Headline on HRC campaign email I just got: “Our girl Hillary…” No. Hillary isn’t a *girl*, she’s a *woman* running for president.
— Tenderly Punk (@sweetpavement) January 16, 2016
The question of whether you can call a grown woman girl and even whether it’s okay for a grown woman to refer to herself as girl, is perennial among feminists. It’s one of many colloquial references to women that seem innocuous at first glance, but connect deeply to the way that women are viewed by ourselves and by others.
Just last summer, when I was eagerly awaiting the premier of Supergirl on CBS and one of the discussions that I had about the show, one that came up again and again, involved a scene in the trailer in which Cat Grant (played by Calista Flockhart) is questioned as to why she named the newly minted hero “Supergirl” rather than “Superwoman”. In case you didn’t see it, check out the First Look trailer. The moment happens around 3:06.
Cat Grant, as we can see, embraces the term girl. In many ways I love embracing the positivity of being a girl. So often being a girl is denigrated through insults like “throwing like a girl” or “running like a girl”. So yes, embracing “girl” is fantastic.
But… At some point a girl is an adult human woman. At some point “girl” turns into a way to infantilize a woman. Everyday Feminism has a pretty good list of reasons why using the word “girl” for a woman is indeed infantilizing.
And once you start listening, it’s kind of all over the place. As I was thinking about this issue – just over a day or so – I ran across these two examples:
“This girl that I’m seeing.” s.6 ep.22 The Good Wife
“I married a Juniata girl.” A minister at a meeting that I attended.
In both instances the women in question are indeed women. There’s no particular reason other than the convenient excuse of colloquialism for why these two women should be referred to as girls. This is simply what we do.
So when Hillary Clinton’s campaign uses the term “girl” to describe her, I’m not shocked. Indeed I expect the particular wording in the email is due in large part to the person who purportedly sent the email.
Probably you’ve heard James Carville talk. He’s from Louisiana and he’s never made any effort to drop his accent. In fact it’s part of his whole schtick. Likely he’s quite familiar with Hillary, given that he was a lead strategist in her husband’s presidential campaign. Possibly he says “our girl” often and in regular conversation. I presume this is why the staffer who actually wrote the email titled it thus. Honestly, there is no part of this that I don’t understand. Still… Couldn’t it just say “Hillary needs you right now”?
She isn’t “Our girl”. She is a woman who is a serious contender for the position of President of the United States. She is a grown woman. You don’t have to support her candidacy. It would be nice, however, if we could at least address her as an adult human being. This is not too much to ask, certainly not of her own campaign. The email itself doesn’t hinge on the “our girl” of it all. It’s not necessary.
You’re trying to make us feel like we’re part of the team. I get it. Anyone who got and didn’t immediately delete this email gets that. Anyone that deleted would have gotten it if they read it. The intent is abundantly clear. All I’m saying is that there are ways to do it that don’t call a 68 year old woman “girl”.
As a Hillary supporter, I’d like to see her campaign do better than this. One of the improvements in her campaign this time around as opposed to 2008 – for me, and many women – has been that Hillary Clinton isn’t shying away from being a woman running for President. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to hear “woman card” as long as she’s running, but I can deal with it as long as Hillary Clinton and her campaign continue to understand that – whether we like it or not (ps. We don’t) – there are differences in how Clinton is judged because of her gender.
So, given that, let’s use our words wisely and recognize that Hillary Clinton is not a girl and that’s okay.