Kids do say the funniest things! For instance, a friend of mine who teaches Year 6 recently overhead one of her pupils discussing plans for her 11th birthday:
Dunno what I’ll do, really. Probably just have a party with the girls.
My friend and I both found this highly amusing. “The girls”! She said “the girls”! Who does she think she is? Carrie sodding Bradshaw? How we laughed. Laughed and laughed. And then we stopped laughing, first because it’s not actually all that funny (we were a bit drunk at the time), and second because it seemed a bit unfair. After all, who has the most right to refer to herself as one of “the girls”? An actual, real live girl or an imaginary shag-a-lot columnist who’s off her face on apple martinis?
The trouble is, we grown women, we’re all girls now. We’re appropriated the appellation “girl” regardless of whether the genuine girls whether like it or not. And to be honest, while I’m not a real girl, but merely one of “the girls”, I don’t particularly like it, either.
There are of course positive associations to do with being a woman-girl: female camaraderie, cackling about sex, getting a free pass to tell certain men to piss off (“this is GIRLS ONLY!”). The negative associations are, however, far greater: everything “the girls” do is defined as “empowering” (so in actual fact nothing is) and all of “the girls” are aggressively heterosexual ( “it’s not REAL lesbianism, this is a GIRL CRUSH!”). Both of these are bad enough, but the worst thing of all about being one of “the girls” is of course being co-opted in the absolute shit-fest that is a Boots advert.
Here come the girls! Here come the girls, with their hilarious, inexplicable addiction to all the crap we sell them, faffing around for hours at the office party while all the men just look on in justified bafflement. Here come the girls, getting their perfect model bodies “bikini ready”, eternally grateful to Boots for providing all the equipment with which to remove their unseemly non-girl hair. Here come the girls, getting everything ready for Christmas and the summer holidays while their men do fuck all, because that’s just THE WAY THINGS ARE, and anyhow it’s funny. Ha ha! Let’s laugh at the girls! Because they’re insecure mugs, and they know it, and if we make a long-running joke out of it, they’ll be even more insecure and buy even more stuff! Brilliant! Look, here they come!
Ahem. I’m not a big fan of Boots adverts, me.
Now, I’m not suggesting that adult men don’t suffer from similar pressures, each getting co-opted into being one of “the boys”. In fact, this has been such an issue that during the late eighties, several leading pop stars produced protest songs about this very issue. “Drop the boy, drop the boy!” sang Matt Goss of Bros, before adding a particularly impassioned “groo-er!” Then along came Chesney Hawkes, insisting that he was “a man and not a boy”. And did we take them seriously? Did we heck as like. “Away with you, you young whippersnappers!”, we said. Even I said this and I was only 12. And yes, I regret it now. “I’d like to be in politics, can’t take another visit to the zoo” protested Matt. And there we were, bundling him off to see the orang-utans once more, when actually, if we’d played our cards right, we might now have Prime Minister Goss in No. 10. Let’s face it, it couldn’t be any worse.
Still, no point dwelling on might-have-beens. It’s probably too late for the men-boys. But it may not be for us, fellow women-girls! Let’s see if our own pop heroines can pick up where Chesney and Matt left off. I recommend we start with Madonna. It’s about time she released something that said “look, I’m in my fifties and I’ve already been through a hippy-ish phase and I now do imperialistic charity work in Malawi and stuff, so could everyone please FUCKING WELL STOP CALLING ME “THE MATERIAL GIRL”! You tell ’em, Madge. But obviously in a more lyrical, less sweary way than I’ve just done.
What with me being a feminist, I don’t believe in letting “girls be girls”, on the basis that it means fuck all. But I believe in letting actual girls call themselves girls, what with them being girls and all. So you, Year 6 girl, you have your party with “the girls”. You drink your apple martinis and shag your Mr Big and then write a column about it for the school magazine. Actually, on second thoughts, don’t do any of that. But see? This is precisely the kind of confusion to which this all leads.