There are a lot of words used for women, not all of them flattering. But often what makes these words problematic depends on context. When a man calls someone "his woman," instead of girlfriend or wife — that's a problem. When someone calls a group of women "females" in a non-scientific context — that's a problem.
And earlier today actress Mayim Bailik explained exactly why she's so upset when someone calls a woman a "girl."
The Big Bang Theory star posted a video to her Facebook page, explaining that calling grown women "girls" is infantilizing, and that we'd never do the same to men.
She started the video with a story about being at a bar with two of her guy friends. "One of them said to the other, 'oh my god, dude, look at that girl sitting at the bar she's beautiful,'" she said.
"And I start looking around, wondering why they would let a child into the bar," she continued.
The men weren't talking about a child, of course, they were talking about a grown woman.
"Language matters, words having meaning," she said. "When we use words to describe adult women that are typically used to describe children, it changes the way we think about women — even unconsciously.
She, of course, got some men in the comments who were appalled at her argument, but she handled them with class.
"Actually people do call grown men boys all the time...boys will be boys, boys with their toys, sports players get referred to as peoples boys all the time," one man wrote. "These are just a few but it happens more so than you think."
"Wow, josh. thanks," Bialik responded. "did you think i don't know those expressions? this video is about how we frame women. come on. patriarchy much!?"
And that's an incredibly important distinction. There are moments, often when we're using colloquial phrases or slang terms, when calling a woman a "girl" can actually be powerful. It matters who's speaking and what they're talking about.
We don't always agree with everything Bialik (or anyone else, for that matter) says, but we love what she's saying here. The way we talk about women, and all other marginalized groups, does matter. It does frame our thoughts and influence our actions.
So Bialik suggests we start calling people out. And in case you're not sure how to tell someone that they should say "woman" instead of "girl," Bialik has you covered there, too.
"I'll sometimes say things like 'she's got a full-time job and 150 people on payroll, I'm pretty sure she's a woman.' And I'll smile."