Monday, February 22, 2010

I Am Woman (Not A Girl), Hear Me Roar, You Idiot!

Kathy and I are looking to buy a truck. Yesterday, when the salesman who swooped out to greet us introduced me to one of his male associates at the dealership, here is what he said, “And this attractive young lady is Pat.”

I’ll pause here and take a deep breath. Just repeating this for you makes me want to rip the guy’s throat out all over again. My inner angry feminist is in full battle cry over this, so be forewarned.

A little context is probably helpful. One, I am not young. I am 64 years old, for crying out loud and proud of it. I think it is also likely that I am older than the potbellied pig of a salesman who called me young. Whether or not I am attractive and certainly whether or not I give a flying Fig if he thought I was has nothing to do with buying a truck. Finally, I am no lady. I am emphatically not a lady. Ladies sip tea with their dainty little fingers lifted in the air. Ladies faint and fan themselves at the slightest exertion. Ladies are tiny and thin. They need taking care of. They blush and bat their eyes coquettishly when some bozo introduces them as an “attractive young lady.” I definitely did not bat my eyes. I wanted to bat him.

A little more context , which actually has more to do with this blog, I have been watching a lot of the winter Olympics this past week. And I. am. Sick. To. Death. Of. Hearing. Women athletes called “girls” and their athletic events classified as “Ladies” events. OK, we should not be surprised that the IOC calls the women’s events, “ladies” events, they are largely a bunch of old white men who are out of touch with the modern world of strong women. They don’t believe women can/should ski jump. They believe women lugers should compete on the shorter courses than the men, etc. But the TV commentators, both men and women and even the women athletes themselves calling women competitors “girls” is just making me crazy.

I can hear the hue and cry already from folks who think this is a picky, stupid detail to get upset about, but I beg to differ big time. I can remember having these conversations back in the early 80’s with coaches in a workshop on sexism in sport. I remember in particular one guy who screamed at me, with the veins in his neck standing out, his face red and contorted, that “it didn’t matter if he called women athletes ‘girls.’ It was just words.” Really? It seemed like it mattered to him quite a bit. Enough to risk a heart attack over.

Language does matter and who gets to decide what a particular social group gets called is about power. Calling women athletes “girls” or “ladies” is not only ridiculous – These are mature, strong, daring, committed, risk-taking, competitive world class athletes, not shrinking violets whose frailty and faintheartedness must be protected. They are not children who must be patronized or protected. Calling women athletes “girls” and “ladies” trivializes their accomplishments and infantilizes them. We would never call the men’s downhill the “boy’s” downhill. We would never refer to the men’s luge as the “gentlemen’s” luge. What makes it ok or appropriate to call the women “girls” or their events the “ladies” events? Sexism is what. Pure and simple.

When I get called a “girl,” often by men who are far younger than me, it completely knocks me off balance. Now I have to decide if or how to react to the comment. Is it worth going to war about? Should I just shut up and ignore it? Is there some clever response that will get my point across without making a scene? Should I just let ‘er rip? I don’t think most people who call women “girls” or “ladies” do it with the conscious intention of trivializing women, but the resistance to NOT doing it is something to think about. For the women who call other women “girls,” I think it is a way to mask or undercut their own power. It’s a way to avoid appearing too threatening, too strong, too challenging. Women have always needed to assure men that they are “feminine,” heterosexual and sexually available to men in order to be accepted as athletes. The willingness to pose semi-nude is part of this. Calling yourself a “girl” is just another way to achieve the same end.

Oh, you might be wondering what happened back at the car dealer ship. In my fantasy, I winked at him, hocked a loogie on his shoe, grabbed my crotch and told him he was not a bad looking little boy himself for a sleazy car salesman, all this before crushing his hand in my iron grip. Instead, Kathy and I took that baby out for a spin on the Mass Pike with Mr. Potbelly in the back seat (it was a dual cab), cranked it up to 75 and pinned him to the back window while we discussed engine ratios and drive trains. Does that sound like a couple of ladies to you?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are not alone, I agree with you and Helen at womens hoops blog. Here's what she said-
"I'll get off my high friggin' overly sensitive to institutionalized sexism horse when the male announcers say, "We'll get to the gentlemen's game as soon as the double-overtime game between Virginia and North Carolina concludes." (Helen's words, not mine but right on target!)

Love the image of big boy crammed into a back seat!!!
SR

jamie said...

This little boy says, "You go, Girl!" Great post.

Amy said...

Awesome post Pat. Many college women of this generation think sexism is a thing of the past. I hear it all of the time in my class. Does the Women's Sports Foundation take a position on this? Since ITAT no longer actively exists...who is doing the talking?

Joanne said...

Thank you for this post. I compete in university student tenpin bowling competitions in the UK. Most competitions are mixed, but have some prizes where there are both male and female winners. Consistently the women's sections or prizes get referred to as "girls'" - everytime I hear it I have to call out "women!", at which the speaker will roll his eyes and acquiesce. People say it's a friendly colloquial term. Whatever. I'm hoping if I do it enough times, they might get the point, for I am 28 and most certainly no longer a girl.

Burn said...

I imagine the reason he took the described approach was to try to make you feel good about yourself because he was trying to sell you a truck. That's kind of Sales 101 and it has nothing to do with you being a lesbian or an athlete.

Given that you are obviously neither young nor particularly attractive it's pretty clear his approach wasn't based on empirical facts.

One of the disadvantages of people like you is that because most of you have only worked for the government, academia or in coaching you've never had a chance to actually work for a business that actually has to make a profit and you don't respect those people that do. Trust me when I say that I'm sure that salesman doesn't care about how strong your think your handshake is and the truth is that most likely, even with his "Potbelly" his grip is still stronger than yours, so please spare me.

It's cool that you continue to live in the "victim zone".

Helen said...

Oh, Burn, it's SO sweet when pretty little boys like you get all uppity and ruffled. You're SO sensitive these days...

Pat Griffin said...

Burn, sorry, bud, you completely missed the point.

Anonymous said...

Obviously, you have some anger issues that are most likely warranted by your life experiences, but instead of getting so angry, why not try to judge people by their intentions? The poor schmuck who was trying to sell you a car probably was trying to be nice. 90% of women like to be referred to as young, or attractive, or yes, even a lady.

In your blog post, you wondered about how to respond. Here is a suggestion: Pull the guy aside and tell him, in a very friendly and polite way, that his comments would be construed as offensive by many people. Tell him, "I'm not mad about it, but some people might be, and I just thought that maybe you should know."

Educate people in a way that doesn't put them in defensive mode. Angry rants that insult people don't serve your ultimate goal, in my opinion. Let's be honest, your view of what a "lady" is seems to me to be far more insulting to strong, successful women who happen to be "lday-like" than anything that car salesman said to you. Plus, your words were clearly said with malice, while I'm pretty sure his were not.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask the same question, Pat? Why the venomous anger? Jeez...lighten up a bit. You're taking yourself too seriously.
I have to agree with you on one point though. You're certainly no lady.

joe said...

You are correct, Pat. You're no lady.

Jennifer Doyle said...

Hilarious post. Love the ruffled feathers & twisted panties of panicked masculinity you provoked. Who knew those readers were here! Well, keep reading guys! It's good for you!

JD

Anonymous said...

I'll keep reading...I need my daily laugh.

EC said...

sometimes I wonder whether such comments are sparked by the fact you DON'T look particularly lady like. Example- the other day I on a plane my seat mate clearly had trouble Deciding whether I was a woman or a (teenage) guy. Once he 'figured it out' and decided I was female he proceeded to lay the lady treatment on thick- calling me young lady, trying to stop me from lifting my luggage etc. I won't ever get inside his head but my hunch is that his initial confusion had something to do w his weird reaction.

Burn said...

I am grateful to athletics as it paid for my university education and has contributed to my success in life, both personally and professionally.

Since Title IX was passed in the early 1970's women have been the recipients of universal and continual improvements in the organization, funding and promotion of female athletics. In my experience one of the problems that surfaces when a "movement" has never been told no is that they assume that no matter how much progress is made on their behalf they continue to be victims and should just continue to ask for more and more. You ladies are at serious risk of becoming victims of your own success.

Most reasonable people here in the US expect our system to be "fair". Certainly fairness can be somewhat subjective, but most people would say that over 350 men's university sports teams being shut down doesn't seem too fair. Nor does "proportionality" in university sports based upon male / female enrollment seem either logical or fair. Obviously that has not stopped your advocates from driving the termination of these men's programs and at the same time still play the victim card.

It seems the values I learned from organized athletics are quite different from those acquired and practiced by you folks…and I didn't even have an opportunity to receive an university athletic scholarship for Archery, Badminton, Bowling, Equestrian, Field Hockey, Rowing, Rugby, Squash, Synchronized Swimming or Team Handball.

My point is that you have no interest in equality. I won't go on the record as to what you are trying to accomplish as those reading this with the ability to reason can get there all on their own.

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Anonymous said...

Great read! I want to see a follow up on this topic!!

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