When I was writing the new welcome message (that thing on the right there) for my blog, I instinctively referred to myself as a ‘girl’. I can’t say I’d often considered whether or not that was an accurate description, but seeing it in black and white (okay, pink and white) – let alone in the same paragraph as the word ‘thirties’ – has had me questioning whether or not, in the current spirit of moving on, I should also step beyond that kind of terminology.
The first time I posed the question was a few months ago, watching a football match at The Temple (aka Pride Park, for the non-believers among you). Customary Bovril in hand, I was making my way down the row to my seat, checking out – as I always do – who was in the row of seats behind mine. This particular Saturday afternoon, it was a group of 11-year-old boys, giddy with the parent-freed excitement of coming to a match without a ‘responsible adult’ (whatever one of those is). And – again, as I always do – I smiled at the kid directly behind me. Because I’m polite and cheery like that. (Read: because I like to lessen my chances of children kicking the back of my seat.)
Having given my best hey-we’re-the-same-you-and-me smile to the lads behind, I got comfy in my seat, chuffed with my hip self for being so down with the kids, as the Rams ran out onto the pitch (to this; learn the lyrics or you’re not allowed back, right?). Behind me, the lads were having a who-can-shout-the-loudest contest, roaring ‘come on Derby’ into each others’ ears as I continued to plaster on my yeah-I’m-totally-cool-with-screaming-boys smile. Their shouting match soon turned into a joke-off, with one kid making a crack about Robbie Savage’s ponytail being more at home on Lily Savage (which I thought was pretty funny for a 11 year old). In approval of the gag, I looked over my right shoulder and chuckled my approval.
‘Heh. She laughed at your joke,’ said Funny Kid’s mate.
‘Her,’ he said, pointing at me. ‘That lady.’
‘Erm, what did you just call me?’ I screeched inside my head. ‘I’m gracious enough to smile and laugh along with your idiotic, puerile jokes and you call me a LADY? Jeez, just offer to help me down the stairs, why don’t you?’ I thought, breathing into my steaming-hot Bovril so it left a trickle of warm condensation on my nose. (And how many ‘ladies’ do that eh?) Suddenly, it seemed, I wasn’t quite so cool with their oh-so-funny playground puns or their childish chanting. And so I reached inside my pocket for my headphones, tuned my hand-held radio into the local commentary and grumbled along with the old whingers in the West Upper. That’d show ’em.
‘Did you hear that?’ I said to P at half time.
‘That kid. Before the game. He called me a lady,’ I said, with the kind of appalled emphasis on ‘lady’ that one might normally reserve for ‘shit-muncher’.
‘Oh,’ said P.
‘Oh? OH? P, he called me a lady!’ I reiterated.
‘And what would you rather be called?’ he asked through a mouthful of Balti pie.
He had a point. I mean, it’s utterly preferable to ‘lady’, but I’ve got to admit that even ‘woman’ might’ve rankled a bit, coming from someone born in – ouch – 1999. (I mean, shit, what are they teaching them in school these days? Surely everyone knows that the rules state that it’s only acceptable to call someone a ‘lady’ when you are a) female; b) within 15 years in age of the ‘lady’ to whom you’re referring; or c) using it as a prefix for ‘cakes’, ‘lass’, ‘Gaga’ or – new favourite – ‘pants’.) Sheesh, even ‘bird’ would have been better than ‘lady’. ‘Lass’… ‘chick’… ‘her’, even. ‘Girl’, however, would have been just wonderful. But then a 10-year-old boy is never going to use the term ‘girl’ in reference to a 31-year-old
lady woman female person… oh, I don’t know.
I’m well aware, of course, of many feminists’ beef with the term ‘girl’ when referring to someone who’s technically a ‘woman’, and the concerns that it’s somehow less empowering, tarring women with the impression that they are somehow less than they are. (For the record, though, I am a feminist woman who’s secure enough to call herself a girl.) But for me, at least, this isn’t so much a feminist issue as an age issue. Because, yes, I am a woman – but I don’t want some snot-nosed kid thinking I’m too old to be called a girl.
So what am I, then? Can’t I be both? It’s so hard to know. The trouble, I suspect, is that I just can’t help but feel like I missed the memo that forbade me from using the term ‘girl’ in relation to myself. Perhaps it got lost in the postal strike that was held over my 30th birthday. (Bloody postman – walking on my grass; turning up at 2pm; leaving my mail half-hanging out of the letterbox… I’ll catch him at it one day but I never seem to be peering round the net curtain at the right time.) Because, like I said in my welcome message, I fear calling yourself a ‘girl’ in your thirties is quarter-past acceptable. It’s like Julia Roberts once said: ‘I’m too tall to be a girl, I never had enough dresses to be a lady, I wouldn’t call myself a woman. I’d say I’m somewhere between a chick and a broad.’
Another problem, perhaps, is that I’ve always – no; I still – refer to my female friends as girls. (‘I’m seeing the girls tonight’; ‘The girls are going to need cava’; ‘Come on, girls, do you believe in love? Cos I got something to say about it.’ Etc.) But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that they’ve long since sailed past girlhood. They shop in Joseph, eat organic cheese from local delis and compare Bugaboos. Whereas I, on the other hand, shop in New Look, eat Dairylea Dunkers and, just the other day, almost nicked a Bugaboo. (Seriously. I thought I was being helpful by wheeling my friend’s pushchair out of a café, but ended up being accosted by an angry Dad wanting to know why I was messing with his brake handle. I didn’t even know it was a brake handle. I thought it was a place to hang my handbag.) My mates are growing up; I’m growing sideways. Which may, I suppose, have something to do with the Dairlylea Dunkers.
Perhaps, then, the time has come to finally make a call on the girl/woman debate (have you any idea how difficult it is to write this post without referring to the Br*tn*y Sp**rs song?); to make a call on it one way or the other, and stop being whichever I fancy whenever it suits me. Perhaps I need an audit. Right, here goes: I’m independent (woman). I’m daft (girl). I share a bed with my husband (woman) and a Piglet stuffed toy (girl). I listen to Women’s Hour (woman) and watch Jersey Shore (girl). I keep red-pepper humous in my fridge (woman) and Fab lollies in my freezer (girl). I query gas bills and send thank-you notes and use Crème de la Mer (woman) but make others ring for the takeaway, scout for hairbands in Claire’s Accessories and have a disturbing habit of bringing conversations around to the topic of ablutions (girl). I admonish kids for dropping litter (woman). I call people ‘dude’ (girl). I shout obscenities at referees (um, neither).
Oh, screw this. I’m both, dammit. Do I really have to squeeze my girl-shaped peg into a woman-shaped hole? Or my woman-shaped peg into a girl-shaped hole? Or, perhaps, a different analogy that doesn’t make me giggle like an 11-year-old boy?
And therein, I suppose, lies the problem. See, it’s just too difficult to commit to one camp when you’re a 31-year-old post-menopausal lass. One minute you’re having a hot flush; the next you’re cooling off with a strawberry Mini Milk. So, girl… woman… whatever. I’m cool with both. Because, as far as I’m concerned, a woman can flutter her Superdrug-bought eyelashes at a teenage waiter just as much as a girl can take her self-bought designer handbag to a meeting with her bank manager. (Yes, I've done both.) But what this womangirl definitely ain’t, however, is a lady – which you can tell that little shit-muncher at the match.