Don’t Call Me “Girl”

2 min read

Grown women should not be referred to nor treated as a "girl". Read more on The Girl Next Door is Black

“Girls! Girls!” a large, middle-aged man in a bright yellow safety vest hollered at me and my new friend from across the parking lot as we walked away from my rental car.

I turned slowly around, cocked an eyebrow and didn’t begin moving in his direction until my companion did.

“Yes?” I asked with a touch of attitude as we neared him. He’d yelled out to us like we’d done something wrong.

“Where are you girls going?”

So far I liked nothing about this encounter.

I’d arrived early to the day-long Bloggy Boot Camp conference in Temecula and befriended and picked up another early blogger in my hunt for coffee.

I stared at him for a beat wondering what the hell business it was of his where we were headed. I’m not inclined to give information about my destination to people I don’t know. Why don’t you just beckon us over to a creepy windowless white van with promises of candy?

“We’re not girls, we’re women.”

I am damn near 40 years old and my fellow blogger is a mother of two. She’s raising two little human beings. Neither of us are girls.

“We’re getting breakfast,” my new friend supplied.

The man paused, mouth agape as he gave me a curious look, “Wha….girls….uh…?”

“You can call us ladies,” I answered thinly. Ladies isn’t necessarily my favorite either, but at least it implies more respect than girls.

“Ok. This café is open. They have good food,” he gestured behind him to a store front in the strip mall.

“Ah, thank you.”

We headed toward the café. I felt kind of bad for my response toward him since it seemed like he wanted to help. But, I didn’t appreciate his tone nor how he approached us; it was disrespectful. It didn’t help that the day before, on a business call, the man I was speaking with called me “sweetheart.”

Sometimes when I find myself in situations where I feel disrespected, I turn over different scenarios in my mind imagining how circumstances might change if I were someone different.

What if I were walking with a man instead of an equally diminutive Filipina woman?

What if said man were black? And larger than Mr. Bright Vest? Would he yell at us? Would he call me “girl”?

What if I had Oprah money and smelled like wealth?

What if we were two white men? What if we were two white men, the same age as me and my friend and wearing suits? Would he have called out to them? Would he have shouted, “Boys, boys!”

I posed these questions to my new friend as way of explaining my defensive behavior. She’d appeared a bit thrown by my caginess, probably wondering: what the hell happened to the kind, smiling stranger I just met 10 minutes ago?

“I think you’re right, I don’t think he would talk to men that way,” she acknowledged.

I may be small and I may look younger than my years, but neither of these characteristics justify yelling at me like you’re my father. I am glad I spoke up because had I not, I knew I would stew over it until I found a way to make it right with myself. Situations like this happen too much and I am not here for it.

A half hour later as we exited the parking lot to return to the conference, Mr. Bright Vest hailed us:

“Hi Ladies…I want to apologize for shouting at you earlier. That wasn’t right. It was rude and I shouldn’t have done that.”

Holy __! Did that just happen?

I smiled. “Thank you, I really appreciate that.”

“Have a nice day. Again, I’m sorry.”

I thanked him again and waved goodbye as I drove off.

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59 Comments
  • Deborah Caudill
    July 19, 2015

    I am with you about being called girl either, but lady isn’t much better. I don’t like for anyone to holler at me anytime. I am glad the guy apologized to you and your companion. That surprised me until I gave it more thought. You spoke up and made it better for all women because you showed him a better way to address women on the street. Thanks!

  • Lyndsey
    July 14, 2015

    I’m 50/50 with you on this, just depends on my mood sometimes if it bothers me or not!

  • Marija
    July 6, 2015

    The “GIRL” Next Door Is Black 🙂

  • Amanda Whitley
    July 2, 2015

    it has never really bothered me but it makes me think that it wouldnt be natural for me to go to a group of guys and call them boys.. i Hate it more when a guy calls me woman personally.

  • Kim Hampton
    June 27, 2015

    I don’t have a problem with being called a girl! It’s flattering to me. LOL

  • Camille
    June 25, 2015

    I think it’s awesome that you made him reconsider his perspective and then he actually changed his behavior! A reminder to me to speak up, instead of always being overly polite in similar situations.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      July 1, 2015

      I am a big proponent of people speaking up for themselves, so I say go for it! We can still be respectful while setting boundaries.

  • Alina Conn
    June 25, 2015

    If someone chased my friend and I in that fashion calling us girls, I too would be disgruntled and a tad ticked.

  • Mai Tran
    June 24, 2015

    If someone yells like that, I’d also get upset at the beginning I think. There are many other ways to address people properly and people should learn that for a better conversation.

  • Jayne
    June 24, 2015

    It was cool you spoke up because it gave him an opportunity to pay attention to his word choices in the future.

  • Starla B
    June 23, 2015

    I agree with you completely. It does come off disrespectful IMO. I love that he acknowledged what he did and apologized.. makes a situation become better instantly.

  • Kristin K
    June 23, 2015

    In your after-thoughts, you mentioned that you wondered if it was because you were a visible minority. I don’t think that had anything to do with his comment. But, being called a “girl” when you’re 40, or approaching 40 isn’t right. However, maybe he doesn’t see very well, and just saw your size/height?! Anyway, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge people on one poor comment.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 23, 2015

      I wouldn’t say that judged him as a person based on his comment, so much as his shouting and use of language put me on guard. I actually really respect his apologizing – that’s rare IME.

      I don’t think it’s possible to say what was behind his words, but I am careful not to dismiss race (or gender) as factors given my personal experiences. Implicit bias and “micro-aggressions” against blacks in the US is unfortunately very real.

  • Dale Hunsberger
    June 23, 2015

    “girl” doesn’t bother me as much as “woman!” – I sooooooo hate that! Makes me feel like I somebody’s property!

  • cherioggy
    June 23, 2015

    I really liked your approach and the fact that he apologized later!!

  • mypixieblog
    June 22, 2015

    I love that he not only acknowledged that what he did was wrong, but that he also apologized for his behavior. I’d like to think that maybe he just didn’t KNOW better, but that seems incredibly naive to think. That said, personally I’d rather be a “girl” than a “lady” but I recognize that’s probably my own hangup since “lady” sounds so… matronly to me. Thanks so much for sharing AND for schooling this guy. Sometimes we just need to educate others on what is/isn’t acceptable social behavior.

    XOXO

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 22, 2015

      I think he really didn’t know better. The look on his face when I corrected him – it was as if I’d told him the sky is red.

      I don’t always love “lady.” Like if you’re at the grocery store and kid says to their parent, “Can I get the cereal that lady haaaas?” Makes you feel kinda old. I’m ok with that though. I’d rather a kid call me a lady than a grown man I don’t know call me a “girl.”

  • Savvy WorkingGal
    June 21, 2015

    One of the owners at my company calls me kiddo. At first I didn’t like it, but I’ve since seen him call just about everyone that including his own sons and my boss who is approaching 60. So he is excused.

    I used to call the women I work with ladies, but thought it sounded weird, so now refer to all of them as co-workers even if they work for me. Our HR manager refers to everyone as her employee and I find it as well as almost everyone else offensive. We don’t work for her.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 22, 2015

      Our HR manager refers to everyone as her employee and I find it as well as almost everyone else offensive. We don’t work for her.

      Haha, does she have a bit of an ego?

      Kiddo doesn’t sound too objectionable if that’s what he calls everyone. It kind of dilutes it’s meaning.

  • Bev Feldman @ Linkouture
    June 21, 2015

    I recently had a doctor’s appointment with an oral surgeon about my underbite and the doctor called me a “Pretty girl” (just to note: he wasn’t hitting on me, and the comment did somewhat make sense given the context, but still…). Um, I’m 32 years old and a mom, not a girl. I didn’t say anything but I thought it was weird and a somewhat demeaning. While it sounds like this man’s intentions were good, I think you taught him a valuable lesson. I wish more people understood that it is patronizing to call grown women that.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 22, 2015

      “Pretty girl?” Isn’t that something you say to a toddler? Or a pet? Lol.

      I wonder how he addresses young men? I’m sure it isn’t “pretty boy,” which has a different connotation altogether.

  • Bronwyn
    June 20, 2015

    I love this — especially the way the man apologized and you accepted. I’ve been “educating” the men in my circles about girl / lady / female / woman / chick / etc for about a year. I do it playfully, but seriously. And respectfully. With each man, it was a case of “Oh, I never thought of it that way, but now I get it.” Girl, lady, female, woman, chick… they’re different words for different ages and behaviors, and for different levels of intimacy, but it’s not like that was taught in school very well. My best guy friends can call me chick or babe or even tootsie all day long; they’re in the inner circle of teasing and trust. Not a damn one of them calls me a girl, though. Lately, I’ve seen them calling other men out on their use of “girl” and it does my heart good. Good for you for standing your ground.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 22, 2015

      I think it’s important to educate people and call out inappropriate language, otherwise it just continues to go on unchecked.

      “Chick, “female,” and “bitch” raise my hackles when I hear men use them – especially bitch and female.

      I hate when some dudes say, “Females do this ….,” “Aw man, those females are always…..” It’s never a good thing; almost always a complaint and said with derision. Who do you think you’re fooling by saying “female?”

      • Bronwyn
        June 22, 2015

        Right? Using “female” is the fastest way to a lecture. It is technically correct, but actually disrespectful, unless in a military context — and I still don’t like it there.

  • adrianscrazylife
    June 20, 2015

    Isn’t that bizarre? I used to have a Vice President at work who referred to me as “young lady” as in “How are you doing today, Young Lady?” I thought it was hilarious! For one thing, I was only about 10 years younger than he was and I’m a grandmother of four. But I figure if I guy gets to 60 years old and STILL doesn’t have a clue, it’s not my job to teach him. I just dump that in a catch-all category I call “Clueless Men” and move on…

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      Your VP called you “young lady”? How weird and unnecessary.

      (I like your gravatar, BTW. You have such a happy look!)

  • misssrobin
    June 20, 2015

    Wow! I am truly surprised as his apology. Way to go, dude!

    I’ve been trying to train my husband on this for some time. I don’t think he does it out of disrespect, just unthinking. I think we’re in a shift right now in our cultural terminology on so many fronts. There are tons of words that were common when I was a teen that are absolutely offensive now (and should have been then, but they were so prevalent then that they were just accepted – no one really thought about them). I’m glad we’re working on it as a society, many of us anyway. I had the same conversation with him as he was talking about “the girls” at work. I said he’d never referred to “the boys” at work and I couldn’t imagine him doing so. He agreed. Then we talked about terminology and better choices. I’ve heard him correct himself several times since.

    I love this line: “I am glad I spoke up because had I not, I knew I would stew over it until I found a way to make it right with myself.” I keep my mouth shut way too often and then stew over it afterward. I’m going to try to remember this in the moment.

    Thanks for speaking up and for sharing the story.

    Happy Sharefest! I hope you have a lovely weekend.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      We’re definitely in a cultural shift. Some complain that we’re overly PC, and there may be some truth to that, but I think it’s more of an awareness and attention to diversity.

      There are tons of words that were common when I was a teen that are absolutely offensive now (and should have been then, but they were so prevalent then that they were just accepted – no one really thought about them)

      Sometimes watching older films or TV shows – even just from the 80s! – I find myself cringing at words and themes. The further back you go, the more cringeworthy it gets!

      That’s great that you and your husband discuss language and are open to adjusting. We need more of that!

      Thanks for your comment, Robin!

  • mamasick
    June 20, 2015

    You bring up a lot of interesting points and scenarios in the “girl” story. I don’t hate being called a girl, although at 45, that’s a rarity! I think some guys are old-fashioned and uneducated and they call everyone girls!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      Yes, I think old-fashioned behavior / vocab has something to do with it. But, we’re never too old to learn, right? 😉

  • Tammi Johnson-Young
    June 20, 2015

    I have an entirely different response to the phrase “girl”. I do agree with you that a strange man screaming across a parking lot “girls, girls!” is disrespectful. My dad did not use my name until my teens. He always called me “girl”. I was the child with no name. It was demoralizing and stripped me of an identity. Though I don’t mind the phrase it does trigger some unpleasant emotions. Thanks for sharing.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      Tammi that is terrible and I feel for you that you had to endure such treatment. Our names are so important to our identity. Thank YOU for sharing your experience.

  • Ellen Hawley
    June 20, 2015

    I’m with you on this. I hate being called a girl, and I hate the grumpiness of my response to it. I’m 68. I’ve been a grown woman for a long, long time. Admittedly, I get called a girl less often these days (although it still happens). The at least annoying variation is some idiot calling me “young lady” and expecting me to be flattered. Could it get any more condescending?

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      I know what you mean about the grumpiness, Ellen!

      I’ve seen that “young lady” thing happen. It’s usually said in a patronizing tone like the person is speaking to a child or someone whose brain is muddled. I’m sure it’s meant to be a compliment of sorts, but surely there are better ways to flatter someone.

  • Megan Premo
    June 18, 2015

    I feel comfortable referring to myself as a girl all day long; it’s my prerogative. As a woman, “Girl’s Night Out,” “Girl Power,” and yes, “Girl Next Door,” are all phrases I’m comfortable using. It’s the fact that “girl,” a markedly diminutive version of “woman” is used by men as a matter of course, without a second thought, that makes me cringe. I grit my teeth when I know someone is just an ignoramus who is being genuinely polite, but I have to admit that it bothers me, too. I’ve been on the planet for 36 years. My 6 year old daughter is a girl. I’m not. Great post.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 19, 2015

      The use of “girl(s)” in the proper setting evokes feelings of youthfulness and freedom, a great feeling. I see/hear “girl power” and I think all kinds of good things. In this case, however, notsomuch.

      I’d written a line about how he was probably someone whose vocabulary just hasn’t adjusted with the times. But, I took it out and I spoke up because though I understand that, I don’t think ignorance absolves him from being responsible for his words.

      Thanks, Megan!

  • Kim @ 2justByou
    June 18, 2015

    I call people “girl” all the time, and I don’t mind being called girl at all. However, I definitely believe that tone of voice is important. The context with which words are used is important. I use “ladies” as well. So, hell yeah, if his tone was off, good for you for letting him know with YOUR tone that it bothered you! I bet it made him stop and think, you know? Because then – he came and apologized.
    Wish we could’ve chatted more at the Bloggy Bootcamp. I have a good feeling that we’ll be meeting up again. =0)
    Hope to see you at this week’s #GrowingCirclesHop!

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 19, 2015

      Yeah, like I have a post with “Girls Night In” in the title – no big deal. We weren’t doing business with each other, weren’t strangers, no power plays were involved or any other situations where “girls” would be inappropriate.

      I am still stunned he apologized.

      It was random how we bumped into each other at BBC. I’m glad we did!

  • Summer
    June 17, 2015

    I see it both ways, I understand your initial response. On the other hand, it appears the man was trying to be helpful but his delivery was off. I lean towards his intentions were good because he took the time to apologize. I smiled as I read the story because I have been there as well. We do sometimes look “younger” than our actual age. However, I can also tell by the tone and the way one says “girl” what they’re implying. Good post~

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 18, 2015

      Thanks, Summer!

      As far as looking younger than our age, recently at the grocery store, a checker called me “kiddo.” Really?

  • rlcarterrn
    June 17, 2015

    I think you have every right to be offended by how that man spoke to you & your friend. That’s so awesome that he came back & apologized though. That doesn’t happen often. Here in the South a lot of people use diminutive words like dear, sweetheart, etc & for the most part I don’t mind it, but it’s all about context & how it’s said. To be clearer, & maybe this is prejudiced of me, but I really don’t mind if other women use those words with me, even if they are strangers, but I don’t like it when men do unless it’s a man I’m actually close to. As a nurse I admit I call everyone “dear” sooner or later b/c I see so many patients that I just can’t always remember everyone’s name immediately, & I feel like dear is pretty innocuous. Hopefully I’m not offending my patients without realizing it.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 17, 2015

      I agree, context is everything. There’s a difference between a server in a Southern restaurant calling a young wo(man) “honey” vs an adult man calling his adult female colleague “honey” in the office. I don’t have much of an issue with “pet” names until they play into power dynamics.

  • samdfb1
    June 16, 2015

    Well, here in the UK people call me ‘Madam’ and I have NEVER been to a brothel and we are close in age-am guessing.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      Hehe, brothel. I have to admit that’s not the first thing that comes to mind when I hear “madam,” but different cultures and all. I think I actually might like that much better! It seems more dignified.

  • siriusbizinus
    June 16, 2015

    As a white man, I have only occasionally been referred to as “boy,” by unfamiliar women. It was always within a work context (i.e., I was at work and the women saying it were customers). I was young at the time, but I can say that both times felt particularly insulting. Socially, if it had happened outside of work I would have had grounds to be openly upset with them. Granted, I’m not saying that it’s the same experience, but I am saying that at least in a different context, using “boy” with a man is perceived as a deliberate insult.

    What amazes me is that referring to women as “girl” isn’t seen the same way in society. I get that when people are familiar with each other, they can use “boy” and “girl” as terms of affection. But strangers? Does this mean that it’s a subtle indicator of how women are not allowed to have the same social boundaries as men do?

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 20, 2015

      I understand that “boy” is complex for men, as well – it’s a challenge to masculinity and all that that implies.

      And of course, in the past (and maybe unfortunately in the present) “boy” has been used by racists against black men as a way to demean and belittle them.

      Words matter!

  • Pamela Gurganus
    June 16, 2015

    I think but yet your blog/site is called The “GIRL” Next Door Is Black.

    • The Girl Next Door is Black
      June 16, 2015

      I almost added this as a note to the bottom of the post, but I decided not to. I’ll include it as a response to your comment. 🙂

      I realize my blog is called The Girl Next Door is Black, but that’s a play on words (the Girl Next Door archetype) and not actually a reference to myself as a “girl.” Though even if I did refer to myself as a girl, the context is different when it comes from someone else, particularly a man to a woman in this largely patriarchal culture.

      • Bronwyn
        June 20, 2015

        The name of this blog is perfect, because the author named it herself. Personally, I love calling myself and my close friends “girl” — because I’m a woman, I’ve earned it, and I know what it means when it comes from me about me and about my friends. From a stranger? Nope.

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