What marks the transition from girlhood into womanhood? Is it related to age or experience? I know a lot of women who are uncomfortable using the word “woman” to describe themselves, but somehow girl doesn’t quite seem to fit either. Men have an easy in between word of “guy.” You have the option of using boy or man, and if you are unsure, guy suffices for both. What about women? I suppose “gal” would be the “guy” equivalent, but it feels different. I’ve heard “lady” used before too, but that often comes with completely different connotations. Women seem to be stuck with girl or woman. So, what’s the difference? I myself even felt a little uncomfortable when I decided to change my language when referring to myself. It felt weird calling myself a woman, but I knew I wasn’t a girl anymore. I had entered adulthood.
What really bothers me is the double standard of it all. In a speech class I took in college the professor refered to it as un-parallel language. Ever since then I’ve noticed it when adults, both men and women, refer to men as men and women as girls. It is extremely troublesome to me. Boys are being called men before girls are being called women. So what is it that makes a boy a man before a girl is a woman? Several things come to mind, though I am in no way claiming to have the answer. The first thing I think of is the infantalization of women, and the second is the sexualization of girls. But ironically that’s not what I want to talk about. Maybe I’ll tackle it in my next post. I want to go back to what I started with, what marks the transition into womanhood.
Not too long ago a friend on mine got married. I had to miss her wedding due to work so I did what any good friend would do; I Facebook stalked her, both to congratulate her and to vicariously enjoy the wedding through pictures others had posted. As I was perusing her wall a post caught my attention. It said, “You are now a woman” and that was it. (Actually it said “You. Are now. A woman.” because grammar and sentence structure don’t count on Facebook, but that’s besides the point.) I stopped reading and stared at the post. The longer I stared at it the more upset I became. I was upset that marriage was being used as the milestone into womanhood. As someone who, at this point in time, is thoroughly enjoying being single and has little interest in marriage, I was even a little offended by this post. As I shared in an earlier post, I have recently moved to a larger city. Since moving I have been able to connect with several other single women. And I say women quite intentionally, because that’s what they are. Some of them are the other professionals I work with and others I have met along the way. One in particular is a family friend who is middle-aged. And she is not married. The thought that this excludes her from joining the ranks of womanhood is jarring to me.
By using marriage as the defining factor in becoming a woman so many are being excluded. Marriage is not a requirement. And if you are married it doesn’t mean that you have somehow become a bona-fide adult. Going to a small christian college where the saying “ring by spring” is popular means that most of my friends got married in college or right out of it. What really blew my mind is when they got married after freshman year. To be perfectly honest I feel like some of them are just “playing house.” I do not feel like they’ve necessarily made “the transition” yet. So why are young, married women being included and older, single ones not? There is something wrong with this picture.
We are perhaps glorifying marriage. There are very real consequences to this. Some I have felt myself. Without a husband sometimes I have to fight a little harder to be taken seriously. I’ve been called selfish for not wanting to get married (or have children). I am always a little surprised by how much other people care about my relationship status. It’s often the first question I get asked when meeting a complete stranger, or catching up with an old friend I haven’t seen in years. My favorite was when I turned 21 my grandfather, whom I love very much, told me I was now too old and no one would want me. He has since just given up on me I think. 🙂
Just because I have made the choice to remain single does not mean I am not a woman. It also does not mean that I don’t deserve to be treated with respect and taken seriously.