Thursday, June 30, 2011

On girlhood

Okay, so I'm a girl. This may come as a shock to those of you who are convinced that I'm actually a 63-year-old man from Little Rock trying to fulfill his need for adulation and sexual affirmation via an assumed identity. (But seriously, folks, if I were a dude trying to adopt a sexy female alter ego, do you think i'd go for 30-year-old underpaid marketing writer writer with a steady boyfriend and an addiction to Dr. Who? It's kind of niche.)

Ask me, though, and I'll self-identify as a girl. Sometimes a lady, under certain circumstances. I was called a dame once and found it most entertaining. But generally, it's "girl"--and almost never "woman."

I don't know what it is about "woman" that doesn't sit right with me. It's not that I'm not a female of the species who presents as such. It's not even that I don't consider myself an adult, although my standards for real adulthood tend to differ from those of people who usually don't wear feather earrings to the office. And it's not that I cling to girly-girlness--I do love a brand-new hairdo, but I despise pink, ruffles, "princess," "diva," French provincial, and non-ironic marabou. So maybe I'm not exactly a girl. But I feel I'm not yet a woman.

Karen Duffy would take issue with that--"girl" is a pet peeve of hers. She writes,
I cringe when I hear the women from "The Real Housewives" accuse their cast mates of acting like "mean girls." Sure, the dames on reality television are cruel, narcissistic and self-absorbed (and I love every minute of it), but girls? For these women, girlhood was more than 30 years ago.
A not-unreasonable observation. There's definitely a disconnect between "girl" and "housewife," and it's odd to think of someone as a "girl" when she herself has given birth to several of them. But the real concern seems to be not that they're identifying as girls but that they're acting like them. I can't say I've actually seen any of the "Real Housewives" shows myself (and I'm okay with that), but they, like pretty much all other reality TV these days, seem to be heavy on the gossiping, plotting, snubbing, sniping, and backstabbing that we all should have gotten over in high school.

So "girl" doesn't really fit someone of my age and stage of life, much less theirs. But the generally provided alternative--"woman"--doesn't feel like it does either. I'm hardly a representative sample, but "woman," to me, calls to mind motherhood, domesticity, earthiness, walks on the beach to discuss that not-so-fresh feeling, seven signs of aging, and the patronizing way your female relatives act when you get your first period even though you know that menstruating now doesn't make you any less of a teenager than you were before you started.

It implies a setting aside of childish things, and the fact is, I like my childish things. My love of Legos, zombie movies, and orange nail polish doesn't prevent me from functioning in life, fulfilling my adult responsibilities, or making profound emotional connections--so why should I hand them over at an arbitrary developmental checkpoint? By that standard, Wonder Woman, the Bionic Woman, and the Invisible Woman should all be too mature to read their own comic books.
Somewhere between Juicy Couture sweatpants and Eileen Fisher pantsuits, Fruit Loops and Jamie Lee Curtis-endorsed yogurt for constipation, there is a place that's not-quite middle age but where no one is checking your ID to get into a bar.
That's it. I'm there. I tend to stick with "girl" because I don't feel like "woman" and I'm not provided with a middle option. I need a word that's moved past the trappings of childhood but stops short of the arbitrary societal standards for grown-up-ness. I don't "envy or imitate" the young--I still am young, or youthful, at least, which it's possible to be without being emotionally stunted or immature. There needs to be a word that embraces that. (Also, Count Chocula is hardly an every-day food, but there's no harm in having a fun treat once in a while. Unbend.)

I'm thinking that maybe it's just a reclamation issue--while I'd be offended by an employer referring to me as anything but a woman, I'd have no problem being addressed by most female-type-people as, depending on context, a lady, a girl, a chick, or a dame. Right now, I'm going back and forth between "broad" and "skirt." It depends on my circumstances, my mood, and my outfit. But if I'm honest--and honesty with oneself is a real sign of maturity--I'm kind of leaning toward "supreme-empress-for-life."

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