how to speak up when women in your office are called “girls”

A reader writes:

I need help with a script for speaking up in the moment when my coworkers call grown women “girls.” Full disclosure – I am a cisgender woman who was radicalized as a leftist feminist in grade school in the 70’s (by radical Catholic school nuns who also did service work in South America, by the way). I now work in an urban area that bills itself as equitable and sophisticated, and for the most part, that proves true. However, this problem persists!

I am sitting in a meeting next to a professional man in his 50’s, and he just said that we have a girl who codes our emails. The only words that come to me are unprofessional to say the least. Can you please provide some sample language I could use in this professional context?

“You mean woman, of course. Anyway, yes, Jane is great.”

“Given that Jane is an adult, let’s refer to her as a woman, please. Thank you.”

“Jane is an adult woman, of course.”

Depending on the dynamics between you and the person you’re addressing, and depending on the effect you want to produce, you can say this kindly (with the tone you’d use for any other friendly correction) or you can say it poker-faced. If the person you’re addressing is someone who’s prone to minimizing or pooh-poohing this stuff if given an opening to do so, you may want a tone that conveys “I’m being polite right now, but I don’t suggest messing with me.”

If you’re told you’re making too big a deal out of it, you can say, “If it’s not a big deal, it won’t be a  problem to use ‘woman,’ right? Thanks.”

And for anyone reading who thinks that referring to women as “girls’ in a professional context is no big deal, consider how infrequently you hear “we have a boy who codes our emails.”

Or think about women who are universally recognized as having gravitas and power – say, Angela Merkel or Marissa Mayer – and ask whether you’d refer to them as “girls.”

While referring to adult women as “girls” may not be intended to be infantilizing or patronizing, language has power, and girls are rarely taken as seriously as women. Some of the most damaging sexism is subtle because it impacts how we think without us even realizing it.

(It’s also worth noting that women can be the worst offenders on this one, which doesn’t make it any less problematic.)

{ 1,122 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Amber Rose

    It can be so uncomfortable and awkward to call this stuff out at work. I utterly failed to call out a coworker for being jaw droppingly racist the other day too. So maybe try these lines out loud on your own a couple times.

    And don’t beat yourself up if it takes time to speak up. We are socialized to be non confrontational, usually.

    Reply
    1. Cafe au Lait

      My coworker was really racist a half-hour ago. The best I could do in the moment was “What?! WOW.”

      I’m going to my manager about it, but since I’m the only one who disagreed, I’m choosing the way I work my complaint carefully.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        I managed to say, “seems a bit rude” but was promptly ignored. :/
        I’m not even gonna bother talking to management, I know they don’t care.

        Reply
        1. JulieBulie

          Practice saying “WHAT did you just say?” when you’re alone. In the shower, in the car, wherever.

          It’s very handy to be able to blurt that out in a hurry! Bonus if you can manage giving a dirty look and eye contact without flinching.

          You can say more if you want to; but if you don’t want to, you said something.

          Reply
          1. Buffy

            I read somewhere a good way to deal with racist jokes or comments is to say blankly, “I don’t get it.” Most people, when they have to actually spell out why the racist thing they said was racist, get flustered.

            Reply
            1. Night Cheese

              This is one of my favorite things to do. I do this to pretty much everyone and it’s a great way to call people out on it without making them feel like you’re picking a fight with them. Some people are actual Jerks and, but you’d be surprised how many people make those comments without really thinking about what they’re saying.

              Reply
              1. Elizabeth West

                That’s what I do with bullying. If someone sarcastically asks me a question designed to humiliate me, I answer it with a straight face as though they were utterly serious. Then I watch with great inner glee as they slowly deflate. They want to fluster or upset me and it ain’t gonna happen.

                Reply
                1. Eleanor Abernathy

                  That’s a really brave way to respond to bullying. I will try to keep this in mind but my anxiety usually means I want to rush to defend myself when someone asks me questions like that.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Agreed. “What? Wow.” is shockingly effective, and it’s a fairly good incremental step. As is an, “Excuse me? I must have misheard you. Could you repeat that?”

          It’s really hard to respond in the moment. I used to be dumbfounded (and often still am) when someone would say something horrifically inappropriate. I’m getting better at saying something, or if I’m too shocked to speak, to do a visible wide-eyed “wtaf oh holy hell” kind of look, which is also surprisingly effective.

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            the other thing to remember about “What?! Wow!” is that is may not get immediate results. But it’s important that it be out there. Don’t underestimate the possibility that it will make people hesitate at some other time.

            Reply
        2. SKA

          My immediate reaction in a similar situation was “Okay, Jane. OKAY.” with a disgusted eye roll. I don’t actually feel that’s sufficient, but it was one of those situations that caught me off-guard because I wasn’t expecting it. And I guess I at least got the message across that she should stop being racist (around me), because it hasn’t happened again (around me).

          Reply
      2. Not Rebee

        While not specific, a really loud and obnoxious “WOW!” can really put a halt on the original conversation and force a spin back to that particular comment. You might not have a wonderful one-liner ready, but you are likely able to have a legitimate conversation once you’ve managed to derail the original line of commentary.

        (I did this the other day when Male Coworker told Female Coworker she should pick up her feet when she walks. Female Coworker likes to change out of her heels into slippers when in the office, so her pants are almost always dragging (from being hemmed to heel hight, not flat height) as she walks back and forth to the printer. Regardless of why her pants were dragging, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place (other than maybe your mother’s?) to tell you how to walk?? He had no idea why I seemed to have an issue with it but saying WOW super loudly gave me the ability to basically call the entire office’s attention to it and then to address it with him.)

        Reply
    2. Anonymous Educator

      While I do agree we should all speak out and call out people at work, it’s also naive to imagine there are no social and/or professional penalties you suffer for constantly being the one to call others out.

      Reply
      1. Banana Sandwich

        this. in my experience, people as a general rule get VERY defensive when being called out on things. Especially touchy things.

        Reply
      2. Czhorat

        This is why we men also need to speak up; if it’s a woman speaking she will too often be dismissed as overly sensitive. Men are treated to a certain measure of automatic respect, so we may as well use it for those without the same benefits.

        Reply
        1. Banana Sandwich

          this has a very “not all men” vibe that rubs me the wrong way. Women can speak for themselves.

          Reply
          1. Czhorat

            Not how I meant it; it IS a problem, and it IS a problem predominantly – though not exclusively – with men. We men have a responsibility to pay attention to our own language AND speak up when our fellow men get it wrong.

            I know that women can and do speak for themselves; I also know that theirs needn’t be the only voices on these issues.

            Reply
            1. Banana Sandwich

              speaking on behalf of women because you conceive that your message will come across stronger is sexist in itself. If you want to help, encourage women to speak up for themselves.

              Reply
              1. Dee

                I disagree. Men will listen to other men when they’d ignore a woman. It sucks, but it happens. I do think it’s important, as you both noted, for a man to be a supportive voice when a woman speaks up, rather than trying to replace her voice.

                Reply
                1. Fleeb

                  Exactly. I think Czhorat is being a good ally. Aly? Whichever one you don’t drive a car down.

                2. Emi.

                  Yeah, it’s not that men’s opinions are worth more; it’s that their opinions are often, unfairly, treated as though they’re worth more. Czhorat is saying men should use this to advocate for and support women, which I appreciate. :)

                3. VivaL

                  Yea, Agreed. I think Czhorat was just acknowledging the sad reality – not saying it was right or that it should be that way. He was recognizing his privilege, and saying he should use it to help create the atmosphere/reality that he would like to see.

                  Granted – it’s just one way to be an ally. He can (and I am assuming he does) also encourage women to speak up. There will be moments when each action is appropriate. Put the two together and you have someone doing exactly what women (people – bc it’s not just women) have asked for in this movement – support both directly and indirectly.

                  tl;dr – I also interpreted this as a good thing from Czhorat.

              2. Czhorat

                OK. APologies if it came across as sexist. My meaning was to acknowledge that sexism exists, and that – because of bias in others – the message is heard differently if it also comes from men.

                I meant no ill by it, and this CAN become a rabbit-hole if intentions; if I “encourage” women to speak up, is that not also arguably more sexist than speaking up for myself and assuming that they can do the same?

                Reply
                1. Chomps

                  @Czhorat

                  When I think of a man being supportive of a woman who speaks up, I don’t think of the man encouraging the woman to speak up, I think of them as seeing the woman speaking up and then also saying something to indicate that whatever was said isn’t ok.

                2. pnw

                  Thank you, Czhorat. As a strong feminist I appreciate the support. Of course women can speak up for themselves, but it’s nice to know you’ve got our backs.

                3. Captain Obvious

                  1. Both men and women should speak up. Duh.
                  2. This very thread, which has devolved into a question of “is it sexist for men to call out sexist behavior” is EXACTLY the reason why men (probably a lot of women, too) clam up. If a man is condemning sexist behavior, that is a good thing.

                4. Bess

                  I think it’s really important for men to speak up in just the way you say! Men do still command more respect than women and some men really do need to be called out by other men to start “getting it.” Not ideal, but a thing.

                  There’s a line between that and a condescending “let me speak on behalf of offended women,” of course, which is also a thing. But it’s also not all on women’s shoulders to call out when they’re being mistreated–it’s shared.

                5. Jules the Third

                  Your statement is straight from the ally playbook. It is not sexist to recognize and use your privilege to support others. Please keep amplifying the voices of women and PoC. The only time it gets problematic is if you override the women or PoC. Saying ‘I agree with Jane, that was uncool’ is great. Saying ‘That was uncool’ *if* Jane spoke first without acknowledging Jane can be frustrating for Jane.

                6. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  Exactly as Jules said. Men also speaking up against this stuff is very much needed!

                7. TootsNYC

                  Czhorat wrote: “…speaking up for myself…”

                  This is an important component of what he’s advocating.

                  He’s advocating that men say, “hey, she’s a grownup, let’s call her a girl.” or the underlying message “I’m not comfortable with speaking of / treating the women we work with as inferior.”

                  He’s speaking for himself. Which is pretty damned powerful!

                8. Violet

                  I agree with Czhorat. I think that sexist issues have become “women’s issues” and that in order to make real progress, it helps tremendously to make them “men’s issues”… as in “It offends me as a man that you think I would be okay with this.”

                  I often think about this in terms of sexist dress codes (the ones that are sexist, not to say that all of them are)… that men (and teenage boys) should be expressing outrage that women are being policed because of the implication that they (men) can’t control themselves.

              3. Squeeble

                I think Czhorat makes the point, though, that modeling this behavior as a man is going to go a long way with other men. Yes, it’s annoying as hell that many men will take another man more seriously than so many women, but I appreciate when a man recognizes the power he has in certain situations and uses it to promote equality.

                Reply
                1. Banana Sandwich

                  Ok, I guess we can agree to disagree. As a woman (with my own personal preferences included, I’ll admit) I find it offensive when a man feels he needs to speak for me, even if it would be advantageous to do so.

                  In my mind, it just perpetuates the same thought process.

                2. JB (not in Houston)

                  I don’t think he’s saying that a man should speak up *instead of* women. It’s that men should also be speaking up and not leaving this just to women. And that’s absolutely true, just like white people should not leave it only to minorities to speak out when they hear racist statements.

                3. j-me

                  “modeling this behavior as a man is going to go a long way with other men”

                  I’m a woman, and I absolutely agree with this.

                4. LBK

                  I think the crux of the argument is that sometimes women just aren’t in the right position to be able to call out sexist language because there can be an accordingly sexist backlash to it (eg being seen as a whiner or overly sensitive, thus costing political capitol and risking her reputation). So it’s not that a man is speaking for a woman because of some sort of white knight, mansplainy motivation, but rather recognizing that men risk less by calling out sexist behavior and trying to use that privilege for something good.

                  If you don’t feel hampered in your ability to call out sexist behavior whenever you see it and therefore don’t ever feel like there’s a situation where you’d want a man to say something, then more power to you.

                5. Michele

                  I agree. And as a woman in a male dominated field, I can vouch for the fact that men are much more likely to listen to another man saying that they are out of line than they are to a woman who says the same thing. In my experience, men will instantly apologize if another man calls them out, but they will double down if a woman does. I will take all of the allies that I can get.

                6. Future Analyst

                  Completely agreed. I encourage my husband to speak up if he sees BS moves in his (predominantly male) workplace. In my view, speaking up as a dude is helpful, because it’s one more voice that’s saying xyz isn’t okay, AND it makes the women who are referred to as “girls” know that someone has their backs. [Of course, this isn’t to say that they NEED him to do it, but hell, it can’t hurt their cause.]

                7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I don’t see Czhorat claiming to speak for women or saying that that’s what he should do. He’s saying men also have a responsibility to call out sexist nonsense because it’s sexist nonsense, and because both men and women have a stake in eliminating that nonsense. And he’s acknowledging that the risks of speaking up can be different based on implicit or explicit biases in the workplace, so men in particular have an important role to play in how they use their male privilege.

                8. Elizabeth the Ginger

                  It’s also important that men speak up when this kind of thing happens in all-male groups. And that white people speak up against racist speech in all-white groups, and same for LGBTQ, disabilities, etc. – whenever the group is all people who share or are perceived to share a privileged identity.

                9. Simonthegreywarden

                  @banana sandwich — to me, that’s like saying that as a white woman, I shouldn’t add my voice when I see others speaking out against racism or any other injustice. I shouldn’t speak in place of someone’s lived experience of racism, but I should call it out because I have privilege.

              4. all aboard the anon train

                But sexism lies in that approach. I’d be pretty offended if a man encouraged me to speak up because it comes off as him knowing better than I about what I should speak about. I generally want men to back me up when I say something, not tell me I should say something or say it for me.

                There’s more power in me saying, “hey, don’t say that, it’s offensive” and a man going, “I agree, that’s an awful thing to say” than either of the other options.

                Reply
                1. Just Another Techie

                  All of this AND ALSO there are situations where I don’t speak up as a woman because it would negatively impact me more than I’m willing to pay in that situation. A dude speaking up on his own and saying “yo that’s not okay” would be much appreciated, so I don’t have to always put myself on the line to make things change.

                2. all aboard the anon train

                  @Just Another Techie: Yes, exactly. I’m as hardcore of a feminist as they come, but sometimes when you’re always the one advocating, people stop listening. A new voice, especially one from an ally, can go a long way to helping and shutting down bad behavior.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I read Czhorat as arguing that men should say something so it’s not always “on women” to raise issues of gender equity and sexism. That doesn’t seem offensive to me if it’s done thoughtfully.

                4. Jessica

                  We seem to be assuming both sexes are present at whatever the situation is. I think one of the most powerful times a man can speak up to call out sexist conduct is when only men are present. Think of the things people feel free to say when there aren’t any of the group they’re talking about in the room. There’s a presumption that the other members of the more privileged group agree with what’s said, so that’s a great time to speak up and let people know that just because you’re a man doesn’t mean you agree, and just because women aren’t present doesn’t mean it was OK to say that about them.

              5. Liz T

                The feminist consensus is that if men want to be considered allies they need to use their privilege to hold space for women. Czhorat is spot on–men can’t say they care about feminism and then sit idly by.

                Reply
                1. Alex

                  I don’t think there is a consensus at all about what feminism want men to do or their “place” in feminism is. I have found it is a lot easier to speak up if something is happening that is incongruent with my values without resorting to mental gymnastics to figure out what “men” should and shouldn’t be doing.

              6. Tomato Frog

                Recognizing that people often respond to men and women differently because of sexism is not sexist, nor is saying that privileged people have a responsibility to use their privilege to speak up.

                Reply
              7. FlyingFergus

                I see what you mean, but often it takes people in power speaking up when they see something happen to someone without power in order to effect change.

                Reply
              8. N.J.

                The thing is though, that is typically what an “ally” does. They speak up, contribute and support those being discriminated against and do so because, oftentimes, their place of privilege is useful in focusing attention on the message. I don’t think Czorhst was suggesting that’s how it should be, that men speak for women, it just seemed like he was acknowledging that this is how it can often end up and that there is value in backing up the message that calling women girls is a sexist thing to say. As minorities, we often get overlooked when we speak up for ourselves. We achieve a lot of progress by involving others folks, including those that don’t suffer from that discrimination, in our fight and by encouraging them to speak up. Yes, it can come across as a bit white knight and condescending if intended and excited wrong but speaking up in addition to a woman speaking up is a good thing.

                Reply
              9. Close Bracket

                I call it tactical. He can encourage women to speak up, but he can’t change the culture where men’s words are given more weight than women’s women’s words. I support using privilege for good.

                Reply
              10. Sylvia

                Speaking over women isn’t helpful, but I don’t see anything wrong with a man criticizing sexism when he has a problem with it.

                Reply
              11. Honeybee

                No, this is what allyship is about. It’s an unfortunate but true statement that men can often be taken seriously for something that a woman would be called “overly sensitive” for; moreover, sometimes there aren’t any women in the room in a position to speak up. It’s not sexist to acknowledge reality and use it to your advantage.

                Reply
              12. Carla

                I highly disagree with your last sentence. I expect allies to speak up when they see something sexist, of their own accord, and not to condescendingly lecture me about speaking up for myself. Don’t speak over me if someone has made a sexist comment to me and I am already dealing with it–support me–but don’t shrug it off as if it’s not your responsibility if someone is making a general comment.

                Reply
            2. Formica Dinette

              We men have a responsibility to pay attention to our own language AND speak up when our fellow men get it wrong.

              I’m a woman and I agree with you.

              Reply
              1. Barney Stinson

                I’m a woman and a feminist and I heartily agree, too.

                It’s not sexist to help each other out towards a common goal.

                Reply
            3. Akcipitrokulo

              I disagree it is a sexist thing to say men should also call it out – it’s recognising that there are a lot of dynamics going on, and getting men to point out that it isn’t acceptable is helpful.

              Reply
            4. TheTallestOneEver

              I agree with this sentiment. I’m in IT, and a few years ago, I was the only woman in a meeting with my management and a team of male consultants. One of the consultants called me “good girl” because I was able to Google a piece of info we needed during the discussion. *sigh*

              I didn’t respond in the moment because not only was I struggling with a work appropriate response, I was floored that this room of men, all managers and higher than me on the food chain, said absolutely nothing to correct this man. Can I defend myself? Yes, but I shouldn’t have to.

              After the meeting I brought up this topic with the male managers who had been in the room. It was eye opening because it never registered with any of them that this man referred to me as “girl”. They all apologized, and my direct supervisor had a one on one conversation with the consultant about what would and would not be tolerated while they worked with us.

              Reply
          2. Kvothe

            That’s not how I took it at all (and I’m a woman if that matters), I took it more as someone recognizing their privilege and using it to support those without

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            1. Turquoise Cow

              Same here. Any oppressed group needs allies. Men can, and should, speak out against sexism just as white people should speak against racism.

              Reply
            2. JKP

              As a woman, that is also how I read it. Also, guys who are sexist will feel more free to be sexist when there is no woman around to take offense, and it is very helpful for other men to take offense and speak up in those situations too.

              Reply
            3. motherofdragons

              Very much agree. (Is your username from the Kingkiller Chronicles, by chance? If so, much respect!!)

              Reply
          3. Anna

            This is actually counter to a lot of the dialogue around speaking up says. The idea is that those who have the privilege should use that privilege to bring attention to the issues facing those without the privilege. Sure, women can speak for themselves, and so can people of color, and people with disabilities, but if you want to be a good ally, you have to be willing to step up. Do the work. It also puts all the burden on women and people of color to do the work instead of ANYONE who sees it saying something. Whether it’s good or not, if you are in a position of privilege and you see something that should be corrected, it will get more traction coming from you with your privilege.

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            1. Starbuck

              Also, I don’t like the hint I’m seeing from some commentors that men don’t have a right to be legitimately offended when they hear sexist comments directed at women and that somehow it’s not their prerogative to point it out. Men, you don’t need a woman’s permission to object to sexist behavior!

              Reply
              1. TootsNYC

                I don’t like the hint … that men don’t have a right to be legitimately offended when they hear sexist comments directed at women

                This reminds me of an story about Gen. U.S. Grant’s comment at a military dinner when someone started to tell a raunchy joke by saying, “Since there are no ladies in the room…” and Gen. Grant said, “No, but there are gentlemen.”

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          4. A grad student

            I actually just went to a stereotype training in which the woman in charge actually recommended that men speak up for women rather than women for themselves if possible, to the point where she recommended we ask a man privately if he’s willing to do this for us in the moment. Not just men, too- she recommended white people speak up for racism, Christians speak up for Jews, etc, because people find it easy to dismiss a member of an affected group as being “sensitive”, but are likely to listen to an unaffected person.

            Reply
            1. Czhorat

              I don’t agree with that approach either; it appears to encourage women and minorities to render themselves invisible. That isn’t a good result either.

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          5. meat lord

            I disagree, Banana Sandwich. Some men are just too sexist to listen to women, but they might listen to other men. Also, I’d like to be able to believe that some men might defend women when there are no women around…

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            1. Czhorat

              Yeah, I work in a technology-related field. Too often there are no women in the room, and there’ve been times when I’ve said something to a colleague, vendor, or someone else in the industry.

              We might have beaten this to death, but an honest question for Banana Sandwich: if a man hears another man making comments like this, how do you think he should react?

              Reply
              1. Banana Sandwich

                I’d have to agree that an ally would speak up in the situation that you assert here, which is different from your original point to which I was speaking on.

                I wont elaborate further, since i seem to be largely alone in my point of view.

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                1. TootsNYC

                  I think that’s exactly the same point he WAS making.

                  I think you’re alone in reading something different from what he said.

                2. Banana Sandwich

                  I respectfully disagree tootsnyc.

                  He said this “if it’s a woman speaking she will too often be dismissed as overly sensitive. Men are treated to a certain measure of automatic respect, so we may as well use it for those without the same benefits.”

                  He asserting that he needs to speak on a woman’s behalf, which is what I’m arguing

                3. Akcipitrokulo

                  “if it’s a woman speaking she will too often be dismissed as overly sensitive. Men are treated to a certain measure of automatic respect, so we may as well use it for those without the same benefits.” – I read that as “I know I have privilege, and will use it as an ally.” But it’s difficult to tell tone over internet :)

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I’m with Czhorat on this. I think he’s talking about allyship, not speaking on behalf of or in lieu of women. We need men to be engaged in the fight for gender equity, and men interrupting these processes is an important and valuable tool in that discourse and fight.

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          7. TootsNYC

            That didn’t read as “not all men” to me AT ALL.

            in fact, it read as, “those of us who don’t do that thing need to speak up so it will be FEWER men.”

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          8. Nic

            I got the totally opposite feeling from the comment, but re-reading it I can see where you saw that. I got it as the same type of call to arms as any other “those with privilege should speak up for those without”

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      3. JulieBulie

        The only “penalty” I have ever suffered was receiving the scorn of someone who was generally considered an asshole anyway. I agree that things are different if you are in an environment where bad behavior is ingrained in the culture. However, sometimes it only takes one person to speak up to embolden others to do the same.

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      4. all aboard the anon train

        Definitely. I’ve had too many people make a big deal of needing to police their comments around me, as in, “oh no, don’t say that about women/LGBTQA+ people, all aboard might get angry with you!”

        That I can handle because it’s usually from jerks anyway, but it is tiring to get a reputation as the only one who will speak up, partially because then everyone expects you to be the one to call out bad behavior and won’t do it themselves….and then they get offended when you don’t call out the behavior and then call them out for not calling it out either.

        I generally have no problem calling out people who purposefully, accidentally, or misguidedly speak ill about my identities and labels or those of groups I’m an ally to, but it has definitely cost me in some social and professional areas. Some I can live without and some I rather wouldn’t, but can’t change that now.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          So I had a classmate say this to me, once, and I found it was really effective to look at him with a puzzled/bewildered expression and say, “Why would you want people to feel isolated or mistreated? Why would you want to exclude someone because of their identity?” I didn’t say this in a hectoring tone, but in a tone of genuine concern. I’m not saying it will work with jerks, but sometimes people behave in jerky ways because no one makes them really examine their bullshit.

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      5. Sunshine

        Yep. I remember objecting to a guy coming in and saying “Hello, Laydeez”. All I did was make a face and it was a “Huge Deal” and I was “No Fun”.

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      6. Gov Worker

        What if you are a member of the group that the nasty comment is directed toward. Forget that noise, call it out and let the chips fall where they may. I would not want to work for a company where I would be penalized for standing up for common decency in the workplace.

        Reply
    3. iseeshiny

      I have a coworker with a chihuahua named “Bean Dip” whom she calls “Beaner.” It’s been three years and I still have no idea what to say or how to say it and I actively try to avoid the subject of pets.

      Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        Oh wow, I had no idea that was a slur; good to know! Is it possible your coworker is also using it obliviously?

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      2. throwawayaccount

        *please* speak up. This person really should know that’s a racially charged word and it’s super Not Ok to use at work.

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        1. CJ

          Had no idea it was an offensive slur. Have a feeling your co-work doesn’t know either. I am sure if you let her politely know she will stop. Worth a try…

          Reply
        2. Wendy Darling

          In coworker’s meager defense I had no idea that was a slur either — I’ve found that one of the results of growing up white in an area where overt racism was super not okay was that I’m just straight up not familiar with a lot of slurs (not to say there wasn’t racism — people just didn’t use slurs because it was a huge faux pas. Better than nothing I guess?). I am *mortified* when I discover I have accidentally used one.

          Also, a dog named “Bean Dip” has the adorable potential nickname of “Dipper”. As in Little Dipper, or Dipper Pines if the person is into cartoons.

          Reply
          1. Anna

            I kind of feel like a person with a Chihuahua named Bean Dip with the nickname Beaner knows full well it’s a racial slur.

            Reply
            1. Jessie the First (or second)

              Agree. It’s the dog breed that does it. German Shepherd, sure, I’ll buy innocent mistake. Chihuahua? No. Not a mistake. This is someone who thinks the slur is funny.

              Reply
            2. N.J.

              Yeah, I agree here. It’s Beaner, in what situation would that not be a slur. Same with bean dip. It’s following the logical conclusion of these nicknames that identifies them as racist and/or slurs. If someone identifies something of supposedly Mexican origin, such as the Chihuahua breed of dog, with beans, which are a “stereotypical” Mexican and Hispanic origin food in many cases, how could it NOT be insensitive/racist/a stereotype/a slur? It follows the same pattern as other time-worn race/nationality stereotypes and insults based on stereotypical food consumption, at least what I’ve seen being in the U.S.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I feel like this person picked the name so that they could use a racist nickname but pretend that there’s plausible deniability.

                Reply
            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              Yeah, I agree. If you don’t know and have still made all these choices, and did not make them because of some implicit bias, then you are the rare 2% of the world that has no social context but still manages to offend.

              Reply
            4. Wendy Darling

              True, I’m probably giving the coworker way too much credit.

              I kind of want to call a dog Dipper now though.

              Reply
          2. Kate

            Yes! I grew up in a similar sounding area, a lot of the time I have no clue that something is even meant to be insulting! Like, I was watching a movie or TV show, can’t remember the name, and there was a black and white couple on screen, someone said something in the background about molasses and white bread, and I was like, is that an insult or was someone talking about their grocery list, or what? I mean, molasses tastes good, and lots of people eat white bread, so . . . in the end, I guessed it was an insult, but I am still really confused about that one.

            Reply
      3. Helena

        I have a co-worker whose surname is ‘Beaner’. It’s the name she was born with. She and everyone else here didn’t get why it was offensive and she kept it after she got married. Thank you to everyone for affirming it is a slur and that I’m not alone in seeing it as one.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth the Ginger

          I don’t think it’s offensive for it to be her surname. I doubt it’s because one of her ancestors thought they’d like to belittle a group of people. I have a friend with the surname “Van Dyk,” and that’s not a homophobic slur – just her name. I also think she has the right to keep her name, as it’s what she grew up with.

          Reply
        2. a

          If it’s her actual name that’s different than choosing to name a pet a slur. I don’t find it offensive in this context. Doesn’t really seem reasonable to expect her to change her name – that’s different than calling your pet an offensive nickname.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, I agree. It’s strange as a last name, but I think it’s categorically different to have an unfortunate (but inherited) last name than choosing a racist nickname for your pet.

            Reply
        3. Penelope Pitstop

          Um, wow. A surname is hardly a slur. What’s offensive is trying to make her uncomfortable about choosing to use a name she was born into.

          Reply
      4. TootsNYC

        I think the way you’d say anything is to say, “I think you don’t realize that this can be a pretty negative slur, and especially since your dog is a chihuahua, I worry that people who hear you will assume you are deliberately making fun of people of Mexican background. I’d hate for people to judge you unfairly, so I wanted to make sure you knew.”

        Then when she says, “Oh, I know,” then you can say, “Well, now I don’t need to worry that people are being unfair to you when they decide you’re a jerk.”

        Reply
      5. curmudgeon

        jeepers, really? We’re supposed to be offended because someone has a cutesy nickname for their dog?
        Wow.
        Part of my last name is pronounced like the N word, should I be offended?
        A friend is nicknamed Beans (as in “full of”) and no one has ever insinuated it as a slur.

        I had once called a classroom of kids 7-15 years old “wild monkeys” and one parent took offense that I called her black child a monkey as a slur. Thankfully, the other parents were as stunned as I was at that attitude since I was referring to ALL the kids that way, not one particular child, because, well, they WERE acting like wild monkeys.
        We used to refer to the scouts in our troop as “your boy” since you could not assume it was a caregiver’s son; but I guess that’s wrong too.
        Sure if someone says something in an offensive manner, than correct, but don’t give words more power than needed. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

        Reply
    4. Sarasaurus

      Ugh, yes. I want to be the kind of person who speaks up against offensive language, but I have such a hard time with it in practice. My coworker self-deprecatingly referred to herself as “retarded” the other day (think: “I can’t believe I messed up the TPS reports, I can be so retarded sometimes”) and all I could manage was a shocked face.

      Reply
      1. Colorado

        This is one of my biggest pet peeves, biggest! It completely baffles me that people use this word, let alone, grown, professional adults. When I hear this used, my respect for you just went to 0. No matter who you are.

        Reply
        1. Wendy Darling

          I’m working REALLY hard on rooting it out of my lexicon, because it was 100% socially acceptable in the circles I ran in until like 5 years ago and breaking habits is hard. Embarrassingly, I had just seriously never thought about it. I’m doing pretty good but every once in a while I’m tired or tipsy or otherwise not thoughtful and I revert to bad old habits. :/

          Reply
          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

            Something that helped me get through it — replacing it with ‘reject/rejected’ instead. The mouthfeel is similar, and it helped me transition away from using it, since like you, I came out of a social circle where it was regarded as totally acceptable.

            Reply
          2. swala

            I used it in a work setting about 5 years ago not thinking and someone pulled me aside to inform me that my supervisor, whom I had been talking to, had a sister with an intellectual disability. I was horrified and since then have worked extremely hard to stop using it. It was a huge wake-up call for me though.

            Reply
        2. ginger ale for all

          I hate the co-opting of the word into libtard. Just no. Argue your point without that word.

          Reply
          1. Starbuck

            Sadly, I’ve found that the people who tend to use that word are typically the same who complain the most about “PC culture” and so I wouldn’t expect much success.

            Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        So I grew up where use of the r-word this way was RAMPANT and unchecked, and I didn’t fully get schooled in how problematic it was until early high school (and then it was reinforced in college). I think a gentle interruption might reframe the issue for her. She probably has no idea how offensive she’s being… or at least, I hope she doesn’t. I think interventions like this should start with a gentle “Hey, you probably didn’t mean this, but when you say [slur], it has [terrible meaning and effect].” Most decent humans will feel embarrassed in the moment but will internalize that information and try to change their behavior.

        Reply
        1. Snazzy Hat

          That’s pretty close to how I inform people that gyp/gypped is a slur. I also add my confession that I used to think it was spelled jip/jipped and never made the connection to Romani until I saw it written. So far I’ve been mostly successful. No one has openly defied my request, but I have a friend who used the word a week after we had a discussion on calling people out for using slurs & I segued into that example. That was more of a sigh followed by thinking “I just told you how crappy that term is.” (She tends to be in her own world to the point of interrupting her husband while he’s talking to me about an interesting topic to show me a photo she found on the internet, but that’s another story.)

          Reply
        2. Lori

          I agree with this. Also, some people think that if they are referring to themselves, then it makes it ok. (sort of like making fun of yourself.)

          Reply
      3. MacAilbert

        I do that, but it’s because I actually do have autism. I know everybody else is thinking it about me, so it’s a whole lot easier for me to just come out and say it than to try and pretend I’m better than I am.

        Reply
    5. Katie the Fed

      You can always say something after the fact! “Hey, just so you know, that comment you made the other day was really inappropriate. Please don’t use that kind of language around me again.”

      Reply
    6. LSP

      I feel fortunate that my parents actively taught my siblings and myself to speak up when people say things like this. As I grew up, I began to realize that not everyone is taught this. And even with this sort of thing ingrained in me, it’s still awkward as hell.

      Reply
    7. ReneeB

      I had a boss once say something racist/anti-semitic about Jewish people. Something along the lines of “Well she’s a Jew, so of course she would.” About the client of a client, no less!

      I stood there, in shock.

      The next thing I knew I had already blurted out, “That’s not okay!”

      It was like my body willed it out of me before I could get it back. For a moment I didn’t know who I was more upset with, her or me.

      She tried to laugh and play it off, but she never said anything like that in front of me again. So it worked!

      Although it’s so much harder once we’ve become used to the crappy language, like with “girls”. We have to prepare ourselves to communicate displeasure. It’s a lot of emotional labor!

      There’s nothing like being genuinely aghast at the words someone just used to get one’s point across.

      Reply
      1. One of the Sarahs

        Congratulations on saying something, though – even if it wasn’t the ‘perfect’ phrasing, it still worked, and hopefully had an impact beyond not saying things in front of you.

        Reply
    8. I am not a lawyer but,

      I usually say, I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Would you please say it again? And if they are dense enough to say so, my follow up is usually, My, what an unfortunate thing to say.

      Reply
  2. JulieBulie

    Thank you, AAM! I still hear “girl” every once in a while and I always feel as though I’ve fallen into a time warp.

    Reply
    1. MAB

      Right?! I had a man call me girl multiple times in a conversation just last week. I went from a nice correction to “I haven’t been a girl in years, please stop calling me that.” He just stared at me blankly.

      Reply
    2. SJ

      I accidentally referred to myself as a “girl” a few months ago when I was with my parents (I’m almost 29), and my dad jumped in with, “EXCUSE ME? You mean ‘woman’!” He’s pretty great.

      Reply
      1. DecorativeCacti

        I still use it in certain contexts. Having a girls’ night out or having the girls over. Usually in a teasing, “no boys allowed” way, but never professionally.

        Reply
      1. BeautifulVoid

        Oooh, I was just going to post the same thing. I get that at work way more than I should. In fact, at the job assignment I had last Monday, if I’d taken a shot every time I was referred to as “the young lady who blah blah blah”, I don’t know if I would have been able to drive home. Dude, I get that I’m short and have a round face, but I also have two kids and a mortgage. Our ages are probably not *that* far apart.

        Reply
    3. Sam

      My boss recently said “girl” followed by an awkward pause where you could practically hear him realizing that he should’ve used a different word. He corrected himself and moved on, but that loaded silence was fairly entertaining, if I’m honest. Screeching to a halt mid-sentence is not his usual m.o.

      Reply
  3. MommyMD

    I honestly do not think men mean the term “girls” in any sort of derogatory way. This would not be my horse to die on but we are all wired differently.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Intent doesn’t matter as much as impact, and the impact is that language like this allows sexism and devaluation of women to take root in workplaces.

      Reply
      1. MommyMD

        Have you ever said “girls night out?”

        I think sometimes these days we are looking for things that offend us instead of just trying to foster positivity and getting along.

        Reply
        1. One of the Sarahs

          There is a massive difference between “us” calling ourselves specific things, and people outside our group using it. eg some rappers may use the N word in songs, or I, as a member of the LGBTQ community use the word Queer, but that doesn’t mean that when someone outside our groups uses it, it’s benign.

          And I think the term “looking for things that offend us” is hugely patronising, especially as you very clearly mean “you” instead of “we”.

          Reply
        2. neverjaunty

          You know one great way to foster positivity? Don’t use insulting slurs for people and then get all butthurt about “these days” when they fail to suck it up.

          Reply
        3. Starbuck

          The context of a friendly social outing is pretty different than the work world. It’s pretty widely accepted that you treat people… well, professionally in a professional setting, and that’s what this is about.

          Reply
        4. GraceW

          I agree with you, but on this site, these sorts of remarks are battles regular commenters love to fight.

          Reply
          1. tiny temping teapot

            No one loves to fight. I’m more confused by people who always find a way to comment on the lack of importance of the discussion or how we should stop worrying about things that are just inconsequential to them. When I find something not that important or something that doesn’t phase me, I skip over to the post/discussion.

            Reply
        5. Bow Ties Are Cool

          My friends and I use “ladies’ night out”, actually. And we refer to ourselves as “the ladies”. Mostly because we find it amusing to use a somewhat old-fashioned term in reference to a rabble of tattooed liberals, but partially because we’re well past being “girls”.

          Reply
        6. curmudgeon

          yep; I’m with you.
          Either a word is okay & can be used or it’s not and should never be used.
          Pick one.

          Reply
        7. TychaBrahe

          Yes. I’ve also heard of a group of men getting together for “poker with the boys.”

          Which is entirely different from talking about the “boys” in your sales or PR or accounting department.

          Reply
      2. JM60

        The meaning of words depends greatly on context. AAM contasts it to calling men boys, but there are some contexts (usually outside of work) in which I hear young men are referred to as boys in a complementary way. I think this is a decent test to determine if using the word ‘girl’ to refer to a younger adult woman is sexist and/or misogynist in a certain context. This test passes in some contexts, but it probably doesn’t in most workplaces.

        Reply
        1. Katelyn

          (I know I’m jumping in way late, but couldn’t help myself!)

          I think that you would be surprised by the age of the “girls” in many offices… I have heard grey-haired grandmothers called girls, and it’s pretty universal that the lower in the org chart one sits the more likely you are to be called diminutive names. e.g. at a school it’s likely the secretaries will be called “the girls” and the principal will be called Mrs. X or the Principal.

          Can you picture or draw any parallels to a CEO of a fortune 500 company being called “boy”? That’s the conversation happening here.

          Reply
    2. Myrin

      Sure they don’t (at least most of them, and women, too), hence Alison’s second-to-last paragraph, though.

      Reply
      1. Mints

        Assuming they’re doing innocently, they should just change behavior. Like if my name is Katherine and I go by Katherine or Kate but never Katie, somebody who insists on calling me Katie is being a jerk. If I’m okay being called “young woman” or coworker or colleague, and someone insists on saying “girl,” they’re also being a jerk.

        Reply
    3. KellyK

      It doesn’t have to be anybody’s hill to die on. There’s nothing wrong with calmly and matter-of-factly correcting sexist wording, even if it’s meant totally innocently.

      Reply
      1. motherofdragons

        And if it’s meant innocently, I’m willing to bet that those people who are corrected would be embarrassed to learn they were unintentionally promoting sexist ideas, and wouldn’t have any problem making the easy switch from “girl” to “woman.”

        Reply
        1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian

          I wish I wasn’t the only woman in my workplace that speaks up about the usage of “girl”.
          I have a hard time sometimes not using it myself, due to growing up with professional being referred to as “girls” all around me (and I was born in the 80s!). I usually do well and stick with woman/women, but if my tongue starts going for that g, I try to at least go a bit extra southern and make it “gal”.

          We also have a mostly informal workplace, so it’s usually “guys” for the men. I’m trying to avoid the whole “guys and girls” thing that results with many others, but sometimes it’s hard to get out of language patterns!
          Guys and gals I can live with, but I don’t know if others have come across “gals” being used in non-neutral ways.

          Reply
          1. Merida Ann

            I tend to just use “everyone” and “someone”. So in the example from the OP, I’d go with “we have someone who codes the emails for us”. It doesn’t matter if that someone is male or female, just that the work is getting done. Same for addressing a group – “Hi, everyone,” avoids specifying one way or another.

            Reply
      2. Anna

        Precisely. The way language changes is frequently through gentle correction. There are many words I don’t use anymore because someone kindly pointed out what it means, or can signify. And frankly, I struggle with girls/women because they both sounds awkward, but my goal is to make it less awkward sounding by actually using woman instead of girl.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I remember going to college and discovering everyone there said “woman” to refer to fellow students, and feeling really weird about it because I really didn’t think of myself as a woman at that age. I started saying “woman” because of peer pressure but felt pretty foolish about it … for about a month, and then habit took hold and it sounded normal to me. Repetition usually takes care of the awkwardness.

          Reply
          1. blackcat

            The high school I taught at did this (with both genders) as an intentional move. We did not have “boys” and “girls” soccer, we had “men’s” and “women’s.” It was part of a general ethos of trying to treat teens like adults so that they behave like adults. But it was also partly due to the fact that some of the older women around wanted to make sure our female students got used to being called “women” rather than “girls.” I loved watching the 18 year old young women on my team politely correcting the people who would refer to them as “girls” in competition.

            It is generally easier to correct language with younger people, but it’s possible with any age.

            Reply
            1. Elizabeth West

              In skating, they use “ladies.” It’s a bit old-school, but many of the competitors, especially at the junior level, are still actual children. And when they do become adults, the term still covers everybody, so I haven’t had much issue with it.

              I do like the reasoning behind using the adult terms with the high school students, however. It gets both sexes on board with it early on.

              Reply
          2. LBK

            I forced myself to start using “woman” after reading about it on this site. It did take about a month to get over the awkwardness because “girl” is SO incorporated into everyday speech for any female person under the age of, like, 70, but it feels natural now.

            Reply
          3. Jesmlet

            This was not a thing when I went to college, everyone is referred to as boys and girls, or maybe young men and young women by the more proper professors.

            At what age am I supposed to start feeling uncomfortable being referred to as a girl vs woman? I’m not the type to really get offended about anything but this is something I really just don’t get. Men refer to each other as boys all the time so it’s not like there isn’t an equivalent. In our office, we generally use the term “ladies” to refer to a group of women (I literally typed girls then went back and changed it to women) but people occasionally use “girl” or my particularly sassy coworker will address people with a “Hey girl”. It’s 75% female with a 3:1 ratio of female to male managers so in our situation, can we just chalk this up to just white noise?

            Reply
            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              At a minimum, when you’re 18.

              I mean, you don’t have to feel uncomfortable about it. But that’s at least the point at which there’s no confusion over whether you’re an adult or a child.

              I would also argue that “Hey girl” has a distinct meaning from generally referring to women as “girls.”

              Reply
              1. Jesmlet

                But does it really? The male equivalent is probably “Hey man” right?

                I’m 25 and will probably be okay with being referred to as a girl till I’m in my early 30s. The CEO definitely referred to me as a “bright girl” as he was giving me a big raise and promoting me to a manager after 6 months of working there so honestly I’m okay with it (disclaimer: he’s a charming Indian man so he gets away with things other people might now) That last sentence sounds a bit snotty but when the word girl is coupled with beyond respectful treatment as an equal or better than male peers, I can’t bring myself to care when it really is trivial in my life.

                Reply
                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I think it’s use is systematically problematic, even if it’s not a problem to you in your specific context. But I also found it obscenely inappropriate to refer to me as “girl” when I was 20, 21, 25, etc.

                  “Hey girl” definitely has a distinct meaning, depending on your inflection and frankly, your race. If it’s just “Hey girl!” the same way you’d say “Hey Jesmlet!” then it’s closer to problematic, imo.

                2. Jesmlet

                  More like in the beginning of emails “Hey girl!” or when answering internal calls she’ll go “Hey girl, what’s up?” I try to wrap my head people getting offended with this stuff but maybe there have been so many big things I’ve experienced that the little things are just specks of dust in the wind to me.

                3. Kate

                  No, the male equivalent is “hey boy” or “boys”. The mirror of “hey man” is “hey woman”.

                4. MsSolo

                  For a lot of women, I think it depends on how they think of themselves. I find it hard to think of myself as a proper adult sometimes, even with a job and a mortgage and a fiance. It’s imposter syndrome: everyone else seems like a proper adult while I’m just pretending. But I’m doing a disservice to myself professionally when I don’t acknowledge how much I’ve changed since my teens and become an adult. Once I began thinking of myself as a woman, I found a lot of the imposter syndrome symptoms started slipping away – I wasn’t a girl playing at being a grown up, but a woman who belonged in an adult space. I still struggle socially, but in the office, I’m a woman, and I expect to be treated as such.

            2. Koko

              Funny enough, I have a good friend who is in her early 30s and she prefers “girl” still. The thing is, youth and women have this complex interrelationship where a woman’s demonstrated value decreases as she ages, young girls are presented as the ideal and old women as a negative. I think my friend is particularly influenced by that culture as she’s not been very successful romantically and she is starting to have an irrational fear that she’s getting too old to attract anyone. Being called a woman just reminds her of that.

              Reply
            3. Thlayli

              Jesmlet if you don’t feel offended by it that’s ok. You don’t have to be offended by everything other people are offended by.

              However, given that other people are offended by it it’s probably best to avoid saying it yourself, at least at work.

              I wouldn’t be remotely offended by being called a lady, in fact I correct people to lady when they refer to women as girls. I was surprised to read on here that some people find “lady” or “woman” offensive. I have no intention of becoming offended by “lady” just because someone told me they think it is offensive.

              However I will remember that some people may be offended by it. So in the future if anyone tells me they prefer woman(or girl) over lady I will try to remember to call them that.

              Tl;dr: if you are not personally offended by being called a girl, you don’t have to become offended just because someone on the Internet told you to.

              Reply
              1. Jesmlet

                The idea is also that I’m not going to change my behavior just because people on the Internet are offended by something. If someone around me tells me the terms I use are offensive to them then 100% I would adjust, but not going to preemptively do that on the off chance that they’re part of a group that would be.

                Reply
            4. Nottingham

              It can also be racist and classist: servants and slaves were/are routinely called ‘girl’ (or ‘boy’) more often than, say, rich old white men; this has lingered in our culture so that poorer people and people from ethnic minorities are still today called ‘girl’ (or ‘boy’) more often than ethnic majority or richer people.

              It’s also straight-up rude when people do it instead of remembering people’s names, because again that’s influenced by status, gender, age, race and class. Most people remember to use their CEO’s name, or the name of their manager; they ‘forget’ the names of people they deem to be low-status.

              You can absolutely continue to use ‘girl’ if you want to, and you don’t have to call it out. We’re just saying that calling women ‘girls’ has weight and history behind it, and using it will offend some people. So you may face consequences for using it, because intent is not magic. People will judge you on your choices, and use them as a marker for assuming other things about you and your beliefs.

              Reply
          4. Elizabeth H.

            I felt weird about it until I was about 24-25 or so, then it stopped feeling so weird, now girl feels weird. I too was very affected by this site in this, in a good way (I started reading it when I was 23-24! Now I’m 29!)
            FWIW I think the same is true of “man.” Like places where it feels less weird to say “girl,” it also feels weirder to say “man” than “guy” or “dude” or something else casual. The issue that causes problems is that there are a couple different dimensions of woman/man and girl. There is the register of formality and the register of respectfulness. These dimensions overlap a lot (like how speaking very informally can be disrespectful if you’re not familiar with your interlocutor, but speaking very formally can be insulting if you ARE familiar) but are not 100% identical. A lot of people want a word that is less formal-sounding than “woman” in the same way that “guy” is less formal sounding than “man.” The problem is that we don’t have that word, so people sometimes use “girl” to substitute but unfortunately “girl” also has this dimension of being less respectful in a specifically gendered way. That’s my take on it anyway.

            It’s so much better in Russian because you have girl, boy, young woman, young man, woman, man. “Young woman/man” go up pretty far in age and are not disparaging in comparison with “man/woman.”

            Reply
            1. Koko

              Yes, so much this! Woman/man is a word I use to describe a stranger or a demographic group. It feels somehow stiff and impersonal to use it to describe someone known to me.

              Reply
        2. Koko

          I actually totally do the “proper professor” thing and refer to everyone roughly under the age of 35ish as a young man or young woman specifically because man and woman just sound weird to me and saying “guys” and “girls” aren’t professional.

          Reply
      3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Right. This actually IS my hill to die on (sexism in the workplace, that is), but making a correction is so very far from dying on that hill. There are, like, 147 steps between making a neutral-toned correction to someone who refers to his female colleagues as “girls” and quitting (or whatever else you consider “dying on the hill”). Let’s not scare people off from taking mild, low-risk actions to promote gender equity.

        Reply
        1. One of the Sarahs

          Genius, thank you! I, too, really struggle with the idea that fighting back is equivalent to napalm, rather than just a normal conversation.

          Reply
    4. Snarkus Aurelius

      They may not mean it, but that’s the message and effect the term has, especially when there’s no male counterpart to it.

      If nothing else, referring to a grown woman in a professional workplace as a “girl” is asinine. You think anyone would refer to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or Elon Musk or a Warren Buffett as a boy? To their faces or not? Nope!

      So, yes, it’s a hill to die on.

      Reply
      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        In addition to the lack of male counterpart, I’ve found that the word “girl” is primarily applied to women in jobs considered less valuable (i.e. more likely to be filled by women – SNAKE EATS TAIL!), so it’s not just denigrating the woman, it’s denigrating their work.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          “The girl at the front desk”
          “The girl who does the filing”
          “Our admin girl”
          vs.
          “The girl who runs the Marketing department”
          “The girl managing the project”

          You’re way more likely to hear one set of those said, than the other, for sure. And in none of those cases would you EVER hear “boy”. You might hear “guy”, but never “boy”.

          Reply
          1. blackcat

            In certain areas, you will hear “boy” used to refer to men of color in low-status jobs. As with using “girl” to address adult women, it’s a discriminatory/infantilizing use.

            Reply
          2. Jaydee

            Precisely this! The female CEO is never referred to as “the girl who runs the company.” But the female receptionist is “the girl at the front desk.” And if someone did say “the boy at the front desk” I almost guarantee you it would be because the male human working the front desk is a teenager.

            Reply
            1. TootsNYC

              well, we have “guy,” but it’s absolutely not parallel. It’s far more neutral (and you do hear it for the CEO: “the guy running the company”)

              Reply
              1. Jadelyn

                Right, but I think the distinction there is that “guy” is ambiguous re age of the referent – you can use “guy” to refer to any male human from childhood on up (“little guy”) – so it doesn’t carry the same infantilizing connotation that “girl” does.

                Reply
                1. Anna

                  And the fact that you prefixed “guy” with “little” actually proves the point that guy is synonymous with man. You’d never point at a child on a train platform and say “that guy over there”. I’m a teacher and only ever refer to my elementary pupils as ‘guys’ when I’m implying they think they’re adults (“oh, he has an attitude that he’s a cool guy, but actually…”).

                  You could say it means ‘peer’ (as in, a teenage girl would call the boys in her class ‘guys’) but it doesn’t really. Any male who looks like an adult is a ‘guy’ to me, even if they’re far younger than I am. Teenagers use the word ‘guy’ for their mates because it sounds adult (oh to be 16 again and consider myself an adult!).

                  This got rambling. Just wanted to share my thoughts that guy is not an age-neutral term and still carries

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Well… you do hear “boy,” but it has distinct racist connotations. If I’m dealing with a bunch of white guys who insist on being obtuse, sometimes I’ll use “boys” to refer to them in their presence, but I would never do it if they were a multiracial group.

            Reply
            1. Jadelyn

              Fair point – I’ve actually cringed at a couple of counter-examples people use when doing the “you’d never say “boy” like that!” because of said racist connotations. Let’s say then instead that you’re extremely unlikely to hear “boy” in those ways, and if you *did*, it would be equally (or even more so) problematic for different reasons.

              Reply
          4. Lori

            I totally see it…for men, we have:
            busboy
            lawnboy
            poolboy
            paperboy

            These are typically occupations that teenagers would be employed in and so they put boy with it.

            BTW… I am female and have personally been a “busgirl” (because I refused to be called a “busboy”) when I was 15 years old and a papergirl when I was 12.

            Reply
            1. MegaMoose, Esq.

              The fact that those jobs are traditionally filled by youths kind of proves the point though, right? We’re generally not talking about the 35-year-old woman in HR if we’re talking about the job you had at 12 or 15?

              Reply
          5. PoorDecisions101

            I agree not hearing “boy” in those statements as individuals, but I often hear it in contexts of groups of people, like the “boys” are off to lunch, regardless of position.

            Reply
      2. sunny-dee

        Yeah … but they would undoubtedly use the word “guy,” at least in casual conversation. Is there a female equivalent of guy?

        Reply
          1. Thlayli

            I use lady or ladies. I don’t really like the word woman. I think it’s because man used to mean “person”, woman meant “female person” and werman meant “male person” so it kind of bugs me that man now means “male person” but is also still used to mean “person” on occasion, whereas woman is specific to “female person”.

            I think men / ladies is better because it subtly puts the female word above the male word. Which isn’t really equality but hey if it bothers any of the men they can push for gentleman.

            Another great bonus of “lady” is you can make it a joke and go all David walliams “I’m a laaaady” which lightens the tone but still gets the point across.

            Reply
              1. Thlayli

                Fun fact: werewolf comes from the same root as werman. At one point “wer” meant “husband” or “man” and “wyf” meant “wife” or “woman”.

                At that point werewolf became a word.
                Werewolf: man-wolf

                Language evolves. I love etymology.

                Reply
          2. Michele

            I hate the word lady because of the gendered behavioral connotations. Unless you are using it in conjunction with gentleman, it is as bad as girl.

            Reply
            1. Jesmlet

              Then what’s left? Can’t use ladies, can’t use guys, can’t use girls. Maybe I need to get use to addressing groups with a “Hi Everyone” (but that just sounds silly to me)

              Reply
              1. Jules the Third

                I use ‘Hi all’ and ‘Hi everyone’ a lot. Sounded weird at first, but the weird disappears in about a month.
                Also – Ladies night out instead of girls night out is a real easy substitution.

                Reply
              2. dawbs

                Once you do it a few dozen times, it stops being weird.

                I work with kids, and in the past, I’ve worked with a population that often had family and home structures that were ‘different’ (<I am absolutely failing to say that well tonight. sorry.)

                The first time I said "I need permission from your adult" or "Can you have your adult come talk to me?" or "Are you Jimmy's adult?" instead of mom/dad/etc it was awkward.
                The next few times, it was slightly awkward.
                And…now it's what I say.

                I still struggle w/ some of these things sometimes, but if you say it as a 'normal' thing that you say, it'll end up sounding like a 'normal thing to say'

                Reply
                1. Honeybee

                  Yep yep. I found the same thing with ‘partner’ – it felt awkward at first, but I hung with so many circles that just used partner as the default that now it actually feels more odd to use the gender-specific ones.

                2. Jesmlet

                  I’m curious why “parent or guardian” wouldn’t work… adult sounds super awkward.

                3. dawbs

                  Well, like I said, it doesn’t actually sound awkward-once used to it.

                  And because it’s often not the parent nor a legal guardian (and a lot of kids stare at you blankly when you say ‘guardian’–it’s not part of their lexicon)–and it’s painful for kids.

                  When you say ‘let me talk to your dad’ 15 times and are right, but kid 16, you say ‘your dad…’ and 14 of the classmates chime in to say that that’s not Fred’s dad, it’s his uncle/family friend/older brother/whomever, because his dad is dead and his step-dad is in jail, it highlights differences and draws attention to something that’s often really sore for the kid.
                  And the rest of the kids chiming in aren’t necessarily trying to be cruel, it’s just that small kids are all about the facts being right. ANd they’re stating a fact, but, facts sometimes are sucky.
                  So if I say ‘adult’, then it short circuits all of that–as well as being gender-neutral, because that’s also a thing that’s easy to get wrong across, say, a crowded museum lobby.

              3. politiktity

                I’ve been using folks for a gender neutral plural.

                I personally call myself lady. But given how unladylike I am, it becomes subversive in a way that other usage might not.

                Reply
                1. Planner Lady

                  Folks is great, I am also a fan of “beautiful people” or with my gaming buddies, “nerds”. There are wonderful opportunities for creativity when you go beyond the easy/obvious.

                2. Kate

                  I love this and agree. There was a computer game I used to play called “Dangerous Ladies” and a book with a similarly themed title. I have to say, the behavior connotations for me are actually pretty positive, in that mostly what was expected from “ladies and gentlemen” was polite behavior and traits like honesty, loyalty and honor.

              4. Honeybee

                What’s wrong with “hi everyone”? It’s a gender-neutral collective term that doesn’t exclude anyone on the basis of gender identity or expression. “Hi everyone” is actually my go-to. Or, in less formal situations, “Hey y’all!” but I’m Southern so I can get away with that.

                Reply
                1. tiny temping teapot

                  If you’re addressing 3 people, why wouldn’t “Hello!” and smiling at everyone cover it? (I feel like Monty Python here – count to a number no less than 3 … ) Do we need to set a specific threshold where hello has to be hello everyone?

              5. Nic

                As a Southerner, “y’all” works just fine.

                Or as folks from downthread have said, I’m a big fan of “folks.”

                Reply
            2. Tau

              I think this varies by region, honestly. My accent/dialect has been all over the place because I’ve moved around so much, and I know that there were times I’d have considered it bizarre and patronising to call anyone a lady… but right now, to me, it’s a handy word for female people that’s less formal than ‘woman’ without being as infantilising as ‘girl’, with no gentleman-y connotations at all.

              Reply
        1. Nea

          To be honest, I use “you guys” when talking to other women and to mixed groups. “Gal” sounds like a bad western movie.

          Reply
          1. Anonny

            Wow, this reminds me of a story! I volunteered with a woman many years ago who lost her mind every time she heard a mixed group referred to as “guys.” I was 25 and it had never occurred to me as problematic until I met her. I agreed with her, in theory, and actually taught myself to stop using it (and in doing so, unintentionally trained myself to really notice how often people call groups of women or mixed gender groups “guys” – it’s constant!). I never forgot this woman though, it was her personal HTDO (hill to die on, of course); she got aggressively angry when she heard it, and would condescendingly lecture and even yell and fight and mock. I obviously disagreed with her methods – and found her really unlikable to boot – but she scared me so much I permanently changed a language habit that was deeply ingrained. :) As I grew older and grew into my own feminism, I have been especially conscious of language politics and the evolution of language. I try to always be a firm but kind voice of reason when it comes to examining our words, their intent, their impact, and how we can all be better communicators. I suppose I have that radical meanie to thank!

            Reply
            1. Anonny

              Upon re-reading and realizing how my comment nested it looks like I directed Nea which I didn’t mean to. I don’t mean to call you out personally for using “guys.” It just sparked a memory/story :)

              Reply
            2. theletter

              I used to do the same thing (referring to mixed group as ‘guys’ – I’m told it’s a Chicago thing) until an activist pointed out that it could be interpreted as only referring to the men in the communication, and any women might think they are being excluded. Now I refer to a group as a team – even if it’s a single-sex group.

              Reply
              1. anon in cascadia

                It’s common in the PNW. Also common to exclaim DUDE! to a woman when speaking animatedly.

                Reply
                1. Kate

                  I grew up using “dude” for men and women. I remember the Keenan and Kel movie “Goodburger”. “I’m a dude, you’re a dude, she’s a dude, we’re all dudes”

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Common on the west coast, too. I just think it’s common in many places that don’t use “y’all” as their default.

                But my friends have been purposefully degendering their language, so now there’s a lot of “y’all,” and “folks” and “team.”

                Reply
              3. a queen victorious

                Maybe it’s just a West Coast thing (California born and raised, here), but I read ‘guy(s)’ and ‘dude(s)’ as absolutely gender-neutral for modern general conversation. As in, I will address a group of *entirely women* with “hey, guys” or “what’s up my dudes?”

                (‘Girls,’ however, is something I still need to work on. I’m at the stage where at least I notice it when it slips out…)

                Reply
                1. Optimistic Prime

                  I live on the West Coast now, but I used “guys” and “dudes” as gender-neutral terminology even before I moved here. I will definitely address an entire group of women as guys or dudes, or speak to my female-identified friends like “Hey dude, what’s up” or “Dude, did you see that?”

                  In fact, I am far more likely to call a female-identified person a guy or a dude than a girl!

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Both are definitely used in a gender-neutral way out here, but I do think it’s fair to critique the phrases as not being gender-neutral (even if that’s the way we use it). But I definitely use “duuuuude” as a “hey, wait, major plot twist!” statement regardless of the other person’s gender.

            3. Michele

              I guess one of the advantages of growing up in a rural environment is using “folks” for a casual, mixed-gender group.

              Reply
          2. Hunger Games Summer

            I have always felt awkward about a good mixed gender salutation – I have taken to using folks and other variants.

            Reply
            1. Zip Silver

              Depends on where you’re from. Down South we just address groups as “y’all”, and it works fine professionally and is gender neutral.

              I especially like using “all y’all”

              Reply
              1. paul

                What, really? We use it regularly in my part of Texas without it referring to bad stuff…like Hey, all y’all want to eat?

                Reply
              2. Ashie

                I love “ya’ll.” My friends & family in the northeast make fun of me for using it but it’s a fantastic word – no gender connotation, it works for individuals or groups, it’s easy to drop into sentences without sounding pretentious, and it implies friendliness without being overly familiar.

                Reply
          3. Formica Dinette

            Yeah, “gal” mostly sounds weird. FWIW I have recently begun trying to stop saying “you guys,” replacing it with “you all” or simply “you.”

            Reply
            1. DecorativeCacti

              I picked up y’all in the workplace of all locations. No one here is even from the south. I don’t know how it started, but it sure is handy.

              Reply
          1. Liz T

            My old boss says “gal” all the time, including for women in management positions. He is a 70-year-old billionaire, in case anyone’s wondering.

            Reply
            1. GrandBargain

              I’m still trying to suss out what makes girl or gal bad, while guy or dude or ‘the boys’ are still ok. Sexist is sexist. And, that’s not even bringing in LGBTQ or racist dialect.

              But… I’m a little taken aback that you seem to be saying that having enough money means a person can be as sexist as they want (no, it’s not just cute or colorful). Hope that’s not what you mean.

              Reply
              1. Liz T

                Wow, of course I was not saying that. People were asking about generational/regionality. (And honestly from my 6-month look into my boss’s life, I’ve come to think of “super rich” as its own regionality.)

                I think “gal” is weird for various reasons, though slightly preferable to “girl.” If you don’t see what’s sexist about calling women “girls,” why did you think I was excusing sexism?

                Reply
                1. GrandBargain

                  I didn’t mean to excuse either the overt and covert sexism in calling women ‘girls.’ At the very least, it is totally unprofessional. As to the older billionaire boss (OBB), I was just surprised. It seemed very much a non sequitur… as in how does that relate to his custom of calling every woman ‘gal?’ You’re probably right to say that the very rich are their own subgroup when it comes to issues like this. 70 years old is young enough that it’s not a generational issue… is it a kind of patrician-ism? Anyway, I imagine he’d be quite surprised or offended if he were told that it’s inappropriate and offensively sexist to refer to women acquaintances that way. I also wonder whether more than a few of the women you refer to push back… preferring instead to write it off as cute or harmless.

        2. Chomps

          I don’t think there is. I don’t really like lady or gal and I think they’re more widely used in some areas than in others.

          Reply
        3. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian

          I tend to use “gal” as the gendered equivalent to “guy”, though I also see “guy” being gender-neutral more and more.
          I don’t know if others have come across negatives for “gal” in their experiences, but so far in mine, it’s pretty value-neutral.

          Girl/Boy, Gal/Guy, Woman/Man, Ms/Mr, Lady/Lord

          Reply
          1. Hedgehog

            I think this is the thing. I saw the person saying it using it as the counterpart to guy or the counterpart to boy? If it reads to me as the former, I don’t think it would bug me much.

            FWIW, I have never heard anyone use “gal” who was not doing so as some sort of affectation.

            Reply
            1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian

              I’m weirdly archaic sometimes, and have nothing remotely close to a deep Southern drawl.

              Some of my language choices are mostly from books, I think.

              Reply
            2. shep

              I picked “gal” up from an old boss, but only EVER used it in conversation with her. She seemed to think it was equal parts cute, grown up, and appropriately southern. She was such an odd boss (and I was still very new to the work world) that I wanted to fit in with her idea of “good work culture” as much as possible.

              Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I agree. Although I will say that Lady also goes with Gentleman.

            And “gal” is certainly preferable to “doll,” the prior common pairing for “guy.”

            Reply
            1. Close Bracket

              Holy cats, if someone referred to women in the workplace as “dolls,” I might just go ballistic.

              Reply
          1. Anononon

            But do you use it as a female singular pronoun? “This guy I work with is named Sara.” I doubt it.

            Reply
          2. DArcy

            As a trans woman, I find the “gender neutral” use of guy absolutely unacceptable because no, it’s NOT gender neutral, it’s just reiterating male-as-universal.

            Reply
        4. Amy

          ‘Girl’ definitely isn’t the female equivalent. ‘Guy’ is never used to refer to children.

          Personally I think there isn’t a good equivalent; ‘lady’ and ‘woman’ aren’t as casual, and ‘gal’ doesn’t have the comfort and familiarity that come with widespread use. But subbing in a word for an actual child doesn’t fix that.

          Reply
        5. Allypopx

          “Ladies” is the one used at my workplace most often. “Gentlemen” is used also, to be fair. “Guys” is usually used only as a plural and for mixed groups.

          I also hear “guy” used more for laborers that suits so I feel like there might be something somewhat class based about it but I might be reading into it too much.

          Reply
        6. nonegiven

          I thought guys was generic, like “Want a Coke?” “Sure” “What kind?” “Dr Pepper”

          Reply
          1. De Pizan

            It’s become kind of a generic, but it started out solely referring to men. It only started applying to mixed gender groups (or groups of women) around the time that using men/mankind for all people fell out of favor. Which was just one male-centric word replaced by another.

            Reply
            1. Becky

              Random aside: the etymology of “guy” is fascinating. It originated from Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot and was in reference to the effigies of guy fawkes they burned. Those figures they burned came to be called “guys”. Over time “guy” came to mean “grotesquely or poorly dressed person” and then finally in American English evolved into the “fellow” meaning today.

              (I watched V for Vendetta last night, Guy Fawkes is on the brain…)

              Reply
          2. Amy G. Golly

            It’s not truly generic. You might say, “Hey guys” to refer to a mixed gender group, but “the guys” reads all-male, and if you heard “the guy at the front desk” you would not be looking for a woman when you got there.

            Reply
          3. TootsNYC

            yeah, it’s generic in many instances, but in a way, it’s a bit like using “men” to mean “both sexes.”

            Reply
        7. NJ Anon

          I work in an all female organization. We refer to each other in a group as “guys.” Where I live, “guys” has become gender neutral.

          Reply
          1. Thlayli

            Same. “Guys” in a group is gender neutral.

            However “guy” singular means male of any age. I call male children guys too.

            So maybe it is the male equivalent of girl after all.

            Reply
        8. Kate

          Traditionally it would be “gal”, like “guys and gals”, but for some reason that hasn’t caught on.

          Reply
      3. iamme

        It’s still weird as hell when me are referred to as boys. My boss,who I mostly like, sometimes says stuff like “ok boys and girls” when addressing the whole office and it’s cringey.

        Reply
        1. General Ginger

          Oh, wow, I would be expecting the next words out of your boss’s mouth to be “it’s time to line up for lunch, who’s my line helper today” or “let’s all sit on the rug, criss-cross-applesauce”.

          Reply
        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

          This wouldn’t bother me. To me, it reads as tongue-in-cheek. But, I’m one who would address a mixed group as “guys” and plenty of people would cringe at that as well.

          Reply
        3. ginger ale for all

          Yes, I agree. I think it sounds strange when they interview professional hockey players and they refer to their teammates as boys.

          Reply
        4. Close Bracket

          I used to use “Hey, kids!” to greet my well-over-the-age-of-majority friends. I came to the realization on my own that it probably wasn’t ok, and I stopped.

          Reply
        5. Zoe Karvounopsina

          That reminds me of a teacher I had when I was eight…and she occasionally varied it up. (“All right, chaps and chapesses.”)

          Reply
      4. Myrin

        If nothing else, referring to a grown woman in a professional workplace as a “girl” is asinine.

        A notion that can be further backed up by how other languages behave around that topic. In mine, for example, you would actually most likely use the equivalents of “ladies” and “gentlemen” in any of the examples people have given in this thread of people using “girls” or “guys”. See how we actually ramp up the formality? (Although to be fair, I get the feeling that the English “lady” and “gentleman” are much more strongly formal than here, where they’re just the polite words to use in any given situation. I’m just now in my head going through all the example sentences given and it just sounds super weird, almost crude to me to use either “woman” or “man”.)

        Reply
        1. Roza Klebb's not a dev

          In Russia, it is completely appropriate to refer to women, basically any pre-menopausal women, as “devushki” (girls). For example, you could walk up to woman in the street and say, “devushka, where is the nearest metro station?” For men, equivalent expression is “molodoy chelovek,” or “young man.” This expression is NOT derogatory unlike in the West.

          Reply
            1. Roza Klebb's not a dev

              Yes but the expression in offices would proabably be “devushka” (post-pubescent girl) not “devochka” (prepubescent girl). I once worked in an office with a team of Russian women accountants (we were at a company that does a lot of business in Russia) and the custom was to call the accountants “girls.” No one thought this was sexist because when we were speaking in Russian the term was “devushki”

              Reply
              1. General Ginger

                Also probably OT, but “nobody thought it was sexist” — probably because sexism, especially institutional sexism, is still very normalized in Russia.

                Reply
                1. Roza Klebb's not a dev

                  Or because we (I am Russian-American) do not buy into Western notions of feminism. Russian women always appreciate it when they are called “devushka.” Lots of Western men move to Russia to find life partners who are not so hung up on feminism. BTW at Russian high-tech companies the percentage of women is higher than at the American tech companies, maybe that says something about what is REALLY important instead of all this politically correctness.

                2. Jessie the First (or second)

                  “BTW at Russian high-tech companies the percentage of women is higher than at the American tech companies, maybe that says something about what is REALLY important instead of all this politically correctness.”

                  But on the other hand, “Russia’s parliament voted 380-3 on Friday to decriminalize domestic violence in cases where it does not cause “substantial bodily harm” (credit to USA Today for the quote) so let’s not pretend that somehow feminism in the United States is an example of political correctness run amok while other countries are shining examples of equal rights, m-kay?

                3. Roza Klebb's not a dev

                  I can’t reply to Jessie the First directly, so I reply here.
                  You need to get off your high horse (m-kay) about how much better off women are in the USA than Russia. According to UNESCO, 29% of scientists worldwide are women but 41% in Russia. That is much more a shining example of equal rights than the situation in Silicon Valley where companies like UBER are openly discriminating against women employees and commentariat’s answer is to say “call them women not girls.”
                  Yes the Duma does some crappy things, like politicians everywhere. At least there are serious Russian women politicians like Matvienko and Golodets who got where they were on merit not because they stuck by a cheating husband. The problem with domestic violence in Russia is terrible but it is largely being caused by alcohol abuse, which is something the government is actively struggling against.

                4. Jadelyn

                  @Roza – nobody said anything about women in the US being better off than women in Russia, you’re taking that way too personally. If anything, YOU’RE the one making claims about gender equality being more advanced in one place than another. This wasn’t a pissing contest until you made it one.

                  And why on earth would you bring the Clintons into this? You do know she’s a solid politician entirely independently of her husband, yes? She didn’t get where she was “by sticking with her husband” – she was a duly elected representative, then a member of the Cabinet, before being a major Presidential candidate. By dismissing her accomplishments and reducing her to her husband’s scandal, you’re the one perpetuating sexist ideals here.

                  Honestly, if anyone needs to climb down off that high horse, it’s you. This isn’t a “Who’s more feminist?” contest.

                5. Lalaroo

                  ” Lots of Western men move to Russia to find life partners who are not so hung up on feminism.”

                  Lol, there it is.

                  “According to UNESCO, 29% of scientists worldwide are women but 41% in Russia. That is much more a shining example of equal rights than the situation in Silicon Valley where companies like UBER are openly discriminating against women employees and commentariat’s answer is to say “call them women not girls.””

                  It’s weird that you think comparing scientists to the tech industry somehow proves something.

                  “At least there are serious Russian women politicians like Matvienko and Golodets who got where they were on merit not because they stuck by a cheating husband.”

                  Girl, you dumb.

                6. Thlayli

                  Honestly are you guys seriously trying to argue that American women are not discriminated against? Pretty much every other post on this website is about how American women are discriminated against!

                  Also, “girl, you dumb”? Seriously.

                7. General Ginger

                  I can’t answer you directly, @Roza Klebb, but — as a Russian American, I call bull on Russian women always appreciating it when they are called by a derogatory, infantilizing term that doesn’t mean anything different in Russian than it does in English.

      5. JessaB

        There was a male male countrepart “Boy,” but it had a horrifically nasty racist past, when used towards adults, that “girls” does not. So it was probably easier to get “boy” out of the vocabulary faster than “girls.”

        Considering that though, nobody should be getting annoyed if you call them out on “girls.” Words do have power and they do make a difference. It’s how we got a lot of racial slurs out of the vocabulary. It’s not a hill to die on, but it needs to be worked on anyway.

        Reply
        1. N

          Actually, JessaB, the term “girl” has the same racist connotation as “boy.” (In fact, I know someone who recently had to correct their elderly white relative for referring to their housekeeper, who is a POC, as “the girl.”) Most of the discussion here has been about the sexist connotations of the word, but everyone needs to get it out of their professional lexicon because it has the potential to be both sexist AND racist, depending on whom it is directed toward.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, it does. But I feel like “girl” has two meanings. When used with respect to a multiracial group of women or white women, it’s straight up sexist and sometimes classist. When used to refer to women of color, it’s racist, sexist and classist.

            Reply
      6. Spek

        There is, in fact, a male counterpart. I have an older colleague much more senior to me who calls me, and everyone under 50 “son”. Drives me nuts.

        Reply
    5. Lissa

      I really don’t think that speaking up politely would be “dying on a horse/hill” though. That phrase is typically used for things like being willing to quit/walk out/make a huge scene about something, and nobody’s advocating doing that.

      Reply
    6. amy

      I’ve found that the people who use casually demeaning language “innocently” are also those who will readily ignore, or become irritated by, the competence and expertise of women, POC, and people with disabilities. It’s surprisingly tell-tale — which is why I’ve got “innocently” in quotes.

      Reply
      1. Thlayli

        I don’t agree that’s the case. Perhaps its regional. I have no problem saying “guys and girls” or ladies or men or anything. And I am definitely not irritated by anyone’s competence.

        Incompetence bugs the hell out of me, regardless of gender, race or ability (ableness?).

        Reply
    7. Artemesia

      Time for my anecdote from 45 or so years ago. As a young professional I was on my way to a conference wearing my suit and carrying my briefcase on the plane. the older man seated next to me asked me if I was a ‘career girl.’ I looked him in the eye and said “Why yes I am. Are you a career boy.” The most shocked look ever.

      Seriously, calling a man in the workplace a boy is weird and if he is a minority member, thems fighting words. Would they say, well she didn’t ‘mean anything by it’ if they were casually referred to as boys?

      Reply
    8. Bess

      It’s a form of casual sexism so ingrained that some don’t understand why it causes offense. Sort of the point of casual sexism–it’s so built in that many don’t question it. It masquerades as innocuous, and the people perpetuating it (men and women) don’t have to understand its negative effects to be the cause of them.

      I can tell you as a woman who looks younger than I am, “girl” really bothers me, because it’s often tacked onto an assumption that I have little professional experience, that my professional ambitions are more limited in scope, that I would be great at taking notes in the meeting, or that things I say don’t need to be taken as seriously as those of a male coworker of forty or over.

      Reply
      1. Bets

        I’m not one to say “this,” but yesss ding ding ding, you get a cookie. It’s a way to undermine expertise.

        Reply
    9. meat lord

      Most of them probably don’t. The connotations of the word and the implications of its use don’t go away just because men don’t mean any harm by it.

      A lot of the stuff that perpetuates the “isms” is innocently meant and seemingly innocuous.

      Reply
    10. Girl, You'll Be a Womon Soon

      You are buying into patriarchy if you think that “women” is superior to “girls”. Women spelled as such means that we are a subset of men. Language influences how we think and we need to spell the word “womyn” if we want to really challenge patriarchy.

      Reply
      1. Always anon

        Womyn has transphobic connotations, so not sure that’s a better option. Plus, it’s been used by some for a while now, but hasn’t caught on yet, so I’m not convinced it would be effective anyway.
        I’m also pretty sure that “man” used to simply mean “person”, and there were prefixes that changed the meaning to either “male person” or “female person”, but I read that a while ago and IANAL(inguist), please correct me if that’s wrong.
        And, in terms of usages – “women” *is* better than “girls”, when the male alternative is “men”, given that girl means female child, and woman means adult female. It’s even footing, at least in terms of reducing infantalising.
        I’m also not convinced that language really influences how we think *that* much – racial slurs are used less often, but racism still exists. It’s the act of caring enough to stop using words that hurt people that helps us to overcome prejudice, not the words themselves. I mean, there’s still sexism in Germany, but words like “Gewschister” (sibling) are linked to “Schwester” (sister), not “Brueder” (brother).
        Basically, in my opinion, “women” is probably the more effective solution, given that it puts us on even footing to “men”, it’s already commonly used (whereas womyn isn’t), doesn’t have transphobic connotations and changing the word itself may not actually affect patriarchy at all, anyway.

        Reply
        1. Girl, You'll Be a Womon Soon

          Womyn does not have any transphobic connotations. It says that we are womyn and not men, which we are. The trans community should take pride in their own identity and come up with their own description rather than trying to appropriate womyn’s identity.
          If “man” meant “person” but now means “male person”, this is exactly what I am talking about. Male became the standard, and femayl became The Other. This is exactly what Simone de Beauvoir wrote about.
          I don’t speak German, but if German flips this with “sibling” being derived from “sister”, maybe this is why Germany does so much better on womyn’s rights than the UK and USA.

          Reply
          1. Always anon

            You’re arguing that the term womyn doesn’t have transphobic connotations by implying that trans women aren’t women (which is a transphobic view). For more information on the link to transphobia, search for “womyn-born-womyn”.
            Your argument is conflicting, here – “women” means we’re a subset of men, but “female” is other (presumably “other than men”). Can you clarify which you mean?
            Google “Germany sexism”, and the first results are about expat women being frustrated with sexism, and Germany being more sexist than the UK. So I’m not convinced that your last point holds any credence. Furthermore, language doesn’t dictate human rights. My point is that changing a noun isn’t going to dismantle the patriarchy – it may not even help.

            Reply
            1. Fuzzywuzzy

              Oof.
              I’m German and American, am completely bilingual, and have lived and worked in both countries as well as England, and I’m very active in the expat community here in Germany, so I’ve actually got a lot of personal experience with this!
              There’s​ actually a reason you’re getting those Google results when you search for “Germany sexism” in English. Expat women (predominantly those from English speaking country) do tend to think Germany is more sexist than the US, but it’s actually more complicated than that. The culture is (most) German companies is one of bluntness, so the sexism is far more obvious than in (most) American companies, but there’s not more of it, per se. It’s just more in-your-face. Horrible, off-color, sexist jokes are common, but continuously undermining a woman’s credibility by referring to her as a “girl” would not be.
              Personally, I prefer open sexism because it’s easier to combat. Many expat women hate it because it’s not polite; it can’t be ignored or explained away like covert sexism can. (The whole idea of what’s “polite” or “socially acceptable” is very different in Germany than in most English speaking countries, and this is probably the thing I hear expats complain about the most.)
              Socially, Germany is undeniably more progressive when it comes to women’s rights. Politically, there are more women in positions of power. Maternity leave and a woman’s right to determine what happens to her own body are far more advanced. Germany definitely still has a ways to go to reach equality, but as a whole it’s a few steps further than the US.
              But I completely agree that this has little to do with linguistics. Boy in German is “der Junge,” which is masculine, but girl is “das Mädchen,” which is neuter. Neither “Geschwister” or “das Mädchen” are indicative of anything other than the evolution of language.

              Reply
          2. Mookie

            The trans community should take pride in their own identity and come up with their own description rather than trying to appropriate womyn’s identity.

            Just stop, please. I don’t care if you’re POEing TERFS. This is painful to read.

            Reply
          3. politiktity

            Womyn is pretty closely tied to TERFs, trans exclusive radical feminists. They argued that because gender was socially defined, anyone assigned male at birth could never truly be women. And it’s a somewhat natural retort, since the medical community was pushing gender reassignment as a medical cure for queer men, rather than recognizing that gender identity and queer identity intersect but aren’t interchangeable.

            But it accelerated a lot of transphobic violence and created a lot of the rhetoric the right is using today. I can shrug at history and acknowledge that few historical figures are unproblematic. But today we know better and should recognize that rhetoric was punching down rather than smashing the patriarchy.

            Reply
            1. DArcy

              Uh, no. The medical community has *never* pushed gender reassignment as a “cure” for queer men. That’s an incredibly harmful and malicious myth spread by transphobic gay men who argue that trans women are “really” gay men.

              Reply
              1. politiktity

                Gender reassignment surgery can have a complicated history without being bad. The medical community has treated every marginalized group poorly at some point, because it’s an inherently paternalist institution who’s demographics will always mirror the current power structure.

                It’s shitty that gay men as a whole trend towards transphobia. But that’s tied to a long legacy of oppressive society saying the effeminate or queer men aren’t real men. See Billy Crystal’s character in SOAP or the fact that intersex infants tended to be surgically altered to present as female before they could provide input on their gender identity.

                It’s dishonest to say the medical professionals were treating trans folks from a place of respect. It just coincided with the greater social expectations on what is a Real Man.

                [white, middle/upper] Gay men have a lot more privilege than they did, so they have a duty to use it to process that trauma and stop lashing out at other communities. But it’s a common byproduct of trauma. As a white feminist raised by a second wave feminist, there’s plenty on my side of the aisle I have to own and unlearn. But expecting people to be perfect victims who do no harm is a major tool of oppressors to deflect and stymie change (e.g. BLM or Clinton standing by her man being equivalent to Trump actually sexually harrassing women).

                Reply
                1. Mookie

                  It’s shitty that gay men as a whole trend towards transphobia. But that’s tied to a long legacy of oppressive society saying the effeminate or queer men aren’t real men.

                  Transphobia is a separate and distinct phenomenon from homophobia, and while they often intersect, they are not identical. Transphobia will not disappear once (some) gay and bisexual cis men are no longer subject to homophobia and femmephobia.

                  Gay cis men are not “victims” when transphobia occurs or when they themselves express transphobic ideas. It is infantilizing to suggest that transphobic gay men deserve or entitled to leniency. It doesn’t work that way. Being socialized to fear and hate trans people is a universal experience not remotely unique to gay cis men and trauma is not a legitimate excuse for bigotry. And please don’t even use BLM as an example of marginalized people doing harm.

                2. politiktity

                  Of course it’s a separate thing! That’s the whole point of intersectionality. And I’m not trying to say that intersectionality is a bad thing, I’m just explaining why it’s so hard. While common wisdom would think that marginalized communities would be easy allies to other marginalized communities, the opposite is often true.

                  It’s important to point out the way that marginalized people use the small amount of privilege they have to further oppression against other marginalized people. But it undermines progressive causes to expect marginalized communities to behave better than the dominant power structure. Saying the medical community was totally trans inclusive until gay men fucked it up falls in that category. That too often becomes weaponized by privileged people to argue that they shouldn’t have to change until marginalized people behave like angels.

                3. politiktity

                  Also, when I brought up BLM as minorities doing harm, I was not referring to the rightwing rhetoric that BLM is a terrorist organization. I was referring to the fact that every shooting is initially justified because the victim was no angel. Perhaps you find issue with both examples, but they’re such wildly different points, I wanted to be clear that I absolutely condemn the first.

                4. Mookie

                  But it undermines progressive causes to expect marginalized communities to behave better than the dominant power structure.

                  I expect everyone to behave better than the mean, because the mean right now is dismal. As a queer woman, please don’t deny me my agency by pretending I don’t have to meet expectations of civilized society. Marginalized people have the same obligations towards forging solidarity.

                5. Mookie

                  That too often becomes weaponized by privileged people to argue that they shouldn’t have to change until marginalized people behave like angels.

                  And that is just a strawman. No one is doing that here. Please respond to what people are writing.

                6. politiktity

                  I am not denying you agency. You are allowed to be as awesome and not terrible as you want to be. But providing marginalized voices the safety to fail and fuck up to the same extent that privileged people do is critical to progressive change. You learn by failing and then being open to correction. Privileged people are given the right to do the first, but not the second. Marginalized people are constantly corrected, but never allowed to fail.

                  I’m an ace woman. I’m not sure if you believe that falls under the queer umbrella. But my community intersects with the trans community a fair amount, because sexual activity often exacerbates gender dysphoria. We regularly hold space for them as they work out their issues, allowing them to use the identifier for as long as feels accurate for them. Not everyone is great about it, but a benefit of finding our voice and community so late is the ability to learn how harmful gatekeeping was for both the trans and bi communities.

                  A common perception about the ace community is that we don’t face discrimination. It’s actually a huge reason the queer community gives a lot of pushback about whether or not we belong. In fact most of the acephobia I experience comes from cis queer folks. They argue that it’s nothing a sex therapist couldn’t work out. Because corrective rape should be totally cool in this day and age. But like transphobia, I don’t think it’s actually that about queer folks being worse than straight folks. It’s the Ignore, Laugh, Fight stages of activism. The rest of America is fine just ignoring my existence and the thousands of micro-aggressions against me. Once our community becomes larger, the few benefits of that invisibility go away.

                  I’m not giving anyone a free pass. I’m just trying to learn from our past so that I don’t make the same mistakes.

          4. meat lord

            “Womyn does not have any transphobic connotations. […] The trans community should take pride in their own identity and come up with their own description rather than trying to appropriate womyn’s identity.”

            You’ve just said that transgender women aren’t really women. I’m not sure that you have such a good handle on what is and isn’t transphobic, because that was.

            Reply
      2. TootsNYC

        “womyn” doesn’t do anything to fix the “woman/man” problem. The problem is the “wo” part.

        Reply
    11. OP

      In the moment when the incident I describe in my letter happened, it was part and parcel of a dismissive comment. The context was a conversation discussing the relative skill levels of various devs.

      Reply
    12. Mookie

      This would not be my horse to die on but we are all wired differently.

      No one has to die if men and everyone else would accept that referring to adults as children is impolite and unnecessary. Making this a life-or-death issue is entirely in the hands of people calling women “girls” and arbitrarily resisting change. (If, indeed, it’s not arbitrary, then said people need to come out and admit that calling people “girls” feels good to them and examine why that is.)

      Ditto people who are uninterested in de-gendering titles: “doctors” (male) and “woman[sic*]-doctors” / “women[sic]-doctors” / “female doctors.”

      *I thought we, as Anglophones, dropped that outdated, dehumanizing convention (eg “lady police officer”) in the 1970s. Woman and lady are nouns. The adjective is, when such clarification is appropriate and necessary, female. I am a female person. I am a woman. That male florist over there is not a man-florist. My dad is not a man-dad. My brother is not a man-clerk. My friend, who is male (not a male), is also not a man-waiter. Please let this absurdity finally die.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        I’m w/ you on the not liking “lady doctor” bit

        But as a grammarian, I just want to stick up for the attributive noun.

        Reply
        1. Mookie

          There’s virtually no reason, I can see, for it not to continue to exist as is or change with the times, as grammar invariably does. The use, as far as I can see, is appositive — hence my non-standard examples like “man florists,” something one rarely encounters in the wild — not attributive. The construction that serves the purpose of “woman doctor” in this non-standard sense already exists. “Woman doctor” means a doctor, gender unknown, of and for women. (“Women doctor” is not grammatically correct and is as insensible as “criminals law,” a law pertaining to criminals.) A female doctor is a doctor who is female, who is a woman. There’s a reason why, in American and British English, deeming people “colored” and “transgendered,” although perhaps in some circles grammatically cromulent, is according to most style guides insulting and out of fashion, and the reason is not a confusion or ignorance of English grammar (which is something we collectively control and change at will); quite the opposite. Grammar, like the dude, abides.

          Reply
          1. Mookie

            Marked categories with respect to humans, in other words, are not written in stone and not inevitable. We choose or choose not to employ them as the political wind changes courses. It does say something significant, in my opinion, that we’re drifting back to “woman” as modifier again. That is partially but not entirely explained by the backlash, in some quarters, against “female” as noun. And yet both choices create a similar effect.

            Reply
        2. This Daydreamer

          I hear “lady doctor” and I think of a physician who uses a speculum in everyday practice.

          Reply
    13. Kate

      I agree with Leatherwings. Men don’t call other men “boys”, not men that they respect and consider professionals at least. When has anyone heard a CEO describe, say, another CEO as a “boy”. “We have a boy who works on new accounts.”

      “Boy” and “girl” refer to pre-pubescents, children.

      I personally, don’t object to “ladies” because the mirror of that is “gentleman”, which is a term of respect and still used today by businessmen referring to and addressing other businessmen.

      Reply
    14. Kate

      I guess my comment got eaten, so here is another try.

      I agree with Leatherwings. When was the last time you heard a CEO refer to another CEO or person they respected as a “boy” in a business context? For example, “We have a boy working on new accounts” or “That new boy we hired as CFO is going to be great”.

      “Boy” and “girl” refer to prepubescents, children. Using them for adults is infantilizing in the same way that “baby” or “kid” would be.

      I personally don’t mind “ladies” because the mirror of that is “gentlemen” a term of respect that businessmen still use to refer to and address each other.

      Reply
  4. not really a lurker anymore

    This is rather timely for me as my manager calls us girls sometimes. But it’s also led me to realizing that I use girls instead of women and now I’m trying to retrain myself.

    Reply
    1. CaliCali

      Same. I’m definitely a culprit. It somehow can sound off to the ear to refer to a group of younger women as “women,” although I…still put myself in that category. There’s almost a rhetorical distance in the word “woman” rather than the more familiar “girl” which can make it awkward. This is something we probably have to correct and adjust in ourselves as well as others!

      Reply
      1. Squeeble

        Yes! I resisted using “woman” for a long time only because there’s not a more casual option, the way we often substitute “guy” for “man.” Woman feels a little formal and distant. I suppose you could say “gal” but that’s kind of archaic, at least where I am.

        Reply
        1. AMPG

          You can always just say “coworker.” I agree that sometimes “woman” feels a bit formal, but you don’t actually have to use a gendered word at all. I’ve been trying to retrain myself along those lines.

          Reply
          1. BF50

            I generally use coworker. Or just say someone’s name. “Sarah in IT codes that for us.” It shows so much more respect to address that person personally than to say even “We have a coworker/guy/job title who does that.”

            Reply
        2. Somniloquist

          I use lady or ladies sometimes as a more casual form of women. Mostly because my coworkers in a previous job that was all-female used to say things like “ok girls”. I started saying “ladies” to change the word.

          Reply
        3. Bigglesworth

          That’s interesting to me. I use guy/gal all the time. However, I’m also in the South-Central region of the US and use y’all all the time too.

          I also used to call young men “boys” if they called women “girls”. Come to find out, a lot of them were bothered by it and stopped calling us girls in order to get us to stop calling them boys.

          Reply
          1. Bigglesworth

            That was also when I was working at a summer camp, so definitely not your typical work environment.

            Reply
      2. HeyNonnyNonny

        I agree. I’ve started to use ‘young women’ as a way to train myself to reframe the language. It’s best for youths whose counterparts I wouldn’t necessarily refer to as ‘men’ (instead of ‘young men’ or ‘guys’) and it gets me in the habit of using ‘women’ more frequently.

        Reply
      3. penny

        Agreed, I fight myself on this same issue. I also tend to not be bothered by it in most contexts because I think girls is the female version of guy which I do use because man also sounds weird. Step up for me from my first job after college when I was commonly referred to as sweetie by the old southern man I worked with. He didn’t mean it negatively but it was so weird to me.

        Reply
      4. Observer

        Wow!

        Talk about unintended impact – this is totally feeding the perception of younger women (ie “millennials” ) as being totally immature and childish.

        I know that’s not what you mean, but it’s a perfect example why intent is not the whole story in many cases.

        Reply
    2. Sadsack

      I used to work with a group of women who referred to us all as girls. They were all a lot older than me. I didn’t see anything wrong with it at the time and started using the term myself. I really had to train myself out of it when I changed jobs and realized that none of my new coworkers talk that way.

      Reply
    3. Cranberry

      Bleh, one of my teammates refers to our group (all women) as “girls” sometimes when she’s being especially congenial. As the youngest person on our team by at least 15 years,and the closest to being an actual girl, it drives me BANANAS. If my 50-something year old manager wants to be referred to as a girl, that’s her prerogative, but I have enough trouble getting people to listen to me without emphasizing that I’m decades younger than them.
      I’ve never said anything to her before, because it seems very obnoxious in context (“Girls, it’s great to have dinner together and spend time as a team!” “Don’t call me a girl, thanks”), but maybe next time I’ll take a stand on this.

      Reply
    4. HR Hopeful

      I have noticed in the call center that I work in that since there is such an age difference between us ( a little over half are above age 40 and up and there is a small group in their early thirties and younger all the way down to 19) and our managers and the older ladies tend to call us younger ones ‘girls’ and it can be quite annoying at times. I am 26, live on my own, and pay my bills just like they do but I get called a ‘girl’ because of my age. I’ve also noticed that if you get married or if you have a baby then they start calling you a woman instead. This causes a lot of issues when someone from the younger group is promoted and has a higher title than someone from the older ladies. They don’t respect that they earned the title on merit and it’s a big mess.

      Reply
    5. Anon Anon

      Our HR director used to refer to all the women in the office as girls. He’d talk about the girls in the front, or you girls, etc. He was a nice guy, but definitely a product of his generation. My boss used to correct him all the time. He never stopped completely, but he did cut down!

      Reply
  5. Anonymous Poster

    I’m grateful I’ve never heard any women in any of my workplaces being referred to as a ‘girl’ in any fashion. I wonder if this might be a quirk of working in a technical, non-computer-based, field. My sister has been referred to by ‘girl’ before in her computer field so I know it’s definitely a problem over there, unfortunately.

    I’m confessing my ignorance here, is there a distinction between referring to someone as ‘lady’ or ‘woman’? I lean to thinking that ‘lady’ could be troublesome, especially because it’s something akin to ‘strange sweater lady’ or ‘smelly tea lady’, but I’m looking for advice on how not to offend in what I say and am hoping someone more knowledgeable than me might be able to help me understand better. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. motherofdragons

      “Lady” to me is oddly formal. I’m thinking of something like “That lady in the red shirt over there” vs “That woman in the red shirt.” Woman is just fine to use there.

      Reply
      1. Aunt Vixen

        “Lady” is generally a little deferential (aside from the “strange sweater lady” usages), which is also a social construct and not called for in professional situations. If you wouldn’t call a male-identified adult a gentleman, there’s no need to call a female-identified adult a lady. Ditto ditto boy, girl. Etc. I realize that in many situations people would refer to a male-identified adult as a “guy” rather than as a “man,” and there’s no doubt a thread in this very post about the gender-neutrality of “guy” or whether it’s appropriate to use “gal” along with it, but we never do seem to run the risk of infantilizing men or improperly doing social deference at them, do we, so. It is seldom or never wrong to call a female adult a woman, and then we could focus on other things.

        Reply
      2. Friday Night

        I go with ‘ladies’ for informal and fun way to refer to a group of women (Ladie’s Night!) but rarely to an individual ‘Lady’.

        Although that’s probably a holdover from being 20 and on a rugby team, we constantly referred to ourselves as ‘ladies’ while being completely ‘un-ladylike’.

        Reply
        1. Anon 537

          Playing women’s rugby has been a case study in learning to use “woman” instead of “girl” to refer to an adult.

          I hate “ladies”, and especially in a professional context. (Actually, I don’t like “gentleman” either. I feel like there’s an unspoken “behave” after using it in contexts where it’s not straightforwardly deferential.)

          Thinking of “gentleman’s night” and how that has a rather different connotation than “ladies’ night” supports my discomfort with even that well-intentioned term.

          Reply
    2. Turkletina

      I don’t personally like “lady” because I think it gets patronizingly associated with stereotypically female jobs. You hear things like “admin lady” and “HR lady”, but not so much “data management lady” or “corporate accounts lady”.

      I have less of a problem with it if you don’t know the person’s name and you describe her as “the lady who handles the data extraction” or “the lady who normally sits at that desk”.

      Reply
      1. General Ginger

        Agreed. I’ve definitely been in office situations where “you ladies” was basically a slightly different way of saying “you girls”: condescending.

        Reply
      2. Amber T

        This. Other than social/casual/fun activities (we routinely use the term ladies’ night and/or girls’ night when referring to getting a group of girlfriends together), lady is somewhat odd, but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly.

        Reply
      3. AnotherAlison

        Success Story: There is an engineer who worked on one of the projects I PM’d who calls all women “Miss Firstname.” This bothered me. (I haven’t legally been a Miss in 20 yrs, I’m not from the South, and I’m over the age of 16). I hadn’t say anything [yet], but I was discussing it in a non-related meeting with a manager who works in his department. She had had others complain about it, so she said something to him. That was over 6 months ago, and he popped his head in my office today for the first time in a while and called me just Firstname. FWIW, he did push back and said it was respectful and polite, but ultimately changed his ways and has stuck with it.

        Reply
      4. Michele

        I said this in another thread, but I hate lady because of the gendered behavioral connotations. Wear a skirt, don’t speak too loudly, don’t take up too much space–those are all things that ladies are supposed to do. Even worse–young lady.

        Reply
    3. GeekyDesigner

      I was wondering on the lady vs. woman too. I’m a female and I know when I go out for lunch with my female co-workers I say, “Thanks ladies, that was fun!” or something to that effect.

      Though in my mind the word lady has more class–I picture Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s sort of class. Whereas when I hear women or more particularly woman I picture, “Woman, go make me a sandwich!” said by man in stained, ill-fitting wife-beater…

      I really don’t know what the right answer is other than not calling them girls.

      Reply
        1. GeekyDesigner

          I’ve never actually watched the entirety of Breakfast at Tiffany’s soo… that did elude me. Oops!

          Reply
          1. Lurker

            It eluded me, too, until I read Truman Capote’s novella, where it’s super obvious. When I re-watched the film I picked up on it much more easily. IIRC, even towards the beginning, a man shows up looking for her, talking about how he bought her dinner and gave her money for the “powder room” and shouldn’t that count for something?

            Reply
        2. JulieBulie

          Excuuuuuse me, but I think you meant “call-WOMAN”!
          ;-)

          And the answer to GeekyDesigner’s question is “Thanks, that was fun!”

          Reply
        3. Hannah

          I find the term “woman” very offensive. Something in it just makes me think of… “Oh you, woman, make me a sandwich.”

          I would much prefer we are called “ladies” than “women.”

          Reply
          1. Chomps

            I strongly disagree. If we call men “men” , we should call women “women. ” I also think ladies sounds young, like something to use on women in their early 20s. Woman is much more respectful.

            Reply
            1. Jesmlet

              I don’t think I’ve ever referred to someone as a “man” though… Guy is pretty common where I work and live as the regular term for males regardless of age.

              Reply
          2. Just_Dixie

            And herein lies the problem; some of us are offended by “girl” while others are offended by “woman” or lady.” How is one successfully able to determine which is the correct one to use and which will be seen as derogatory? What offends one person may not another. I’m a woman, girl, gal, lady, female, whatever. For me, the tone is key. If someone is using any of these terms in a way that is MEANT as demeaning, the specific word doesn’t even matter, but more HOW they say it. In most cases, unless is it very obvious this person is using one word over another in an attempt to take a dig at me, I really don’t care.

            Reply
            1. Jesmlet

              This is where I am. Unless there are other things that give me pause about someone’s impression of me, I’m really not one to get caught up in word choice. It’s like the chicken or the egg: what comes first, the word choice or the meaning behind it? By insisting people refer to me as a woman, would it really change their perception of me if they were already sexist? Notsomuch.

              Reply
            2. mreasy

              Because the people being discussed are women, not girls. If someone prefers being called “girl” despite being an adult woman, doing so still infantilizes other women in the workplace. It’s inappropriate even if the subject of the language prefers it.

              Reply
              1. You're Not My Supervisor

                I have a question though… you had a letter writer not long ago who wanted people to use non-gendered pronouns. The point of that letter was around the use of pronouns for others, not the LW, but the consensus seemed to be that for that particular person, if gendered pronouns offended them, you should use the ones they prefer.

                Being offended by the use of gendered pronouns is an outlier viewpoint in that it is not common, at least not in my area. So what makes that different? Is the number of people offended really the defining element in whether language is acceptable? Is it regional, as you’ll find more people offended by certain terms in some locations versus others? I am genuinely curious because I am starting to wonder if it’s impossible not to offend SOMEONE somewhere no matter what words you choose.

                Reply
                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  Once someone has expressed a preference to you, respect the preference. Most people who don’t use gendered pronouns for themselves will understand if you need that explained the first time they speak with you. In the letter you’re referring to, the issue was that the OP was continually getting incorrect pronouns used after they had made their request. That’s not the same as choosing the most culturally acceptable term when the specific individual has not already told you to use something different.

                2. You're Not My Supervisor

                  Arggg just typed a long reply and then got a “programming error” when I tried to submit…

                  Anyway. @Countess, I agree you should use what a person prefers for themselves (…but does make me wonder, if I am okay with being called a “girl,” why is that still offensive to someone else?…) My point was that Alison implied in her comment above that offense taken to use of the word “woman” is a outlier viewpoint, so it doesn’t need to factor into what word you choose. I want to know how we are defining outlier viewpoint, because the fact is that in some regions using “girl” IS still culturally acceptable. Does that make it okay for those regions? If a few outlier individuals being offended in those regions dictates what language we use, why doesn’t a single person’s preferences dictate it? And if it does, how the heck are we supposed to know what language is “okay” to use if someone will inevitably be offended by the word we choose?

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  If someone says to you, “Hey, I really don’t like being called a woman,” then you can choose to respect that — but my point is that you shouldn’t using the word in general just because a couple of people here said they don’t like it. It’s a normal word, it’s the counterpart of “man,” and it’s the word most people will expect you to use. Few people will be offended, and in fact it’s pretty odd to be offended by it.

                4. Amy

                  The difference for me is that if Jamie wants us all to refer to her with female pronouns, it only affects her, and it’s no big deal for us to accommodate. When people refer to adult women as “girls” in the workplace it affects all of us. Word choice matters, and every time we hear women referred to as girls it subtly changes perceptions about how their work is valued.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I find “female” much more offensive than “woman.” Unless “woman” is used specifically to connote “get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich,” I think it’s not inherently offensive.

            Unfortunately, a lot of this has to do with context and tone.

            Reply
      1. Squirrel

        Somewhat off-topic but I find it interesting that in a discussion about gendered language and you use the term “wifebeater” to describe an article of clothing…

        Reply
        1. Another Amy

          I was genuinely horrified the first time I encountered US media that used that term, and I could not work out for the life of me what that meant. Where I’m from we call it a singlet.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            It has to do with a series of pretty offensive racial stereotypes about “men who wear” those shirts and what it says about their relationships with their wives.

            Reply
            1. Chameleon

              Not to disagree with your point, but the stereotype I always encountered was a lower-class white man wearing one.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Did they happen to be men of “ethnic white” backgrounds? (e.g., Italian, Irish, Hispanic, Polish, etc.)

                I only ask because I have only heard this stereotype used to refer to working-class, ethnic white men (which included light-skinned Latino men), but never to low-income or working-class WASP men.

                Reply
                1. VintageLydia

                  I’ve always seen it to mean more like “regular” white (for lack of a better term) country or mountain redneck. Think junky trailer with a giant beat up pickup and badly behaved dog chained in the front yard. Definitely a classist stereotype, but not really racial.

                2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

                  I’ve generally heard it as a “redneck/white trash” stereotype, which I’m not sure draws a difference between WASP or “ethnic white” but is most definitely gross in a lot of other ways.

            2. Thlayli

              I agree the term wife beater is really offensive and definitely conjures up images of a white lower class red neck implying that men like that who beat their wives.

              I actually used to date a white lower class redneck from Kentucky who grew up in a trailer and was so redneck he had rotten teeth from chewing tobacco. He was a perfect gentleman and treated me (and everyone he met while I was with him) really well. He also wore that type of top (he told me it was called a “wife beater” which I found hilarious at the time because it was so opposite of him) and he looked very good in it. He also had at least one black friend, I never heard him say anything remotely racist, and he was planning on going to college and starting his own business when I dated him, so he was busting all kinds of stereotypes.

              Reply
        2. Faith2014

          Was “wifebeater” edited out? It seems to be gone.

          I’m 50, grew up near Chicago, and I was shocked when I first heard it referred to that way. As a youth, we called them (I kid you not) ‘dago tees’. It meant nothing “ethnic” to us as kids – it was just the name of the type of shirt. I think I dropped the usage when I was in high school.

          It would be an interesting thread to read about different regionalisms that we’ve all left behind.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            … “dago” is considered a racial slur and is explicitly an “ethnic” term.

            Reply
      2. theletter

        I feel like we need to overcome the whole “offended by the term ‘women’ because someone used it to demand a sandwich.” Abusers do not get to dictate for all time that the correct terminology for female person over the age of 18 is offensive because they used it with a snarky tone in a movie once.

        Yes, I am a women. I am over the age of 18 and as capable as any man. Make your own sandwich.

        Reply
        1. Turkletina

          There’s a difference between being *called* “woman” and being referred to as “a woman”. Getting called “woman” (as in “Woman, make me a sandwich”) strikes me as quite offensive; being referred to as a “woman” (as in “the woman who made that sandwich”) is totally normal.

          Reply
          1. TootsNYC

            I think it would be a bit offensive to be called “Lady” (as in, “Look, lady,…”) as well.

            Being addressed by a label (any label–“Oh, Cashier, would you ring this up?” is not cool, nor is, “Hey, Mister, can I ask you for directions?”) is an offensive thing. The offense might be dialed down based on context, etc., but it’s still not perfect politeness.

            “Ma’am” or “Sir” would be the polite way to address someone whose name you don’t know.

            And addressing someone whose name you DO know (colleague, wife) as “Mister” or “Buddy” or “Woman” is rude.

            Reply
          2. Emi.

            I knew a dude in high school who would address me and other girls as “woman,” as in “Don’t mock me, woman,” to which I finally snapped “I’ll mock you if I want, boy!” That was the end of that.

            Reply
      3. anon in cascadia

        “Lady” just makes me hear Jerry Lewis screaming “Hey laaaaadyyy!!!!” in my head.

        Reply
    4. GG

      Some people object to “lady” as it can have condescending connotations.

      My rule of thumb has always been that if you wouldn’t say “gentleman”, don’t say “lady”.

      Reply
      1. GeekyDesigner

        I can see that but what do you say when your addressing a group of all women when where saying, “Thanks women, that was fun.” is weird and gals is archaic (and rarely used in my geography)?

        Reply
            1. E Haas

              This!! It’s taken me a while to get out of the “guys” habit, and I still slip sometimes, but I make an effort not to. Gender can be a really touchy subject (look at the many opinions just on this page!), I’d rather not bring it in at all. I use “y’all” and “folks” in casual circumstances (I’m not Southern or in the South, but everyone knows what I mean), and things like “everyone” in public-speaking-type circumstances. Also useful: the number of people! Like, if I’m being interviewed on a co-hosted podcast, I’d say “thanks for having me, you two!”

              Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Yeah, that’s what I do. “Thanks everyone” or “thanks folks” or “thanks friends” or literally anything that is not gendered. Which has the added benefit of also being more inclusive for folks who do not subscribe to a M/F binary.

            Reply
          1. Justme

            I also use y’all in that context, but I’m in the US South where that term is more permissible.

            Reply
            1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian

              “Y’all” and “all y’all” have been lifesavers for me when I’m trying to retrain my language habits and don’t want to trip over my tongue.

              I live in the US South currently, but I’m not born and raised here. I picked up the habit from my South born-and-raised father. (Who says “warsh”, but “Washington”)

              Reply
              1. Justme

                I wasn’t either, and only moved here a few years ago. We’re a Northern/Midwest family. But y’all is such a good umbrella term.

                Reply
              2. Hap

                Both my parents are from Ohio. My dad says “warsh” and my mom says “woysh”. I don’t know how I learned to speak.

                Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                It’s actually not that hard—just use it frequently and say it with a normal cadence. I grew up saying “Y’all,” and I have no flipping idea where I got it from (not from the South, not around anyone who uses it regularly). Half my college friends have now adopted it from me. Non-Southerners mess up when they use the wrong emphasis in how they pronounce it.

                Reply
        1. Aunt Vixen

          In that case “ladies” would not be inappropriate because you wouldn’t say “thanks men, that was fun” – you’d say “gentlemen.” (If you must. “Thanks everyone” would also work fine and not get into the issue in the first place.)

          Reply
        2. Manders

          I’ve been falling back on “folks” more often lately to refer to a group. It sounds kind of old-timey but it does a good job of referring to a group without gendering it. “Everyone” also works.

          Reply
          1. Lora

            In Boston we say Youse. As in “Youse need to go around the corner,” pronounced “youz needta guh rahn da kawna”.

            Reply
          2. Colorado

            I use folks all the time, and gal. I live out West, maybe I just hear it more. That’s my go to term.
            I do also say “hey or hello girl”, but that is a very endearing term I use for close friends. I should probably rethink using these words.

            Reply
            1. Michele

              I grew up out west and also use folks and gal. Gal makes some people cringe, so I tend to avoid that one, but folks works.

              Reply
              1. Jerry Vandesic

                A friend of mine, a former theater student, uses “guys and dolls.” Hopefully he knows his audience.

                Reply
        3. k

          I say “You guys” in that situation, which I’m only now realizing is kind of weird. I live in a region where it’s the standard, the way y’all is used in other areas.

          Reply
          1. Becky

            That oh so fun missing English second person plural pronoun! Different regionalisms have popped up to fill the gap of the plural “you”, but there is no consensus on a larger scale. If you’re uncomfortable with your regionalism, adopt one from a different region. “Y’all” is probably the most recognizable (and therefore understandable), though people might assume you’re from the south.
            Other options (according to Wikipedia):

            Ye (pronoun)
            Yinz
            You
            You all
            You lot
            You-uns
            Yous
            Youse

            Reply
    5. JulieBulie

      I work in an engineering environment. Very few people here refer to women as girls. The main exception is… the admin. She’s an older woman who, when we have cake, usually asks “some of you girls” to help her cut and serve it. ARGH!!

      I use “lady” frequently, outside of business, to refer to women that I don’t know personally, like the pizza lady or the lady at the post office, but it’s not a good habit. “Lady” should probably be reserved for formal titles!

      Reply
      1. Lora

        Me too. Annoyingly, when I’m the only woman in a group, nobody calls me anything other than Lora or Lady, but when we get multiple women in a group we are designated The Girls.

        I refuse to respond until they call me by name – which is what they call men. Men are never The Men: they are Joe and Mike and occasionally The Nerds or The Biologists or The Propeller-Heads or The MBAs. I will accept the designation of Nerd / Geek / Engineer etc., that’s fine. Just not Girl.

        Reply
    6. Jessica, not Jennifer

      To my mind, “lady” and “woman” are interchangeable in that they both refer to an adult female. I know that some people object to the use of “lady,” though, because it carries historical notions of social class or behavioral expectations for women. Because of that, I try to stick with “woman” or “women” in my speech.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        I strongly dislike “lady” because of the behavioral expectations. My father and I used to get into it about my “unladylike” behavior so the term is forever tainted for me. (The conduct in question, mind you, was that I swore in my speech at about the same rate that he did – because I had picked it up from him as a kid – but of course, a Man can talk like that, but when a Girl talks like that you know she’s Not A Lady – she’s That Kind of Woman.)

        Reply
        1. DouDou Paille

          The massage studio I go to is run by a Chinese family whose grasp of English is tenuous at best. To summon me from the waiting room to the table they simply shout out “lady, your turn!” Every time, I debate whether to gently suggest to them that “Ma’am” or “Miss” are preferred ways to address people whose names you don’t know. But I suppose that opens up a whole other can of worms, because some women get offended by “ma’am” (since it can be seen as implying the person is… um…not young anymore).

          Reply
          1. Hap

            I know so many woman who hate “ma’am”, but I don’t see a problem with it. To me, any woman over about 16 years old is a “ma’am” so the age thing doesn’t play into it for me.

            Reply
            1. Kj

              Yep. I got called ma’am all the time when I worked at a museum in Texas…..at the grand age of 18. I don’t get why people get so offended by ma’am. It is a polite way to address a woman whose name you do not know or have forgotten.

              Reply
    7. Gadfly

      Lady also carries all of the problematic connotations of “ladylike behavior”*, so I would avoid it.

      *Look pretty, smile, be nice, and never ever disagree…

      Reply
      1. General Ginger

        Yep. I’ve almost never encountered “ladies” said in a workplace environment to mean anything other than a slightly different kind of condescending rewording of “girls”.

        Reply
        1. Gingerblue

          Yeah, this. I’ve usually heard it as a direct address in a condescending/coercive “Now, ladies…” way, and it makes me balk unless it’s very, very clear that the speaker wasn’t trying for a passive-aggressive slight.

          Reply
      2. Tammy

        A friend of mine posted a similar thought on Facebook recently: “Be yourself. The softest, quietest version of yourself. Definitely wear lip gloss.” So much of what people call “ladylike” is this sort of gentle sexism. It’s so frustrating to run into at work. (Luckily, much less of a problem at my current job than other places I’ve worked, but still present.)

        Reply
        1. Manders

          That’s actually a quote from a song by Meryn Cadell. At the end of the song, it’s revealed that the subject of the song does not get what she wants by being soft and sweet and ladylike after all. It’s funny that this line ended up being taken out of context and used as advice.

          Reply
          1. knitcrazybooknut

            It’s technically about a young girl in middle school dealing with her first crush. So really, girl is more appropriate. As for advice? That’s terrible! It’s a tongue in cheek song!

            Reply
          2. Blossom

            I read Tammy’s post to suggest that her friend had posted it ironically, not that she was was promoting it as a literal suggestion.

            Reply
            1. Tammy

              Yes, this. And I think I was vaguely aware it was a song lyric, but I’ve been on the receiving end of people saying similar things seriously enough times to realize *why* it’s a song lyric.

              Reply
        2. LawBee

          Be the softest quietest version of yourself?! so basically shut up and keep your thoughts inside. ::shudder::

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Because it has to be said: I love the High King/Prydain series, and consequently love your handle.

            Reply
            1. Princess Eilonwy

              Thanks! She’s one of my favorites in part because she never put up with being patronized.

              Reply
      3. blackcat

        +1

        My mom and her mom always told me that they didn’t want me to grow up to be a lady; they wanted me to grow up to be a woman. Partly due to their militant feminism, “lady” carries a connotation something like a Stepford wife for me. Lots of other people feel similarly, so it’s good to avoid it.

        Reply
      4. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        There’s a great Storm Large song: “What the f**k is ladylike, when ladies like do to what the f**k they like?”

        Reply
    8. Melissa C.

      My team (3 women) is frequently addressed in emails as “Ladies.” I’m not sure why, but I always cringe a bit when I see it. It might go back to my sorority days when people would yell “Ladies!” to get everyone’s attention.

      Reply
    9. nonegiven

      My husband refers to the women in the office but there are a couple that he will sometimes call the “mean girls.” Usually right after they ran off another executive assistant. I think they went through 3 of them.

      Reply
      1. JokersandRogues

        See, I’m waffling on that. I kinda think that usage, “mean girls” refers to a specific set of behaviors around a sub-set of high school girls. And I would refer to them as girls in high school. So calling adult women that implies they are behaving in a child-ish manner and contextually makes sense.

        Hrm, gonna think about that a bit.

        Reply
    10. Jules the Third

      It depends on your region and circumstances. As a NC native, ‘ladies’ sounds different than ‘women’ to me, but it’s really hard to say if it’s more formal or less. As the child of midwesterners, I know that’s not true everywhere. My path is:
      Gender-neutral is a great option: folks, people, teammates, First Name, job title.
      For lone females, I’d go neutral or use ‘woman’
      For groups of females, I’d go neutral, use ‘ladies’ for informal social groups, use ‘women’ for work-related or formal social (eg, church or bowling league) groups.
      For mixed groups, go neutral.
      If I’m in a new group or one that has been problematic, I work harder to go neutral.

      Reply
  6. Snarkus Aurelius

    Whenever I see “girl” in the comments here, I correct it in the nearly the same way AAM suggests. There are a variety of ways you can do this, e.g. directly calling it out or mentioning it in passing, but regardless you should correct it every single time.

    I reiterate: you should correct all “girl” references” every single time you hear/read them.

    Once when I was with my then-boyfriend, someone referred to me as the “little lady” so I referred to him as the “little man.” I didn’t know that guy, but the look on his face means my message was received. One can only hope he quit that nonsense.

    But what really got under my skin was when coworkers would call me “mom” after I came back from maternity leave. Ugh. It happened enough times that I was going to correct the next person who said it, but then it never happened again. And, no, my husband never got “dad” when he went back to work. Also? Creepy on both fronts.

    Reply
    1. all aboard the anon train

      Your last paragraph makes me think of teens/early 20somethings on social media tweeting at/replying to their favorite celebrity. There’s been a trend calling them “mom” and “dad” for a few years now and a number of celebs I follow find it really, really gross and uncomfortable.

      Reply
    2. lisa

      I’m pregnant and people at work have taken to calling me “mommy” recently. MAKE IT STOP!
      Oddly, the worst offenders are all mothers themselves (with older kids). The childless men are the ones who seem most awkward about it.

      Reply
    3. Jules the Third

      Hunh. I got called mom, and my husband got called dad, it seemed more like ‘congratulations’ than anything else. But we’d been trying for *years* and the few people who called us that were close enough that they knew it.

      Also weird – the kid stopped calling us mom and dad at about 4; he just started calling us by our first names. I was surprised, we’d never asked him to stop calling us that, he just did it. I guess because we called each other by our first names.

      Reply
    4. Noah

      FWIW, I got “dad” at work when my first child was born… and “daddy” (“welcome back, daddy” — NOT sexual, but very weird). But I agree it’s more likely to happen to women.

      Reply
  7. Future Homesteader

    One of my great joys in having undergraduate student workers is getting to coach them in workplace norms, and teaching them to use the word woman. Despite being a pretty staunch feminist, it was something that hadn’t even crossed my mind until, in my first job out of school, a same-age coworker pointed out (gently) that we were women. Until then, I’d been using the word girl for myself, as well. So I make it a point to gently correct my students workers, most of whom are also women.

    That said – what do you all say when someone counters with “well we call men guys, what’s the difference?”

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Poster

      ‘Guys’ isn’t diminutive and inferring that the male in question is young and naive. Girls carries that connotation much more strongly, I think.

      Reply
        1. motherofdragons

          And the accompanying term for women is “gals” which I admit I use sometimes, but I wouldn’t in a professional setting.

          Reply
          1. Princess Carolyn

            Exactly. “Gal” is certainly a weird thing to say in an everyday, professional context, but it’s not diminutive. There is no perfect female equivalent to “guy,” so you have to choose from imperfect terms like woman, lady, or gal. Thems the breaks.

            Reply
            1. Close Bracket

              “Gal” is only strained and weird bc people don’t use it. Start using it, and you will find it becomes less strained and less weird. It’s a perfectly cromulant word. Just use it.

              Reply
              1. One of the Sarahs

                I’m in the UK, and I’ve only ever seen “gal” as a USA regional equivalent for “girl”, so I don’t understand why it would be appropriate either. – or is it more complicated/widely used than that? It would just be incredibly weird to say here, as in my experience, it’s definitely seen as a USA-only word, rather than standard-English (we have all kinds of different regional words, like lasses, for example)

                Reply
      1. OhNo

        What they said. The nearest equivalent in English for “girl” is probably “boy” – it has connotations of youth, innocence, naivete, and inexperience. At least in my experience, I’ve never come across a situation where using “guy” would give off those same signals.

        Reply
      2. Jady

        I would suggest “Gals” being the opposite of “Guys”. Or in certain areas “Ladies” is considered casual enough.

        Reply
    2. Blue

      I’d say that guys is informal, while “girls” is infantalizing. “Boys” would be the equivalent to “girls”, not “guys”.

      Reply
    3. Leatherwings

      Well, “guys” just doesn’t come with the same baggage as “girls” do. It WOULD be weird if women walked around calling their male colleagues “boys” though, but still to a lesser extent. Women are often viewed as less capable as men because sexism and patriarchy are deeply rooted in society. When we call women “girls” it perpetuates sexism by implying (even if unintentionally) that women are less adult and thus less capable than men.

      Reply
    4. KellyK

      “Guys” doesn’t have the connotation of childhood that “girls” does. I think the feminine equivalent of “guys” is actually “gals.” You don’t hear it much around the workplace, but part of that is because “guys” gets used for mixed-gender groups. Maybe it’s also generational, because I can absolutely picture my mom saying “one of the gals at work.”

      But, the upshot of that digression is that “girls” connotes children, teens, or young adults in a way that “guys” doesn’t.

      Reply
      1. de Pizan

        They’re usually paired together, but using it runs into the same problem. Gal is an alteration of the word girl, so it still means child.

        Reply
    5. Purple Majesty

      You could point out that the term “guy” isn’t used for children, but the term “girl” is. “Guy” is informal, but not infantilizing.

      Reply
      1. 5 year old guy

        I’m cracking up at the image of using ‘guy’ to refer to a little boy.
        _’So I saw this 5 year old guy walking down the road the other day’_

        Reply
        1. Hap

          I dunno, I often refer to male children as “little guy.” “I saw this little guy at the park today.”

          Reply
          1. Edith

            But the corollary to calling a boy “little guy” is calling a girl “little lady.” So even then guy =/= girl.

            Reply
          2. 5 year old guy

            I’ve also heard people say little man/little dude etc about young kids, I think it sounds different without the ‘little’

            Reply
          3. General Ginger

            That would confuse me so much when you’d continue your story, because in my mind, “I saw this little guy at the park” would mean some kind of cute animal, most likely a dog.

            Reply
              1. General Ginger

                OK, this is now hilarious to me, because I’d more likely use “little buddy” for a human!

                Reply
    6. gwal

      I think if there were an equivalent to “guys” for women, this problem wouldn’t persist. In response to AAM’s hypothetical ‘ how infrequently you hear “we have a boy who codes our emails.” ‘ …that’s because nearly everyone would say ‘we have a guy who codes our emails.’

      Reply
    7. Jamey

      I would say that “guys” isn’t really the opposite of “girls.” Even though people use the phrase “guys and girls,” the word girl is kind of inherently infantilizing because it’s really a word to refer to a child. “Boy” is a much more appropriate opposite word to consider and that’s definitely not a word that gets used in the workplace.

      Reply
    8. Lurker

      They shouldn’t really use “guys” either. It’s fairly informal/unprofessional. I used to use it when speaking to groups until my supervisor point out how out-of-place it sounds. Now I say/write “you,” you all,” or “everyone.”

      Reply
      1. gwal

        yes! this thread got long but the main point here is people often USE and PERCEIVE “guys” and “girls” as analogous. we could eradicate both in professional speech and probably be better off :)

        Reply
    9. Katharine

      Maybe using examples to illustrate the difference? For example, asking what image comes to mind when someone say “There was a group of guys standing at the bus stop” versus when someone says “There was a group of girls standing at the bus stop,” and if those two imagined groups are equivalent in age/behavior/etc. At least for me, “guys” conjures images of adult men while “girls” conjures images of a bunch of 12-year-olds on their way to school. Not at all the same.

      Reply
    10. Gadfly

      Well, like the others said, the only equivalent is boys. And that gets into some problems because it was used as a diminutive for black men.

      Reply
      1. NW Mossy

        Another one that can be used with men is “son,” which digs somewhat at the same issue. There’s a great exchange in the musical Hamilton where George Washington refers to Hamilton as “son” and Hamilton indignantly replies “I’m not your son!” He’s responding directly to Washington’s word choice as implying that he’s subordinate and should be behaving submissively. I can easily see many men today being similarly put off if a coworker tried to pull verbal rank in that way.

        Reply
    11. ReneeB

      The point Allison made is pretty solid. ‘Girls’ = ‘boys,’ not guys.

      And if you scratch the surface of the political history of calling someone a “boy,” especially who got called that by whom else, it’s pretty ugly.

      Saying “we have a boy to take care of that” has a very different, very unpleasant connotation.

      “Boy” is an infantalizing word that was deliberately used to maintain superiority and ‘put people in their place.’ “Girl” may not have quite so virulent a context, but it’s still a politically and socially loaded infantalizing word that is inappropriate in a professional workplace.

      Reply
    12. Working woman

      That’s what I was coming here to say: we need a non-age specific casual word for female. “Women/men” feels so formal to me. I would never say, “we have a man who codes for us”, I would say, “we have a guy.”

      Reply
  8. Non-profiteer

    I agree about the use of “girl(s)” in a professional setting. Does the same go for “ladies”? Like, starting an email with “Hi/hey ladies” when all the recipients are female and you have pretty close, informal relationships with them. I’ve typed “ladies” a few times lately and then reconsidered, wondering if using “ladies” is infantalizing or otherwise offensive. I am female myself.

    I just end up saying “Hi/hello all,” which is an easy enough solution, but…since I’m here I thought I’d post.

    Reply
    1. Lurker

      I have the same dilemma. Plus, I can’t read/type/say it without mentally singing it as “Heeeeyyyyy laaaadieees” à la The Beastie Boys’ song.

      Reply
    2. OhNo

      I think that depends a lot on the recipient. I seem to recall a conversation about that in the comments here before, and there was a pretty even split between people who didn’t mind being called “lady”, and those who found it just as offensive as being called “girl”.

      If you want to err on the side of caution, I’d skip it. But if you know the group well enough to know they don’t mind, then you’d probably be okay.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        The only person I refer to as “lady” is my best friend when I’m texting or leaving a voicemail. As in, “Hey lady!Want to grab coffee?” She does the same to me and I think outside that very narrow specific context it would be weird.

        Reply
    3. Augusta Sugarbean

      I think this is an “it depends” situation. I have mild dislike for “lady” (although I’ve never been able to put my finger on why exactly). But there is one guy I work with that occasionally says “have a good day ladies” on his way out the door and I actually find it kind of endearing. He’s one of my favorite people to work with and is never dudebro-ish so I think he is using it as a very polite phrase.

      Reply
    4. TCO

      I personally prefer “Hi all” rather than “Hi ladies” because I don’t want to call out gender in the workplace, regardless of the audience or speaker (I’m a woman).

      Reply
      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        Agreed. I don’t dislike ladies as much as I dislike girls, but I’d like to think that there’s no reason to draw attention to the fact that a particular group is all one gender or the other. I might feel different if the group were intentionally and explicitly all female, but I’d have to think about that one.

        Reply
      2. motherofdragons

        Same. I use ladies with some of my friend groups, but never at work. I’ll substitute “all/everyone/everybody/Name and Name/team/XYZ Council members/etc”. Lots of options that aren’t gendered!

        Reply
      3. Blue Anne

        80% of the people I work with are female, and I often say “Hi both” on emails I’m sending to two people, even. I dunno if that’s strange, but no one has commented on it.

        Reply
      4. Lemon Zinger

        I agree with you. I work on an all-female team and I always feel weird typing out “Hello ladies” in an email. I will use “Hi all” from now on.

        Reply
      5. KV

        As a closeted trans person I give a thumbs up to using gender neutral language like this too. You never know who’s wincing at a “hey ladies” or a “hey fellows” from the outside!

        Reply
    5. Fictional Butt

      People at my workplace use “ladies” and I HATE it. My workplace is extremely female-dominated, so I can see why it happens, but it just irks me. I think it’s especially because the department/job duties where I work tend to be very gender-segregated, so when someone refers to their team as “ladies” they’re kind of reinforcing the idea that this is the department that does women’s work.

      Plus, it’s just unnecessarily gendered. Not every female-bodied person wants to be called a lady.

      Reply
      1. tiny temping teapot

        Thank you – I was thinking of friends I have who are non-binary or genderqueer who would all this gendering hard to take, and harder to call out depending on your workplace.

        Reply
    6. Lillian Styx

      Hi all; Hi everyone; Hi team; Good Morning; Good Afternoon; Good Evening; Hello; Hey; Yo… Etc. There are lots of gender-neutral options of varying formality when in doubt!

      Reply
    7. Another Amy

      This may be far from a universal experience, but I experience “ladies” with being in trouble as a teenager (I went to an all girl’s school). At the time I think it was intended as “think about how you want to conduct yourself as an adult”, but it ended up leaving a residual feeling about the word “ladies” as being in some way condescending because of it. (I also see it used by creepy men in a lascivious way, which could be another reason not to use it, but I’d guess that’s much more context specific)

      Reply
    8. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d argue that you don’t need to bring gendered greetings into it at all! I like “hi” or “hey y’all.”

      I am not southern, but “y’all” is tremendously useful and I use it with abandon.

      Reply
      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Heh. The Upper Midwestern version of “y’all” is “folks,” which I also use constantly.

        Reply
      2. Non-profiteer

        Yep, sounds like my instincts to hesitate were right. I’ll make a conscious effort to not use “ladies.”

        I had a latin teacher in high school who used to bemoan the fact that there wasn’t a “proper” english version of “y’all” – it’s truly a flaw in our language because that is a necessary word to have. So we would use “y’all” when writing out our latin declensions. (I carry, you carry, we carry, they carry, y’all carry…etc.) I too use it with abandon. And folks too. Will step up those and discontinue ladies.

        Reply
        1. Another Amy

          I grew up in Australia. When I studied German, my German teacher advocated the word “youse” for you (plural).

          Reply
          1. hermit crab

            I’m from Central Pennsylvania and some people there say “youse” or even “youse guys”! I think it’s the Pennsylvania Dutch answer to the Pittsburgh “yuns” or “yins.”

            Reply
        2. Bryce

          Now that you mention it, I think we did the same thing in French class. Wonder if that’s where I picked the term up, I’m from the SWest but never had a notable accent.

          Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        “Y’all” and “folks” are two of the best freaking words in the English language, and truly, everyone should slowly adopt them. Pittsburgh and NYC get exemptions because they have “yinz” and “youz.”

        Reply
    9. Ihmmy

      personally “ladies” feels like nails on a chalkboard to me, but that’s in large part because I’ve been to a number of events where the word was used every other sentence (about women in tech type events). Everyone/all is sufficient and generic or just leave it off (“Hey all, Hey everyone, Good Afternoon everyone, Good Morning” etc)

      Reply
    10. Gadfly

      I would not use lady/ladies because it carries all the baggage of “ladylike” that hamstrings women and even little girls.

      Reply
    11. Chomps

      “but…since I’m here I thought I’d post.” I love this.

      Anyway, I just say “all” or “everyone.”

      Reply
    12. Liane

      Miss Manners has been objecting to using anything but women in the workplace since the 80s, so probably not.

      Reply
  9. Anonymous Educator

    I hope this isn’t too tangential, but I’m part of some professional mailing lists for a predominantly male profession. It’s quite common for people to start emails with “Hey, guys” or “Hello, gentleman,” as if the women just don’t exist (not simply that they are the minority). I try to counter this when I can. It’s a lot to deal with.

    When I started pushing back, I thought I’d get a lot of “You’re too sensitive” and “Get over it” reactions, but mostly I’ve gotten a lot of men feeling sheepishly overly guilty. Don’t really want people to feel guilty, just to to be aware.

    Reply
    1. CaliCali

      I use “guys” as a gender-neutral term, but I’m from California, where “dude” can be used the same way. :P

      Reply
      1. Turkletina

        “Dude” is gender-neutral for me, but I bristle when someone uses “guys” to address a group I’m in. California is weird.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous Educator

          I think the context matters. If you’re a woman talking to another woman, you can say “Dude, that stinks,” but you wouldn’t say something like “If you’re the tech dude at your organization…” to refer to a tech woman.

          Reply
          1. Zoe Karvounopsina

            One of my coworkers kept having people say “Tell your webmaster” or “Tell your tech guy”, and sounding faintly surprised when she said that she was the webmaster. She now has a sign on her sign on her desk saying “Dark Mistress of the Web.”

            Reply
        2. Jadelyn

          In my experience “guy” and “guys” are different in terms of connoted gendering – to borrow Anonymous Educator’s example, if you talk about “the tech guy at the company”, you’re definitely talking about a man, but if you say “hey guys, let’s do [thing]”, that (to me) could equally refer to a mixed-gender group or all-male group.

          Although now that I think about it, maybe the distinction isn’t between singular and plural, but between direct address and 3rd person use – because I can see saying “hey guys” to a mixed group, but if someone were to talk about “the guys over in Marketing”, I’d assume it’s an all-male group of people. So “guys” loses its gendered connotation when it’s being used to directly address a group of people, but used in the 3rd person to refer to people it stays gendered.

          Of course, I speak only for my regional dialect – California, Bay Area. It may be different elsewhere.

          Reply
        3. blackcat

          Ditto.

          “Dude” is also my go-to term for pets I meet–I don’t know why, but it is. I don’t live in CA anymore, so sometimes people correct me when I say, “Hey little dude” to their female dog or cat. I am always puzzled for a moment, before I realized that “dude” means male to other people.

          Reply
      2. General Ginger

        I sometimes use “guys” as a gender-neutral term for a casual friend group, and same with “dude” for individual friends — but not at work, and only for friends who are comfortable with those terms used as gender-neutral. I have friends who prefer not to be lumped in with guys or dudes, and do my best to respect that.

        Reply
      3. Close Bracket

        But it’s not gender neutral. And it does make the women invisible, which contributes to our continued marginalization in the workplace.

        Reply
    2. Leatherwings

      Eh, addressing emails to large groups of people as “hello Gentlemen” is pretty bad. IMO they kind of deserve to feel guilty about it. The reason they feel guilty is because they were called out and realized how bad it sounded.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        I can understand why they feel guilty, but guilt isn’t really useful unless the actions change.

        Reply
        1. OhNo

          Especially if you’re being asked (indirectly) to manage or assuage their feelings of guilt, that’s not any better. And unfortunately, that seems to be a pretty common result for calling out even relatively mundane things like this.

          If it ever helps, I’ve grown fond of the phrase, “I don’t need you to apologize, I just need you not to do it again.”

          Reply
        2. Leatherwings

          That’s fair. I assumed the guilt came along with horrified apologies and promises to never do it again.

          Reply
      2. Czhorat

        IF I need to address a group, I’ll either do so my names [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, please review] or as “Team”.

        It’s not really all that difficult to get into the habit of being gender-neutral.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’m with you, Leatherwings.

        That said, I respond to emails like that with “Dear all” or “Dear team” or anything that isn’t “Dear Gentlemen,” which is an outmoded and ridiculous way to refer to a mixed-gender group.

        Reply
    3. Clairels

      I see “guys” as gender-neutral in this context, the same way it doesn’t bother me when a restaurant server addresses a mixed-gender party as “guys.”

      “Gentlemen,” not so much.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        I can understand why some people might think guys is okay, because people use it often in mixed-gender environments (or even in all-female environments), but when it’s used in an already male-majority environment, the connotation doesn’t remain gender neutral… it really seems to reinforce the women-are-invisible atmosphere.

        Reply
        1. BF50

          That’s a really valid point. I wouldn’t be offended if someone referred to my team as “hey guys” because my team is 50/50 and my department skews female, but if I were in the engineering department, for example, which is probably on 10-15% female, it would read very differently.

          Reply
          1. Sal

            Eh, I’m in engineering and usually the only woman and I don’t mind “guys” at all. But it may be regional for me.

            Reply
            1. Faith2014

              I’m from Chicago and have always used ‘guys’ for both mixed groups or all female or all male.

              The thing about connotations is that it’s a lot like symbolism – it can be personal or regional. So if someone doesn’t like it, that’s “their truth”. Blatant sexism (“girl”) is one thing, but when people start going off about subtle meanings, they should realize that not everyone feels that way, and not to demand everyone think the way they think.

              Not a dig at you, but just a general statement.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Or maybe we should examine how clearly gendered language became recast as neutral or neutered when it is objectively neither.

                Reply
                1. Jessie the First (or second)

                  Faith, I see what you are saying, and while I think it is absolutely best not assume ill intent, …. why is Person A’s habit of using exclusionary language more valid that Person B’s feelings of exclusion when hearing that language? Because Person A doesn’t feel excluded, that makes it fine, even if it has the actual effect of making others feel excluded?

                  I think it is fundamentally wrong-headed to argue that nuance and subtlety in language should be ignored because it’s complicated, or because people disagree. All *that* does is enshrine forever language that can be used to exclude or minimize. Why is it a problem to have the conversation? To point out a problem with the language choices?

        2. Em Too

          I’ve had emails addressed to ‘Guys and Em’ which I don’t like at all – just guys would have been fine.

          ‘I once had ‘Guys (and Em)’. What does that even mean? You’re addressing the men and I’m allowed to optionally be included? Knowing the bloke in question, it was tone deaf rather than anything more sinister, but still.

          Reply
          1. General Ginger

            Oh, “guys (and Em)” in parentheses like that is so cringy! I’d dislike that as is (same with “Ladies and Bob”, for example), but it feels like the use of parentheses singles you out as even more of an outlier or something.

            Reply
    4. NW Mossy

      I had that come up with an employee at my company about a year ago. He was routinely sending emails to an alias staffed entirely by women with “gentlemen,” so I cheerfully said “Just FYI, this alias only reaches women. Have a great one!” He switched to “ladies” which is something of an improvement, but still, something non-gendered would be ideal there.

      Reply
    5. Sal

      I agree that it’s annoying and I definitely push back on the “girls” thing, but I also work in a very male-dominated field and I give the benefit of the doubt in the email greeting situation. I am from the northeast and “guys” to me is gender-neutral (not in the singular but I would say “hey guys” to a group of women) so I don’t even notice “hey guys” as I assume I’m included in that. When I get “gentlemen” I usually think to myself that at least I’m not the glaring minority – just another part of the team so much that they forgot we’re not all dudes. I also frequently get “Gentlemen and Sally” or “Gentlemen and Lady” and in that case I think it’s sweet that they specifically include me. These two views are obviously kind of contradictory, but in my case it’s a healthy environment in general and this particular issue isn’t worth pushing back on.

      I once in a reply all to a small/close group that had started with “Gentlemen”, started my reply with “Hi ladies ;)” The offender had good humor, we had a laugh and he apologized. Know your audience though. Truly most men don’t realize it and will be embarrassed about it when it’s pointed out.

      Reply
    6. Panda Bandit

      Greeting gentleman only reminds me of the All your base are belong to us meme. It always sounds awkward and out of touch.

      Reply
    7. Chomps

      You should try starting your emails with “hey ladies” or “hey gals.” They’ll probably push back and then you can explain that this is why you don’t like the use of “guys” or “gentleman.”

      Reply
    8. Chinook

      I once did receive an email from one of the engineers that started “hello gentlemen.” The other woman and I on the email both popped our heads out and yelled at the guy “gentlemen?” He immediately apologized sheepishly, explaining that, when he started the email, there were only a couple of guys on it. But, he realized we needed the info, added our names and didn’t rethink the salutation. We all laughed.

      I then asked my female boss if this happened a lot to her and she said she realized that this wasn’t the hill she wanted to die on within the larger engineering professional groups. She takes it as a sign that they no longer see her as “female engineer” but just “engineer.”

      Reply
    9. LizB

      Eh, I wouldn’t worry too much that they feel guilty as long as they change their behavior moving forward. You’re not the thing making them feel guilty; their decision to use inappropriate language is the thing making them feel guilty. A little guilt can be a good motivator to change. If they’re being dramatic about it, I’d go with language like OhNo suggested: “I appreciate the apology, but what I really need is for you to change your behavior in the future.”

      Reply
    10. Princess Carolyn

      This is a thing that frustrates me about marketing. I get that the research shows you’re talking primarily to men, but I think it’s lazy and even kind of unwise to exclude others when you don’t absolutely need to.

      Reply
  10. Kiki

    I work in a small office where all (yes, all) of the managers and directors are men and all of the support staff are women. It’s not uncommon for one of the men to walk into our side of the building and declare, “How are all the girls doing today?” in a booming, jovial voice. It grinds my gears. We’re not a group of chickens.

    Reply
    1. Mints

      My job isn’t quiiiite so bad but I do sit in a cubicle pod of three and we all have coordinator titles, and a Big Cheese will regularly say “How are you ladies doing today?” I also find it really grating because
      #1 Our jobs really don’t overlap; I can be having a meltdown while my coworker is having a fabulously lazy day
      #2 I hate being included in gendered language at work generally. I’d rather be thought of as an androgynous robot (specifically at work, because outside of work I’m not just “lady Mints” I’m also “Mints the Harry Potter cat and dog lover” or whatever)

      I basically ignore it with plausible deniability that I didn’t know somebody was talking to me unless they’re in my cube or say my name

      Reply
    2. Blue Anne

      I’m in a similar situation. The partners are all men, the rest of the staff are women.

      The men are mostly good about it. We’re generally referred to as “ladies” which personally I’m okay with. We do get “girls” from the senior partner pretty regularly, but he’s at least acknowledged by everyone in the office (including the other partners) as being a “product of his times” with chronic foot-in-mouth syndrome.

      Reply
    3. ReneeB

      That reminds me of the highly gendered scene in Mad Men when they bring all the women staff into a room, with a two-way mirror no less, to try on a client’s makeup and give comments to researchers.

      It was Peggy’s big break. And the writers / producers did an excellent job of contrasting it with how one of the men brays out “Call in the hens!” or “Let’s bring in the hen party!” Well done.

      Ugh, your colleague sounds like he’d be all too comfortable on the other side of that two-way mirror. Gross.

      Reply
  11. KatieKate

    I had a lay leader referr to a group of us as “girls”. One woman in the group was a VP! We were all so stunned that we didn’t say anything, but we still talk about it and jokenly call each other “girls”

    Reply
  12. Scorpio

    I nearly half the age of the other women I work with who also often refer to me as a “girl” although I am 27. It is pervasive.

    Reply
    1. HR Hopeful

      This happens to me all the time too (i’m 26). However if another person that is the same age is married or has children they are called a ‘woman’. It basically makes it feel like you aren’t an adult until you’ve done those things which isn’t true.

      Reply
      1. Scorpio

        Yes! Or someone, trying to be diplomatic, will say “young woman” i.e. “the new young woman on our staff” and it irks me that the “young” part is somehow integral to my introduction.

        Reply
    2. Thlayli

      If it’s an age thing I wouldn’t be so offended. My husband works with a gang of guys about 20 years older than him and he is still referred to as “young [name]” to distinguish him from another guy of the same name.

      My husband is almost 40.

      Reply
      1. Scorpio

        It’s not an age thing, it’s that they perceive me to be childlike which makes me feel less legitimate AND contributes to imposter syndrome. “Young woman” is different from “girl.”

        Reply
        1. Thlayli

          So you think that their perception of you as a girl is entirely unrelated to the age difference? what do you think that perception is based on if not the age difference?

          Reply
          1. Scorpio

            It can’t possibly be an “age thing” since I am 27 and am therefore not a “girl” and should not be referred to as one simply because the person identifying me is 50.

            Reply
  13. Stardust

    I prefer to be called “girl”. I feel and look far younger than I actually am. Being referred to as a “woman” stresses me out, because it makes me feel like I have a burden and name to live up to.

    To be fair, I’m a 28 year old high school teacher, with my own house and car, so I technically do have a lot to live up to! Haha

    Reply
    1. Observer

      You’ve just proved the point. you want to be called girl because you want to be seen (at least in some contexts) because you want to see yourself as a child not a mature adult (with all the responsibility that comes with.)

      But, do you really want your students to see you that way?

      Reply
      1. Stardust

        It’s different when kids (I do an outreach program with elementary school kids in the summer, in addition to teaching teens during the school year) refer to me as “woman”.

        I don’t care if people think I’m younger than I am. I KNOW I look 16. It doesn’t bother me when parents ask me where the teacher is, or when I get carded for R-rated movies or whatever, because I KNOW that I’m older than I look and that I have multiple degrees and years of experience and knowledge to back up my diminutive state. In fact, I like being underestimated, because it’s so much more satisfying to see the look on their faces when I reply, “Actually, I AM the teacher, and the reason why I called this conference is because your child refuses to hand in anything. Let’s discuss an action plan!”

        Reply
        1. Blue Anne

          But the other side of that is the problem I have. I look 17 or 18 and HATE that people constantly underestimate me. I want to be taken seriously. As a 28 year old woman I’m already fighting the stereotype of what an accountant is “supposed” to be – a middle aged man. As it is, I find myself having to prove that I have knowledge and experience that would just be assumed if I were an older man.

          It might be acceptable to you to be called a girl, but that legitimizes people calling me a girl, too.

          Reply
              1. Roza Klebb's not a dev

                Well, yes. If Russia is doing a better job of promoting women into important jobs, such as tech and accounting, and steering them away from “nurturing” roles (elementary school teachers, etc.), then that says Russia is doing better by women than the supposedly feminist West, where the important thing is “women” vs “girls” or who goes to the bathroom where. Russia is not so hung up on labels and dogma and is one of the best countries when it comes to promoting women.

                Reply
                1. Blue Anne

                  I have no idea why you’re trying to convince me that Russia is better at feminism than the West. This is a pretty hilarious non-sequitur.

                2. Zephyrine

                  I wouldn’t exactly call a country that recently decriminalized domestic violence one of the best countries for promoting women. And why did you contrast important jobs like accounting with nurturing jobs like teaching? Teaching is an incredibly important (and difficult) job. It seems like you have some internalized sexism coming into play here.

                  The language we use to talk about men and women is incredibly powerful and shapes the way we think. Is it the #1 most important issue women face? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing. And while we’re on the topic, everyone deserves to use the restroom without being harassed or assaulted. It’s not a matter of labels or dogma. It’s about basic human rights.

                3. OP

                  But surely that is far more due more to the Soviet influence than anything inherent in Russian culture.

          1. Kate

            Yep! I am 27, look like a teenager, and the difference in treatment I get between wearing my “adult” gear (slacks, pearl earrings, buttondown, lipstick and mascara) and wearing regular stuff (jeans, no makeup or jewelry, not ripped t-shirt with a logo maybe, stuff a lot of adult people wear) is astounding.

            When I was in my early twenties I was actually followed by a store owner who thought I was 12 or something. It is sort of horrifying that people assume 1) how you dress indicates how much money you have, 2) how you dress indicates your age, 3) your age indicates the way you will behave to an extreme extent, and 4) teenagers can’t be trusted not to steal or break things.

            Reply
        2. Jessie the First (or second)

          But, Stardust…. So you have a preference for being underestimated and you like being mistaken for being younger and inexperienced. But surely you understand that general language usage is based on the idea that most of the time, it is better to use language that reflects that one’s adult colleagues are adults. I mean, great that you find joy in upending people’s perceptions, but for lots of us, that gets tedious real fast.

          I do get that for someone fairly new to adulting, it can feel weird to take on the adult mantle; you’ve been a kid most of your life, and often, passing through certain milestones or attaining a certain age does not make you *feel* suddenly different. So using different language for yourself can feel strange. But I hope you recognize that regardless your individual discomfort with “woman” and/or your preference for being underestimated, your own particular and individual quirk shouldn’t dictate how you speak to and of *other* adults, because you simply can’t assume they have the same issues.

          Reply
        3. BF50

          I think it’s easier to accept or enjoy being underestimated when you are coming from a position of authority. There is a power dynamic at play in the teacher/parent relationship that many people don’t see in their professional life. You are the expert, so being underestimated is an advantage.

          When you are working peer to peer, the consequences of being underestimated are greater. Being underestimated in my job might mean people don’t take action if I address a problem, my input is ignored, I get looked over for opportunities and promotions, etc. That doesn’t actually happen to me, because my company culture is wonderful, but it could, it has.

          Nothing is more annoying than when someone comes to you with a question because you are the subject matter expert, and then they don’t believe your answer until it’s been verified by a man. Arg.

          Reply
    2. Justme

      So, I’m a 36 year-old parent who looks about a decade younger than I am. And if someone ever called me “girl” they would get an earful. It’s so disrespectful to an adult to refer to them as a child. I even refer to teenagers in my kid’s dance class as *anything* other than that term.

      Reply
    3. KHB

      I can empathize – I was well into my 20s before it stopped feeling weird to be referred to as a “woman” instead of a “girl.”

      But this isn’t just about you and how you think of yourself. It’s about how we as a society think about all women. Do you want your female students, when they graduate, to be thought of as less than fully adult? (And as Observer asked, do you want your students to think of you as less than fully adult?)

      Reply
    4. justsomeone

      Yeah, I understand this feeling as well. I’m nearly 27, own cars, am buying a house, am married, etc. I still (problematically) refer to myself as a girl or kid all the time. But the word “woman” has all these other things wrapped into it that it doesn’t feel comfortable to wear/use/refer to myself as.

      Reply
      1. DecorativeCacti

        I think everyone has an, “Oh, shit. I’m the grown up now,” moment. Even if we don’t feel comfortable in the skin of An Adult.

        Reply
    5. Liz T

      I’m a bit confused–do you think we should generally call women “girls” because that’s how you personally feel about it?

      Reply
      1. Stardust

        Oh, no, not at all. I’m just saying that that I have a personal preference for being called “girl” and that my personal preference for such shouldn’t make me a bad female. People often say, “It’s women like you who set us back to the ’50s!”

        Reply
        1. Liz T

          Well if you’re inserting those preferences into conversations like this, where we’re talking about best practices for the workplace generally, I can see why people express dismay about it. In this context your comment made it sound like you think other people shouldn’t care about this because of your own idiosyncrasy.

          (If you are interested, though, in what contemporary feminists think about this kind of language issue, see above about using “female” as a noun.)

          Reply
        2. Blue Anne

          It doesn’t make you a bad female. But it might be counterproductive for those of us who don’t share your (unusual among feminists) preference.

          Reply
    6. Amy

      If you like being called a girl in your private life, fantastic! I call my husband “Baby” and there is no confusion about whether or not I think he’s actually an infant. But there’s no way I’d say “the reports from the babies in accounting look good” at work even though I happen to know one accountant who doesn’t mind being called Baby. At work, people are counting on you (and paying you!) to be an adult.

      Reply
  14. Clairels

    What about gals? I still seem to hear a lot of (mostly older) men using this term. Maybe a few older women, too.

    Reply
    1. J.B.

      That drives me crazy but it is regional. My mother in law uses it. I wouldn’t want it said to me or about me at work and would probably follow one of Alison’s scripts.

      Being a prickly person approaching 40 I don’t hesitate to say things like that now.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it’s both regional and generational. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone under 70 use it in quite some time, with the exception of a few southerners.

      Reply
      1. Leah

        At my old job my Northern thirty-something male boss used it all the time, and it was pretty clear that he meant it in a really infantilizing sort of way. I guess it depends on context but now the word “gal” really makes me angry, more so than “girl”.

        Reply
    3. Leah

      I think it’s worse than “girls” which is more of a general language thing. “Gals” to me just seems very condescending, like “oh you’re a career gal”.

      Reply
      1. HisGirlFriday

        I hear ‘gals’ in the course of my work at least three times a week. We’re not in a Southern region, we’re not in that age demographic, we’re just apparently backwards.

        Reply
    4. Chomps

      I strongly dislike it. But I know older women (in their 60s or so) who use it and it doesn’t bother me coming from them. From someone my age (early 30s) it feels weird and from an older man it sounds creepy. And maybe from a younger man too.

      Reply
    5. Colorado

      I sheepishly have to admit I use gal all the time to refer to women. Woman always just sounded so formal to me (I’m a woman). Learned a lot on this site today.

      Reply
    6. Close Bracket

      I use it all the time, and I advocate for others to use it. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

      I see people who think it is infantalizing. I’m open to not using it anymore if it has those connotations. If so, I would have to advocate not using “guys” anymore at all.

      Reply
      1. de Pizan

        It’s not just that some people think it’s infantalizing, that’s the literal definition. Gal is a “girl or young woman.”

        Reply
  15. Professor Ronny

    I don’t understand it, but in my part of the country (the south), it is common when a group of guys are referring to just themselves, to say “just between us girls.”

    Reply
    1. Anna

      That’s kind of subtly sexist. It implies that the next thing coming out will be gossip and we all know how the ladies like to gossip, don’t we fellas? I’m not sure I’d be that bothered by it, but it definitely carries some sexism.

      Although RuPaul totally uses it on Drag Race when the judges are getting ready to discuss the contestants and I have no issues with it, so…grain of salt and all that.

      Reply
      1. robot

        Anna, I agree with you here. It perpetuates a stereotype of women as gossipy that’s not appropriate in a workplace environment or maybe even among friends. I think in Drag Race the way that gender is being handled is so different that it’s not really analogous to the other situations.

        Reply
    2. Bend & Snap

      The common phrase at my workplace is “just between us chickens.” it doesn’t have to be girls.

      Reply
      1. kavm

        that is also demeaning to women though… a group of women is frequently referred to as gossiping hens.

        Reply
          1. kavm

            this goes back to what Anna and robot say above. “just between us chickens” says think that you’re about to share information that is secret or that not everyone is privy to – therefore, gossip. in this case it is perpetuating the stereotype of a gossipy group of women. not sure what other context you are referring to. in any case, i’d discourage the use of this phrase, and encourage calling it out when you hear it being used by others.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              That’s not how that expression evolved, though; that’s a linkage you’re bringing to it. I don’t think it’s appropriate to call it out as being problematic when it historically isn’t.

              Reply
    3. LawBee

      I’m southern. That’s totally gross and sexist (and vaguely homophobic tbh, considering that gay men are often characterized as being gossipy bitchy women). Go forth and be a hero and shut that down. \o/

      Reply
    4. Anonymous 40

      I’ve lived in the south my entire life and have never heard any group of men refer to themselves that way. Not saying you haven’t, just that it definitely isn’t common to the entire south.

      Reply
    5. Nerdling

      Yeah, that’s not a common Southernism, and it’s sexist to boot (lifelong Southerner perspective from three states).

      Reply
    6. Jules the Third

      I’ve heard it from men a couple of times, and it’s sexist as all get out. See also: let’s have a b*fest, something I have also heard from a guy in a group of mostly guys.

      Reply
  16. Scarlott

    A little tangential, but outside the workplace, would you have an issue with referring to a group of young females as girls?

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Yes. I find it condescending regardless of circumstances. I imagine it’s different for everyone, but this is something I definitely speak up about in my circle of friends (and catch and correct myself doing on occasion). A friend of mine and I have forced ourselves to stop saying “hey girl” in favor of “hey lady” or “what’s up with you woman?”

      Reply
      1. MegaMoose, Esq

        I just realized that, although I almost never use the word “lady” to refer to a group of women, I regularly greet my closest friends with “hey lady.” I wouldn’t use it for other acquaintances or at work, though.

        Reply
    2. Aunt Vixen

      I assume you mean young human females, in which case depending on how young they are, “girls” is appropriate (and “females” isn’t really, but that’s another thread that’s been done to death).

      Reply
      1. Taylor Swift

        You could use female as an adjective to describe what type of young humans you were talking about and then it might work better, but I agree that it’s problematic and that it’s been done to death and I try to avoid using the word completely in normal conversation.

        Reply
        1. Aunt Vixen

          That’s exactly right, though: it’s an adjective. We use “male” and “female” as nouns when we’re talking about animals, not humans. Human males and human females are called “men” and “women.” (I find dehumanizing even worse than infantilizing. After the Charleston church massacre, when the paper reported that the shooter had killed “six males and three females” [I believe], I may have got pretty noisily angry at the reporter – and when he said he was quoting the release from the police department, I may have got pretty noisily angry at the police department’s public information officer. They said they were hedging at “males” and “females” because they weren’t prepared to release the victims’ ages yet, but my feeling is you’re not spending a huge amount more to say “six men and boys and three women and girls,” and if column inches *are* a thing, you can say “there were six male and three female victims” and not dehumanize anybody. And especially when the people you’re dehumanizing have just been victims of a hate crime, *not* dehumanizing them is valuable.)

          Reply
          1. JulieBulie

            I would have been satisfied with “nine people.” I don’t really care about their genders. I don’t understand why it’s a priority to report this. It strikes me as an odd thing to emphasize.

            Once they sort out who all the victims are, there usually there is more specific coverage about their ages and such. It’s not weird to include gender in that. But just for a body count – no.

            Reply
          2. Zip Silver

            Male and female is used in the military (and presumably has moved on to various police forces as a result).

            Reply
            1. Aunt Vixen

              It’s wrong in the military and law enforcement as well. Just because people in uniforms dehumanize civilians doesn’t mean everyone should start doing it.

              Reply
          3. Jules the Third

            I loathe dehumanizing (cougar, b*, various body parts), but male and female apply to animals and humans. Can you point me to a source that gives details on how ‘male’ and ‘female’ are only references to animals?

            I’ve been in feminist circles for 40 years, and have heard a lot of linguistic debates (like womon / womyn / etc), but this is the very first time I’ve heard this one.

            Reply
            1. Hrovitnir

              I’m pretty amazed you haven’t heard about it considering calling women “females” is de jour with misogynists these days (and has depressingly been picked up by a lot of young people I know). No one is saying that “fe/male” is a problem as an adjective*, but calling someone “a female” is dehumanising. It’s especially egregious when you encounter “men and females” in the same sentence, which is disturbingly common. Eg: “I’m a man so I can’t help checking out females.” (I know, there are more things wrong with that sentence than just the nouns, but I had a friend of a friend say that to me once and it’s stuck out as the epitomy of douchiness since.)

              *Though I have noticed that as “females” has become so well know as a misogynist giveaway many people have started saying “woman [noun]” rather than “female [noun]”, which does make me wince but I leave it alone.

              Reply
            2. Aunt Vixen

              Of course they apply to animals and humans. As adjectives. We don’t need to use adjectives to refer *without nouns* to male and female humans because we have these convenient words “men” and “women.” It’s not really possible to present *sources* for this, because what we’re talking about is a gut feeling about usage. But for one example, consider Kipling: “The female of the species is more deadly than the male.” Of the species. Scientific, distancing, othering. Othering human beings is, as you know, not so good.

              Reply
    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      How young is young? Are we talking tweens? Teens? Adults? If they’re adults, they’re women.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        Yeah, this kind of matters. If the group is seven-year-old female humans, they would, in fact, be girls. If they’re 18 and above, they’re women. Even high schoolers I think deserve “young women” over “girls.”

        Reply
      2. Lore

        When I graduated from college, my parents organized a little party in our off-campus house. My dad, in a very bad attempt at humor, got “Congratulations, Girls” written on the cake. He has yet to live it down among either my family or my friends (who are now super-high-powered doctors, college professors, foreign service officers, and other successful professionals).

        Reply
      3. Scarlott

        Young adults who identify as females. I understand that in the workplace it might be inappropriate, but outside the workplace I could imagine some woman, ladies, whatever you want to call us, would be offended, as woman identifies someone older, similarly to the french use of Madamoiselle, and Madame.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          But as noted downthread they wouldn’t be Mademoiselle, they’d be Madame, same as they’d be women. Basically, they’re adults and they’re being referred to as adults.

          Reply
          1. Scarlott

            Mademoiselle is an adult, a young adult. Calling a young lady Madame is very insulting. I guess its not a perfect comparison.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Maybe in some places, but the French weighing in are saying it changes at about 20, and that it’s demeaning to be Mademoiselle later than that. I know some American teachers of French sometimes have outdated information or come from different Francophone regions–could it be that’s where you got the info?

              Reply
              1. Scarlott

                I don’t know which French people are weighing in. Fille is for girls. I’m English from quebec. Maybe things are different in other French regions.

                Reply
              2. Kate

                Yes, the way I have seen and heard it used is that “Mademoiselle” is equivalent to “Miss”, while “Madam” gets used in place of “Ms.” or “Mrs.”.

                But I believe the older usage, which is becoming outdated, is that “Mademoiselle” is a an unmarried female, “Madam” is a married female.

                Reply
    4. Taylor Swift

      Are they actually children? Then sure, go ahead. But I wouldn’t have a problem with that in the workplace, either.

      Reply
    5. BF50

      Only in the context of a “girls night”, but then I would also say “boys night” when my husband goes out with his middle aged male friends.

      When I arrive at the “girls night” I wouldn’t say “Hi Girls”. I’d either call my friends by their names because they are individual people, or maybe say “Hi Ladies” or “Hi everyone”.

      Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it unless they were obviously still in high school, in which case I would be directly referencing their age.

      Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        Agree; I think that seeing if “boy” sounds ok in an analogous context is an excellent test here.

        Reply
      2. Scarlott

        This is kind of the point I am trying to get at. Is it offensive outside the workplace to refer to the same 20 something year old woman as girls, or is it not? I know my boyfriend has his “boys”, and they do boys’ stuff. In their sports they always refer to themselves as “hey boys”. I don’t play sports, but I have friends who do, and they’re always posting on facebook about how great it is to play with such a wonderful bunch of girls.

        Reply
        1. BF50

          Outside of the very specific context of “girls night”, I don’t. Should or shouldn’t, I don’t know, but I don’t.

          Intentionally or not, I don’t call females who are adults “girls.” It’s not something I try to avoid doing.

          I just don’t do it and it would be strange if someone called a group of my contemporaries “girls.” Maybe not always offensive, depending on context, but definitely noticeably unusual.

          I wonder if there is an age dynamic at play here. It’s been a long time since I considered myself a girl, and I’m only 36.

          Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        Sure, but while there are adult Girl Scout activities for grown scouts, it’s an organization primarily for actual kids, so calling them girls is entirely appropriate.

        Reply
  17. Anna

    This is not an easy thing to break or even to address. I work with a man who is great in pretty much all respects, but he’ll refer to the women who work here as “girls” and I cringe every single time.

    Reply
  18. HisGirlFriday

    I use ‘y’all’ as a collective noun regardless of gender.

    I try to use person-specific or job-specific language; i.e., ‘We have a person in our office who codes things’ or ‘our membership coordinator handles that.’

    I realize ‘guys’ isn’t the same as ‘girls,’ and I think the true equivalent is ‘gals,’ and I hate that term, too.

    OP, I suggest practicing some calm responses with varied tones — cheerful or stony, depending — and then bring ready to deploy them next time.

    Because there will be a next time.

    Reply
    1. OhNo

      I’m also in the camp of using people’s job titles when possible. I try to stick to more gender-neutral language anyway, so either the person’s name or their job title are my go-to choices.

      Besides, if all the information I give about a person is their perceived gender, how is anyone going to know who I’m talking about? Or who to ask questions of? At least if I use a name or job title, they can figure out who to contact with questions if they ever need to.

      Reply
    2. Mints

      I’m also slightly uncomfortable using “woman” sometimes, which I know is bad, but training myself to use “person” is 1000% easier for whatever reason so I default to that

      Reply
    3. motherofdragons

      I also use “y’all” outside of work. My husband hates it, which I think is largely because it’s not regional for us at all, so he thinks it’s TOO casual (we live on the West Coast). But I like that it’s neutral. I once referred to a group of (what I assumed was entirely) women as “ladies,” and a gender-non-conforming friend in the group later pulled me aside and shared that it made them feel uncomfortable to be grouped in as a “lady.” So now I use “y’all” or “friends” or “team” or whatever non-gendered term, because you never know. And it costs literally nothing to be respectful!

      Reply
      1. Ian Mac Eochagáin

        That is why we have the second-person plural “ye” in Ireland. Yes, it’s very informal, but it’s handy!

        Reply
  19. M

    “We really should hire an adult to code the emails, child labor is illegal, you know.”

    Sometimes I’m just grateful when we’re not being collectively referred to as “females.” Feeemales.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Ugh, right? I can’t decide whether ‘females’ or ‘girls’ bothers me more; they’re both so awful.

      Reply
    2. I GOTS TO KNOW!

      I hate when female is used as a noun. Especially when men do it in that certain way… ugh. Makes me want to punch something

      Reply
      1. Jake

        Why? I hear male and female used as a noun all the time.

        Its not proper grammar, but I feel like that’s relatively minor. What am I missing?

        Reply
        1. ByteTheBullet

          It reminds me of mammals on the Discovery Channel. There’s something horrifyingly dehumanizing about it.

          “The female is restocking the kitchen right now.”

          I mean… who talks like that?

          Reply
        2. FDCA In Canada

          The grammar thing aside, it’s dehumanizing, and it’s almost always used to refer exclusively to women. It’s rare to hear “those males over there,” but “those females over there” is more common. Female what? Male what? We have perfectly good words for adult humans–men and women–and the refusal to use them reads as very either dehumanizing, as I’ve said, or aliens from another planet. I understand that certain subsets of the population, like law enforcement and military, will use the terms as descriptors on work time (“suspect is a Caucasian female of medium height, dark hair, wearing a green sweater and blue jeans”), but there’s a vast difference between that and “I talked to the females in marketing.”

          Reply
          1. Jake

            We’ll have to agree to disagree on the almost exclusively used for women thing, as I hear males used as a noun almost daily.

            As far as the dehumanizing aspect n I can see your point on that. That being said, the first entry in my desk top dictionary for male is a noun (and explicitly uses man, boy and human), but the first entry for female is an adjective (with no reference to human or woman or girl) That was a huge surprise to me! I thought surely they’d match.

            It’s really not a big deal, I’ll quit using female as a noun since it bothers folks.

            Reply
            1. Jake

              To clarify, by its not a big deal,I mean changing my usage is not a big deal to me, not that this issue isn’t a big deal in general.

              Reply
        3. Mpls

          Male/female are adjectives, not nouns. Man/Woman are the nouns to describe male humans or female humans.

          Male/female is not specific as to species in the way man/woman is.

          Reply
          1. Jake

            That is not true, at least not in my 10 year old Merriam Webster college dictionary. Male is a noun that references humans. You are correct on female though. I find it fascinating that there is a difference there.

            Reply
            1. Thlayli

              I think in American English male and female are legitimately considered nouns. In U.K. English male and female are exclusively adjectives and saying males or females would make you sound like someone who watches too many cop shows on tv.

              Reply
        4. JulieBulie

          When people refer to men and women as males and females, it sounds as though they’re talking about livestock.

          Reply
        5. I GOTS TO KNOW!

          I never hear male used as a noun unless it is about animals in a documentary. Male is most commonly used as an adjective “The victim was male, 6’3″, and blonde” – you don’t commonly hear “look at that group of males” “I was chattin’ up this male” “OOO male, you lookin’ fine”

          What you do hear is women being addressed solely by what someone perceives their sex organs to be and nothing else. Using an adjective as a noun erases the subject and reduces the subject to that one thing. Especially because it is often used in the derogatory way I mentioned above “Look at that group of females” “I was chatting up this sexy female” “OOOOO female, you lookin fine” – it is done in combination with leering and catcalling and it is, frankly, gross.

          I will post some links to further reading in a reply comment

          Reply
            1. motherofdragons

              I was just going to link to these same articles. They sum up really well what I had trouble putting my finger on about why men using “female” as nouns skeeved me out so much.

              Reply
            2. Jules the Third

              Thanks for the links, I had asked for them above, I’ll go read them now.
              I think I may be hampered here by the fact that both my parents are biologists. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the derogatory ‘look at that group of feeemales’ (it’s usually ‘them wimmin’), but I grew up hearing ‘male’ and ‘female’ as nouns for all animals including humans.

              Reply
            3. Jules the Third

              Ok, while I get the ‘transexclusionary’ part of the six reasons, and will change my patterns because of that, I have totally heard, ‘you know how males are’ said about male humans. Reasons #2 and 4 are convincing, 1 and 5 are subtle but reasonable, and 3 and 6 are illogical, annoying and undercut the effective reasons.

              Reply
    3. MegaMoose, Esq

      There’s a related issue in some professions (doctors, lawyers and cops being the three I’m familiar with) where there’s an unfortunate overuse of “female” when describing one’s profession. Like you’ll be talking about something completely unrelated to gender but insist on identifying the person as a “female __” like it’s not a completely piece of information given the context.

      Reply
      1. Lucky

        Until I learn how to give legal advice with my boobs, you can stop with calling me a female attorney. AmIRight?

        Reply
        1. MegaMoose, Esq.

          “Well, Lefty thinks you have a good case, but Righty is concerned about the statute of limitations.”

          Reply
    4. Bend & Snap

      See, I hate the phrase “woman” over “female.” if one must make the distinction (and really IDK why that’s necessary but it happens), I’d rather hear/read “female doctor,” “female firefighter” or whatever. Instead it’s almost always “woman doctor” etc. It drives me bonkers.

      You would never say “man doctor” but you might say “male nurse,” again, when just “nurse” would do.

      Reply
        1. MegaMoose, Esq

          Agreed times 100! The only time I want to see the word “female” or “woman” in front of the word “lawyer” is if we’re having a conversation about gender equality in the workplace or something like that.

          Reply
          1. Bend & Snap

            Totally agree. I don’t mean I condone calling out gender at all; there’s just one way that bothers me more than the other. It should really just be profession with no gender qualifiers.

            Reply
          2. I GOTS TO KNOW!

            I correct people all the time.
            “He’s a male nurse”
            “Oh he only treats men? Does he work on prostate cancer or something?”
            “What? No.”
            “Well, I know his gender cuz you said he, so why else would you preface his position with the word male unless it had something to do with his actual job duties?”

            I do it whenever I can
            “Sarah is a female lawyer”
            “Is that a new kind of law? Female?”
            “What? No.”
            “Well, then she’s a lawyer. Her gender doesn’t factor into it.”

            Reply
            1. Queen Anne of Cleves

              I used to respond with something similar to my grandmother who insisted on letting you know the race of the person she was talking about. And to boot she would use “girl” too..as in “I went to the doctor and the black girl at the counter checked me in” I would then say “What color was the doctor, the carpet, the door, the nurse etc?..I mean if color is worth mentioning for some reason I want ALL the details.”

              Reply
      1. SarahTheEntwife

        Yes! “Woman doctor” sounds like a weirdly euphemistic term for a gynecologist. (Which after reading this thread I almost spelled “guynecoogist” and that would be an *awesome* title for a gynecologist who specialized in working with trans men.)

        Reply
      2. a

        The way I see it, “woman” is a noun and “female” is an adjective. So I’d rather hear “female doctor” than “woman doctor” but I’d also prefer “the blonde woman in Accounting” to “the blonde female in Accounting.”

        Reply
  20. Miso

    Well, Angela Merkel actually was known as “Kohls Mädchen”, so there’s that. (Kohl being our former chancellor and Mädchen being the German word for girl)

    But yeah, you shouldn’t do it at work. I don’t think I ever heard anyone say it at my current workplace. I’ll also admit that I absolutely still call myself girl (which I really am not anymore, considering how close that 3 is…) and I also totally call other women girls (not at work though, I think…?) and I only sometimes mean it derogatory.

    Reply
  21. Roker Moose

    I’ve had ‘girl’ a few times. Don’t love it but I suppose I’m used to it by now.

    I work in a two-person department; me and my 50s ish female boss. A colleague stopped by for something or other a week after I started, and joked that he was ‘trading in [Boss] for a younger model’. It was cringeingly awkward.

    Reply
  22. Leah

    At my job I actually only hear “girls” from female coworkers. It really irritates me because I feel like it’s harder to correct women than men in this context, and the one time I gently reminded a female coworker that I was an adult woman I was told “we’re ALL girls, it’s okay”.

    Reply
    1. Over18

      OMG, this. I encounter ‘girls’ weekly; I speak up whenever I can, although it has yet to change anything.

      Reply
    2. oyy

      Yep, me too. In my case, they are usually the older women coworkers. Part of it I think is the youthful aspect of it–like they are the same women who would be offended if they were called “ma’am” (but I also think the other part is that pesky patriarchy up in their brains).

      Reply
  23. OP

    So much useful advice here already – thanks!

    Some commentators have asked about other gender-based terms like ‘lady’ or ‘gentlemen’ – I personally use ‘folks,’ ‘people,’ and ‘team’ to address a group of people no matter what the gender makeup is (e.g., “Hey team, what is the plan for next week’s design review?”)

    Reply
    1. Anonymous 40

      I use the exact same terms in the same situations. I wonder if it’s regional or something.

      Reply
    2. JessB

      Oh wow, I love ‘folks’! I’m going to start using that, thanks!
      I work in a really relaxed office, but I’m trying to train myself out of using ‘girls’ to refer to myself and to my team, and folks will be a great replacement.
      Also, thinking about how I would refer to our CEO, who is a woman. If I wouldn’t use the word to describe her, I shouldn’t use it to describe myself- with obvious exceptions, I’m not going to start describing myself as the CEO!

      Reply
  24. robot

    I rarely hear “girl” at my office, but I hear “lady” far, far too often. It’s less infantilizing, but it’s still weird and really draws attention to gender in a way that just saying “oh the woman from team [x]” doesn’t. I’d rather they didn’t draw attention to gender at all when possible, especially since I work as a software engineer and it gets pointed out in subtle (and not subtle) ways all the time here.

    Reply
    1. Gadfly

      Lady is a pet peeve of mine. It reminds me of little girls being told to be “ladylike”–basically all the problematic socialization we then have to fight the rest of our lives with never get dirty or play hard or compete or disagree, just be a pleasant smiling doll.

      Reply
      1. Liane

        I mentioned above that Miss Manners doesn’t think “ladies” should be used at work, and I think–it’s been a long time since I read one of her tomes–that was her explanation.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          It’s that “lady” is a social term. She doesn’t object to it in general–her work is filled with references to “ladies and gentlemen”–but she considers the social framework inappropriate for work, and she’s keenly aware how that social framework is invoked more to deleterious effect for women.

          Reply
  25. AnotherHRPro

    Words have more power than we think. When I was much younger I really didn’t appreciate how much. And intent does not matter. When anyone refers to adult women as girls I always very politely correct them. Sames goes for using guys as gender neutral for a mixed group of men and women. It is not gender neutral, although I understand most behave that way. Ask yourself if a bunch of men would be comfortable being called gals in a gender neutral way. Probably not. Why? If men do not like being called gals, then the lesson is that there is something wrong with being a woman. And by referring to a group of men and women as guys you are essentially excluding the women.

    Reply
    1. LawBee

      I see what you’re saying, although I see “guys” as becoming more gender-neutral over time. I hear teenage girls call out “hey guys, come here” to their group of girlfriends in stores, my all-female messaging group asks “what are you guys up to” all the time. We said “guys” all the time when I was in college, which was a women’s college.

      Reply
      1. JB (not in Houston)

        I disagree that it’s truly gender neutral even now, though I think i’m in the minority on this one. Here’s why–if your boyfriend was going to go for happy hour with his coworkers who are all women, what are the odds he would tell you he’s going to be late because “he’s going for some drinks with the guys”? If you’re a waitress and one of your tables has a man and a woman, would you tell your coworker that “the guy at table 3 still doesn’t have water,” is it likely you are talking about the woman? There are too many situations where using the word “guys” is *not* gender neutral that we can’t really say that it’s a gender neutral word even if it’s used that way in some cases.

        After all, the word “he” was said for a long time to be fine to use to reference both men and women. For example, you see lots of old legal opinions referencing a general standard for a person, and it says “he,” like “when a plaintiff is served, he must file an answer in X many days.” And that’s not ok, and thankfully we’ve stopped doing that because “he” is not gender neutral–if there were a man and a woman in the room and you told someone that “he” needs to speak to the manager, who is the listener going to think you’re talking about?

        Reply
    2. Taylor Swift

      I agree with you that “guys” is not a gender-neutral term, although from my memory we’re in the minority on this site. I don’t think most people would call a woman a guy (like, “look at that guy over there”) so I don’t think it follows that it becomes gender-neutral when it’s plural. And there are so many other words (folks, team, everybody, etc) to use instead, I don’t quite understand why people insist on using it.

      Reply
      1. JB (not in Houston)

        Aaaand I just said the same thing. Should have scrolled down to see if others addressed this first.

        Reply
    3. Trout 'Waver

      The English language has pretty much always defaulted to using male pronouns to describe the human species. Yeah it’s not ideal. Instead of looking at it as being pointlessly gendered, look at it as a degendered word. That’s how most kids these days treat it. Words change over time. View it as a win for inclusivity rather than a loss to gender erasure.

      Reply
      1. medium of ballpoint

        You’re right in that male pronouns are used for people of all genders, and I have an issue with that. Guys *is* a gendered word and trying to reframe it as gender neutral just…isn’t accurate. I’ll feel much more comfortable with it when it also becomes commonplace to refer to mixed gender groups as girls/ladies/gals.

        Reply
        1. JB (not in Houston)

          “I’ll feel much more comfortable with it when it also becomes commonplace to refer to mixed gender groups as girls/ladies/gals.”

          That’s an excellent point.

          Reply
        2. Trout 'Waver

          But it is accurate to many people, as evidenced by this thread. Words aren’t forever set in stone and the transitions are a bit messy as different people use different definitions.

          In French, where all nouns are gendered, some of the words to describe mixed groups of people are considered feminine nouns, such as foule which translates to crowd. I know that’s a bit different. But no issues there.

          Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            As evidenced by other people’s comments, it’s used by some people in *some* situations with the intent to be gender neutral, but it is not truly a gender neutral word. Comparing English to French doesn’t really work because we don’t do gendered nouns, and in any case, we’re not talking about nouns in general. We’re talking about the words you use to address and refer to people, not a chair or a pencil.

            Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      You really should read Alison’s response and the comments here then because they explain pretty succinctly why it matters. If you have specific questions about that, that’s one thing. But it’s literally spelled out on this page why it matters.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      It matters for the reasons I discussed in the post: Girls are not taken as seriously as women, it’s infantilizing and patronizing, and language impacts how we think even when we don’t intend it to.

      Nobody is looking for things to be upset about. “People just want things to be upset about these days” is usually the stance of people who are disturbed that they’re expected to be more aware of discrimination against traditionally marginalized groups.

      Reply
      1. tiny temping teapot

        I want to tattoo that last paragraph on the heads of so so many people. Or somewhere else they would see it a lot until it sank in.

        Reply
    3. J.B.

      To extend Alison’s analogy, what if someone did say “boy” about an African American employee? Or used “gay” as a slur? At one point in time that was common. Now, I hope they would get HR involved. “Girls” definitely invokes the secretarial pool and is grating, particularly if you’ve been stuck in the female trap of “too nice” = can’t be a leader vs “too assertive” = b!tchy, still can’t be a leader.

      Calmly saying “I’d prefer you use a different term” is how adults behave. Labeling “people who want to be upset about things” because they disagree with you is dismissive.

      Reply
    4. Anonymous Educator

      Take it from someone who is upset, I’m not wanting things to be upset about. I would love not to have things to be upset about.

      Reply
      1. Sylvia

        From someone who isn’t upset or particularly invested in this: I’m an adult. Adults are “women,” children are “girls.” This isn’t hard. Why do people screw it up?

        Reply
    5. Another Amy

      I’m not sure what’s wrong with trying to make the world better. Even if it’s in ways that may (but may not!) be subtle and have subtle effects.

      Reply
    6. hbc

      If what we’re called is totally no big deal, then how about you change it up for the people who do care? Lots of people have an incorrect idea about the origin of the phrase “rule of thumb”, but I still try not to use it, because the little bit of effort on my part is worth someone not having to casually encounter (to them) a reference to violent abuse.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        Yeah, kind of reminds me of when someone says “I don’t care where we eat,” and then proceeds to shoot down every restaurant suggestion you make.

        Reply
    7. Jessie the First (or second)

      “I really do not get why this matters.”

      As Alison’s answer explains well why it matters and this entire thread expands on that, I’m assuming you mean you simply do not *agree* that it matters, which is a very different point. You have not explained why you don’t agree, and instead you’ve decided it’s better to feign complete confusion and then dismiss everything with a “you’re over-sensitive” trope.

      Which, frankly, makes you appear not thoughtful and makes your point of view not compelling. Instead of dismissing everybody without presenting anything of actual substance – state your case. Explain *why* you think language choices do not matter. Or, if language choices *do* matter, then explain where you think the line is.

      Basically, don’t just wave your hand and roll your eyes. That advances nothing. Make your case.

      Reply
      1. Jessie the First (or second)

        Agree. I mean, I still remember when my mom scolded me for referring to our (adult) neighbor as a girl 40 years ago (and it was effective – it has been about that long since I have referred to adult person as “girl”).

        This is not news.

        Reply
    8. Bess

      You might find it helpful to read up on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis to understand why this is a very serious issue–https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity

      Reply
  26. BritCred

    I think I have one worse I was referred to as “this bird” because I was trying to get a salesman to actually do his job and sort his unit pricing errors…. as in “I can do some actual work when I get this bird off the phone…” said to me.

    Yeah, I’ve been called in because you aren’t doing your damn job, and haven’t corrected these in over a year thanks. By your boss.

    Reply
    1. SarahTheEntwife

      0.o Ok, that would both offend me and make me double-check that I wasn’t suddenly stuck in a 40s noir film.

      Reply
    1. KHB

      I trained myself to say “folks” instead of “guys” (for whatever the gender makeup of the group I’m referring to). It sounds a little…well…folksy, but I think it bypasses all the other problems.

      Reply
    2. Nolan

      Folks, everyone, everybody, you all, y’all, team, minions (I use this one jokingly for my convention volunteers), people, crew, staff, teamies, and any plural, gender-neutral occupational title (drivers, waitstaff, etc)

      Reply
    3. Fred

      Dolls. Guys and dolls. =)

      FWIW, I was responsible for eliminating “girls” from the work vocabulary at one stop of my journey. There were only two “girls,” and so only “office staff” or “Jane and Jill” were acceptable options. My female manager thought I was way too PC. Nope. Everyone thought a little less of them. It was an important change.

      Reply
  27. Snorlax

    I had a coworker at my last job who routinely referred to women as girls. When he referred to our new managing partner (the head of our entire office) as “the new girl,” I looked him in the eye and said “did you just call the head of our office a girl? We don’t have any girls working here. Everyone is over 18.” He apologized. He slipped up a few times after that, but would catch himself as soon as I looked at him. I really concur with Alison that the direct approach is best.

    Reply
  28. LawBee

    “It’s also worth noting that women can be the worst offenders on this one, which doesn’t make it any less problematic.”

    RAISES HAND. I have been working for ages to stop calling my staff “the girls”. It’s tough because between women, it’s informal bonding-type language (like girls’ night out) but it definitely does not belong in the workplace. I’m glad to say that I’ve about trained myself out of it. (how? Most of the time I use their actual names.)

    Reply
    1. AnonMurphy

      I do this too, although not really at work. As I said above, I might refer to ‘the guys on Scrum Team X’, which includes both genders, in a work setting. But invite the women in the same group over and I’ll tell my husband ‘I’m having a few of the girls over’.

      Heck, I refer to it as ‘girls night’ all the time when I’m hanging out with a group of women friends.

      Reply
    2. Chomps

      But…. it’s not always informal bonding type language. It annoys me to be called a girl by another woman as well. Or be referred to as one of the “the girls” or “the girl.” Why bring my gender into it? it’s not that important.

      Reply
  29. babblemouth

    Many people start calling me “Mademoiselle” the moment they find out my native language is French. Every time I have to explain to them that I passed the age of “Mademoiselle” about 10 years ago, and if they insist on speaking French, I’d prefer they said Madame.. It sounds extremely condescending to me, even though the people saying it don’t mean to offend me.

    I assume some Spanish speakers are also driven crazy by Señorita etc.

    Basically: people should be careful about languages too. There may be words they think are inoffensive but actually also signal youth and lack of experience.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Hell, at least in the parts of Spain I lived in, señorita stopped being appropriate at about the same time “little lady” does in English — ie, before the end of childhood. I was ‘señora’ by the time I hit my teens.

      Reply
      1. Mints

        Spanish complicates a little because of muchacho/a (translation for non Spanish speakers: young adult). But agree that señorita is for children

        Reply
    2. LawBee

      I bet they do that because we’re taught that Madame is for married women, and Mademoiselle is for unmarried women. I had no idea that there was an age connotation – and I took French for TEN YEARS. (But not from a native speaker until college.)

      Reply
      1. Anonymous 40

        Huh. My French teachers taught us that they were exactly equivalent to girl and woman. I think the only marriage-related stipulation may have been that married women were always madame, even if they otherwise might be referred to as mademoiselle.

        I wonder too if the fact that we typically learn languages in high school or college affects this. Say in high school French, people get used to referring to their female peers as ‘mademoiselle’ and it’s then the more comfortable word for them, even when it’s not appropriate to the context later in life.

        Reply
      2. FDCA In Canada

        I learned French in the US in high school before moving to Canada, but it is very much not done that way here–in French-speaking Canada, madame is used for all women, both married and unmarried, starting from a very young age. I think the only time I’ve seen girls referred to as mademoiselle is the very young (like, under 8) or who have specifically requested that. But I think this is one of the big divides between France French and Canadian French.

        Reply
        1. babblemouth

          In France the cut off is more around 20 years-old. But you’d never call a colleague Mademoiselle at any age unless you want to sound condescending.

          Reply
        2. Zahra

          Indeed. I remember the shock of receiving my high school diploma addressed to “Madame Zahra”. I was 17!

          Now, I’m actually grateful that Mademoiselle doesn’t exist in official correspondance. It’s Madame, just like it should (in my opinion) be Ms.

          Reply
      3. Chinook

        “I bet they do that because we’re taught that Madame is for married women, and Mademoiselle is for unmarried women.”

        Ditto here. Plus, I think that is the convention for Quebecois French because all the bilingual forms allow for a choice between Mlle/Mme/M.

        Reply
      4. OhNo

        I learned the same thing about the señorita/señora divide in Spanish. Apparently my language education was missing a lot of cultural context.

        Reply
  30. I Herd the Cats

    There are two men in the office who use “girls.” In every email I’ve taken to referring to them, directly, or indirectly, as “you boys.”

    Reply
    1. hbc

      I’ve found this is the only thing that works, and they don’t really have any kind of legitimate comeback.

      Reply
          1. BouncingBall

            There is a very ugly and negative history of black men being called “son” as a way of keeping them in their place. Don’t ever call a black man “son.”

            Reply
  31. bibliophile

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine. I have routinely corrected people in the moment, in professional conversations. I’ve talked about so much at home that my husband now does it at his workplace. I do always try to keep the conversation going, but I call it out.

    Reply
    1. Bigglesworth

      Can I just say that it makes me happy to hear that you’ve rubbed off on your husband and now he does the same thing? That’s awesome! You’re a good influence!

      Reply
  32. Jake

    To further support Alison’ s point, I have been in a work place where certain men were referred to as boys…. it was most certainly meant to demean them

    Reply
  33. soupmonger

    In my Exjob I worked with someone who not only routinely called all women ‘girls’ but who would *always* forget a woman’s name after he’d been introduced. I brought this up with my spineless excuse for a manager as a perfect example of this man’s sexism and misogyny, only to be told that ‘he was just like that’.

    Reply
  34. ByteTheBullet

    Very interesting discussion. I agree with Allison’s script, and good on you for taking a stance, OP!

    As a side note: when Angela Merkel first became a cabinett minister, she was continuously called “my girl” by the then chancellor. He later referred to her as a “snake” when she rose to power…. funny how that works.

    Reply
  35. kris

    I’m really enjoying this post. In writing this comment, I’ve just figured out some new replacements for the term “ladies” that sound natural, aren’t needlessly gendered, nor feel like a mouth full of words.

    But on a similar note, what about when someone calls you kiddo? (Perhaps from an older male to a younger female in a professional setting where the male is not the female’s boss and only senior in age/his head.)

    Reply
    1. General Ginger

      Oh, that would make me see red. I accept my native language’s equivalent of “kiddo” from close family members to whom I’m always going to be the kid (I’m the youngest of all the cousins in my generation) regardless of age. I cannot imagine ever being happy about being called that in a professional setting, though I’m not sure how I’d respond.

      Reply
    2. MegaMoose, Esq

      I will confess that I did let a boss get away with calling me “kiddo” occasionally. I wasn’t staying in the position long and I couldn’t bring myself to say anything.

      Reply
    3. OhNo

      “Kiddo”? Yikes. The only thing I can think of that I might actually pull off in the moment would be to look down my nose at them and say (in the chilliest tone I can manage) “I’m thirty. I’m not a kid.”

      Reply
    4. kavm

      kiddo will only ever be okay coming from my father. it’s a term of endearment and from anyone else it would be rude, overly familiar, and infantilizing.

      Reply
    5. K

      I’m an attorney, and one of our clients calls me “kiddo” as a term of affection because I’m the same age as his daughter. I think from anyone else it would chafe, but he respects my professional judgment, pays the bill on time, and I like him.

      Reply
    6. Kate

      I would probably reply “Sure thing Daddio”. That’s if I didn’t really need the job and had a fair amount in savings, of course, in case the boss reacted really badly.

      Reply
  36. WaitingforMacaroni

    It’s not just in English. In French, “les filles au bureau” and similar is widely used. If you work in a bilingual office, where the language usage switches all the time and flows into each other plus skill level varies widely between coworkers, you could find yourself with someone saying “girls” because in his head he’s using “filles” and to him, it’s (possibly) not an issue in the other language.

    As a “girl,” I’ll admit, I use the terms “girls” too but maybe I should try to do it less.

    My pet peeve is “female,” as in “The female in my group…” I hate that as I feel it renders the woman to a biological specimen when female is used without something to modify (female coder, female officer, etc.). Sure, I am a female of my species. But in my everyday life, I am a woman.

    Reply
      1. LCL

        This is kind of a blue collar thing though. I have heard it from an employee who was former military, and that was always part of his description, female or male.

        Reply
        1. General Ginger

          If it’s being used on par with “males”, it grates at me less, but in my experience, it’s usually been just “females”, and then “men” or “guys” for the male folk.

          Reply
        2. Chomps

          I wonder if in your employee’s place it’s something specific to the military, but isn’t the case in other blue collar professions? I know the military has a lot of conventions and traditions that don’t really translate well to civilian life.

          Reply
          1. Student

            The military also has a deeply established element of misogyny. It is the last place in the country (USA) where women aren’t allowed to have certain jobs solely on their gender. Even today, the military indoctrinates recruits that women are inferior to men routinely and broadly. They’re calling women “females” specifically because they regard women as some foreign, vaguely hostile “other”. Note that they never, ever refer to “males” in a similar or reciprocal situation.

            Reply
        3. Data Lady

          My blue-collar, non-military-associated relatives (including my mother) use “females”/”girls” and “men”, without any idea that there are parts of society that would find that iffy. Heck, when I’ve mentioned that It’s Not A Thing in my circles, I’ve always been treated as though I’m making a big deal out of nothing. The idea that there’s any link between sexism and language for them is…well, not there. At all. Something to think about.