Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Girls or women?

with 4 comments

Some of the many different games known as foot...
Image via Wikipedia

Not a week goes by without somebody somewhere getting me going on this one. I spotted this on the Guardian‘s online sportblog page in a piece recommending YouTube video clips:

Plus, check out the dainty ladies of Cesmac exchanging lavender-scented pleasantries with Sóesporte in a Brazilian amateur league game last month, and this from a recent girls’ game in the States.

Well, I skipped the “dainty ladies”, but I checked out the “girls” in the “girls’ game” and I can confidently report that they were, in fact, women. Yes, indeedy. And there was I expecting to see a clip of some schoolgirls playing football. (I wasn’t really.)

Does it matter? Yes. Calling women “girls” undermines and infantilises them. If you wouldn’t call a man a “boy” in the same context, don’t call a woman a “girl”.

See more on this topic in Am I allowed to say that?

Sorting the women from the girls

Sorting the ladies from the women

Trilling and shrieking

Ladies first? Not often



4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Sports journalists — reputedly (by me) the worst writers anywhere — also call men “boys” or “lads.” In baseball, “the boys of summer” is a standard moniker.

    Michael Farrell

    09/03/2010 at 5:23 pm

  2. Yes, I’d agree to a certain extent. However, it is only recently that the commentators on Wimbledon, for example, have stopped (for the most part, until they forget themselves) calling the female players ‘girls’ and the male players ‘men’.


    09/03/2010 at 5:50 pm

  3. The use of ‘boys’ to refer to tough adult rugby players is ubiquitous; and this could be extended to many contexts, not only in sport. I think that any effort to rid the English language of the words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ to refer to adults is demeaning, dehumanizing, sinister and Orwellian.


    10/03/2010 at 12:22 am

    • Hello, Dai — I agree with you. My only objection is when women are referred to as ‘girls’ when in the same context men are or would be referred to as ‘men’. As a minor extra point, it can even lead to confusion (quite apart from all the other reasons why I think the use of ‘girls’ to refer to ‘women’ should in most cases be avoided). For example, with reference to Wimbledon, there is a championship for both girls and women. A casual commentator’s question, such as ‘How are the British girls doing today?’ is ambiguous. From a business point of view I know of an instance at a trade show where a man approached two women who commanded a very large budget for a major High Street retailer. He was after some business and began his pitch with the greeting, ‘Hello girls’. Things went downhill from there. (It didn’t help that he was also rubbing his hands together at the same time.)


      10/03/2010 at 7:19 am

Your questions and comments are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: