Last week actress and doctor, Mayim Bialik from the hit TV show The Big Bang Theory released a video on her social media that went viral. In this video, she implored both men and women to stop referring to women as “girls”. The actress explains that the language we use matters, particularly when it comes to gender and equality. When we use words to describe adult women that are typically used to describe children, it changes the way we view women”, says Bialik, who also has a ph.d in neuroscience. It implies that adult women are inferior to men. While most of it is not intentional, it doesn’t make it less demeaning. We never refer to a grown man as a “boy” because it would come across as emasculating. When “boy” is used to dismiss a man, it is an insult and should be taken as one. As should the word “girl.”
She directs viewers to Google the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis — a theory that says, according to Dictionary.com, that the ‘structure of a language determines or greatly influences the modes of thought and behavior characteristic of the culture in which it is spoken.’ Clearly, language determines thought and can influence our decisions. So, if the words we use have a massive impact on how we see the world, then we should be more careful about the words we use for the benefit of ourselves and those around us. As for the people who call women girls, she says: ‘I know your intentions are probably good, but I hope you can learn to see the unintended and negative impact.
Our language matters, because when we say “girls,” we are using a word that implies a lack of experience. There are a lot of words used for women, not all of them are flattering. Truthfully, as a woman, “girl” doesn’t bother me as much as “ma’am” or “honey”, to me they are worse! My mom always called me “honey” and I knew it was a term of endearment but coming out of the mouth of a stranger takes on a completely different meaning. To me, they are insults disguised as compliments. It gives a false sense of intimacy to a total non-relationship. We are not friends, we are not a couple, you probably don’t even know my name. It’s demeaning and insulting even if you say it with a smile. If you do not know my name-ask. If you do know my name-use it when addressing me.
YES-words have power. Negative or positive-You can lift someone up or you can bring someone down with just one word. Always try to think about what you’re going to say before you say it. Also, the context matters, how you say it and what you’re talking about makes a difference. Even if you don’t totally agree with Mayim, it might be good to try and change things and show all women the respect and basic rights that are deserved.
You can view her video here:
Mary Beth Iannarella
Girl Talk Marlton/The Wishwall Foundation