Feminism & Failures of the English Language


I missed the memo about feminism and the failures of the English language.


Oh Gwen, how I feel your pain…

The other morning, I shared an elevator with a man who appeared to be in his 40s and another woman who was probably rounding the corner on 60.  In the time it takes to ride up 17 floors, you can have some truly fascinating conversation about weather, how good coffee smells, and the general suckiness Mondays.  I mean, I thought we bonded.  So I was a little dismayed when the man exited the elevator and said: 

“Have a good day, girls.”

“Girls.”  I don’t think I’d ever really taken much notice of being addressed as a “girl” but for some reason, it  bugged me.  Maybe it was the tone.  Or maybe my knickers were already twisted that morning.  Or maybe it really is inappropriate to address two women who could buy cigarettes without showing ID as “girls”. 

It’s a weird thing to work in a male-dominated environment in the age of political correctness.  Most of the time, male colleagues mind their manners, but often the strain of self-censorship is evident.  They don’t want to put a foot wrong, and I don’t want to seem thin-skinned and defensive, and the result is men behaving more politely than is natural for them and me pretending that I don’t know that it’s a total farce.  It’s weird.  I don’t want to be “just one of the guys,” but at the same time, the kid gloves aren’t necessary. 

All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I’d like to think that most men have a fairly enlightened attitude about women as their partners and peers in both the professional and personal realms.  So maybe it’s just our language that fails us.  If Mr. Elevator had been chatting with a couple of other men, he may have said, “Have a good day, guys.”  And the word “guys” doesn’t seem to have much of a charge to it, and indeed it’s become nearly gender-neutral.  So what’s the appropriate feminine counterpart to the word “guys”?  Is it, in fact, “girls”?  Certainly, it isn’t “gals”.   (I mean, who says “gal”?)  Is it “doll”, as in “Guys & Dolls”?  I sure as hell don’t know, so I do cut Mr. Elevator a little bit of slack. 

When it comes to gender-specific language, I presume a dissertation or two has been devoted to the exploration of why we have the words we do and what the use of these words does to advance or undermine the cause of gender equality.  These are probably bigger thoughts than I can ultimately get my girly head around.  That’s why I usually just refer to everybody as “dude.”

I don’t really abide, but nonetheless…memo received.

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5 thoughts on “Feminism & Failures of the English Language

  1. Megan (Best of Fates) September 27, 2011 / 8:13 pm

    I use “guys” to refer to groups of all genders. Though now I am tempted to switch to dudes.

  2. Jamie Walker Ball September 27, 2011 / 8:30 pm

    “Dude” is a very useful word. As is “seriously”. You can have a complete and meaningful conversation using just those two words…

  3. Mama Mary September 30, 2011 / 5:43 pm

    This would totally have bugged me! He could’ve at least said gals. : )

  4. The Chloe Chronicles October 9, 2011 / 3:04 am

    Totally would have bugged me, too. I think the correct parting statement for gentlemen exiting an elevator is, “Have a nice day, ladies.”

    “Girls” reminds me of the steno pools in How to Succeed in Business…

    In my line of work what ticks me off is that I call the doctor, “Dr. Whatever” and he calls me “Chloe”. Shouldn’t I be Nurse Chloe or something?

  5. Anne Parris (@notasupermom) October 9, 2011 / 3:40 am

    I dunno. The older I get, the more I like being called “girl”.
    It’s pathological and sad, I know.
    I hate being called “ma’am”.

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