girls.

Is it corny to believe that adopting Maria’s term woman — and abandoning girl — was one of the most meaningful moments of my feminist education?

I got onto this line of thinking because of Lena Dunham’s show Girls, of course, but also because we have an epidemic of girls underway in film and especially TV:

  • Two Broke Girls
  • New Girl
  • Bad Girls Club
  • Girls Gone Wild
  • Gilmore Girls
  • Gossip Girl
  • The Girls Next Door
  • Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

It strikes me that my ongoing use of woman won’t have the same effect on my 18- or 19-yr-old students because I’m not one of their peers. I’m a 40-something professor, not a 20-yr-old with long, straight, glossy hair. But I wonder if I should bring up this topic explicitly.

Corny or not, I still think that teaching that simple linguistic shift could be mind-blowing for young women. Oh, if only Zooey Deschanel (TV’s New Girl) or those glamorous bitchez on Gossip Girl referred to themselves and their friends as women. That would be interesting.

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4 Responses to “Girls vs. women”

  1. Brandon Says:

    Have you considered watching and reviewing The Bad Girls Club? The latest season has just ended, but recent episodes are still on Oxygen.

    • Didion Says:

      I haven’t seen a single episode! But I admit, the appeal of most reality TV shows mystifies me. The one show I stumbled onto recently — and fell in love with — is RuPaul’s Drag Race. My partner is getting a little sick of me saying, “Gentlemen, start your engines! And may the best woman win.”


  2. yes! i remember junior year in high school my history teacher referred to the female students as women. it startled me. i had never been comfortable with that word either.

    (well, what i’m remembering is him asking “how many of the women in this class have been sexually harassed?” to make a point against post-feminism, and he was also the one who made creepy sexual comments to me after class that one day.)

    • Didion Says:

      Okay, eeeuuwww. Which reminds me of a science teacher at my high school who was a pretty aggressive religious proselytizer to non-Christian students. Oh for the chance to go back and yell at him.


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