Over the holidays, craving something light to read, I cracked open the book Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard. It's a delightful little romance, studded with food writing and garnished with doable recipes that I'll probably never do. All in all, it's a genre I like (Heartburn and Like Water for Chocolate are other favorites of mine) about a city I love - what could go wrong?
And the answer is almost nothing! Nearly everything about this book is a joy to read. It's 99% fabulous, except for the handful of times when the author refers to herself as a girl.
A girl. A grown woman writing her grown memoirs of her late 20's and early 30's. A girl.
Now, my complaint about this language choice is not against girls. I like girls. I used to be one. Shoot, I even grew two little parasitic girls in my own uterus, and now I'm raising them every day like that's no big deal, like that's not some kind of sickening, moist, scifi nightmare scenario that should send me screaming and heaving every time I lock eyes with them.
Wait. Where was I?
Oh, yes. Girls.
Girls are fine. No problems there. My problem, rather, is with the insistence upon referring to women, grown-ass women with brains and experience and talent and shit to get done, as girls, particularly when women do it to themselves.
Do you see a pattern here? Here I wrote about women's invisible labor in which they devalue their own work. Here I wrote about women apologizing for things they're not sorry for. And here I wrote about women mistaking empowerment for power itself.
As much as I hate sexism, friends, I hate the hegemonic embrace of sexist beliefs against oneself even more. Because a culture that denigrates 51% of the adult population as children, as we do when referring to women as girls, is bad. But that 51% referring to themselves as children - girl children - girls, is worse.
So, no, Elizabeth Bard, you aren't a girl, and neither were you a girl for the entire time that your memoir covers. (Particularly when your book's first page refers to "American girls in Paris" being "sluts by definition." I mean, girls are children. Children are not sluts, because children are not sexual.* STOP BEING GROSS.) No. If your book's first page talks about possibly you getting it on with a man you met at an academic conference on digital technology in the humanities, as Bard's does, then NO, you are not a girl in that book.
But we can't fault just Elizabeth Bard here. This whole woman-as-girl-thing is definitely in and of a current zeitgeist. Just look at this compilation of book titles beginning with the phrase "The Girl..." following the American success of Stieg Larsson's Milennium Trilogy. Now, I haven't read all of those books, but I'm taking an educated guess here that most of them are about women. As in Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo herself, who is 23 at the trilogy's outset. As in The Girl on the Train, whose titular "girl" is in her early 30's. As in the protagonist of this little gem, The Girl Who Wrote Erotica.
I mean, come on. Plus, she should clearly stick to writing it instead of acting it out, because nobody with a healthy respect for debilitating neck pain kisses like that. (Image Source)
We live in a world that wants to render its grown women, whose words, work, and experience should carry significant weight, children again through language. Ours is a culture in which youth is desirable, but not respected, and infantilizing women (or self-infantilizing ourselves) is normal. But this is a norm worth fighting against. For women to be taken seriously as a majority class worth respecting, we have to claim our experience, our expertise, our age, before we can claim our power.
Because "girl power" might make for good marketing, but women owning, holding, and using power makes for good praxis.
So, no, Julia Roberts, you aren't just a girl asking a boy to love her. BECAUSE YOU WERE 32 YEARS OLD WHEN THIS WAS FILMED, AND YOU ARE JULIA GODDAMNED ROBERTS AND COULD HAVE DEMANDED A SCRIPT CHANGE.
And, no, Beyoncé, as much as I love this song, girls do NOT run the world...
...but, yes, Beyoncé, we are grown women, and we do what we want. Or we can. And we will. As long as we have the brass ovaries to claim our present, powerful womanhood over our bygone girlhood.
*Women aren't sluts either, but that's a different argument.