Monday 1 November 2010

Girl, you’ll be a woman… soon?

When I was writing the new welcome message (that thing on the right there) for my blog, I instinctively referred to myself as a ‘girl’. I can’t say I’d often considered whether or not that was an accurate description, but seeing it in black and white (okay, pink and white) – let alone in the same paragraph as the word ‘thirties’ – has had me questioning whether or not, in the current spirit of moving on, I should also step beyond that kind of terminology.

The first time I posed the question was a few months ago, watching a football match at The Temple (aka Pride Park, for the non-believers among you). Customary Bovril in hand, I was making my way down the row to my seat, checking out – as I always do – who was in the row of seats behind mine. This particular Saturday afternoon, it was a group of 11-year-old boys, giddy with the parent-freed excitement of coming to a match without a ‘responsible adult’ (whatever one of those is). And – again, as I always do – I smiled at the kid directly behind me. Because I’m polite and cheery like that. (Read: because I like to lessen my chances of children kicking the back of my seat.)

Having given my best hey-we’re-the-same-you-and-me smile to the lads behind, I got comfy in my seat, chuffed with my hip self for being so down with the kids, as the Rams ran out onto the pitch (to this; learn the lyrics or you’re not allowed back, right?). Behind me, the lads were having a who-can-shout-the-loudest contest, roaring ‘come on Derby’ into each others’ ears as I continued to plaster on my yeah-I’m-totally-cool-with-screaming-boys smile. Their shouting match soon turned into a joke-off, with one kid making a crack about Robbie Savage’s ponytail being more at home on Lily Savage (which I thought was pretty funny for a 11 year old). In approval of the gag, I looked over my right shoulder and chuckled my approval.

‘Heh. She laughed at your joke,’ said Funny Kid’s mate.
‘Who did?’
‘Her,’ he said, pointing at me. ‘That lady.’

‘Erm, what did you just call me?’ I screeched inside my head. ‘I’m gracious enough to smile and laugh along with your idiotic, puerile jokes and you call me a LADY? Jeez, just offer to help me down the stairs, why don’t you?’ I thought, breathing into my steaming-hot Bovril so it left a trickle of warm condensation on my nose. (And how many ‘ladies’ do that eh?) Suddenly, it seemed, I wasn’t quite so cool with their oh-so-funny playground puns or their childish chanting. And so I reached inside my pocket for my headphones, tuned my hand-held radio into the local commentary and grumbled along with the old whingers in the West Upper. That’d show ’em.

‘Did you hear that?’ I said to P at half time.
‘Hear what?’
‘That kid. Before the game. He called me a lady,’ I said, with the kind of appalled emphasis on ‘lady’ that one might normally reserve for ‘shit-muncher’.
‘Oh,’ said P.
‘Oh? OH? P, he called me a lady!’ I reiterated.
‘And what would you rather be called?’ he asked through a mouthful of Balti pie.

He had a point. I mean, it’s utterly preferable to ‘lady’, but I’ve got to admit that even ‘woman’ might’ve rankled a bit, coming from someone born in – ouch – 1999. (I mean, shit, what are they teaching them in school these days? Surely everyone knows that the rules state that it’s only acceptable to call someone a ‘lady’ when you are a) female; b) within 15 years in age of the ‘lady’ to whom you’re referring; or c) using it as a prefix for ‘cakes’, ‘lass’, ‘Gaga’ or – new favourite – ‘pants’.) Sheesh, even ‘bird’ would have been better than ‘lady’. ‘Lass’… ‘chick’… ‘her’, even. ‘Girl’, however, would have been just wonderful. But then a 10-year-old boy is never going to use the term ‘girl’ in reference to a 31-year-old lady woman female person… oh, I don’t know.

I’m well aware, of course, of many feminists’ beef with the term ‘girl’ when referring to someone who’s technically a ‘woman’, and the concerns that it’s somehow less empowering, tarring women with the impression that they are somehow less than they are. (For the record, though, I am a feminist woman who’s secure enough to call herself a girl.) But for me, at least, this isn’t so much a feminist issue as an age issue. Because, yes, I am a woman – but I don’t want some snot-nosed kid thinking I’m too old to be called a girl.

So what am I, then? Can’t I be both? It’s so hard to know. The trouble, I suspect, is that I just can’t help but feel like I missed the memo that forbade me from using the term ‘girl’ in relation to myself. Perhaps it got lost in the postal strike that was held over my 30th birthday. (Bloody postman – walking on my grass; turning up at 2pm; leaving my mail half-hanging out of the letterbox… I’ll catch him at it one day but I never seem to be peering round the net curtain at the right time.) Because, like I said in my welcome message, I fear calling yourself a ‘girl’ in your thirties is quarter-past acceptable. It’s like Julia Roberts once said: ‘I’m too tall to be a girl, I never had enough dresses to be a lady, I wouldn’t call myself a woman. I’d say I’m somewhere between a chick and a broad.’

Another problem, perhaps, is that I’ve always – no; I still – refer to my female friends as girls. (‘I’m seeing the girls tonight’; ‘The girls are going to need cava’; ‘Come on, girls, do you believe in love? Cos I got something to say about it.’ Etc.) But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they’ve long since sailed past girlhood. They shop in Joseph, eat organic cheese from local delis and compare Bugaboos. Whereas I, on the other hand, shop in New Look, eat Dairylea Dunkers and, just the other day, almost nicked a Bugaboo. (Seriously. I thought I was being helpful by wheeling my friend’s pushchair out of a café, but ended up being accosted by an angry Dad wanting to know why I was messing with his brake handle. I didn’t even know it was a brake handle. I thought it was a place to hang my handbag.) My mates are growing up; I’m growing sideways. Which may, I suppose, have something to do with the Dairlylea Dunkers.

Perhaps, then, the time has come to finally make a call on the girl/woman debate (have you any idea how difficult it is to write this post without referring to the Br*tn*y Sp**rs song?); to make a call on it one way or the other, and stop being whichever I fancy whenever it suits me. Perhaps I need an audit. Right, here goes: I’m independent (woman). I’m daft (girl). I share a bed with my husband (woman) and a Piglet stuffed toy (girl). I listen to Women’s Hour (woman) and watch Jersey Shore (girl). I keep red-pepper humous in my fridge (woman) and Fab lollies in my freezer (girl). I query gas bills and send thank-you notes and use Crème de la Mer (woman) but make others ring for the takeaway, scout for hairbands in Claire’s Accessories and have a disturbing habit of bringing conversations around to the topic of ablutions (girl). I admonish kids for dropping litter (woman). I call people ‘dude’ (girl). I shout obscenities at referees (um, neither).

Oh, screw this. I’m both, dammit. Do I really have to squeeze my girl-shaped peg into a woman-shaped hole? Or my woman-shaped peg into a girl-shaped hole? Or, perhaps, a different analogy that doesn’t make me giggle like an 11-year-old boy?

And therein, I suppose, lies the problem. See, it’s just too difficult to commit to one camp when you’re a 31-year-old post-menopausal lass. One minute you’re having a hot flush; the next you’re cooling off with a strawberry Mini Milk. So, girl… woman… whatever. I’m cool with both. Because, as far as I’m concerned, a woman can flutter her Superdrug-bought eyelashes at a teenage waiter just as much as a girl can take her self-bought designer handbag to a meeting with her bank manager. (Yes, I've done both.) But what this womangirl definitely ain’t, however, is a lady – which you can tell that little shit-muncher at the match.


Fiona said...

I realised recently that builders mostly smile and say hello respectfully when I walk past building sites. Sigh! I still refer to myself and mates as girls. We're all in our mid 30s.

Deirdre said...

I'm 25, and recently a woman made her child get out of my way with the dreaded words, 'Mind the lady'. Sigh. I retaliated by wearing only leggings, baggy t shirts and pumps for a few days but have gone back to dresses, scarves and, er, brooches. Have decided now to go the whole hog, bought a tweed coat and am now officially a 'lady'. Sigh.

Amy said...

I'm clearly an oddity here. At the grand old age of 20, I think "lady" is the only thing that properly describes me.

Girl? Not really. Woman? Urgh, no way, that sounds way too grown up. Lady? Yeah, that works.

It's like you said, there's a huge mix of girl and grown-up in me. I watch stupid TV programs and read classical literature. I wear dresses and heels in bright flowery prints with pink tights. Lady is the only thing that sounds right.

Can't we just say that we are all kick-arse awesome and be done with it?

Anonymous said...

I am a girl. I will be a girl until the day of blue rinses arrives.(never!) So I say you go girl!!!!

wizzy x

LunaTechChick said...

I'm 41, & still think of myself as a "girl". Even referred to someone younger than me as a "grown up" the other day! Yikes!


Nicolettehh said...

Hmm...indignation at the 'youff' of today? I think that puts you in the 'getting-like-my-mum' category.

Nonamoose said...

It could have been worse, you could have lived in Scotland and the 11 year olds could have referred to you as a wifey lol.

I think you can still be a girl for as long as you like, so there :-P

Fen said...

hmm, I'm not sure what I am, certainly not a lady or a woman. But like you, I feel too old to be a girl. Maybe I'm just an enigma!

Anonymous said...

And one day you'll be referred to as "madam" at checkouts.

When I recently grumbled about it, the checkout person asked what other word I would prefer. I thought about it and said "Princess". Hey, even "love" or "dear" would be better.

I hate being called madam so much that I wondered whether I should get "Don't Call Me Madam" tattoed on my forehead.

suze2000 said...

I went bananas at a checkout chick in a large department store who called me "madam" when I was only 28. I asked her to have a second look at the name on the credit card that she still had in her hand (it said Miss) and then at my left hand (no rings) and then why she thought it was appropriate to call me "madam". Her response, innocent enough was that she wanted to "sound more formal and respectful".

But boy does that backfire when your target is sad, angry and defensive about being single. Because I felt she was implying (well, she was!) that I'm so old I really ought to be married by now. Which I wasn't, and we get back to being sad angry and defensive. Not to mention the implication that I looked old!!

Yep, it's a minefield out there. It's a pity we don't have a proper convention like the French: Mademoiselle unless you are damn SURE she's a Madame.

Antonia said...

Hilarious. I shop at a place in LA called Forever 21. I think expensive shops are for grown-ups. I also am quite often shocked when I catch sight of myself in a mirror, wondering who that er woman is. Then the other day a mum told her child 'mind the lady'. I looked around for a while wondering who they were talking about - but I was the only other person there. I've decided some of us are never ladies or even women really. I am 34 and I am still blown away when people do grown up things. I react like people got married/ had kids while still in school uniform. That may be because I still wear mini skirts and blazers. Troubling. said...

There's nothing like being ID'd when buying wine in Tesco to make you feel like a girl again! x

Anonymous said...

I'm 37, and wear smart dresses and a sensible cashmere coat for work. I also wear Fat Face and O'Neill at the weekend, sneak Wobbly Worms in the basket at M&S foods and eat ice-poles in summer.

I'm a woman/lady/girl/bird/person interchangeably depending on context. And I'm fine with all of them, in context. (If someone at work says "ask the girl in the green top" I might not take it too well. Similarly, if one of my friends wanted to get "the women" together for a night out I'd be a bit worried it might involve a basket-weaving demonstration.

Context is everything :o)

Anonymous said...

Shopping at Joseph and Bugaboos sounds more like middle class smugness than being a woman - just keep on being yourself