Yeah, I wrote female human. Awkward, right? I can feel my agent cringing all the way from Boston. Luckily, there are better descriptors for our gender. Girl, woman, lady, bird, lass, and matron are just a few that come to mind. Of course, those aren’t really synonyms. Each carries its own connotation beyond gender. Whichever noun is applied to me speaks volumes – my age, marital status, and attractiveness can be summed up with the choice. Lately, I’ve been musing on the two biggest and seemingly most benign: girl and woman.
I’m in my mid-twenties. I’m way past puberty, perfectly capable of bearing children, and in possession of both a credit card and breasts. Technically, this makes me woman. I have all the working parts. And yet…I don’t feel like one. Maybe it’s that I’m still in school, because holy hashbrowns becoming a doctor takes forever, or that I’m unmarried. If I were asked to describe myself to someone, I’d probably say Grace is a smart, blonde, book-obsessed girl. However, does that diminish me? There is obviously an age difference between a woman and a girl, but there are also disparate connotations of maturity and accomplishment. A girl is still small, vulnerable, and unformed. A kid. Why would I identify more with that word than its older, more respected sister?
Well, because she’s older, of course. My entire life, I’ve been told “One day, when you’re a woman…” This sentence can end with any number of things: “you’ll get married”, “you’ll make Boeuf Bourguignon without a recipe,” or even “you’ll stop gagging during blow jobs.” There are requirements for becoming a woman. Proper women know how to dress, know how to cook, have sexual confidence, and – the biggie – meet nice men and wear white dresses down aisles. I am not that person.
My wardrobe is awesome, yes, but oral sex still makes me want to gargle with vodka. Women, fully grown-up ones, wouldn’t have irrational fears of Australia (everything there wants to KILL you) or know every word to “I Kissed a Girl.” Despite my age and accomplishments, my mind rebels at the label. Aren’t I supposed to be more equipped? Hilary Clinton is a woman. Maya Angelou is a woman. I’m just a medical student who watches too much BBC America. I’m not dealing with issues of international security or winning National Book Awards. My mother is a woman. How can we possibly have the same descriptor? It can’t be one day yet, can it? I’m so behind!
In the span of history, it’s strange to even ask this question. Not until the turn of the last century, did our society even have the concept of teenagers. One went from child to adult with no perceived period of maturation between. Which is, as I see it, precisely my problem. There is no definite switch anymore. There is no coming out ball to attend, no four-day ritual to endure. One day someone refers to you as That hot girl from the gym, then the next you’re that lovely woman next door. Congratulations! You’re may or may not be a grown-up! Y’all, I want a definitive moment. I want a ritual. Where is my poofy ball gown?
Luckily, I’m not alone. My friends still refer to each other as The Girls. When Kate meets a person of the male persuasion, she calls to say she met a dreamy boy. This needs no translation. She met an attractive guy our age, not an actual drowsy minor. Mae is dating a really nice guy, not a really nice man. Despite our age and maturity level, we haven’t switched our language yet. Nowadays, I don’t know when that change comes. Perhaps, it happens when we’ve all married or when we all hit thirty. Perhaps, it happens when we stop getting carded for beer. Perhaps, it just happens.
That’s the answer, of course. The requirements society has cast down are crap. Becoming a woman, that great thunderclap of supposed maturity, has nothing to do with whether I’m married or know how to glaze a ham. One day, when I’m a woman, I’ll be exactly the same as I am now. I’m a woman because my chromosomes are all fancily matched and I’m of a mature age. I’m also a girl, a lass, a chick, and a dame. Creating Italian topiary tablescapes has nothing to do with it. Now, just tell that to my vocabulary. Hopefully “woman” steadily weaves itself into my self-image. Quite frankly, I’ve decided not to care. They’re only words, after all. Girl, woman. Boy, man. Bread, sandwich.
Just in case, maybe I will start perfecting that boeuf…