If you are female, which term do you prefer if you had to be labeled by one of these words: “Girl” or “Woman” or “Female” or doesn’t it matter?
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln I was educated, roughly and roundly, by certain forces in the English Department that one must never call a female a “girl” if she has had her period — how one determines if menstruation has happened or not was never explained — and the correct term for the rest of her life was “woman” but never “lady” because “lady” was an Olde Englishe synonym for “bitch.”
Ladies and gentlemen rightly translated to the modern ear, I was told, as Bitches and gentlemen and it was an unfortunate, but culturally accepted, put-down of women who fought to advance their self-worth beyond being seen merely as property.
Ever since my UNL days I have been careful to always try to get the girl/woman situation correctly sorted and if a young woman is in that grey area between childhood and adulthood, I choose the sterile route of “female” just to be emotionally safe. In New York City and in Washington, D.C. and in Lincoln, Nebraska the girl/woman rule is strongly enforced by females.
In New Jersey, however, I find it odd it doesn’t seem matter as much and I’m not sure why. Women refer to themselves, and to each other, with the “girl” moniker all the time with no ill-effect and men can call women “girls” without getting bashed. I found that so interesting I asked my Newark students one day what they call females and after lots of re-explaining my question and cutting through their “you really are crazy!” looks it was decided the issue I held so carefully within me for 20 years was not an issue for any of them.
I still abide the girl/woman female rule to this day and I always will just to be politically and humanly correct and appropriate and to make sure I never unwittingly insult anyone. I am interested to know how you choose to refer to females.
Do you try to use the first menstrual cycle as your Maginot Line between Girlhood and Womanhood or not?
UPDATE: We discuss “Boy or Man” here.