Culture Fail: Women are Not Girls: Escaping the Youth-Is-Power Trap

I’ve been puzzling over my instinct to refer to fellow moms, women over the age of 18, and busy professionals—basically any females I feel friendly toward—as “girls.”

I’m not alone, by the way. Everyone seems averse to calling women “women.” Bestselling Portland-based author Whitney Otto (she of How to Make an American Quilt fame) has just released a new book called Eight Girls Taking Pictures. Is it about a Girl Scout troop pursuing artistic merit badges? No, it’s a strongly biographical novel about real professional female photographers whose lives spanned the 20th century; its characters are based on such women as Lee Miller, Grete Stern, and Portland’s own Imogen Cunningham. Girls? More like intelligent, complex, successful, badass women. And that’s the problem.

Perhaps it goes back to the conclusion my feminist forebears arrived at way back in the day—that unlike men, who gain power as they age, women are at their most powerful during their youth, when the people who have real power (men) find them most attractive. Youth and its associated naive behaviors compound into one adorable package, and the word “woman” starts to have stern, unfun, professional implications. And while I think of myself as empowered enough to not care about all that BS, and while I associate with women who are clearly also empowered enough to not care about all that BS, then why am I calling women “girls”? Because I don’t want to rob them of the power they have from being youthful? I think that’s it. Ugh. Sometime in the haze of the past 30 years, my Kool-Aid was spiked with the Youth-Is-Power roofie.

The frivolity of youth still has an embarrassing hold on woman-focused popular culture. Since 2011, works by authors such as Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, and Truman Capote have gotten the chick-lit treatment, with newer covers highlighting fashion and makeup instead of the books’ difficult subject matters.

I don’t have too much hope that I’ll be weaned of that roofied Kool-Aid anytime soon—as much as I erase “Hey, girl!” and retype “Hey, lady!”, somehow it keeps sneaking its way into my diet. Maybe once I can turn on the TV and see women of all ages and body types making up 50 percent of the characters, and pick up a book about a woman that doesn’t have plump lips or a red rose on the cover, I’ll be Kool-Aid free.

Til then, I’m pinning my hopes on the kids growing up today with Brave and the Hunger Games books. To them I say: Get it, girl!

by Mica Habarad