Reclaiming the Word ‘Woman’

I’ve always identified as a female, but lately, I’ve noticed a weird reaction whenever I use or hear someone call me a “woman.” Sure, I can blast “Woman” by Kesha or some other empowered anthem, but calling myself a woman? Yuck.

I had become accustomed to using “girl” to describe myself and other women, though we’re all adults. To me, there’s something inherently sexist about this. It’s typical to use the word, which literally means female child, to describe women in our culture.

“Let’s take a girls’ trip.”

“I’m the kind of girl who likes to [insert hobby].”

“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

Men, on the other hand, call themselves men — or guys. There might be a “boy” thrown in there sometimes, but in my experience, men have no issue using the word “man” whereas “woman” isn’t rolling off tongues of many women.

I asked my friends about this, and they agreed; we all feel a bit cringey when we use the “W” word. I’m no linguist or sociologist, but I have an inkling as to why some of us feel uncomfortable.

Whether we do this subconsciously or not, calling women “girls” instantly puts us beneath men. “Girl” implies innocent, childlike and dependent. “Man” implies grown, independent and strong.

We’re taught to identify with the word, and it’s commonplace for us to continue identifying with “girl,” even when we’re well out of adolescence. “Woman” becomes weird, unfamiliar and only comes up when you have to visit a “woman” doctor or deal with something else related to your vagina.

It’s almost as if it’s a dirty word. If people see you as a woman, you’ve may have been called bossy, loud or bitchy. If people see you as a girl, you’ve probably been called cute, adorable or sweet. Like with anything else, we’re taught to slink into the background like “good girls” and let the “men” do the heavy lifting.

There are movements like the Women’s March and Empower Women, but how often are we using the “W” word to describe ourselves? Our friends? The woman you saw in passing and then told the person you were with that you liked her hair, shirt, etc.?

I haven’t been a “girl” since the day I turned 18. I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable using “woman” when men are encouraged and praised for identifying as a man. The only way I can become comfortable is if I call myself a woman.