Woman Yes, Girl No

Equal Rights 1970 March (Public Domain)Although we were young, in our teens and twenties, we were not girls. We were women — young women who felt and understood the gross inequality between the sexes, with women required to perform the mind-numbing drudgery of cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, and care-giving, practically from cradle to grave. And even when we were able to land jobs outside the home, we were paid half the wages men were and treated with condescension.

WLM-picture-of-logoDuring this, Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day approaching, it’s good to remember our struggle. We never asked for “girls’ liberation,” nor “ladies’ liberation,” either. Girls were adolescent females and their liberation would come when ours did, as a result of our struggles. Ladies were a fiction, some unreal ruling class standard of behavior that reduced women to their social manners. Ladies’ liberation would never arrive, because in a world where people have equality, nobody would choose to restrict his or her behavior to that of a helpless “lady.”

For a while, women’s liberation was in the news and in people’s consciousness. But without a fundamental change in society, backsliding is inevitable. Those with privileges wangle things so they can retain their privileges. And public consciousness, fueled by movies, television, and advertising, couldn’t let go of the notion that “girl” was the appropriate word for an adult female.

B465_DontCallMeGirlSome avoid “woman” because it’s too powerful a word. Others think that only “girl” connotes fun, adventure, youth, and sexiness. Some think they want to be called “lady” because that term implies respect. Others think that “lady” is something better than a woman.

Well, there’s nothing better than a woman. During this, Women’s History Month, it’s wise for every woman to think about what she is, especially in relationship to children, adolescents, and adults of the other sex. When I was teaching college, the question of sexual equality was a hot topic of the day. Looking back on those days, I recently wrote a poem about how my students responded to the issue.

        Equivalency Tests

        Writing boy on the blackboard
        I ask my students, thirty
        college freshmen, the female
        equivalent. Girl, they all
        reply, wondering where this
        might be going. Next I write
        gentleman and ask the same
        question. Slower responses,
        and fewer, but they call it
        right: lady. I write man and
        look at them.

        Total silence.

        Finally, a hesitant,
        questioning response — woman?

        Confused, unsure, they have come
        to immaturity in
        a world which has never taught
        there’s a female parallel
        of man.

        They are too staggered
        to even think the thought, too
        stunned to use the even word

(For more poems such as this one, see Crossing the Skyway.)

6 thoughts on “Woman Yes, Girl No

    • She did quite well in the naming and biography stakes. The main swimming pool in the centre of Dublin is named after her and a big block of council flats as well. There have been five or six biographies of her. The best are Diana Norman’s “Terrible Beauty: a life of Constance Markievicz” and Anne Haverty’s “Constance Markievicz: An Independent Life”. (A couple of others are OK, but the authors can’t comprehend why she opposed the Treaty – they just don’t get that she wasn’t for sale; those are by Anne Marecco and Jacqueline van Voris; then there’s a bit of a hatchet job on her by Sean O Faolain, the first person to bio her, way back in the 1930s.)

      In the period leading up to the Rising, Markievicz was always well “tooled up”. James Connolly described her as being “like a walking advertisement for an enterprising small arms manufacturer”. She was one of his two chief lieutenants and often better armed than Connolly himself.

      One of the interesting things about that period of Irish history was the number of women actively involved in things. Quite a layer of middle, and even some upper, class women were drawn into Irish republicanism because it was one of the very few places in Irish society/public life they could play a significant role. And in Connolly’s Citizen Army they were on the same terms as men, so a number of women held officer rank. The ICA also included a layer of working class women from places like the biscuit factories, women who were in the transport workers union and the women workers union. A fascinating period of time, with lots of impressive, colourful people, male and female.

      If you were ever interested in writing a biography of any of the ones that haven’t yet been biographed. . . .


      Liked by 1 person

    • Phil says:


      Are you familiar at all with Countess Markievicz? An impressive woman. She did stints in about three prisons for her revolutionary activities on behalf of Irish freedom.

      In one prison in England, when she was doing her assigned work of washing the stairs, she would recite Dante’s ‘Inferno’. In Italian!

      She wrote several quite moving articles about working class women in English prisons at the time.

      She was originally sentenced to death by British court-martial for her involvement in the 1916 Rebellion – she was a leader of the workers’ militia (Irish Citizen Army) and second-in-command of the rebel forces at St Stephen’s Green in the centre of Dublin. Her death sentence was commuted to penal servitude for life because she was a woman.

      In the November 1918 British general election she became the first woman elected to the British parliament, but was doing another stint in prison at the time. She never took her seat as she was a leader of Sinn Fein which had an abstentionist policy; instead they used their massive victory in the Irish seats to establish a parliament in Dublin, where she served as a cabinet minister.

      She opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and fought in the civil war on the republican side, doing another stint in prison.


      Liked by 1 person

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