The Effects of Sexist Language

More from the Women’s Movement of the 70’s

Call Me a Woman

I am twenty-five and when I am called a girl, I speak like a girl:
I flirt and giggle and play dumb.
But when I remember I am a woman, I put away childish things
And speak out, and share, and love.

I am thirty-six and when I am called a girl, I think like a girl:
I feel incompetent so I serve and help the men around me.
But when I remember I am a woman, I put away childish things
And work, and create, and achieve.

I am fifty-two and when I am called a girl, I understand like a girl:
I let others protect me from the world:
But when I remember I am a woman, I put away childish things
And decide, and risk, and live my own life.  (© 1975)


About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
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2 Responses to The Effects of Sexist Language

  1. Frank Ober says:

    At what age does a “girl” become a “woman?” who decides? the “victim” or the “other?” Frank    

    • Nancy Smith says:

      I think you’re missing the point of the post and the issues of the 70’s women’s movement. It was a time of conscious-raising when we discovered that being called “girls” by men made us feel small and immature. We were asking them to understand and, for the most part, though not without struggle, they did and have. I did not feel particularly “victimized” as though I were a rape victim, but was working for change.

      For the most part, females either know or choose when they have matured from girls to women. My guess is that it is when they graduate high school and either go to college or to work — or marry and start a family. Largely because of the work of the 70’s, society begins to refer to them as women at that point in time. Like African-Americans who sometimes refer to each other by the “n” word, when by ourselves, we women may refer to ourselves as “girls” as in “girls’ night out” or “girlfriend.” But we don’t want men to do that for the same reason that African-Americans don’t want white folks to use the “n” word (though using the “n” word certainly brings back worse connotations than being called a “girl”).

      I’m not sure how I feel about the word “gal.” I sorta cringe when I hear it, but have always considered the man and the whole context of our relationship. In one work situation I would cringe just at the leering way one of our salesmen would say “Good morning” while a much older Irishman working there could refer to women as “broads” and that didn’t bother me at all.

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