Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Flashback to the Language/Gender Wars

Last night, lying in bed, it occurred to me that 'girl' means female, but 'woman' means 'human adult female.' Human females can be 'girls' but my 12 year old Golden Retriever can't be a woman. (The best she can aspire to is 'bitch.' Which has been, shall we say, co-opted.)

In languages that distinguish between the informal second person and the formal second person (like French and Spanish) 'girl' correlates pretty closely with the informal second person. You can pretty much 'tu' anyone you can call a girl. You can use the term 'girl' informally with adult human women. 'Tuesday is girl's night.'

You can talk about girl power. There's a formal term 'manpower'. But 'woman power' and 'boy power' don't seem to work in English.

Before I could go any farther than that, I fell asleep.


Blogger Fred said...

"Girl power," I've often thought, is sometimes just as much about dis-empowerment as it is about empowerment. It can be a pretty dismissive phrase. The Spice Girls were the prime "girl power" example for quite awhile, after all (and not, say, Betty Friedan).

January 03, 2007 9:55 AM  
Blogger mary grimm said...

Didn't we used to have womanpower in the height of the feminist '60s and '70s? It's an old-fashioned word now, unfortunately.
Remember that whole crone thing? I'm glad about that passing away, now that I'm zeroing in on the right demographic.

January 03, 2007 11:05 AM  
Blogger Ted said...

While the overall parallelism isn't anywhere near exact, a couple of your examples also apply to "boy" and "man."

You can refer to a male dog as a boy, but not as a man. (I think humans generally refer to animals as "boys" or "girls" to signify the status differential between species.) And "Tuesday is boys' night" is not uncommon usage, although it has fewer non-pejorative associations than "girls' night."

January 06, 2007 4:13 PM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

Do you think that becoming sexually aroused by this post is normal?

January 07, 2007 7:35 AM  
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March 24, 2009 2:21 AM  

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