Would you call me “girl”?

Experiment: Deconstructing a word like a radical feminist.

The word “girl” seems to be following me. NPR recently published this article highlighting how the term is being used to sell suspense and mystery books about women. One of the authors interviewed, Sarah Weinman, explains the usage that “the girl insignia is trying to tie it into this larger marketing purpose, but sometimes it can be a disservice” but she doesn’t go on to explain what that disservice may be.

No worries, the wonderful people over at Everyday Feminism have us covered on this one. Rios (2015) describes the ways the word “girl” demeans women and sends the message that women should not be taken seriously. Calling someone over the age of 18, or maybe even over the age of 10, a “girl” is sending a message about more than her gender identity. But something strange has happened, the NPR article references several excellent books and movies that use the word “girl” for older female characters. The term seems to have resurged and been reclaimed as a badge of honor of femininity. Unfortunately, second-wave feminists (think Gloria Steinem, Title IX and the Equal Rights Amendment) feel like they worked so hard to free women from being the office “girl” that reclaiming the word seems like a huge fall backwards.

Current feminist thinkers are now going a step further and analyzing the larger global political influences. As the NPR article pointed out, the term “girl” sends a clear message that the books are for women and about women. As women have progressed in recognition, power, employment, and equality, they have also progressed in wealth. Women are a huge factor in any marketplace and possess expendable income. McRobbie (2009) describes the strange situation; “this pro-capitalist femininity-focused repertoire plays directly into the hands of corporate consumer culture eager to tap into this market on the basis of young women’s rising incomes. This is a polemic about affirmation, that young women have more or less gained all the freedom they need, and that it is their feminist elders who need to learn something from them about being ‘strong, smart and bold’ . . . their notion of third wave actually fits much better with the celebratory commercial values associated with the Spice Girls” (p. 158). This is the world where Taylor Swift claims to not be a feminist, but is capitalizing on the power obtained by women. For many people, there is no conflict; young women feel empowered. And there is no complaint from the entrenched system because patriarchy isn’t unseated either.

Unfortunately, I am a radical feminist. The Taylor Swift, commercialized, or “girl power” feminism is not suitable for the job of making the world a better place. It just plays along with the consumer, neoliberal culture as long as every girl still gets a pink pair of shoes. “The limits of this kind of polemical defence of girliness is apparent when opened out into the world of wider social issues, of policy-making and of understanding changes in capitalism, and how these affect women. So it is not just a question of it being inimical with recent directions in feminist theory, it is also ill-equipped to deal with war, with militarism, with ‘resurgent patriarchy’ with questions of cultural difference, with race and ethnicity, and notably with the instrumentalisation of feminism on the global political stage” (McRobbie, 2009, p. 158). For radical feminists, playing nice and embracing “girly” is not something vilified but it just isn’t enough. McRobbie (2009) continues that the real struggle is that women who are complacent and subside in the neoliberal, consumerist world grow up believing that financial success is the indicator of the status of women and of all people. It causes us to lose our social solidarity and ignore the ways that other people are marginalized by our words and actions. As we isolate people, we create situations that make all of us vulnerable. Together we are strong. But I won’t use the words “girl power” . . . unless they are actually girls!

McRobbie, A. (2008). The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social Change: SAGE Publications.

Rios, C. (2015, 2015-06-30). Calling Grown Women ‘Girls’ Is Sexist As Hell – Here Are 4 Reasons Why. Retrieved fromhttp://everydayfeminism.com/2015/06/grown-women-are-not-girls/

The ‘Girl’ In The Title: More Than A Marketing Trend. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2016/02/22/467392750/the-girl-in-the-title-more-than-a-marketing-trend

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