Girl Power?

I missed the AFL-CIO’s Democratic presidential forum the other night, but while reading a short write-up of the debate, I came across a quote from Senator Clinton that made me do a double-take:

“For 15 years, I have stood up against the right-wing machine. And I’ve come out stronger. If you want a winner who knows how to take them on, I’m your girl.”

Wait, what? Forget the part about how Clinton says that she stands up to right-wing machine when she actually has a history of caving in (*cough* Iraq War). “I’m your girl?” She’s 59-years-old!
I bring up her age not to make her sound “old”– I’m 23, and I bristle at being called a “girl” as much as any 23-year-old man bristles at being called a “boy.” I resent the cultural phenomenon of infantalizing women, as well as the social practice for men to be called men the moment they turn 18, while women have to wait at least until they’re 30 to be regularly called a woman, and even then are encouraged to put off the change as long as possible.
Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, but as someone with an English degree, I think that language is important. Particularly in politics, words are chosen very carefully. And I’m not the only one who noticed. So what the hell is going on, here? How did we go from a Hillary Clinton eager to push her credentials of toughness to a Hillary Clinton referring to herself as a “girl?” Is it an attempt to reverse the perception that she is too masculine? An attempt to appeal to women as “one of them,” like with her self-deprecating remarks about her weight? Or, since it was a labor union forum, maybe she was trying to appear populist, as opposed to the liberal that she is so often (incorrectly) portrayed as?
And what on earth are we to think of it? Of course, she gets to call herself whatever she wants, but we’re also entitled to our opinions. As feminists, we have worked long and hard to see a woman with a real shot at the presidency. I know that a lot of us already have personal reservations about her and her policies. So how are we to feel about having a legitimate female presidential candidate– the Democratic candidate who would probably win if the primaries were held today– referring to herself as a girl? And, particularly for those who find the phrase inconsequential, why don’t we have the same reaction to Clinton saying “I’m your girl” as we would if Giuliani said “I’m the boy for the job?”

Join the Conversation

  • rah

    You’re not overreacting at all. I cringe to hear grown women refer to themselves as girls.
    I don’t think it’s about being casual at all, ‘casual’ is a word used to excuse too many things. It’s about skewing younger, plain and simple. And it rankles.
    I’ve referred to myself as a woman ever since I was 18 and will always continue to do so. ‘Old’ is not bad. Old is grown and wise and experienced and a hell of a lot more interesting than an ignorant girl.

  • Frida

    “Gal” is still very common in Minnesota. It’s a little more common among older people, but it’s still used a lot.

  • Rock Star

    I could easily say Obama or Edwards saying “I’m the guy for the job.” Also, I think it’s pretty common for men to refer to their friends as “their boys.” However, I don’t understand why the colloquial female form of “guy” (girl) is the same as what you use to refer to a child.

  • Ithika

    Soon as you’re done tellin us how to cry oursels, mebbe you’ll learn us a why “girls night out” or “old boys’ network” are for wee lads an lassies only?

  • ouyangdan

    “Old is grown and wise and experienced and a hell of a lot more interesting than an ignorant girl.”
    but isn’t that what was being argued here? i thought we were trying to make women comfortable w/ whatever title they choose…not calling them names for choosing something else…i was trying to be open minded and fair.
    but i guess if don’t agree, then i am ignorant? i don’t think so…we can call ourselves whatever we want…they are our words, and we should be able to do so w/o being judged.

  • ouyangdan

    and what about those who are ‘girls’ by your definitions? the young ones who make our future? are they automatically ‘ignorant’ for simply being young and not yet as educated as we claim to be? do they deserve less respect?

  • Pengo

    Outside a white dude calling a black dude “boy” there isn’t any justification for getting bent up over usage of the term, but I have experience in offending a man by calling him a boy, regardless of context or intent. Women, at least, have reason to be offended as “girl” gets used derisively–Dabney Coleman calling Lily Tomlin his best girl springs to mind–but is it offensive when used in reference to oneself? Men and women who attempting to endear themselves to strangers can oft accomplish this by referring to themselves in the juvenile tense. Senator Clinton is running for POTUS, and needs to convince a vast cross-section of people to trust her, to like her. When I hear her say “I’m your girl”, she’s not painting herself as delicate or weak, because *she* doesn’t think of girls as delicate or weak. I think of plucky, capable, driven, intelligent, and ethical. Nancy Drew. Lisa Simpson. Zelda Gilroy. Does this discussion strike anyone else as vaguely (internet cliche time) Orwellian? I contend that the discussion of language in reference to what one party refers to another as is valid and constructive; this ain’t that, this is thought police.

  • rah

    I meant no offense in saying that a very young person is ignorant. I did not mean ignorant in terms of education but in terms of life experience. I’m 27 now and I look back at my 18 year old self, a girl, as very ignorant of life and the world indeed.

  • BethanyS

    In its context it was fine. She wasn’t saying it like “I’m your sex toy,” she was saying it like “I’m your scrappy Pippi girl.” Nothin’ wrong with that IMO.