Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman

by Tami Winfrey Harris

I’ve been meditating on the “girlifying” of adult women since the Season of Zooey. Oh, the Season of Zooey was that time in late 2011 when everyone was talking about actress Zooey Deschanel in anticipation of her new FOX sitcom, “The New Girl.” And much of the talk centered on whether Deschanel’s quirky, wide-eyed, kittens and rainbows brand spells good or ill for womankind. Now, some Zooey fans pushed back that the endless critique reflected a cultural bias against the feminine. Our culture is biased against women, alright, but ambivalence over Zooey Deschanel is no illustration of the problem.

Traditional femininity is cool with me, if that’s your bag. And I am all for quirk. I’m a nerdy girl myself and I stan for Issa Rae’s Awkward Black Girl. It’s not the “dork” part of the “adorkable” descriptor, coined just for Zooey, that rankles me. What concerns me is society’s habit of equating childishness with femininity, of finding women more charming when they are adorable “girls” rather than grown ups. In a post about the topic on What Tami Said, I wrote:

Our society has a history of associating childlike qualities with women. The cult of true womanhood that emerged in the 19th century dictated that white women possess the childlike qualities of purity and submissiveness. (Women of color were left out of this idealization then, as they are now, which is one reason there is no black Zooey Deschanel.) Susan Faludi said, “The ‘feminine’ woman is forever static and childlike. She is like the ballerina in an old-fashioned music box, her unchanging features tiny and girlish, her voice tinkly, her body stuck on a pin, rotating in a spiral that will never grow.”

Look even at the words we use to describe extreme femininity vs. the ones we use to mark extreme masculinity. A woman who is hyper-feminine is not a “womanly woman,” but a “girly girl,” emphasizing unencumbered youthfulness. A man who is traditionally masculine is, well, a man–a “manly man,” very much an adult and in charge.

I was reminded of this the other day, while flipping through a local magazine that profiled Maggie Lewis, the executive director of the Dove Recovery House for Women in Indianapolis and Circle City’s new City-County Council President. Lewis is doing amazing things as a non-profit executive and a public servant. But note in the picture above how the magazine labels Lewis’ snagging of the top City-County Council spot. They call it “Girl Power.”

The Spice Girlian concept of “Girl Power” is cool enough as a rallying cry for tweens, but attaching it to the achievements of a 39-year-old sister, who is blazing trails, seems somehow diminishing. Do we write about men in this way? When Rahm Emmanuel was elected mayor of Chicago, did we file his win under “Boys are Rad!”?

The girlifying of powerful women doing great things happens all the time. Check out this article in the Daily Mail about Nobel Prize award winners Liberian Leymah Gbowee, who mobilized women against civil war; Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is Liberia’s president; and Tawakkul Karman, a Yemeni activist. How does the Mail categorize these women’s achievements, which include leading an entire country? Note the cutline on the accompanying photo: “Girl Power.”

I don’t think this is just semantics. Words mean things. It was not harmless when society made a habit of calling grown black men “boy.” It was disrespectful and infantilizing. It was a symptom on racial inequality. How can it mean anything different if adult women remain “girls” while men are men?

I’m sure I’ve been guilty of lazily referring to women as “girls” at some point, but lately the word sticks firmly in my craw. I’m longing for the day when the answer to Who run the world? is an emphatic: WOMEN!

  • LN

    First let me say that I am SO GLAD someone is addressing the disaster that is “New Girl”. I work from home so I watch quite a bit of Hulu and started following the show. They have taken Zooey’s character from beyond dorky, beyond awkward, into total childish and even mental retardation territory. There was an early episode where Zooey’s 3 roommates were trying to teach her how to get guys at a club and they asked her to show them her smile. She proceeded to make exaggerated goofy faces (and proclaim that that was her real smile) totally unlike anything any 30-year-old would EVER do. Then there was another scene where she felt it was appropriate to wear a peasant dress and buck teeth to a wedding.

    That show has really bothered me because, as the author states, Zooey’s character is basically an infant in sexualized adult form, with no sense of discernment or common sense. Disgusting.

  • African Mami

    Feminists, oh feminists! We rant, we rave, we sex, we give birth, we nuance, we rise, we fall, we get back up again, we fall, we never stop! Oh feminists! What a tragedy.

  • Ocean Blue

    I loathe women and men referring to women as girls when they are clearly over the age of 18.

    As a 26-year-old woman, I cringe every time someone thinks my youthful appearance means I am teenager. Why? I always say that people treat others based on how old they are or think they are and I get tired of people treating me like a child.

    I get tired of being called ‘young lady’ even though I am in my late twenties. I’ve even had other women tell me that I should accept being mistaken as so young simply because they are afraid of being and looking like an older woman.

    When I was a teller at a credit union I was working for, a male customer referred to me as the ‘red bone girl’.

    I see many women play into the whole idea of femininity meaning child-like when they talk in a child’s voice around men, play stupid and incapable.

    I jam to ‘Run The World (Girls)’ from time to time, but I’ve always had an issue with the usage of the word ‘girl’ instead of women.

    Something I’ve always had an issue with, is men in customer service positions or in general referring to women as ‘sweetheart’, ‘young lady’ or ‘baby’ while other men simply get called men or even boys will get called ‘men’.

  • Ocean Blue

    Hmmm. I see now that this show isn’t one I would be interested in watching. I hate when a script is written for a woman to appear child-like and docile.

  • Elegance

    What’s wrong with being girlish? People act like everything has to be so serious once you are over 25. So women can’t like cute things, laughing babies, pink, cute guys, or comedies (unless they are super intelligent comedies)? Women can be girlish and still get their jobs done and be serious at work. Women like me have fun, joke, and act silly with our friends and boyfriends because it’s FUN, carefree, and uninhibited behaviour. They aren’t worried about appearing to be the smartest, most mature, and most serious or trying to prove anything to anyone. They are just letting their funny, girlish side show instead of caving to the pressure to hide this side and be serious all the time. Being serious and pretending is tiring and fake to many people. Some of us are naturally girlish and youthful while others always act 10 years older than they are.

    I have watched some episodes of New Girl and I thought it was silly. It’s a comedy and not all comedies can be smart or mature. So what, just watch something else. Sometimes people feel like something silly anyways.

  • TAE

    Girly-girl, Manly-man, I’ve never thought about it in that context before but you just opened up my mind to something and you are so on point.

  • Ocean Blue

    That stood out to me as well and probably more so because I dislike those terms being applied to people.

    Last year I went out with a male friend and his girlfriend and she remarked to him about how he was, ‘such a manly-man’ because of the way he was eating his food. I remember thinking to myself about how trite the comment was.

  • Reason

    I try to tell my wife to stop referring to grown women as “girls”. Sounds so weird to my ears, but apparently not to women’s.

  • Cocoa

    Sinclair on Living SIngle is the only black female character that comes to mind who,in my opinion, would fall in the same character type of Zooey Deschanel in The New Girl. I think there is no problem with a women portraying somewhat innocent/naive roles especially since women are overly sexualized in the media as long there is a balance. Her character does go overboard sometimes with her child like behavior which can be borderline creepy.

    I do find it strange when other women address other adult women as girls. I hate the term girl power…I feel like when you use that phrase towards a successful woman that it diminishes her accomplishments.

  • LemonNLime

    I completely agree. Her character has to be THE most irritating on TV. Hell I didn’t act that way when I was in middle school so why is a 30 something y/o woman acting this way? Most of the show is spend whining about something or talking in that weird voice and that is absolutely dreadful.

  • LemonNLime

    I think they did an episode kinda dedicated to this topic. The lawyer gf of one of the characters disliked Zooey because of her her wide eyes, cutesie outfit, weird voice, awkward mannerisms, and just all around package. And of course Zooey “goes off” on her for being a mean girl who doesn’t like cupcakes or dessert or something. I think there might be some crying or something and then surprise, surprise, the mean lawyer girlfriend comes over to Zooey’s side and learns how to crochet and i don’t eat cupcakes or something. I wonder if they made that episode to address the critics who said the show was stupid and the main female character was like a child.

  • Jeanniebeannie


  • CurlySue

    Yes, I, too, find adult women who speak and act as children to be off-putting. Almost creepy in a way. I prefer the Christina Hendricks verson of femininity: Lush, mature, and womanly.

  • purplekeychain

    Meh, I like the show because I like quirk, but I understand what this article is trying to say, and agree with most of it. And no, black women definitely can’t get away with quirk in the mainstream, EVER – it’s always super underground or obscure (like, say, Aisha Tyler or Issa Rae). Apparently we are too “strong” and “serious” to be goofy. Quirky black folks are considered to be “actin’ white” or are outcasts in the “black community.” And I think that’s one (of MANY) of the reasons that black women take such offense to white “quirk” in the first place.

  • Ayeshah

    This article raises a good point, though I will add:
    1. I personally love this show and
    2. I feel that all the characters seem to be stuck in some form of childlike suspension. (See Nick who drops out of law school to become a bartender or the other two roommates who have corks of their own.

    Could this show be evidence that, as a culture, we practice “extended adolescence”? Is 30 the new 20? Are we delaying “growing up” in regards to how we approach major life decisions like marriage and our careers?

  • purplekeychain

    Also, I get annoyed when everyone tries to pinpoint what “femininity” is. As a woman, everything I do is feminine. Period. Whether that means behaving like a wide-eyed naive 12 year old, or a grown and sexy lady of the night. So I’m having a hard time adding anything of value to this conversation because I think it’s kind of silly. I define my own femininity, not some random critic of zooey.

  • arlette

    women should stop calling themselves girls, i am 19 and i dont understand why someone like madonna insists on calling herself a girl when she is in her 50s.

  • arlette

    i also like the show and i agree about the other characters.

  • apple

    I thought this title was going to be about like a quarter life crisis in which I’m having. Cause I’m 23 and I am adult in age but mentally I’m just not there yet and don’t know how to get there or if it will ever happen. However I don’t see the problem with being called girl or young lady, once you get old you’ll get to be called old terms for the rest of your life .

  • Princess Di

    I agree. I really enjoy New Girl. I am a black women and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being goofy, silly or girly. All the world is a stage and we all act differently depending on the time, place and company. I can be goofy as hell at home or with my friends and still be a professional and a super-smart grad student. Why is it one thing or another?

    In a world where everyone is trying to be seen as smart and successful it’s refreshing to see a character who doesn’t take herself or the world around her too seriously. There’s no need to suck the fun out of EVERYTHING!

  • Tamara Winfrey Harris

    You know what? I don’t hate The New Girl. The character, Jess, has more humanity than the Zooey brand. I say “brand” because I imagine the real Zooey Deschanel is more than a bundle of cutesy quirks. Now, I could write a whole ‘nother post on why a female celeb might adopt such a cartoonish persona and why the public eats it up.

  • Andrea Plaid

    Hmmmm…I totally get what Tami is saying, but I wonder if we’re also getting into the who’s-mouth-it’s-coming-out-of territory…and into an old argument.

    When I hear white people use the word “girl,” it, indeed, has all the infantalizing connotation that Tami is talking about. But then, I find it a term of endearment and point of bonding when I hear another African American women or a African American gay man or gay Latino say, “gurl.” (And let it be said when some fooliganery is under discussion. Some of us know melismatic the word can get: “Guuuuuurrrrrrrl.”) Because, to my ears and heart, it’s not infantalizing at all. It, as Alice Walker says, is downright grown. However, if anyone other outside two groups of people say it–or, worse, call me “gal”–my hackles are raised and my direct laser side-eye is in full effect. Maybe it’s an issue of “insider words” vs. “outsider words”?

  • Tamara Winfrey Harris

    I completely agree that femininity is, for individual women, whatever we want it to be. I do think, though, it’s worth analyzing what kinds of femininity gets accepted and valued and what kinds don’t.

    I also think it’s worth questioning why girlishness doesn’t really have an acceptable male equivalent. Zooeys can traffic in kittens, rainbows and bubbles. A 30-year-old man who loves Tonka trucks and action figures seems more creepy than cute. Now, a lot has been written about the male slacker phenomenon. You have those guys that want to hang out in their parents’ basements playing XBox all day, but no one finds those guys “adorable.”

    I think there is an interesting gender dynamic at work that’s worth poking at.

  • Tamara Winfrey Harris

    Guuuurrrllll, you’re always dropping science.

    Andrea, I think you make a brilliant point. The word “girl”–like a lot of words–can have different connotations, depending on who’s doing the talking. In the colloquial way it is used in my community, there is no hint of infantilization. In fact, it is generally spoken by grown women and not, well, girls.

  • Wow!

    I dont know. I want to understand but this seems to feel like over analysis or at least selective analysis.

    Men and women tend to refer to men in power as “The Boys Club.”

    To explain behavior of good and bad men and women say “boys will be boys.”

    When discussing the type of men that turn them on some women will let you know that “good guys” are too good and “bad boys” are at least more fun.

    Women I know well often say they have meet a “new boy” when referring to a new interest. They often say “boys suck” when the relationship is over.

    Some of the things women point out as attractive in men are considered boyish.

    Again, as a heterosexual man I want to understand but this just seems like a case of a very smart woman over thinking something.

  • kidole

    I agree. I love Zooey’ s character and I believe that there is too much emphasis on being a “grown ass woman” instead of being oneself. I think this one-dimensional attitude sends the wrong message to black girls, who rush to be overtly sexual and are “too cute or grown” to just enjoy life and laugh at themselves. I’d rather see more black girls like Zooey, Issa, & Chescaleigh than the characters from the Bad Girls Club.

  • Patti

    It’s even creeped into our fashion, if I see one more MAry Jane shoe or pink glittery thing for the woman’s department. It is true that many women are not offended by fashion or the term girl, or those type of things, but I have not been a girl in a very long time and I’m offended to be called one. By the way I have never referred to my ex as a boy, good, bad or indifferent, because our issues were not boy and girl problems. Even my 14 year old prefers to be called a young man, and he acts accordingly.

  • Reason

    Um, I don’t know…I think there are and have been a lot more black “child-women” in pop culture than we realize. The difference from their white counterparts is exactly what the author noted as “purity”. Nicki Minaj and actress Jackee’s Sandra Clark are examples of Marilyn Monroe’s sexy baby: figure hugging clothes and “goo goo ga ga” speech. Black women because of stereotyped sexuality would never get away with full skirts, ballet flats and “oh my’s.”

  • Georgia

    What’s wrong with it? The fact that women still earn less than men, because this country never ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, because not all women “give birth,” as African Mami says. It’s not about acting silly sometimes, or liking cute things. It’s about not being regarded as an equal.

  • Yulez

    LOVE LOVE LOVE The New Girl! My roommate and I watch it religiously. Lighten up. It’s a sitcom. Black women are so serious.

  • cocoa

    i think zooey deschanel is adorable & as a young women i don’t think there’s anything wrong with being described that way. i’ve seen an episode & it was cute but i basically forgot abt it afterward. i think the tipping point for me was when i heard that on the thanksgiving episode she tried to thaw a turkey by putting it in the clothes dryer. -_- really, yall? can the woman have a brain?

  • JaeBee

    Co & Sign. Ocean Blue, get outta my head! I’m a 30 year old woman who still gets referred to as “young lady”. I’ve always looked young for my age, but I clearly look like an adult. It is incredibly inappropriate for people to refer to me (or any woman) using terminology that they probably also use for their 10 year old daughter (“Now listen here, young lady!”) and is quite demeaning.

    I’ve recently started a new job and I’m going through orientation. One of the trainers announced, during his discussion on workplace harassment, that because he’s “old school” he’ll sometimes refer to us women as “girls” or “sweetie”, but that he doesn’t mean anything by it and will try to refrain from doing so. Best believe I am going to be addressing that on the evaluation we complete at the end of orientation. I don’t care how “old school” you are or if you may make mistakes from time to time, in a professional setting it is completely disrespectful, demeaning, and rude, to refer to an adult woman using either terms. I noticed that he didn’t have a problem with slipping up and referring to the men as “boys”. The women should be granted the same level of professional courtesy.

  • binks

    Really? To me I don’t see or know of too many “child-like women” in the black community, it doesn’t seem encourage in our community among girls because that behavior is quickly nipped in the bud because it doesn’t do anything for us as a whole. Even though Nicki Minaji and Jackeé may have some child like mannerism there is still an atmosphere of “grown woman” appeal to them unlike Marilyn or Zoey. There might be a few black women that gets away with it but not on the grand scale of white or even some Asian women. But your point is interesting i want to do more research ” now you gave me a topic ideal…lol ” but interesting articles abd comments

  • Princess Di

    Hi Georgia -

    I understand what you are saying. But, why should we have to change who we are to be seen as equal as men? Men should also make some changes in the way they view women and femininity.

    There’s a very interesting article by Terri Lituchy that discusses the role of masculine and feminine speech patterns in proposal acceptance. Basically, subordinates who used masculine speech patterns were more likely to have proposals accepted by their male supervisors. At the end of the article, the author basically said that it shouldn’t be the speech pattern that determines acceptance but the way the supervisors viewed their male and female subordinates.

    Anyway, just some food for thought.

  • Ocean Blue

    “It is incredibly inappropriate for people to refer to me (or any woman) using terminology that they probably also use for their 10 year old daughter (“Now listen here, young lady!”) and is quite demeaning.”

    I absolutely agree that it is quite demeaning and inappropriate.

    At my last job, I had to tell one of the male cafeteria workers not to refer to me as ‘young lady’. One day when he was waiting on me, he slipped up and almost called me ‘young lady’ and the older woman, who was a security guard was all like, “But you are a young lady and blah, blah, blah”. Do I not have a right to what I feel comfortable with people calling me? It’s always other women who tell me that when I get older that I will appreciate looking so young. I’m like, no, that’s how you feel because I am not afraid to look older or be an older woman. They are projecting their feelings onto me.

    I am with you all the way in making note on the evaluation about him referring to women as ‘girls’ or ‘sweetie’. To me, this is no different than BM now having trouble referring to women as women, but instead as ‘females’, but don’t refer to other men or boys as ‘males’ in the same context.

    – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – — – - – - – - – - – -
    On another note – At the Best Buy where I live, there is a male associate who has made it a habit to call me ‘sweetheart’ when I enter and exit the store. Once he even asked me if he could talk to me, but I said ‘no’ since I was leaving out. I think I deserve the same respect he would give to a male customer. I do not understand why men think women need to be handled with certain words.

    In my job as a bank teller, I once had a male non-account holder get angry with me because he kept providing ID we couldn’t accept and in his frustration he said to me, “You gettin’ on my nerves, girl!”

    Another thing is, men complimenting me on my appearance to try and get somewhere with me. Sorry, flattery is BS to me and I can see right through it.

  • Candy 1

    I get the point of this article, but wanted to point something out that I feel is true. Women have more flexibility in their being than men. While it might be insulting to many of us that people tack labels such as ‘girly’ or ‘cutesy’ on us (and expect us to behave as such), we can also be feminine and mature, sexy, intelligent, smart, sophisticated, witty, like video games, have off-beat qualities, be into sports, etc. we have the option to be what we want and still be accepted and loved (within limits, because we all know certain types of womanhood are not accepted), which is not something that can really be said for men.

  • So Over This Ish

    @Ocean Blue…you and me both! I’m nearly 30 and I experience this all the time.

  • So Over This Ish

    Some women refer to their breasts as “the girls”, which is just odd to me…but hey, whatever floats their boat.

    I call mine boobs when I decide to use colloquialisms.

  • So Over This Ish

    @ purplekeychain…ITA w/you! That is a very valid point. I have my definition of what it means to be feminine while other women have theirs. I guess that is the beauty of being a woman. We all have unique experiences and the diversity in our looks/styles is just amazing.

    I have always been quirky and I’m proud of it. It isn’t “acting white”. It is part of my personality. I’m typically very shy and reserved, but I do have a playful side. I love theatre and I frequently burst into song when I’m in a silly mood.

    Unfortunately, what you said is true. White women and Asian women are mostly free to be quirky without being condemned for it. Maybe some feminists will complain that they’re acting like bimbos, but there is no racial component to the criticism the way there would be with a biracial or Black woman (i.e. the accusations of “acting white”).

    Personally, I like Zooey. She seems to be a free spirit and yes, she is cute. There’s nothing wrong with being cute…even as a grown woman. It doesn’t mean that all women are being set back just because a few decide to display a certain persona.

    It would be wonderful if Black women in general were allowed to just be carefree and light-hearted, both on TV and in real life.

  • So Over This Ish

    Both of y’all are a trip! I remember hearing my mother talk to her best friend on the phone when I was a kid…Aunt Dorothy, as I called her, lived in Indiana.

    Mum would always be like “guuuurrrlll” when she was about to enter into some serious grown-folks conversation that my little ears couldn’t be privy to.

  • So Over This Ish

    I agree! I watch reruns of “227″ all the time…the character of Sandra Clark reminds me very much of a black Marilyn Monroe. The curves, the wiggle in her walk, the tight dresses, the flirty attitude and the high-pitched voice.

  • JaeBee

    “At my last job, I had to tell one of the male cafeteria workers not to refer to me as ‘young lady’. One day when he was waiting on me, he slipped up and almost called me ‘young lady’ and the older woman, who was a security guard was all like, “But you are a young lady and blah, blah, blah”. Do I not have a right to what I feel comfortable with people calling me? It’s always other women who tell me that when I get older that I will appreciate looking so young. I’m like, no, that’s how you feel because I am not afraid to look older or be an older woman. They are projecting their feelings onto me.”

    I feel ya. I have to deal with the rudeness and stupidity as well. I wonder if the security guard would take issue if you referred to her as “old lady” or “fat lady”. Hey, if we’re gonna call people by what we perceive them to be, and without any concern about their feelings on the issue, I’d say it’s fair game.

  • Rakel

    Lol ITA!! I looked thru the past articles and saved this one for last thinking it’d be about quarterlife crisis. I turned 24, over the wknd and I just don’t feel like the adult woman my dad all of a sudden wants me to be. But anyways I see both sides. I see how people can be offended but at the same time like one poster said I look at who is referring to me as girl before taking offense. In different circles it means different things.

  • bk chick

    @ OCean Blue…girrrl you are preaching to the choir! doesn’t matter if I’m in my twenties ppl treat you how they perceive you…it’s one of the most annoying things in the world and also a blow to your self esteem. It bothered me so much I wrote a blog post about it

  • Grasshopper

    I see what you mean here. Women can, to an extent, opt to buck the docile and fluffy mold without too much opposition but when guys step outside of their socially-sanctioned identities it’s easier for them to be labeled TOO ‘effeminate’.

  • LuvIt289

    Me2! :-)

  • chanela

    yesssss. this totally spoke to me!! i’m 21 and people think i’m 12-16 ALL the time! guess what? people treat me like i’m a kid and its the most annoying thing in the world!

    people say ” aww shit!” then they look at me and cover their mouth and say “oops im sorry! i didnt know small ears were in the room” this happens everytime i go to a hair salon and somebody curses. people talk to me like they’re guiding a 4 year old.

    “I’ve even had other women tell me that I should accept being mistaken as so young simply because they are afraid of being and looking like an older woman.” <—this right here is EVERYTHING!

    its always people who look their age that say " oh its a compliment!" um NO! saying a 21 year old woman looks 12 does NOT make her feel sexy as all! no its NOT a compliment for people to call me a damn child. good for you if you wanna look 16 forever (like most delusional ass women who tell me its a compliment). i would personally like to look like and be treated as an adult. Being RESPECTED is a compliment.

  • chanela

    speaking of women being expected to act “youthful” is anyone else creeped out by the fact that a high school cheerleader and/or a schoolgirl is considered sexual nowadays? wtf? why does noone see men as complete pedobears? why are you sexualizing little girls?

    just imagine how they must feel about the reverse with toddlers and tiaras. SMH

    it also disturbs me how in porn they use the word “teen” a lot to refer to women. “hot teen gets banged by 349028490238 guys” wtf? am i the only one shuddering in disgust at that?

  • Ocean Blue

    Jae Bee – She was a grouchy, little woman, too. Calling a woman ‘old’ would be sure to offend them.

    BK Chick – You’re right. It is a blow to one’s self esteem. I get so tired of having people speak to me as if I am a child or thinking I need some type of special help. I’ve written about it briefly on my blog as well.

    Chanela – Heck, I’m 26 (Actually I will be in July) and I am still mistaken as a high school student. Last year around Thanksgiving time I was the only person left on the bus going to the last stop and the male bus driver turned around and asked me if I was hooking school. When I told him how old I was, he made a comment about me having good genes. He then proceeded to ask me if he could take me out on a date. How lame. Heck, twice in one week I had different men make comments to me concerning my age. One guy yelled at me to go to school as I walked to work and another man asked me if I was hooking school as I entered a Wendy’s.

    And let me tell you about how much I hate it when people ask me if I am in school to affirm their incorrect assumption about my age.

    “I would personally like to look like and be treated as an adult. Being RESPECTED is a compliment.” – Same here. I don’t care about looking cute and young. I care about being treated like the adult who I am.

  • AI

    The fact that you can’t recognize the validity of their concerns is a tragedy.

  • So Over This Ish

    I agree 100%. But I’m dying over the term “pedobears”! LMAO!

    The concept of schoolgirls and cheerleaders being sexualized goes back pretty far. It’s nothing new.

  • D

    Yes, but even with the term “boys” there’s not the same denotation that the person is sweet, pure, submissive, helpless, and restricted in power.

    I find it in these examples that women are not really belittling the men. Sometimes the “boy” term has more sexual power and familiarity for some women. Like, “Sighhh, those bad boys, I need to get off that sh*t, but I can’t.” I find a lot of women in their mid 20s to early 30s sometimes lapsing into describing the man they want as a boy, like, “I want a boy who _____”. and they often lapse into this with their female friends, not with men. But, I know of a lot of the Etsy-designing female hipster type, too.

    Then again, I find a BEVY of men in their 30s describing the woman they want as a “girl.” “I want a girl who ____” or “are you the kind of girl who ____”

    Just as with men, “cute” (in my area, anyway) has more sexual attraction than “handsome” partly because the term handsome is antiquated. I often say “handsome” as a way of, he may be attractive to some people objectively, but not to me.

  • D

    Candy, this is the way I’ve always felt about being a woman. I can be androgynous, boyish, girlish, womanly, like an older, Bette Davis/Katharine Hepburn archetype of a woman, or anywhere on the spectrum I want. I myself am awkward and somewhat more girlish at 25 than the high powered woman in pearls and a blazer that Jezebel often pitches. My problem is I can’t seem to do sexy :) Kinda more Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. I think if girlishness was somehow a blocked option to me I would feel encumbered in my self expression. (I’m not “girly,” though, especially in the way Zooey Deschanel is, too functionally inept in making myself look decent, clothing-wise.)

  • D

    I also agree with you 100%. I think the way Zooey Deschanel gets processed in the male mind is “ooooh, so youthful and sexy.” A lot of men might not process the quirky stuff, but I notice that quite a few are highly, highly into her, in a sexual way. I myself find the girlishness and the fact that she seems like a celebrity who genuinely keeps her clothes on and would lose it if naked pictures of her were ever found kind of refreshing. Usually the youthful archetype is sexualized and made womanly without that kind of modesty. It’s just “hot young co-eds” and pictures of women provocatively dressed. Because she doesn’t get naked, I think that men frequently lump her in the wife/dating material, like some, interestingly, do with Ellie Kemper.

    And I think it’s true that men have been sexualizing young, young women for a long time. Pieter Paul Rubens wanted to marry a 16 year old at 35 because anything older would be just too old. Women used to be forced to “mature” earlier/had a terrible life expectancy and as a result have a sell by date stamped on them that was very much earlier. Some guys dump this preference on “biology.” Men sexualize younger women now and we see it all the time, 50 year old men hitting on 18 year olds, etc.

  • Emily

    I agree with everything but the video and the statement immediately preceding it.

    “I’m longing for the day when the answer to Who run the world? is an emphatic: WOMEN!”
    I don’t know if what you said is what you were going for, but it comes off as one of those evil feminists who hate men and think that the tables should be turned in our favor rather than the playing field be leveled.

    Also, Beyoncé says that girls run the world. This touches on my previous point, but also on the fact that she keeps saying “girls”, not “women”. Not one person in that video was a child; there were no girls! Also, did she and her gang just West Side Story the opposing gang? LOL

    Wait. No, I don’t remember the Jets dancing seductively and objectifying themselves to beat down the Sharks. This must be a new type of fighting. The kind where you give your opponents disabling hard-ons so they can’t fight you. You can’t manage much else, right?

  • Brooklynista

    As I read the article, several black “free spirit” characters came to mind: Freddie and Denise from A Different World, Sinclair from Living Single, Beneatha from the play A Raisin in the Sun (she’s the earliest black hippie I’ve come across in pop culture), Lynn from Girlfriends, J from Awkward Black Girl (she’s more angsty though, not so much free-spirited, but definitely quirky), so I disagree with the writer about her assertion that there are no black equivalents to Zooey. None of them were perpetually child-like though. They still had grown-woman swagger when situations called for it.

  • Wow!


    Funny, I have heard women refer to men as boys while talking to me and a group of men. I’m almost certain other men have heard as much but I think I see your reason for your trying to make this point.

    And I hear your explanation put you are making some sexist assumption. Not every man when using the term “girl” is using it to belittle women. Many of the female posters and article writers here. And not every woman using “boy” regardless of how she uses it, is doing so with a bevy of positive energy and thoughts.

  • Chic Noir

    You’re right on about Sandra Clark. What about Sharee Shepard from The View? Or Sandra from the Cosby show? How about Freddy from A Different World.

  • Chic Noir

    I love Zoey Deschanel. Period!

    She is very refreshing in a Hollywood where every young girl wants to take off her clothes at the first opportunity and talk about how edgy she is when the only edge she knows is the one around the fence of her gated community.

  • D

    I’m sure some might not be using it to belittle women, but the term itself belittles women. And it’s true that not every woman uses boy with positive energy, I was just trying to think back to the times I heard it used and what it meant. Plus, I do find it “belittling” when a 35-45 year old man is writing that he wants a “girl” or describing his ideal “kinda girl.” Is he hunting for 18 year olds or afraid of actually landing a WOMAN? This stuff I find offensive, but that’s a chip on my own shoulder, and I do tend to date older men.

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