By Lauren Cutshall
There are many things I could point out as being unfair differences between genders. For one, the ability for men to go into almost any public restroom and not face a line of people and five minute wait time will forever keep me envious.
Yet one of the more crucial differences deals, in some part, with self-identity. Everyday, we use words to describe what’s around us and what we are thinking and feeling. Most importantly, we use words to describe ourselves.
There are women and there are men. There are girls and there are boys. There are guys and—wait a second…
Gals? No, that’s not right.
Ladies? Not exactly.
Chicks? Hell no.
Unlike ladies and gentlemen or boys and girls, there is no female equivalent for guy. At least, there isn’t one that is used as commonly as guy. In fact, without an equivalent, people have tried to morph the word’s usage into everyday conversation. How many times have you been in a room of mixed genders when someone walks in and says “Hey guys!”?
The word guy is so brilliantly versatile; I ache for an equivalent. The phrase “that guy over there,” is so nonspecific that I won’t know who I am looking for in a crowd—is it that young teenager with the red hat, or is it that man in the business suit? I’ll never know because it could be any one of them.
But this is a luxury only guy can enjoy. If you aren’t a girl, and you aren’t a woman, who are you?
Oftentimes, ladies is the best we can do to measure up to the versatile guys. When used in its plural form, ladies even seems sort of special—until you really take the time to think about it.
Remember, there’s only “ladies’ night” at the bars because every other night seems to have “guys’ night” written all over it. Ladies is just a word that seems incomplete without a barbie smile and hairflip on the other end. The phrase “Good job, ladies!” drips with condescension, no matter how you say it.
There was a point in my life a few years ago, when I didn’t know where I stood. I knew I was more mature than a kid, but the word adult carried with it a wealth of responsibility and pressure that I wasn’t ready for. In my mind, neither girl nor woman fit me at all.
I couldn’t see in myself the concepts that I associated with these two words. I was not gangly and shy or wide-eyed and naïve like a girl. But then again, I did not have a job, or children, or quite the air of confidence that I saw in so many women around me.
Call me a gal, and I was sure I wouldn’t ace any job interviews or be taken seriously, and as a lady I questioned my ability to do anything other than a dumbed-down version of a “man’s job.” I certainly wasn’t a chick because I was more than just my body. I was most definitely not starkly a female because I was more than a statistic.
Externally, I struggled when talking about friends of mine; girls I met in class, or women I worked with. It was hard to focus on the importance of a story itself, because I was getting so caught up in how I told it, trying to be as accurate as possible.
Now, I can say that I have settled on woman. I have claimed it as a source of pride and power. What changed exactly, from then until now, I couldn’t exactly tell you.
But because of this, I often notice when others, knowingly or unknowingly, call me something else.
“That girl over there,” they point.
“Great job, ladies!” They congratulate.
These words are so ingrained in our society that we no longer think about their meanings. When you tack on ladies or call me a girl it makes me question how you see me in the world. The usage is almost always unintentional– and that’s the issue. That’s also why it’s so hard for us to change.
We not only have a gap in our language, but we have a gap in our collective identity. If we are treating people younger or older than they really are, we are telling them they are not okay as they are. We are creating an unnecessary problem.
So I just ask that you think before you speak. If you habitually call all women girls think about the kind of respect you are taking from them. If you’re in the habit of saying “Great job, ladies!” think about why you tack on ladies.
I’m not asking that we disregard gender altogether—gender is a big part of identity. All I ask is that we take notice of the words we use, and their implications.
When at a total loss, use a name. Everyone has a name and everyone, on some level, likes to hear it.
Lauren Cutshall is a Minneapolis based writer and photographer. She likes movies, doughnuts, and improv comedy. She thinks smiling, waving, hugging, laughing and making peace are very important things.