I’m a girl. Get over it.

Reclaiming the G-word

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

I’m a tiny little girl. 

That’s the ice-breaking joke I make most often when I reach up to hold my microphone in the faces of pro baseball players well over a foot taller than me. I’m 22, fresh out of college and working in sports media. So why, in a field where women, especially young, inexperienced ones like me, are discriminated against, do I refer to myself with words others use to put me in my place?

“It’s a way (of) proactively expressing in-group solidarity, belonging and pride,” Verónica Loureiro-Rodríguez, an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Manitoba, says when asked why different groups reclaim words used to insult them. “When a derogatory word is reclaimed by the people it’s intended to insult, it loses its negative connotation and provokes a power imbalance.”

Loureiro-Rodríguez says she’s noticed adult women reclaiming the word “girl,” just as some Indigenous rappers have embraced the word “native” as an in-group term. But problems arise with both words when they’re used by people outside of these groups.  

Dawn M. Turner, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune has a complicated relationship with what she calls the G-word. She notes comments like “You go, girl!” or “girls’ night out” don’t bother her, because women use these phrases to “feel empowered and cement a sisterhood.” What does get under her skin is when people use the G-word to infantilize and demean adult women. 

“When we refer to women as girls in ways that are not empowering, it feels especially wrong-footed at a time when we’re trying to help our girls — I mean, our real girls — break out of stiff gender roles and expectations,” Turner writes. 

What is empowering is when people refer to women in derogatory terms, and the women own it. Perhaps the best recent example of this happened during the third American presidential debate. While Hillary Clinton was talking about Social Security, Donald Trump interrupted and called Clinton a “nasty woman.” 

Feminist Apparel, a Philadelphia-based clothing company, introduced a line emblazoned with the slogan “I’m a nasty woman.” Female voters and celebrities, including Jessica Chastain and Katy Perry donned “Nasty Woman” T-shirts and spoke out, identifying themselves as nasty women. 

When Chelsea Clinton, Hillary’s daughter, was asked for a response to Trump’s comment, she lamented that his insult overshadowed her mother’s point, which meant less people would hear and care about Social Security. 

So that’s why I call myself a girl. I don’t look like a card-carrying member of the old boys’ club that is most press boxes, and, frankly, I don’t want to. I know some people doubt my abilities because of who I am and how I look. I know my high-pitched, dress-wearing, 5-4 self stands out in some locker rooms, so why hide it? 

It’s time we move past how people look and focus instead on what they have to say. 

I am a tiny little girl, but I have a job to do, and I’d rather acknowledge my girl-ness myself, get it out of the way and move on with my interviews.

Even in heels, Danielle Doiron is probably the shortest one in a media scrum, but don’t let that fool you.

Published in Volume 71, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 5, 2017)

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