please stop calling it a “big girl job”

In the last year, there’s been a marked increase in the number of letters I receive from women in their 20s — generally recent grads — who just got their first post-college job and refer to it in their letter as a “big girl job.”

You must stop this!

You are not a child. You are not a “big girl.” You are an adult.

And whether you intend it or not, you are undermining yourself and your peers by using this type of language. You’re saying, “I’m still a kid.” But since you’re not a kid, and the rest of us know that even if you haven’t come to terms with it yourself yet, you’re hurting your own credibility and basically saying, “Take me less seriously.” Moreover, you’re saying, “I’m okay with other people taking me less seriously” — and that’s not a message you want to be sending.

I know this is semantics for some people, but there’s a very real switch in mindset that comes with thinking of yourself as a woman, rather than a girl. (Or as a man rather than a boy — but I can’t say I’ve seen very many men referring to themselves in a similar way.)

If you want to be taken seriously in the workforce, you’ve got to think of yourself as an adult — because you are. I know it’s weird to get used to the switch in language — it was for me too when I was in my early 20s. But believe me, prospective employers and your future coworkers are thinking of you as an adult, and that means “woman,” not “girl.”

{ 344 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara

    What IS a “big girl” job anyway? One with security? benefits? a good salary? In your field? you boss people around?

    1. AmyNYC

      I’ve been calling it a “real job” (and I do usually use quotes) and it was the first job that was full time, in my field and the first time I was supporting myself.

      1. Sara

        Ah yes, “real job”…..I’m guilty of using this all too often. I’ve had FT jobs, jobs where I partially supported myself but they were temp/out of my field. In that case I have yet to have a “real job”. :(

        1. Laura L

          I think real job is better than big girl job! I said that a lot before I got my first permanent, full-time job with benefits. (It wasn’t in my field, but I didn’t really have a field at that time, so that wasn’t a big deal.)

          I mean, obviously any part-time or temporary or student jobs that you had before that are real jobs, but the mind-set is different between the two.

          1. Liz

            As a 25 year old woman (although I still think girl!) I would NEVER do this. How silly. I do refer to my job as a “real job” after waiting tables full time throughout college but never in a professional setting. Come on ladies, give yourself some credit!

            It’s hard enough to get respect as a woman in her early 20’s from experienced professionals, don’t help them respect you less!

          2. Jamie

            I’m not crazy about real job either – but I know how people are using it. IMO anything where you have a boss, a schedule, and do stuff for money you wouldn’t do otherwise is a real job.

            That said, I think the difference for me is between job and career. There is honor in all work and there is nothing wrong with having a job – but I think of that as the temporary stop gaps to make money while you try to get in your field of choice. And it isn’t about money – if a lawyer was only practicing law while they tried to become a chef then law is their job and cooking is their career – even if they were doing it pt for min wage.

            It depends on the person. I think I have a career in that I’m trying to build something. There is a plan, a trajectory…whether that comes to fruition or not I have a relationship with my career which goes beyond any one position at any one company. I could be doing the exact same thing, same position, same salary, same chair…but if I was just working here strictly for the money and I didn’t consider it a career…it would still be a real job…but just a job. No relationship.

          3. Ellie H.

            I do say “real job” on occasion but I don’t like that I do say it and I’m going to make a concerted effort to cut it out in future. Any kind of job is a real job that can be approached professionally and seriously, whether it’s waiting tables, working at a bookstore, or clerking at a big box store. Plenty of people of all ages do these jobs and thereby support themselves and their families.

      2. Jessa

        Real sounds more…mature than “big girl.” Real sounds like okay you were working during school part time, whatever paid cash, and now you have a professional full time job.

      3. Long Time Admin

        My criteria is, if you pay income tax, it’s a real job. Would Uncle Sam come after you and threaten you with prison and/or fines for make-believe money?

        1. alberts

          I like this standard. After all, part-time or seasonal jobs during high school/college/whatever can help develop a track record and good work ethic, even if it’s not what you want to do for the rest of your life.

        1. Jake

          +1

          Everybody I went to school with has taken to referring to stuff like this as their first “career job”

  2. Anonymous

    “Welcome to the real world” and other similar sayings were very common in my time. Instead of “big girl” job it was a “real world” job. I didn’t care for it and found it insulting, but few people agreed with me.

    1. Natalie

      I not a fan of that phrasing either. Among professional audiences, it seems to mostly be used to contrast government, manufacturing or education with private sector business, as though the latter is the yardstick against which all jobs should be measured.

      Amusingly, to me, my partner’s auto-working family would describe all office jobs as “not real world”. In their estimation, if your work product isn’t a physical thing than it doesn’t really count. It’s all a matter of where you sit.

      1. fposte

        Yes, the definition of “real” seems to vary. (Even more than “real world” I hate “real life,” like only some people’s lives are real.)

        1. txvoodoo

          It’s all ways of devaluing work done by women.

          And after experiencing the ups and downs of being in the workforce since the early 80s, I classify any job which pays the bills as “real”, even if it isn’t within one’s chosen field.

          Work, in itself, is honorable. So is looking for work. So is training for work. Being a cashier, waitress, or other job of this type, if it feeds you and your family, is no less a real job than one where you sit in an office.

    2. Melissa

      I hate that too, especially since I am currently in graduate school and I work part-time. I am in the real world and I work a real job and I am living a real life!

  3. Sophie

    Excellent advice. You don’t become an adult to other people until you become one to yourself.

  4. Anon-Mouse

    Can I just say YES TO ALL OF THIS.

    I’m almost thirty and made the mistake of using this exact phrasing with a potential employer during my final in-person interview and ended up undermining my negotiating position. I knew that I would need flexible work arrangements given the acknowledged “long evening/weekend work hours” the employer emphasized, yet instead of explaining the deal-breaker aspect of this clearly, I got flustered at their initial “no” and brushed off my very real misgivings, going so far as to say I may just need to “put on my big girl” pants. (I actually emailed you about this situation, Alison–I’m the one that everyone in my life was was yelling at for not automatically jumping at the ‘amazing job opportunity’ and that you told me to trust my gut on–thank you!!)

    I ended up declining the position, which really would have been a great opportunity, because they were unwilling to work with me on flexible work arrangements, and I got the very real sense that they were angry at me for declining at the end. I’m convinced that had I emphasized the importance of this early on I would have been able to maintain the business relationship and keep that door open for future opportunities–as it is, now I definitely feel like I’m on a blacklist.

    So, tl;dr -PLEASE TAKE YOURSELVES SERIOUSLY.

    1. Andrew

      “Big girl pants” and “big boy pants” are horrible expressions and should be banned when describing anyone over the age of 3.

      1. Ash

        No, they are totally awesome when you are making fun of someone for being a baby.

        1. EM

          This is exactly the context in which I use it. It’s a snarky way to tell someone to grow up.

            1. A

              Lighten up. It’s fine to use in the right context. I would never use it in a work environment – but amongst friends as a joke? Absolutely. And I refuse to accept that it’s usage is always a sign of immaturity.

              1. Shelley

                My daughter is 3.5 and I don’t even say this to her. It’s just put on your damn pants!!

                1. khilde

                  Ha! Same here!! What is with the nakedness at this age? I have to assume that little animals just enjoy being naked. :)

                2. Jamie

                  I should go anon in case my son ever reads this and disowns me…but when he was in pre-school I brought him home one day and he tore into the house, to his room to change and came out and said – and I quote – “Yay! No more underwear until school again!”

                  The hell? No idea where he got the idea underwear was just a school thing – but not from me. So weird!

      2. KC

        I agree with you, Andrew. Someone at work said this to me once and I was pretty offended. There are more diplomatic (and less demeaning) ways to tell people to suck it up.

  5. Victoria Nonprofit

    YES YES YES.

    That is all. Except I agree with anonymous @ 2:10 – I also don’t like people referring to their first post-college, or career-track job as their first “real job,” as though working at Starbucks or at a phone bank or cleaning stalls or whatever isn’t “real.”

    1. Cathi

      My coworkers and I (I’m a bartender) will often refer to peers who leave for full time/office work/salaried jobs as “getting a real job”. It’s a self-deprecating joke, often tinged with a sense of bitterness.

      It’s not that *I* don’t think my job isn’t “real”. I work hard, make more money than some of my friends with “real” jobs, but I keep odd hours and, let’s be honest, hang out at a bar for pay. Society doesn’t seem to think it’s respectable work unless you’re wearing a collared shirt and waking up at 6am.

      I prefer to use terms like “stable” and “regular”–if only in terms of hours, rather than job security–in reference to my not-bartending job search.

    2. W.W.A.

      Absolutely! It’s very condescending. Plenty of people’s livelihoods and careers depend on jobs like that. Just because you want to be an administrative assistant doesn’t mean that working at the Gap is less “real.”

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.

      I actually use that nomenclature, the “real job,” though I can understand how that might be irritating to some.

      To me, it’s about my personal perception, as well as the generally accepted perceptions of those around me. It’s the difference between “Oh, I have a job,” and “I have A Job.” You know?

      I worked fast food for two years, including in a supervisory position, and I never thought of it as A Job. Though when I was considering going for a management position, which in fast food is generally the only store-level position with salary and benefits, that would have been A Job.

      It’s not ideal, but I don’t think it has the issues of Big Girl Job. Mostly because there is no situation where I wouldn’t think of Big Girl anything as being irksome and immature, whereas using ‘real job’ is a reasonable and relatively neutral way to express a concept that otherwise requires a lot more words and nuance (full time, with benefits, career track, salary, decent money… blah blah blah).

      Though I wouldn’t use either in a cover letter or resume, I might, MIGHT, use real job in an interview, depending on the exact circumstances.

      1. Melissa

        But that’s the problem; your personal perception is that working part-time (or full-time) at Starbucks isn’t a real job. For a lot of people, the job you didn’t think of as A Job is their livelihood and what they do to feed their families.

  6. Anonymous

    I think it’s just a saying. I’ll use it with my parents and friends, but not my boss or coworkers or any potential networking contact.

    1. fposte

      I think what can happen, though, is some people use a phrase casually with their friends without realizing that it carries quite a different impression when used outside of them.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Or it ends up leaking into their work communication, quite by accident. Case in point: the TV guy who dropped the F bomb on the air recently. And lost his job immediately.

      2. Anonymous

        I think that in some instances the use of the word “girl” may be reclamation too – think “girl power” instead of “woman power.” If being a girl is seen as such a bad thing (associated with being silly, infantilized and unprofessional here in the comments), then the positive or value-neutral usage of the word “girl” in all-female social groups (in terms such as “big girl job” and “girls’ night out” or addresses such as “hey girls”) might be significant.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          “Girls night out” is one of the few phrases that makes me physically cringe whenever I hear it. I hate it with a fiery passion.

          You are women getting together with friends who also happen to be women. It doesn’t require a special pink label.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I am not! But I did go to a school that drilled into us that women should be referred to as women and not girls! And I’ll admit, it took me a while to get used to it at that age — it does feel weird in the beginning, but that’s no reason not to use the correct word!

              1. fposte

                I actually think that that initial weirdness is what a lot of people react to, and I liked Jane’s post upthread about just deciding that you have to push through that and get used to it.

              2. Ellie H.

                I really preferred “girl” until I turned 24 or so, but then I suddenly stopped feeling weird about the word “woman” to refer to myself and others around my age and now definitely prefer that. It was really an age thing for me though, to find it natural.

          1. jesicka309

            I am guilty of referring to my female friends as ‘girls’. I guess it’s our way of differentiating between ‘guys’ and ‘girls’. My boyfriend would never say “I’m hanging out with the men tonight,” just as I wouldn’t say “I’m going out for coffee with the women.”
            ‘Guys’ seems to be less formal than ‘man’ yet doesn’t infantilise them. Why isn’t there a casual word women can use to describe their girlfriends that isn’t ‘women’ or ‘female’, yet doesn’t make me sound like I’m in a chick flick?

            1. Anonymously Anonymous

              Gals? I was recently registering for an online site and it insist on referring me as a gal–which I hate. In my head I can hear the voice of a old neighbor from the south… I almost canceled my membership that’s how much it makes me cringe.
              And while we’re on this topic, people esp women who like to address other women as hun, sweetheart and lady Please Quit! And I’ve noticed this esp among younger women. And I’ve encountered this in the south and the north. Just stop it! I don’t know if its my environment but I don’t even speak to 3 year Ole’s like that. Everyone has names, use it. I digress.

              1. Sniper

                You apparently don’t live down here in the South. As someone who spent the first 25 years of my life living in Pennsylvania, it makes me cringe hearing those things every day. Ug!

              2. khilde

                I can handle being called Hon or Sweetie by an older woman – because it makes me feel loved in some odd way. But if the female is my age or younger (32), then it just pisses me off.

          2. Laura L

            Ugh. I also hate when women call their friends their “girlfriends.”

            They’re your friends, you don’t need to specify gender!

            Plus, if a woman is in a relationship with another woman, how does she refer to her partner if girlfriend has been coopted by straight women?

            1. Anonymous

              Girlfriends for female friends predates using it as specific nomenclature for women and their significant others/partners. It shouldn’t need to be discarded for women’s friends. What’s wrong with using it for both?

              1. Laura L

                “Girlfriends for female friends predates using it as specific nomenclature for women and their significant others/partners. It shouldn’t need to be discarded for women’s friends. What’s wrong with using it for both?”

                Does it though? Or are you thinking anecdotally?

                I mean, I know that it’s only been very recent that lesbians have been able to be publically out in their relationships, but straight men refer to their significant others as “girlfriends,” so it’s had that romantic connotation for a while.

                Men don’t call their friends their boyfriends. Yeah, maybe they say “I’m going out with the boys”, but no man has ever said to me “I went out with my boyfriends last night.”

                The other reason I don’t like the term “girlfriends” for female friends is that I don’t think the word “friends” needs to be or should be gendered.

            2. jesicka309

              Well, I find my boyfriend tends to think he’s invited unless I specify that it is actually a girls night – no partners allowed. So I need a phrase that suits better than girls?
              Gal doesn’t work, no one uses that in Australia. :(

          3. LondonI

            Just wondering – do you dislike the phrase “boys’ night out” too? I don’t mind women being referred to as girls as long as men are called boys. (Or lads, which is also quite common here.)

  7. Kelly O

    I will absolutely stand in the back and sell your CDs whenever you put on this seminar.

    There is absolutely enough infantilization of women as it is, and we do not need to be doing it to ourselves. I cannot tell you how hard I fight sometimes to not be called “sweetie” or “baby” by other freaking women, much less men. Or when a department is referred to as “the girls” – I am not a girl. I am a grown woman and an employee of your company, not a girl.

    I know it’s meant innocently enough, but it perpetuates an attitude that is hard to shake sometimes. And apologies for my inadvertent climb up on your soapbox.

    1. Meghan Magee

      Someone at work once made a reference to ‘the girls’ to mean my group. I put on a show of innocence and said ‘Really? I wasn’t aware we had a program for employing minors.’

      1. Anonymous

        I love this follow-up and am totally stealing it! I work with someone who’s constantly referring to another department as “the girls” and it drives me crazy for all the reasons Kelly articulated so well.

    2. Elizabeth West

      I’m okay with “ladies,” because it sounds like grown-ups. If it’s a mix of male/female, “people” is even better.

      1. Melissa

        That’s what I tend to call my friends. Instead of “hey girl,” we say “hey lady!”

    3. Rana

      Plus it makes it difficult to talk about situations in which actual girls – as in, young female humans who are not adults – are being treated in ways inappropriate for their age. Girls are children; women are not.

    4. Malissa

      A-freaking-men! I work with a woman who calls everybody in the office girls. She’ll come back in from lunch and say, “hello girls!” I never ever reply to any of it. She gets the old blank stare from me, if I even bother to look up from my work. She’s tried calling me little missy, which again gets no answer. Once she actually explained that she was talking to me. I replied with, “mind if I call you old lady then?” She then fed me some line about respecting my elders, I went back to work. i may have rolled my eyes…..

      Yet this person wonders why nobody takes her seriously.

      1. The Other Dawn

        “Little missy?” Wow. Haven’t heard that one before. I wouldn’t answer either.

      2. Rana

        “Little missy”? Good gad. She’d get a huge ol’ side-eye from me for that!

      3. Anonymously Anonymous

        I had a co-worker like this and I had to lay out to her how to address me, when she called me hunn and sugar.–‘We are co-workers there is no endearing bond between the two of us no matter how polite you think you’re being.’
        At one job there was an older receptionist that would refer to me as Miss Priss (prissy). I took it as a compliment and kept moving. I never engaged her except when she delivered the checks she had to drop off at my office.

    5. The Other Dawn

      Today the account manager from a vendor we do business with called me “darling”. That almost never happens to me. Probably because I’m 5’11” and not small. Plus I like to wear my bitchy face. A lot. But this guy was on the phone and never met me in person. Made me want to wash the phone afterwards.

    6. AP

      Oh god – just this morning I was traveling with my usual work crew. There are 9 of us and I’m clearly the youngest by 7-8 years, but I’m almost 30. Also most of them are male, I’m one of 2 women. We stopped at a diner for breakfast and when mine came out last, the waitress said, “Oh and here’s the sandwich for the little girl.” MORTIFIED.

      One other time I was the only person who got carded after ordering a round of beers. Blech.

      1. Anonymous

        Getting carded isn’t what it used to be. I’m over 50 and still get carded on occasion, not because I don’t look old enough, but in many places they have a policy to card everyone who looks under 40 or under 30 or some arbitrary age. But, yeah, if you’re the only female and the only one carded, it would be really annoying.

        1. Jessa

          Honestly, I wish this would stop. If something is age delimited the law should require every single person to show ID every single time. No more of this making poor vendors guess, or insult someone, or not insult someone. Why is it strange if you’re going to a bar, or to buy cigarettes, or liquor that you have to have your ID to do it? I don’t care if you’re obviously 102. It puts way too much stress on the people who have to do the carding. Does this person look over 40 or not? Does this person look 21? How can I tell? I could lose my job and get huge fines for this stuff.

          No thanks. If I own such a place the sign is going to say “we card everyone. NO EXCEPTIONS.” I don’t care if it’s my sister (same birthday one year younger,) I know how old she is, she buys, she shows ID.

          But seriously the law should fix this. No age restricted items without proof of age written into the law.

    7. Mints

      I am so guilty of “big girl job.” I probably contributed to Alison’s annoyance with the letters. I said it in a self deprecating way; I think because I wasn’t sure I wanted, but it wasn’t summer camp or food service. Although I am super aware of girls vs men in everyday language. One really proud moment was when a classmate referred to a group as “all girls” and then I said somethingsomething “boys.” And he said “those aren’t boys, those are men!” And i said “Well if they’re girls, then they’re boys” He paused for a long time and said “Good point.”

  8. Ann O'Nemity

    One of the male execs at works loves to tell female employees to “put on your big girl pants.” It makes me cringe inside when I hear it.

    1. SerfinUSA

      “Big girl pants” makes me visualize potty-training pants for toddlers, like Pull-Ups. No thank you.

      1. Sourire

        I know! All I can think of is those commercials- “Mommy, wow! I’m a big girl now!”

  9. Allison

    I think some people are trying to be cutesy, and thinking that’s acceptable at their age, but yeah, I’d never refer to my job that way, or even a “grown up job.” Although I guess “real job” is problematic too, since most jobs are “real,” even that stint at Cold Stone. “real world” job is probably best.

    In general, let’s also stop calling young women “girls” completely. This isn’t Mad Men, guys.

    1. kristinyc

      YES!
      I have a co-worker who’s a few years out of school (so, younger than me, but not a super recent grad), and he was sending emails to my co-worker and I that started with “Hey girls!” As if we were 6 years old.

      I was livid every time he did that. It felt so condescending (even though he didn’t intend for it at all – we normally get along well, and he meant to sound friendly).

      We had a “Respect in the workplace” training a few weeks ago (that I’m sure might give Allison a heart attack – we had an actual external HR professional telling us about “illegal” interview questions and that there are about 45 protected classes…I bit my tongue so hard it was bleeding), anyway – after the training, this guy upgraded our email greetings to “Hey ladies!” Progress? Sigh.

      1. Anonymous

        If you think he means well, he’s probably just trying to find the equivalent of “Hey guys”. Obviously it didn’t work, but if he’s receptive to it, you might want to have a chat with him about it.

        1. College Career Counselor

          How about the gender-neutral “Hey, everyone” or “Hey, folks” or even just “Colleagues” if you’re in the mood for more formality?

          1. Karen

            I personally like “Hi all,” or your suggestion of “Hey Everyone.” I only use “ladies” when it’s a casual email that is not work-related (though sometimes to work friends).

          1. A

            Same here. In my industry it is considered gender neutral and is used often by members of my team (both male and female of various ages) in communications to the whole group.

          2. ThursdaysGeek

            For spoken language I agree, and I’ll even use guys to refer to a group that is all female. In an email, I’ll use “Hi” and let the To and CC fields imply if it is to one or all.

      2. hey ladies

        I actually cringe when addressed in group email messages as “Hello, Ladies” or “Hey Ladies” or any other form of “ladies”. To me, it’s as bad as “girls”. So, to me, this would not be progress.

        1. LMW

          I never realized people interpreted “ladies” that way. I see it used all the time on emails going to more than one woman. I know a few women who think “guys” is sexist.

        2. Jennifer

          Does anybody *like* “ladies?” That one gets used at my work and I can’t say I am thrilled about it either. I always think of the Cynthia Heimel quote about how being a lady means you can’t wear white and go through mud puddles.

          I think nobody likes the terminology for a group of vagina-owners, though. Girls sounds like you’re six, ladies sounds like you are uptight/upper crust/English nobility, and women…I don’t know what the issue with that one is, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue like “guys” either.

          Probably because I don’t feel like a woman. A woman has dependents that she has to be caring for, a woman is nurturing and self-sacrificing, a woman is…not who I am at all as a permasingle. The only thing that’s changed in my lifestyle since graduation is my age :P

          1. Lisa M.

            My social circle is mixed gender. Sometimes the women will get together, and we call it ‘Ladies Night’.

          2. Amy

            Every time i try to refer to myself as a “woman”, i hear my mom saying it in my head in a deep voice, in the context of menstruation, or that song “natural woman”. Always. that. voice.

        3. Marina

          The only person who can say “Hello, ladies” or any variant is the Old Spice Guy.

        4. L.A.

          As a proud graduate of a women’s college my go-to is “ladies.” I’m an alumnae rep for my class and whenever I address them in an email I use the term ladies and it has carried over into my personal and professional life. Any time I’m speaking to just a group of women I use the term.

          Then again we fed into this entire discussion in college because we, the women’s college students, were LADIES, but we called the female students at the co-ed school across the street from us GIRLS.

          Don’t get me started on “young lady,” though. I had a couple former coworkers who would refer to me as young lady off the cuff when thanking me for help on projects. I bristled the first few times it happened, but then I realized every male I worked with saw me as their daughter (which was also problematic) and I couldn’t really change it. So I sucked it up and was the best darn “young lady” they’d ever employed.

        5. Ellie H.

          I despise “ladies.” It’s become the “it word” for women in their 20’s and 30’s to refer to each other using, and I just hate how artificially trendy/cute it is. I also hate it when a man will refer to his girlfriend as “my lady.”

      3. Anonymous

        I have a coworker who used to write emails saying “hey ladies” and it drove me crazy and finally I asked him not to do it. And he said, “what should I use? Girls?” GAH. I said, “how about TEAM” and he’s stopped doing it so I guess I got my point across, but it made me livid. I don’t mind when my girlfriends address a personal email to a group of us with “hey ladies” but when used by an older male colleague it is just super demeaning to me.

        Now I am dealing with him interrupting and talking over me in every single meeting… sigh.

      4. Lynn

        I am often the only woman in the room. I get a lot of “Good afternoon, gentlemen! And lady!” Eh, what can you do?

        1. danr

          Think of the reverse for men… and yes, I’ve been in that situation professionally.

        2. ggg

          I SO hate this!

          I have actually had a woman supervisor say “hey, guys!…um, and I mean that in the gender neutral sense.” Much less ridiculous to just stop after “hey, guys”.

    2. Jennifer

      Re: Jobs vs “real job”/”real -world job”, I’ve always tended to think of it as job vs career, but that may just be a personal thing.

    3. Anonymous

      “Post-grad job” is probably the only one that’s not in any way problematic; even saying “real world job” in reference to (usually) white collar/full-benefit/office jobs is troubling because it diminishes blue collar and other types of career/job choices as less legitimate. But that’s more of a classist than sexist issue.

      And yes, “girls” is a huge issue in SO many offices. But until people care about their word choices in conjunction with their actions, nothing will change. Too many people think that just because they aren’t actively discriminatory in their actions (not discluding women, etc), casually using demeaning language isn’t a problem…or even that they can decide whether something actually IS demeaning better than the person or group in question. The whole, “Oh, don’t be so sensitive” tack. Very frustrating.

      1. Valmont

        And while we’re caring about word choices, let’s watch out for “discluding.”

        Sorry, couldn’t help it.

        1. Anonymous

          You’re right. It isn’t a word. However, this is a blog comment section and I don’t hold my writing to the same scrutiny I would anywhere else. And I don’t think making a small and relatively common error invalidates my points.

        2. jenny

          Yes you could.

          Comments like this do nothing to contribute to the conversation and I think they should be discouraged.

            1. CatB

              I’m relieved. I always hit “Reply” with a bit of apprehension, since English is not my first language.

              1. jesicka309

                That’s alright, my browser seems to skip sometimes, so I get typos without realising it. I even reread my responses and sometimes they slip through! Happens to the best of us.

            2. Valmont

              So, word choices that infantilize us: important. Word choices that make us seem uneducated: not important?

  10. Anonymous

    I have been guilty of using the phrase “woman up” (as opposed to the masculine “man up”).

    1. just another hiring manager...

      Please, keep using the phrase “woman up” because it is just plain awesome!!!

      Unlike the infantilization that comes with “big girl” and similar phrases, “woman up” is about strength, being responsible for your actions, and otherwise taking care of business–and these things shouldn’t only be associated with men!

    2. Another Jamie

      I prefer ‘nad up. As in gonad. Kind of like “grow some balls” but gender neutral.

      (Credit to Sars from Tomato Nation.)

      1. kristinyc

        I prefer “ovary” up. ‘Nads are pretty week. Kick them and a guy crumbles.

        Ovaries, however, are strong and powerful.

    3. Marina

      Cowboy up? Bonus, you get a mental picture of cattle on the range instead of genitalia.

    4. Another Emily

      I like “spine up”. Not quite the same, but it takes ‘nads right out of it. Then again, maybe the ‘nads are half the fun…

  11. Z

    1) It bugs me when the colleagues in my unit start emails with, “Hello Ladies.” (We happen to all be female.)
    2) I think “big girl” is, of course, a completely inappropriate phrase and makes you sound like an infant, but simply using “girl” for a younger woman isn’t that bad to me. “Young woman” actually sounds a bit condescending to me, like you’re being scolded by a parent. In contrast, “woman” can make you feel old. I’m 30 now, and I do think of myself as a woman now, but it took me awhile to get over the association of “woman” with “middle aged or older.” (It’s like how you initially do a double-take when people write to you as “Mrs.” instead of “Miss.”)
    Moreover, there’s the problematic use of “woman” as code for “fat.” Department stores have “misses'” departments for adult females who are not overweight, and “women’s” departments for those that are. Even David’s Bridal has David’s Bridal Woman, when I would hope that anyone buying a wedding dress would be over 18! Put this together with the fact that I grew up in the Midwest, where the majority of middle aged people honestly tend to get at least a bit dumpy, so I really grew up thinking that men and women were (eventually) fat, and you can see why I had trouble accepting that someone could call me a woman without that being a coded insult about my weight.
    In sum: “girl” I think is fine for women in their 20s. But “big girl”? No way.

    1. kristinyc

      So does that mean it’s okay to refer to men in their 20s as “boys”? Somehow I think that wouldn’t really fly.

      I usually start emails with “Hi team!” (more than 2 people) or “Hi Name and Name” if two people. We shouldn’t have to bring gender into it at all.

      1. Z

        I don’t know that it wouldn’t fly, but I don’t think it would happen. The problem is that we have the term “guy” for someone who’s too old to be a boy but too young to be a man, but there’s really no equivalent term for females. So I think guys in their 20s are usually referred to as guys, not as men.
        Ideally, I think it would be good to get a neutral term, a la “guy,” that could be used for females too old to be called girls and too young to be called women. When I was in middle and high school, we used “chick” as the female equivalent of “guy,” but I think people would get offended by that, too. (People on this board sometimes say that the female equivalent of “guy” is “gal,” but for me the female equivalent is “chick,” and I would never think of using the term “gal.” To me, that’s a word used by cowpokes.)

        1. JamieG

          I use the word “lady” as the equivalent of “guy” since, for me, there’s no age associated with it.

        2. Esra

          Chicks and dudes, who you think is really kickin’ tunes?

          I find myself still saying “chick.” It’s a hard habit to break. That said, at work I tend to stick with gender-neutral terms. Maybe it’s regional, but I find that ‘guys’ isn’t really male specific with the people I know. ‘Guy’ is, but not the pluralized version.

        3. Windchime

          Gal, LOL. Sounds like we should go square dancing!

          Maybe it’s just a regional thing (I’m in the Pacific Northwest), but here “guys” is used informally to mean, “the group of people I am talking to/about”. Kind of like people in the South might use “Y’all”. I don’t know if I would address an email with it, but I would certainly say something like, “Can you hear those guys talking?”, or “Could you guys come over here?” to a group of coworkers that includes women.

          But I wouldn’t say “That guy over there” when I was referring to Betty or Jane. I would probably say “that lady over there”, because as a previous poster remarked, “woman” is often used as a code-word for “heavyset”. Sad but true.

        4. Another Emily

          Please don’t use “girl” to refer to women anymore. I think you’re doing yourself a disservice here as it makes you sound unprofessional. Sounding like the male lead in an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel circa 1921. ;)

          (I read a lot of old-timey adventure and sci-fi and it’s quite common for male characters to refer to think of women as girls, and to refer to them that way. I think it makes them sounds like they don’t respect or understand women.)

          1. Another Emily

            Oops, I meant to write “Unless you want to sound like…” But I think you get the gist.

      2. Just Jane

        Exactly. This is why we have:
        -team
        -all
        -everyone
        -folks
        No group work email needs to draw attention to the gender of the respondents.

        1. khilde

          What do people think of “folks?” This whole discussion is just another exercise in perspective (though there are some very general things most of us agree on). I agree with your ‘team, all, everyone’ terms. ‘Folks’ has always annoyed me. It seems fakey to me (like “best” on the signoff of an email, but I digress). However, I’m one of those that refer to my mom and dad as “folks” instead of just “parents.” So we’re all just inconsistent creatures, I’d say :) But curious what the populace thinks of “folks” in a business setting.

          1. Jamie

            This may be regional. I always thought of “folks” as parents – like you – going home to see the folks kind of thing. A homey way of saying you were taking a weekend home so mom could do your laundry and you could grab some extra cash off dad. :)

            I know there is a tv host who uses it to mean regular people – it’s odd. I certainly wouldn’t be offended by it – it’s used in place of “people.”

            I can’t say I’ve ever heard it in a business setting.

            1. khilde

              I would agree on the regional part. Someone in a different part of the thread from the Pacific Northwest said they use “guys” to refer to groups of people (vs. “y’all”). That’s what we all say up here. It would be fun to do a chart or something where people could put in the terms they use for common things (like bubblers in Wisconsin! That’s a drinking founatain, right? And something about shopping carts is another one I have found hilarious how different it is. Oh! And Pop, Soda, or Coke. I love this stuff).

              1. Jamie

                I love this stuff too – also bubblers in Mass. :)

                When I lived in Mass for a year I made everyone laugh with my shopping carts (carriage), pop (soda), and subs (grinders).

                I had to move because I was in danger of falling in love with every man I met. I was single at the time and that accent does something to me. You don’t even have to be good looking to be irresistibly sexy if you are a man from Massachusetts.

                I love colloquialisms – I have a fun link to them on my ‘puter at the house – I’ll email it to you when I get home.

                1. Laura L

                  Bubblers in MA?

                  I’ve only ever heard of that being used in the general Milwaukee area.

                  Who knew?

          2. Melissa

            I’m from the South and I use “folks,” but only in spoken English. On email I tend to say “everyone” or “team” or the role I am writing to (“hey RAs,” “hello class,” etc.)

    2. AnotherAlison

      I agree with you to some extent.

      You might say, “Have you met Terry, the new guy in accounting?” I don’t normally say “the new man in accounting.” The female equivalent seems to be girl or gal, and it feels awkward to say “new woman in accounting.”

      However, agree or not, I still say get over it. : )
      We’re women. I just got a trade magazine with “Women at Work” as the cover story. In 2013, women in construction are still as big of news as gay, black NBA players, and I think referring to ourselves as women, not girls, is a small step to help bolster our professional image. We can’t treat ourselves as children or second-class citizens and expect equal opportunity. Take back the word woman! (Even if it does make you think of a 3XL floral house dress.)

      1. Anonymous

        You can also always say “the new person.” Easy enough AND accounts for gender identities that may not be obvious right off the bat (though that’s a whooooole other complex issue).

        1. Malissa

          Yes but if the new person in accounting is named Terry, I really do want to know if they are male or female. Nothing like the surprise of guessing and getting it wrong.
          I can’t tell you how many times I had to correct people who thought our engineer named Ariel was a girl.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            They probably didn’t really think she was a girl if she held a full-time professional job.

            Okay, sorry :) But how about just “the woman in accounting” then?

      2. Laurel

        AnotherAlison,
        I just picked up on this. Are you a woman in the construction industry? I’m a woman who has gone back to community college and is taking construction classes. I’m interested in hearing from you and at least getting the name of that trade magazine. My email is laureldc@gmail.com.

    3. Emily K

      I think “ladies” is my preferred term for adult women. It’s mature with a touch of class. Just like starting an email with, “Men,” would be weird but “Gentlemen,” isn’t, I think “Women,” often sounds bizarre but “Ladies,” sounds like a polite opening.

      On the other hand, the only people who better call me “girl” are the girlfriends I’m out dancing with on Saturday night.

      1. -X-

        Other good intros for group emails are

        “All”

        “Team”

        “Everyone”

        or nothing.

        Also, I don’t think “big girl pants” is quite as sexist as it sounds, insofar as I’ve heard “big boy pants” quite a bit too. But it’s certainly rather obnoxious.

        1. SerfinUSA

          Our department usually uses Colleagues or All depending on level of formality.

          I still twitch at “Ladies” after working with a guy who sang out “Morning Ladieees” in a grating condescending tone every day.

        2. Windchime

          Yeah, I say “Hi Team”, when sending a team email. We are a mixture of men and women and that is what most of the people on my team do as well.

          Side note: When my son finished his AA at community college and was ready to go to University, we called it “Big Boy College”. But that was just between he and I. :)

        3. Emily K

          Yes, I typically use “All,” in most work emails since the majority I write are to a mixed-gender group anyway. But I don’t use genderless words exclusively, and I’m not bothered by gendered words in and of themselves, as long as the terms are respectful.

      2. AnotherAlison

        I like ladies well enough as a greeting, but I don’t like being called “the lady over there.”

        Usually, I’m just another one of the “Gents” on my boss’s emails. I guess I’m not important enough to get “Gents and Lady.” (Really, I prefer not being singled out. Maybe we should make gents and guys officially gender neutral, like how actresses are now just actors.)

        1. Zed

          I think of lady as an age-neutral term of respect used when interacting with little kids. As in, “Bobby, say hello to the lady behind the counter.”

          Beyond that, it has some heavy class connotations and just sounds pretentious.

          1. Rana

            Huh, I always felt that the class connotations ran the other way. I mean, yes, there’s Lady Grantham, but “hey, lady!” is the sort of thing I expect New York cabbies to yell when someone’s dawdling in the crosswalk.

            1. Natalie

              I think I’ve mentioned this before, but somehow several of the employees at a restaurant I go to have all learned to say “lady” where others would say “miss” or “ma’am.” They are native Spanish speakers so I’m guess it’s an issue of a less than clear translation dictionary, but I find it hilarious to hear “Hello, lady, what can I get you today?”

            2. Ellie H.

              Exactly.When I was a behind-the-counter employee, I absolutely loathed when parents would refer to me as “the lady behind the counter.” To me, it’s frumpy sounding, and also dismissive in the same way that hearing some guy shouting “Hey lady!” at you would be.

          2. Jamie

            For me “lady” really depends on the tone.

            I don’t mind using a Ladies Room (and quite like the KISS song of the same name) and it doesn’t offend me if it’s being used in a neutral or respectful way…but there is a way of saying “lady” that makes it interchangeable with “bitch.”

            Listen, lady….hey, lady….lady, I don’t what you think you’re doing…

            All of those are worse than they would be without adding it because inserting faux respect in there just makes it snottier.

            That said – address me however you like in a group and if I’m by myself – my name works. You can call me that and not have to make something up…names are handy like that.

      3. ThePM

        A colleague frequently started his emails to the team with the worst:

        “Hi guys (and gals)”

        So, you out us all in brackets as an afterthought? Wow.
        He never got why it bothered me. Sigh.

    4. Laura L

      I disagree with this.

      I had trouble adjusting to using men and women vs. boys and girls when I was 18-24ish, too. But I eventually realized that a) I wasn’t a girl anymore, b) people called men my age men, but called women my age girls and that’s sexist, and c) I’m not a child and don’t want people to perceive me as one.

      It was weird to start using women to refer to myself at first, but I got comfortable with it around age 26 or 27 and now (almost 29) I get really annoyed when people use that word to refer to people my age.

      1. Rana

        Agreed. Part of going to college was, for me, learning to think of myself as an adult, and identifying myself as a woman was an aspect of that.

    5. Kelly L.

      I think the juniors/misses/women clothing designations came out of an assumption about how bodies changed over time, which has a little truth to it but isn’t nearly as universal as all that. So juniors clothes are designed for younger bodies with small busts and they’re designed for youthful tastes. And misses clothes are designed for a thin but curvier body, and for a young adult woman’s taste. And women’s sizes are designed for larger bodies and for an older aesthetic, because the assumption was that you grew to that size when you were older, had had some kids, etc. Of course in reality, not everyone goes through that exact progression chronologically, which is why it can be hard to find young hip clothes if you’re overweight but young, or hard to find clothes that get you taken seriously if you’re very small.

      1. Another Jamie

        I don’t know why, but I always thought the “misses” section was business or more formal clothes. I rarely shop anywhere but Shopko/K-Mart/Target, so I never really thought much about it.

        1. Kelly L.

          There will be some of that in the misses section, but also some “fun” clothes. And you’ll find almost no business clothes in “juniors,” because they assume the customer is in high school and doesn’t need them, which I’ve heard can be annoying for people who fit juniors sizes best but are adults.

          1. Melissa

            This did really annoy me when I was still in juniors sizes – up to about a two years ago. Misses dress clothes looked and fit too big on me, but all the juniors’ “dress” clothes were kind of…inappropriate for any kind of work environment.

            Now I’m in this sweet in-between spot. Interestingly, also, juniors bottoms assume a larger hip to waist ratio. So even though I could probably fit misses size jeans now, I’m pretty pear-shaped and so juniors jeans fit best in that regard. But for tops and dress clothes, I shop in misses.

      1. fposte

        It wasn’t even as stealthy as code–it was straight out the market term. I think it’s going away a little, to be replaced by “plus-size,” but the sizes even had “W” after them, and I still see it in stores (as noted, it’s in contrast to “Misses” and “Juniors,” because women’s clothing is freaking crazy). Here’s an about.com thing about sizing that mentions it: http://fashion.about.com/od/stylebasics/a/MissesSizes.htm

        1. Chinook

          Is it odd that I always thought that the “w” stood for “wide” and not “women.” I thought the fact that it was female clothing was so obvious that it didn’t need to be labelled.

          1. fposte

            Though upthread people are now saying that they’ve heard it outside of apparel, and I haven’t heard that myself.

        2. Rana

          I think the bluntest – and strangest – sizing I heard was for this one line of petites. I remember my high school friend’s aunt – who was a tiny, very round woman – explaining to us that she was a “Petite Fat.” Heh.

    6. Jessica (the celt)

      Ugh, the clothing thing drives me nuts. So anyone who isn’t plus-sized isn’t a woman? I’ve never understood that, honestly, and it’s always offended me. My husband doesn’t have a “Guys” or “Men” section to choose from. (There is “Big and Tall,” but even that doesn’t seem as bad as categorizing them as different age-groups based on width sizing.) I’d rather they just start sizing women’s clothes in a logical way (all women, not “women” women) and take out the sizing modifiers at all with the exception of height (I’m always going to be short).

      /rant over something quite small in the grand scheme of things. ;~)

  12. AnotherAlison

    I’ve always called my first post-college job “my first professional job.”

    1. Chinook

      I once made the mistake of getting in the middle of an arguement at work about whether or not we admisn were professionals. The admins, in general, believed that, because we get paid to work, we are professionals and not amateurs. Those we assisted, on the other hand, were working for a professional organization that actually hands out professional credentials and, as a result, refused to call the admins “professional staff.”

      I didn’t make many friends among the AA’s because I agreed with the organization. I hold professional credentials (even if I may enver use them again *sigh*) and I see professionals as people who are answerable to a standard or code adminstered by someone other than employer and, if you mess up big time, they can ban you from working in your profession. As an admin, no matter how big a mess I may make, no one can ban me from finding another AA job elsewhere.

      1. Chinook

        BTW, AAs can get professional designations. I was very impressed to learn this but I have always been too broke to pursue it.

  13. nyxalinth

    I am so guilty of this.

    Customer care call center work (and it’s evil sibling–when done for legit companies–telemarketing) are real jobs. I sometimes am guilty of telling myself “I’m going to be 48 in June, why don’t I have a real job like people my age?” the meaning here is that I compare myself to people making 50k a year or more and come away feeling lesser. I need to stop this. My jobs are real jobs, they just aren’t as glamorous/well-paying/etc.

  14. Anon

    I’m wondering if this is remotely something to with why ‘older’ women in my office feel like it’s ok to call me kiddo.

      1. kristinyc

        Ugh, I’ve been “kiddoed” by sales reps before when I worked at an insurance company. Unless you’re my dad, you can’t call me kiddo.

    1. Windchime

      I get “kiddo” ‘d by a guy I used to work with who is a good 10 years younger than me. From him, I see it as a term of affection and nothing more. I wouldn’t like it if he were in a position of authority over me, though.

    2. Marina

      I’m a volunteer coordinator and one of my lead volunteers (a woman my mother’s age) calls me “kiddo”. I’m sure she doesn’t consciously intend any disrespect, but to be completely honest we have had quite a few clashes about my authority and whether I’m respecting her enough. I don’t mind the nickname itself, but I think it really is indicative of some of the deeper issues going on. I haven’t asked her to stop calling me “kiddo” because now I can use it as a warning sign. Any email that starts with “Hey kiddo” is one that I read very, very carefully for manipulation.

      1. SerfinUSA

        I work at a state university, where many employees are older women who have been around for decades. People like to ride out their working life here, even if what they do, or the way they do it, isn’t terribly current any more.

        One subtle way some of these folks try to lord it over the younger/newer employees is by using age-related terms like kiddo or youngster or sweetie in such a way that you know it’s meant to be a dig, but not overtly enough to call it out.

    3. A

      I get this ALL THE TIME. Depends entirely on the context as to whether or not it bugs me. The owner of my company calls me it but he says it in an endearing way, and since he brought me into the company specifically because of my comfort level with technology and ‘fresh’ perspectives (read: my young age was definitely viewed as a positive thing) it doesn’t bug me. Granted it is only ever in passing (usually in the hall in a ‘hey kiddo! How’s it going?’ Kind of way.

      However, if a vendor or client said it to be I would be livid. I think my feelings on it are influenced by the fact that I am significantly (20+ years) younger than the vast majority of my company with the exception of our admins. So my age tends to be referenced more than it would be otherwise simply because its just so apparent.

      1. Rana

        Exactly. Certain older men – as in my father’s age (or my father himself!) – in non-professional contexts get to call me “kiddo” because I know they mean it affectionately, not in a demeaning way. Dudes closer in age to me? No way.

        1. Jamie

          I agree with this too. Every time someone has called me this it’s been a man old enough to be my father and it was always meant kindly. It never bothered me.

          I would let everyone in the world call me kiddo if it meant we could get rid of “guru.” Not a gender thing – but I freaking hate it and get it more than any other. I’m configuring your software – I have no interest in helping anyone achieve spiritual anything.

      2. Ellie H.

        Yeah, I am actually not bothered by this either. It’s something my parents call me on occasion, and everyone who’s ever called me it has meant it affectionately and been someone I liked and felt comfortable with. (Also for some reason I’ve had boyfriends or dates call me that a couple times, which I also like, which might be weird.)

    4. ThursdaysGeek

      There was a guy (peer) at work who called me kiddo, but he was 75 to my 50. I enjoyed being young in someone’s eyes, especially since I still got a vibe of respect from him.

  15. Anon

    I am absolutely guilty of using the phrase “real job,” but never once would I have considered using “big girl job” (and I’m a 23 year old female working her first full-time, post-grad job with benefits).

    The thing that got me rethinking my use of the “real job” phrase was when I was working as a barista in a bookstore between college and my current position. I realized that I was the youngest person there. Obviously, my co-workers were able to support themselves and their families with this work and the majority of them had no plans to move on–it was a pretty great job, especially compared to my previous retail/food service gigs. The first time I mentioned my search for a “big girl job” at work, I realized how snooty and condescending that sounded to the people who have worked there for the past 10-15 years. So now I don’t use it anymore!

  16. mirror

    Okay I’ll voice the minority opinion. I really dislike calling myself and other females “women.” I’m 27. I naturally call other females “girls.” After reading so many complaints about how I should not do this, I really tried to think about why I dislike the term “woman.” It actually has nothing to do with being cutesy, not growing up, etc.

    For me, it’s the female equivalent of “guy.” I also never call males “men.” It’s always “guy.” If I want to be more formal, I use the term man/woman. If it’s casual talk, I say guy/girl. Sometimes I throw in a “lady” too. I also call a group of..women..”guys” like “hey guys! what’s up?” Because there is no good female plural equivalent to “guys,” (and strangely enough, “hey girls!” IS too cutesy and lets-get-manicures-and-gossip for me).

    I also think “put on your big boy/big girl pants” is just a phrase and nothing more to read into the specific WORDS, rather one should read into the specific message (ie “grow up”).

    1. Jane

      I’ve started forcing myself to call women women and men men. It still feels weird to me to call a guy a man, but I try to catch myself and make myself do it because I do think it’s problematic to refer to men and women as guys and girls, if only because some people are offended by it.

    2. Anonymous

      Strongly, STRONGLY disagree. Words greatly influence the meaning of messages, particularly when dealing with historically oppressed groups (which women definitely quality). The English language is naturally geared towards male dominance in many ways (“you guys” in the neutral, “mankind”, etc) as well as the diminishing of female power. “Girls” is much more demeaning to women than “boys” is to men because of historical context. Not that either are great, but men don’t have to worry about not being taken seriously as an adult or, frankly, as a legitimate member of the work force in nearly the same way women do.

      1. mirror

        Another thing to think about–I always hear from older women that they hate to be called “ma’am” because it means they’re old. But if a guy was called “sir” he would think nothing of it. Perhaps this trend is now following with the woman vs girl debate in the younger generation? Especially with the focus today on women wanting to defy aging and doing everything they can to look younger, I can see how this may be influencing my generation in regards to woman vs girl. I DO feel a slight tinge of “old” when I call myself a woman..

        1. SerfinUSA

          I like the term ma’am, and I’m 46. It’s amusing to use terms like handyma’am, fire/mail/police ma’am, and ma’amly, and some of my younger female friends have started using these terms as well.

          “Boy” was negatively used historically as well, to black men, as a way to reinforce white dominance both during and after slavery. I find it ironic that calling a black man boy could get you in a fight, but calling an adult female girl is supposed to elicit approval.

          1. KayDay

            Yea, I’ve always thought that “boy” instead of man had a far worse connotation than “girl” instead of “woman.” I actually think that’s why “guy” started being used so much to refer to a teenage or 20s male, while “girl” stuck around for female young adults and teenagers. Calling a male peer “boy” definitely does illicit a sense of dominance in a way that “girl” doesn’t. There are still issues with “girl” but not in the same way.

            1. Anonymous

              But doesn’t that just mean you’re more attuned to women being dismissed and dominated? Men (white, non-minority, straight, etc) being called boys is shocking in how dismissive it is – but for women, it’s par for the course. And that’s arguably a bigger cultural problem.

            2. JamieG

              I would actually argue that calling a woman “girl” does elicit a sense of dominance, but that dominance over women in the workforce (and in general) is more normalized.

            3. Rana

              “Boy” said to a grown man is absolutely condescending. There’s a very long history, for example, of white people calling black men “boy” as a deliberate way of putting them in their place. “Girl” too, to a degree.

              1. Anonymous

                Yeah, I acknowledged below that I should have clarified that I was referring to non-minority men.

        2. Jane Doe

          I think this depends a lot on region and how ma’am and sir are perceived there. In some areas, they’re perceived as overly-formal forms of address that are only used when your intent is to be snotty, or to point out that someone is being officious, or by people in customer service (which makes me uncomfortable because they’re not using it to be polite, they’re using it because they have to).

          1. Joanne

            I grew up in Bama, and one of my best friends’ parents were from Washington (state, not DC). They HATED it when I said ma’am/sir, but at home, it was not optional. Today, I am a fully grown woman (here, here!) and my parents still call me out if I don’t say ma’am / sir. Good point. Culture matters.

          2. Melissa

            This. My mother dislikes being called ma’m because it makes her feel old, but she was raised in the Northeast where it’s a formal term of address. I was raised in the South, and even though I’m 26 small children call me ma’am when I’m at home visiting. I don’t mind it because they’re just being polite.

            I also say “Yes ma’am” to my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law (both Southerners) because it’s just part of their politeness culture – it’s a requirement for them, like Joanne’s family, but I had to learn to say it in school because my parents didn’t really raise me to.

      2. -X-

        “Boys” is often demeaning to young black men.

        Not much to white guys for sure.

        1. Ash

          Actually, “boy” is very demeaning to all men, depending on how you use it. Yes there can be racial connotations when using the term to refer to a Black male, but it’s not like saying “boy” in a rude voice to any male would be less condescending.

            1. -X-

              ““boy” is very demeaning to all men, ”

              In general, it’s more so to black men. Sure it can be demeaning to white men, and can be OK sometimes with black men, but overall it’s worse with black men.

          1. James

            I think that it really depends on the situation. Within an office setting, girls/boys shouldnt be used ever. But outside of work, I really don’t care if someone calls me boy. Even if it was in a demeaning way, and someone wanted to bring me down a peg by using it, I would just find it funny, lol, and walk away. (having said that I’m white, and I can totally see why it would be vastly inappropriate to say to other races, given the history of the word).

          2. Allison

            I think the point is that it’s demeaning to call an adult man “boy,” hence why there’s a history of white men calling black men “boy” – to demean them and reinforce a racial power structure.

            When it comes down to it, that’s what this is about, power. Girls and boys are powerless because they’re children, but men and women have power. Calling someone a man implies they have power, calling someone a “girl” disempowers her.

            1. Anonymous

              But a white man can shake it off more than a woman or a minority can because it doesn’t speak to the way society actually thinks of them. When an individual man calls another white man a boy, it’s an individual problem – and usually done with the actual intent to insult. But it’s not a marginalizing insult to non-minority men in general.

              But women are called girls all the time in a way that’s normalized (as someone said above). It’s still just as dismissive, but in a permeating cultural sense. Likewise with minority men being called “boy.” There’s history there beyond the individuals.

            2. SerfinUSA

              I recall the 80’s being a transitional time for women being more serious about independence and careers. There was a lot of fuss about the term ‘girl’ from both a male and female point of view, but in a snarky, false-concern kind of way.

              Men would say “Well I can’t call you girls anymore. Can I say ‘Ladies’ or will that get me in trouble too?”

              Less-progressive (esp slightly older) women would make a point of saying they liked being called girls if it meant the (usually male) speaker thought they were younger. This was often dished out with a side jab at touchy feminist types who probably had to work because they couldn’t get a man anyway.

              Maybe just my observations, but that was in the financial services field – brokerage, capital management, etc. in the ‘greed is good’ era.

            3. Anonymous

              It really does depend on the context though. There’s a huge difference between “Hey boy!”, “Hey girl!”, compared to “going out with the boys”, or “I went to a movie with the girls”.

      3. saf

        ““Girls” is much more demeaning to women than “boys” is to men because of historical context. ”

        Only if you are white.

    3. Jen in RO

      English really does need a female equivalent for ‘guy’. I’m 29 and while I know that I can call myself a woman, it sounds so strange! My mother’s a woman, I’m just a… guyette? (I think my language is missing a lot of useful words that exist in English, but I’m glad that we do have this female equivalent and I don’t get to have this dilemma everyday).

      1. fposte

        Well, there’s Britain’s “ladettes,” but that’s 1) a very specific kind of woman and 2) a hideous word.

        1. Chinook

          I have to admit that I would hate “laddette” because “lad” connotates a very specific type of man *shudder*

          1. fposte

            And that’s exactly the kind of person it’s referring to in the other gender.

        2. Jen in RO

          My friends sometimes used ‘dudette’, but seeing as we all spoke English as a second language, it didn’t bring up images of surfers :-) (and that’s another very ESL thing – the word dude brings up Keanu Reeves for me, but I’ve never set foot in the States or seen an actual surfer)

    4. some1

      There is “gal” which I don’t like, either, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I am in my early 30’s and I think it might be because it’s a phrase I usually have heard used by an older generation so it’s seems outdated or something.

    5. Ash

      Can I say that outside of referencing animals, or using it in a scientific manner, I hate the term “females”? It sounds so gross and sexist.

      1. Lily in NYC

        But it’s a completely proper term. I’m a female and have no problem referring to myself as such. But I can sympathize; we all have our own verbal pet peeves…

        1. -X-

          Do you say things like “Look at that female in the big hat over there”?

          I know many people who would say “Look at that woman/girl/guy/man in the big hat over there.” But the word “female” (or “male”) in that sentence would typically be strange, unless you were particularly emphasizing gender, or perhaps trying to sound like a cop.

          1. Lily in NYC

            Oh, no. Of course not. But I tend to call myself female before calling myself a woman. I don’t like it when used in the way you suggested; now I see Ash’s point.

        2. Allison

          But we don’t refer to men as “males” outside of medical and scientific contexts.

        3. Natalie

          I have personally noticed a lot of people will use “females” but not “males” when relevant, which bugs the crap out of me. I noticed mirror did not do this in her opening comment, but that general trend might be why it bothers so many other people.

      2. Zed

        Agreed. I am female but I am not a female. I am a female person or a female friend or a female customer or a woman.

      3. Jane Doe

        Me too. It’s so often used in conjunction with descriptions about a woman’s body, or to pick on women in general, or talk about something you dislike that some women do. It’s rarely ever used as a neutral word meaning “women.” I usually see it in sentences like “The females at my work are so emotional/dress so slutty/are mean” or “There’s this female with a hot body” etc.

      4. KayDay

        I generally dislike the term “female” as a noun, but it makes sense in this context, because we are specifically talking about someone’s sex and/or gender. For example, someone saying, “color blindness is more common in males than females,” or “I prefer to use the term “women” when referring to females,” doesn’t bother me, but “I was hanging out with some females at a bar” is really bothersome.

      5. Rana

        Oh my gosh yes. I loathe the use of “females” to describe women. We are not livestock or lab animals!

      6. Tinker

        I have a bit of a twitch over that sort of usage, having spent a few years as a core member of a forum that had a significant population of tendentious and antisocial young men.

        Put it this way, I all but refer to MRA arguments by number now.

      7. Ellie H.

        I say male and female all the time, in a context when I am distinguishing between genders. It might be a little unusual but that’s one of my quirks in speech, I guess. Like, for example, I might say “Their department is actually predominantly male in terms of graduate students, although I think they have more female professors.” That sounds pretty normal to me but I probably say it describing even more informal contexts where it sounds more unusual.

        1. Rana

          Oh, that doesn’t bother me, because you’re using it as an adjective. It’s the “oh, look at them females” / “there were a lot of hot females at the bar last night” / “ugh, I hate working with females” version that bugs me.

    6. Anonymous

      for a group of women, you can use “hey y’all” or “hey folks” or “hey gals” or “hey ladies” (since you are fine using “lady”). and if I wanted to get fun (like with a group of friends) there are all kinds of options that aren’t “guys” – “hey dames,” “hey my amazoness sisters.” I hate being called called “guys” when it’s a group of women I’m in. well, hate might be strong, but I do wish people would put the tiniest effort into not using the masculine as neutral.

    7. Melissa

      But you are a woman.

      And if you want to say grow up, why don’t you just say…”grow up”?

  17. Jane

    Funny! I have never heard this phrase used. I’ve not used it myself because I have not held any other kind of job (didn’t work in high school, college, or law school) so I guess I’ve never given it much thought. It is definitely not good. Great advice, I agree wholeheartedly!

  18. Anonymous

    Can I add a couple? 1. Stop littering your speech with “like;” and 2. Stop with uptalk (sentences ending with a high inflection.) I can thing of one younger man in my office that talks this way, but women are overwhelmingly the perpetrators.

    1. Zed

      But things like uptalk are only devalued because they are seen as characteristic of women’s speech.

      As for “like,” I don’t understand all the hate. It’s a linguistic filler. Some folks use “right” or “you know” or “um” or “well” or “I don’t know” instead. Usage like this is often unconscious–speakers don’t know they are doing it and cannot exercise much control over it. Because this usage of “like” is seen as characteristic of young women, it not a privileged type of speech.

      1. Lily in NYC

        One can absolutely exercise control over verbal tics. It just takes discipline. I witnessed my college roommate cure herself of her “like” habit through sheer force of will. It’s not a problem to say it once in a while -but so many women use it to such an excessive degree that you end up losing interest and tuning them out.

      2. Legal Eagle

        I politely disagree.

        I think uptalk is associated with women because women are socialized to be meek instead of authoritative. As in, some women feel uncomfortable saying “We should do X” and instead soften it to “We should do X?”

        Emptying your professional speaking patterns of all linguistic fillers is for the best. If you find yourself saying “like” “um” or “well” too often, you should work on cutting back.

        However, I do see your point that speech patterns commonly associated with young women are maligned more than ones associated with young men.

        1. fposte

          My impression is that also it’s more gendered here than in other Anglophone countries–Australia, for instance, seems to be a lot more uptalk-inclined across the board.

          1. Chinook

            I have to agree with uptalk being more gender netural in Canada as well. We even use a word “eh?” at the end of a sentence in case the uptalk was not caught.

            I am finding this fascinating to read because we are truly seeing the vast linguistic/cultural backgrounds coming out amongst the readers. What some find passable (like cowboy up!) others would find hokey or weird (when surrounded by cowboys, that phrase just feels ridiculous).

      3. ThatGirl

        As for “like,” I don’t understand all the hate

        For those of us old enough to remember, using ‘like’ as a linguistic filler was associated with ditzy valley girls who often epitomized cutesy and not-wanting-to-ever-grow-up-because-being-a-teen-aged-girl-is-the-best-life-ever. Like OMG.

        :-)

        1. ThatGirl

          Joke’s on me for having the username ‘ThatGirl’ during the discussion of using girl vs. woman t in the work place. I always think of myself as a woman but my username is derived from something a friend of mine always says. As in…’X did this and it was absolutely horrible for her life/career blah, blah, blah so don’t be that girl’.

          I think a new username is in order after this discussion. :-)

          1. Chris

            Well, we’ve already gone over using “ladies”, “females”, “gals”, and “women” as well as some of the negative implications of each. So, what’s left?

            There is one answer. Start calling yourself “ThatChick”.

      4. Melissa

        I don’t know if I agree…it may be devalued because it’s associated with women’s speech patterns; I can’t tell. Personally, I hear young men and young women use “like” with similar frequency. But you can certainly control it and train it out of your speech patterns.

    2. CollegeAdmin

      I’m going to throw some linguistics trivia in here for you!

      1. In general*, “like” has become a replacement for “umm” and “uh” in speech. People often think faster than they talk, so while their brain searches for the correct word(s) to express the thought they’re having, they say “like” to fill the silence. It’s definitely a younger-generation thing, and I would imagine it’s from teachers (at least, my teachers) so strenuously objecting to “umms” in schooling. (*Please note that I said “in general,” because it’s not always the case.)

      2. Studies done on “uptalking” have shown that despite original hypotheses that the inflection was similar to that in a question, they are markedly different, and often used when the speaker views the listener as someone of a higher authority/deserving of respect.

      1. fposte

        Listeners also don’t respond well to speech entirely devoid of the phatic words and noises–apparently we like a little human filler with our talk.

      2. Ellie H.

        Yes, and they have different words in different languages. Like in BCS you use “pa” and “znači,” in Russian, “nu,” etc. Learning the filler word in a different language can help a lot to make you sound much more fluent.

    3. College Career Counselor

      AMEN. This is a major point I make during mock interviews with students, especially female students. It makes you sound younger (which is coded as less professional) and less confident than you want. And as someone said down-thread, it gets? like? annoying? over time?

    4. Lily in NYC

      Interesting! I’ll add my dislike of vocal fry . I wish I had never heard of it because now it makes me crazy every time I hear someone using it excessively.

      1. jennie

        Vocal fry: Me too! It is so prevalent now in reality tv and seeping in to the way young women talk ion daily life. It’s as inappropriate in the workplace as adding extra letters to wordssssss in business emails.

      2. fposte

        I actually kind of like vocal fry (and I’m intrigued that it seems to convey *more* authority to listeners). I was also deeply amused by the Lexicon Valley podcast that derided it–while using it throughout. I definitely know what you mean about suddenly being sensitized to it, though!

        1. Lily in NYC

          There are variations that don’t bug me as much. My sister (who is 48) is the boss of 4000 people, and I’ve noticed she uses it sometimes in settings where she needs to be authoritative; I don’t even think it’s conscious. But she’s a master at just doing it a tiny bit so it’s just slightly gravelly and deep instead of drawn out of every single word. There’s a type I hear from very young women that makes me cringe – it’s just so affected and over the top.

    5. Elizabeth West

      Don’t forget vocal fryyyyyyyyy….

      Google “vocal fry” if you want to hear what I mean. X_X

      1. Kelly L.

        I have no idea how some people manage to get so many syllables into “thank you.” It’s like they want to use all the vowels before they run out. It comes out like “Thank yaaaoouuuueeeiiiiiuuuu.”

  19. ProcReg

    This has become a theme in their social world, too. Very immature; intolerable to be around.

  20. Anonymous

    Yes times a million. Thank you.

    And let me add, girls stop being girls when they turn 18. They are then women. Do yourself and your colleagues a favor and refer to them as such. It seems silly, but start making a conscious decision to use the term “woman” instead of “girl.” It make take a few times of correcting yourself, but you will notice the difference of respect you’re giving fellow women when you stop calling them girls. As a 27-year-old woman in a man’s profession, it makes a big difference.

  21. Lily in NYC

    In a similar vein, the popular phrase: “put on my big girl panties” makes me want to smash something.

  22. some1

    I consider a “real job” whatever you are doing when you start supporting yourself. My work ethic changed big-time when I was in my early 20’s and started paying my rent and all my own bills. Work wasn’t nearly as important when all I had to pay for was clothes, car insurance and going out.

    1. A Bug!

      I agree with this.

      It bothers me when people consider certain classes of jobs as not “real” jobs because they’re favored by youths who need to earn spending money. So when people say “my first real job” or “my first grown-up job”, I think a better way to put it would be “the first job I took seriously”.

      It’s a respect thing: you may not have considered your part-time shift at McDonald’s to be a “grown-up” job, but tons of grown-ups rely on jobs like those to support themselves or their families, and suggesting that the job itself isn’t “real” is all sorts of dismissive.

  23. Apostrophina

    People I knew in my early 20s referred to this as a “jobby job”–as in, work resembling the vaguely generic office setting a lot of people visualize when they think of “graduating and getting a job.”

    I’d definitely take issue with “big-girl job.”

  24. Chocolate Teapot

    As I use a lot of French in everyday life, I am used to being “Madame” on official correspondence. I am also addressed as Madame in shops and in restaurants and so forth.

    If emailing a group of women, I may use “Ladies” but for a mixed group then “Dear All”. It depends on how well I know the people in question.

    1. Natalie

      As someone who uses exactly zero French in my daily life, that sounds so fancy. Maybe I need to learn French.

    2. HAnon

      I do the same thing. “Hello Ladies” for a group of women I’m emailing (that I converse with internally on a regular basis who are my peers, not clients or senior); “Hello All” or “Hello Team” to a mixed group.

      1. HAnon

        I should add, I’m located in the Southeast, where it is common to refer to people as ladies and gentlemen.

  25. jennie

    THANK YOU for saying this Alison. It is a pet peeve of mine and I love how you addressed it. Great advice!

  26. Catherine

    I always used “first permanent, full-time position.”

    Also, to those of you who dislike of the word “women”–disliking it because you don’t like being thought of as either older or more formal does not make you sound mature, responsible, or even nice (to those of us who are older and/or willing to navigate both formal and informal situations). Maybe you are saying that is exactly what you want, but it doesn’t sound like a helpful image to project in your work life if you are trying to show you are responsible and flexible.

    1. Windchime

      You’re right, and I’m glad that you pointed this out. I didn’t really think about that when I was making my comments (even though I consider myself older and fatter than the average working woman). I think it’s because society in general tends to devalue women who are in my shoes (ie, older and fatter) and so perhaps I am trying to distance myself from that image?

      Very interesting. Thanks for making that observation!

  27. Elizabeth West

    –Ladies I’m okay with, as I said earlier–they use it in skating because it covers everyone. Some of the senior skaters are under 18 and some are pushing 30 (which is old in that sport). The catchall ladies sounds classier too. I always thought of that word as respectful, like a kid to an adult or church ladies, or something like that. Unless you’re yelling on the street–“Hey LADY!”

    I only use chick for very close friends. Girls is for anyone under 18. Female makes me think of dogs and cats. “Is your cat a female?”

    –Guys for men, or just men, depending on how formal the situation is. Guys is more casual. Or it can encompass everyone, although “Hey you guys” always makes me think of Goonies.

    You can say “People, let’s be seated,” for a mix of both. That’s fine, because men and women ARE people.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Or people just in general, meant to add, even if it’s all men or all women.

    2. Rana

      I’ll tolerate “ladies” but I have to admit it always carries a whiff of irritation for me – I associate it with phrases like “young lady” “Heeeeey ladeeeeez” and “Yo, lady!” – none of which are all that good.

      As a West Coaster, I lean towards “hey guys” for both men and women (hooray for the Goonies reference!), though I’ll also use “folks”, “people,” and “y’all” as my whim takes me.

      In more formal situations, I’m either greeting individual people by name, or sending emails to “Dear colleagues” and the like.

  28. Amanda

    I think it is just semantics in that people say it to differentiate between a job that an inexperienced teenager would be able to receive vs. one they have earned based on some sort of credibility. I actually think when someone expresses this, they understand that the achieved job is one with responsibility and “adult like”, not that they think they are actually just girls, and not young women. Huge difference between referencing themselves on a blog or a casual manner vs. in the workforce.

      1. Anonymous

        It’s just a saying that most people don’t use in a professional setting. I can’t see the problem, really –other than some people find it annoying.

  29. Backinthegame

    I am in my young twenties and moved across the country for my current position. Needless to say I am the youngest person in my office by many years. I have never used the phrase ” Big girl” job or anything of the such, but others in my office have been known to make comments, like if I wear heels that I was wearing my ” big girl shoes.” I believe any self respecting woman of any age would shut that down immediately. I may be young, but that does not make me a child or any less capable than any other employee of any other age.

  30. ThursdaysGeek

    Can we still refer to ourselves as “girl geeks”? Not because I’m not grown up (I’m > 50), but because I don’t know of a nice alliterative alternate.

    1. Chinook

      I agree – “girl geek” should stay if only because now we are allowed to admit to being one!

    2. A Bug!

      Well, sure, you can call yourself a girl geek if it makes you happy.

      I used to! I don’t anymore, because now I believe that calling myself a “girl geek” as opposed to just “geek”, just sort of validates the idea that “girl geek” is a deviation from the norm – you never hear “guy geek” because the “guy” is assumed unless there’s evidence otherwise. It also brings gender into the forefront in a context where (presumably) gender doesn’t play a huge role.

      So that’s my two bits on that, take from it what you will and please understand that I don’t expect you to change how you refer to yourself if my reasons don’t resonate with you.

      1. Jamie

        Reminds me of how in old sitcoms there were doctors and there were lady doctors. The lady specified the doctors chromosomes, not those of her patients. Now they are all just doctors.

        Progress.

  31. Lanya

    Eh, “big girl job” and “big girl pants” do not bother me anywhere near as much as does using the phrase, “little girls’/boys’ room” instead of bathroom. That just freaks me out.

    1. Rana

      Yeah, that’s weirdly twee. But then, I grew up with a mother (and grandmother) who held no truck with all the various euphemisms. “It’s a toilet,” I remember Grandma saying rather impatiently once.

      (I usually just call it the bathroom if it’s in a house, restroom if not.)

      1. AL Lo

        I didn’t realize for the longest time that “washroom” is rather Canadian. It was always just interchangeable with “restroom” and “bathroom” (and I use it much more frequently than “restroom”).

      2. fposte

        But that’s etymologically a euphemism too–it’s just fancy for “washroom.” I loved the Straight Dope column that pointed out there’s no actual non-euphemistic word for that room.

        1. Rana

          Yeah, I recognize that “bathroom” is euphemistic, especially if you’re in a place (like older houses in Australia) where the room with the toilet and the room with the bath are separate rooms.

          As I said, my grandmother always just said that she was “going to the toilet.” And at home, we usually just say “I need to pee” – but that gets odd looks sometimes out in public…

          1. fposte

            No, I mean “toilet” is actually euphemistic, too–it’s just another “washing” term.

            I did love the Dr. Seuss Grinch sequel where the kid had to “go to the euphemism.”

            1. Rana

              Hee. I suppose we could go around saying things like “I need to use the shitter”…

  32. Kay

    I think it’s also worth mentioning that it is really hard to come back from categorizing yourself as a “girl” once you’ve done it. I am in my early twenties and made the mistake of mentioning that my current job was my first job where I had an office and it made me feel like an adult. It feels like even three years on I’m still trying to change the perception of me as the “kid”.

  33. AmyNYC

    An interesting (and addictive) take on this is a lot of the criticism Lena Dunham got for “Girls” – but the it’s used to draw attention to the fact that the characters on the show are still figuring what it means to be a woman and not a girl. And sometime they act like petulant children.

  34. Kat M

    I had a new director at my old job who was going through and doing a check-up in preparation for a state licensing visit (they always came after a change in direction). She asked me if I had created and posted an updated version of a certain chart. When I answered yes (apparently most staff hadn’t), she responded, “Oh GOOD GIRL!”

    It really gave me a rotten initial impression of her. She turned out to be a fabulous director and boss, but it took me a few weeks to come around and realize it after that.

    1. fposte

      I think that’s a really interesting example, because that’s such a fall-off-the-tongue phrase–it’s alliterative, it’s common–and there’s no easy adult equivalent (“good woman” sounds like you’re going to save a rogue cowboy’s soul), so you can see why people go to it. But that doesn’t offset the weirdness of being the recipient of it when you’re an adult.

      1. Kelly L.

        I associate it with dogs–that’s what you say when Fluffy poops in the yard instead of on the carpet!

        1. Rana

          (In similar situations, my go-to is “Excellent!” with a bit of an emphasis on the first syllable, or “Good on ya!”)

  35. Kate

    At my first real job out of college, one of my co-workers referred to someone as “the girl from X department said whatever”. And my awesome boss responded “girls don’t work, WOMEN do”. That has always stuck with me.
    And now that I’m working for a complete boys club and dealing with mild sexism daily I like to remind my coworkers of this when they refer to anyone as a girl- all it does is give the impression that that “girl” is not as capable as the “men” that work there.

  36. A

    I refer to mine as “my first non entry level position” – its true, to the point, and is more related to my previous work history than it is age.

  37. Job seeker

    I have such respect for Alison and have gotten such good advice here. But for me personally, I have referred to myself as a girl before and I am far from that. I am a married, middle-age wife and mom and definitely a woman. But the expression girl has never offended or bothered me.

    I think sometime it depends on where you were brought up. I am a Southerner and I have referred to myself as a Southern girl. I say this in a friendly way. The part about a big girls job though is not something I would say. The adult world is an adjustment but so is every part of life. I have been referred to as young lady recently and I have to say it did not bother me at all. Actually, a man said this to me and I felt flattered.

  38. Anonny

    Thank you so much for this! I’ll never forget my recently-promoted manager referring to her new suit jacket and skirt as her first “big girl dress”. I was dumbfounded.

  39. jesicka309

    Some of the guys in my group class at gym will refer to me as ‘girl’. I’ll be boxing with them, and they’ll correct my technique, or tell me “come on, you can do better than that!” and when I push harder, they’ll say “good girl!”
    So frustrating, and I’m too out of breath to get angry, or we change partners. Can’t they just say “good work”? Or “Well done”?
    Even worse – the other day one of them told me to ‘smile’. ARG. I’m exhausted and in pain, and you want me to smile? Are you telling all your male boxing partners to smile? Should I be enjoying this agony because I’m female?
    I just grimaced, and I think he understood that there was no way I was going to smile for him. I’m no performing monkey.

    1. Windchime

      I hate it when people command, “Smile!”. It makes me want to reply, “I will when you say something funny.” Otherwise, it makes no sense to me to walk around with a senseless grin plastered to my face.

      You want a smile? Smile at me first, or say something funny.

    2. Mints

      Ugh it’s really the worst. This is all kinds of casual sexism. I usually just roll my eyes. Although when I’m painting I kind of look like I’m smiling, and I’ve had men smile at me, then I just look confused and/or frown.

      1. Brian

        There are actually people out there who go around ordering other people to “Smile!”. I can’t get over that. Who do they think they are??!!

  40. Kris

    Perhaps this is a regional thing. I’ve never heard any woman in any setting refer to her first professional position as a “big-girl” job. I live in Wisconsin.

    1. L.A.

      I’ve heard it from women living in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky. I feel like most are trying to be cutesy on Facebook with their friends, but it makes me want to gouge my eyes out when I read it. They’re adults in every other aspect of their life, why wouldn’t they want to be thought of as competent, experienced human beings in their jobs too?

  41. crookedfinger

    I wanted to “Like” this, but then I realized I wasn’t on Facebook. So kudos to you. Makes me cringe every time I hear a full-grown woman refer to herself as a girl.

  42. Nicole

    There’s a woman in another department who insists on starting all her e-mails to me with, “Hey girl!” Drives me insane.

  43. EngineerGirl

    I’ve thought about holding my tongue in all this. The “big girl” bothers me, but not the “girl” part. This one falls into “pick your battles” and it really is a silly one to fight. Maybe because I’ve seen so much direct violence against women in the office that this just is noise.

    I would suggest “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” though.

    1. Zed

      All the negativity for the word “girl” bothers me, and I’m not sure why. It sort of reminds me of the way it tends to be used by men – “and then he cried like a little girl,” ” you throw like a girl,” “don’t be such a girl,” and so on. I know that’s not the same usage that is being criticized here, but I can’t help have a knee-jerk reaction…

  44. Sissa

    I actually have a manager (woman) who, when sending e-mails to me and one of my colleagues (30-year old woman), usually starts off with “Hi girls!” . Can’t stand it. I’m 25 and way past the girl stage.

    I know she means well and wants to appear friendly but I’m going to have to tell her that I don’t want to be called that. Especially since I appear much younger than I am due to my length (154cm, sigh) and already get funny looks from people when walking around with my boyfriend.

  45. Beth

    I blame it on bloggers. Seriously. By that I am referring to the slew of blogs – healthy living blogs, fashion blogs, lifestyle blogs, etc. written by 20-something women. Most of them are more or less the same. I don’t know how many people have spent much time reading these blogs, but trendy wording and even punctuation catch on and spread like wildfire across the “blogosphere.” (The latest punctuation trend I have noticed is using curly brackets/braces – {} – instead of parentheses. Before that it was writing in all lower-case letters. The latest trendy wording I have noticed is, “[Insert food, event, or whatever.] Yeah. It’s totally a thing.” )

    In one blog the blogger (in her early 30s) posted that she ends even business correspondence with xoxo, and wondered if anyone thinks there is anything wrong with that? Fortunately a lot of people did, but many people thought it was cute and whimsical and said that they do it too and thought there was nothing wrong with doing it in business correspondence.

    It’s become extremely apparent by reading these blogs (and the comments on the blogs) that a large group of younger women think it is cute to act like little girls. It’s obvious in what they say, and how they say it. If one blogger (likely dishonestly, because she thinks it’s cute) says that she doesn’t know how to do something, doesn’t “get” something, or has never tried something, 100 commenters will chime in with something like, “oh my god, I totally hear you. I totally think that is waaaay too hard and I’ve never been able to understand it.” “Big Girl Job” is just one of the latest trendy terms, which happens to go along with this extension of child-like behavior.

  46. Joey

    On the occasional occasions when I email the women on my team I usually intro with “Ladies”. For the guys I use Guys or Gents. Should I be using “Women” instead?

  47. Jamie

    Personally, I think conversations like this are valuable to show how what to one person is innocuous others find offensive.

    Personally, I think “big girl” anything is odd phrasing, but I’m not offended by the word girl in most circumstances. When a new employee started and upon meeting me asked me if I was the IT Girl I corrected him. Both because…seriously…but also as a courtesy to him. He was the same age as my eldest son and this is his first full time job. I thought a lesson in how not to address women in the work place, not to mention how not to address the Director of IT wouldn’t go amiss. You can hurt yourself treating everyone you meet like someone you met at a keg party.

    OTOH when one of my bosses, who happens to be one of the most accomplished and awesome women I know comes in when I happen to be standing with a couple of female employees and she asks “I’m thinking about X for lunch – are you girls interested?” I will never get offended by that kind of usage. Because there is no bad intent to be corrected – it’s just a figure of speech.

    That said – the last thread we had on the topic made me aware of my own verbiage much more…I don’t use girls and certainly no terms of endearment – but I did have a habit of addressing a mixed group as “guys.” As is – “hey guys…” And while that usage will never offend me – to me it functions the way y’all does (which is a very handy word) I learned that for some it’s a very big deal and so since I’ve erred on they side of caution and start emails with “hi everybody” instead.

    Easy thing to avoid offending unnecessarily.

  48. Kethryvis

    i’m in the minority here… i call myself a girl. I’m in my mid-30s. I wear Chuck Taylors to my job (they allow it, hooray tech industry), i wear clever tshirts whenever possible, i play video games. i *ALSO* pay my bills on time, am two weeks away from my masters degree, live by myself, hold down a position of a decent amount of responsibility, and am on staff of a really awesome charity organization.

    i can do all of these things, and still be a girl. i can do all these things and be a woman. Does it really freaking matter what you call me? Not really. i still get the job done. (and i REALLY hate being called ma’am. It makes me feel like my mother.) i’m not going to get tripped up in semantics. Unless you’re obviously using one to demean me. Then watch it.

    This is the part of feminism that drives me INSANE. The only way to win this shit is not to play. And even THEN you lose.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      i can do all of these things, and still be a girl.

      Except that you can’t really, because the word means someone who is not an adult. That’s the meaning of the word, like it or not. And I don’t think you can argue that the language has evolved to the point that that’s not the meaning, because most people would not, for instance, think it was okay to refer to Hilary Clinton as a girl, and there’s a reason for that.

    2. Jamie

      I wear Chuck Taylors to my job (they allow it, hooray tech industry)

      It’s so funny you said that because I thought about this thread as I was getting ready for work. 99% of the time I wear Vans (Hello Kitty – very tasteful, though) or pink Chucks. I’ve always thought of it as a perk of the technical – we can get away with whimsy.

      But I thought twice about it – because if “girl” is infantalizing then shoes that would be appropriate on a toddler should be a problem. So I went to get my ‘grown up shoes’ (I know)…flats with bows. I love bows. Then I remembered every time I wear normal shoes someone asks me if I have an interview – half kidding, half seriously, you aren’t looking are you? And I just didn’t want to deal with it today.

      I think it boils down to how you define ‘girl.’ A lot of people clearly define it as a female child and so of course it would be insulting in that context. If it’s more the way I see it (and it appears you do as well) where colloquially it doesn’t have the child meaning so it has no bearing on our adultness it’s not offensive. But it’s still important to see how it is to other people.

      My mom told me once that a man who was secure in his masculinity wasn’t afraid to cry, because he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. I think this was when I was little and saw my grandpa crying at a child’s funeral. I kind of look at my silly shoes, my pink office supplies, and my Hello Kitty lanyard for my work ID the same way. If I were less secure about how I am perceived I think it would bother me more and I would refrain. Maybe I’m wrong but I really think I’m solid as far as reputation goes for being pretty serious and mature and taking care of business…so instead of hurting me I think it softens me up a little bit.

      An auditor with a clipboard is a sight that makes a lot of people uneasy. If that auditor has her ID hanging from a Hello Kitty lanyard there is always a smile – a giggle at the shoes…and then a remarkably thorough and professional audit.

      I’m not naturally approachable – this helps.

      Or maybe I’m just looking to rationalize that which I don’t want to change.

    3. Ellie H.

      To me the semantic difference is that it would have a totally different connotation if you were male, and writing your comment with the word “boy” in place of “girl.” That would sound very strange. For those who want to argue that “girl” is the analog to “guy” not to “boy,” it would sound equally strange with “guy.” You’d wonder why someone were making such a federal case out of wishing to describe himself with a deliberately casual, less professional sounding word. It seems immature.

  49. Brandy

    Webster defines girl as “a female child from birth to adulthood”. At 33, I’m far past girlhood and happy to be known as a woman or lady. Oh and given that I’m about to graduate with my nursing degree, when I do get a job in nursing I will be glad to proclaim “I have a new job”. I think that will be good enough. Great point Alison!

  50. Vicki

    My problem with “big girl job” (which, I am happy to say, I never heard of before this post) is that it reminds me of the truly Yuck phrase “Put on (or pull up) your big girl panties”.

    We really need to get rid of that phrase (as well as the “big boy” version) for anyone over the age of 4.

  51. Winter

    Instead of “big girl” job or “real” job, I refer to those as careers. No air marks or quotes. A career has growth potential and is in an area that you love. That can be waiting, tattooing, marketing, HR, whatever! If it pays the bills, you’re happy, and have a disposable income you have a career.

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