General Question

Harp's avatar

At about what age should a young woman no longer be referred to as a "girl"?

Asked by Harp (19038 points ) February 18th, 2009

I deal with grad students on a regular basis, and my instinct is to refer to a young woman in her early to mid-twenties as a girl (I’m 51). Is this horribly retrograde, or will people think nothing of it?

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35 Answers

eponymoushipster's avatar

Use young lady or woman, says I.

I think that some won’t think anything of it, but some will find it, not necessarily offensive, but perhaps less than perfect. It’s more refined sounding in any case.

dynamicduo's avatar

I feel your addressing of that age group as “young woman” is appropriate. It is respectful without being presumptuous. I find it’s more respectful than calling a similarly aged person “girl.” “Go talk to that girl/young woman over there” sounds more respectful to me with “young woman” versus “girl”.

As for an age, I’ll generalize and say 18–20. But my criteria for calling someone “young woman” is more of becoming an adult, becoming mature, versus being a certain age. There may be younger girls who act mature and who I would respectfully address as young woman.

Spargett's avatar

Depends on how she acts. But hey, as Shakespeare said, “A rose by any other…”. In the music industry people refer to anyone at a show as “kids”, it drives me nuts. You’ll perform a 21+ venue and you’ll still hear people saying, “Yeah, alot of kids showed up tonight”.

scamp's avatar

I think dynamicduo has the right idea. It’s really pretty much up to the individual and her preferences. I’m your age, and some people still call me a girl and it doesn’t bother me.

Harp's avatar

Well, here’s another take on this question: how would one young woman (say 22) tend to refer to another of the same age? Something tells me she would never say “young woman”.

gailcalled's avatar

“Girl friend”? I have always disliked “young lady,” due to the assumption there. But “young women” seems fine. And of course, you would use one’s name in a conversation.

Are you teaching only women; are there men you advise? How do you refer to them.

dynamicduo's avatar

No, in that context “young woman” would be seen as sarcastic or jokey, as it’s coming from one young woman to another. It’s like calling an old lady “young woman”. In this situation, it might depend on their friendship. I would likely call the person by their name. If I didn’t know their name, I’d probably use just “lady”.

Harp's avatar

@gailcalled “Guy”

Yeah, I’m not talking about straight-laced situations here where a polished, “professional” tone would be called for. I’m thinking more about casual or, at most, “semi-professional” conversation (chatting among colleagues about students) .

nikipedia's avatar

I would easily refer to other girls my age (24—and there, I just did it) as girls (“who’s that girl Joe brought?”), but it would bother me just a little bit if I overheard a professor refer to “the girls in the class” or similar. It comes off as very slightly pervy or demeaning, depending on the context, I think.

I would stick with “woman” if it’s not too awkward, or dodge it altogether (substitute in person, student, researcher, scientist, teaching assistant, etc. as appropriate).

Harp's avatar

Curious that we don’t have a good female equivalent of “guy”. It’s casual, but not fraught with hidden meanings. In the Texas of my youth, “gal” filled that function, but I’d never use that these days.

Even stranger, it seems OK to call a group of young women “guys” (as in “Hey Guys!...), but no one of them taken singularly is a “guy”.

gailcalled's avatar

I vote with nikipedia on the dodge technique. “I have 10 female grad students and 6 male or men.”

augustlan's avatar

‘Gal’ did fit the bill rather nicely, but it seems so antiquated these days. In the absence of a better term, I’d go with ‘young woman’.

Dog's avatar

If it is my daughter she will always be a girl.

Harp's avatar

@Dog Actually, I think that’s part of the issue for me. My daughter is in this age bracket, and maybe I just project my idea of her “girl”-ness onto other women around that age.

SuperMouse's avatar

I personally like young woman. In my 20’s I would have loathed being called a girl. What’s interesting is that now approaching my mid-40’s I wouldn’t be the least bit offended if someone referred to me as girl, I might even take it as a compliment in the same way I would take being carded as a compliment.

@Harp, I can’t think of any words for women as encompassing as guy is for men. I think Augustlan got the closest with gal. I was thinking lady might be right but as soon as I read the word I heard Jerry Lewis in my head saying “hey laaadeee” and that ruined it for me. I do kind of like the term Betty for women, I learned that from my boys and for some reason I like the sound of it.

aprilsimnel's avatar

I got bugged about being called “girl” by authority figures by the time I was 21.

gailcalled's avatar

Doll? Babe?

wundayatta's avatar

I try to err on the side of respect. If I think there’s any question at all about saying “girl,” I’ll switch to woman. Of course, I grew up in the days of the feminist fury (which I mostly agreed with), and you could not call any woman a girl without getting your head handed to you.

gailcalled's avatar

@augustlan: Call Me Madam.

wundayatta's avatar

Madam? I’m Adam!

fireside's avatar

Chickie poo?

As in, “That sweet little chickie poo over there has a good point, class.”

That should score you some Ethos points, Harp.

Jack79's avatar

I think you can safely stop calling her a girl once she’s older than you. 80-year-olds will refer to 79-year-olds as “girls”, so, being 51 yourself, you can easily refer to anyone under the age of 50 as “girl”. Though perhaps you might want to use “young lady” for girls over 40.

gailcalled's avatar

@Jack79; If anyone called me a “young lady,” I would whoop him with my walker.

wundayatta's avatar

@gailcalled: Aw come on! You’d be tickled pink! How many years has it been since you heard that?

gailcalled's avatar

Dear Adam: Not as long ago as you might think. I am aging well, although I am thinking about quitting my job at Hooters.

But I find that particular label patronizing. One of my doctors used to call me “55 years young,” which struck me as simply stupid

Are you old enough to remember the wonderful Broadway musical Call Me Madam
with Ethel Merman playing a parody of the DC hostess, Perle Mesta?

wundayatta's avatar

Dear Madam: to each their own. I like being called young man. I know I’m not. The other person knows I’m not. But it’s nice to think one might have such an attitude.

And no. I’m not old enough to remember that musical. When did it come out? Around the turn of the century?

Not this one, silly. The previous one!

(Ok, ok, I get it. You are proud of your years, and don’t want to have anyone thinking otherwise.)

gailcalled's avatar

Hi, Dal; The musical was wonderful and funny and original and satirical. It appeared on Broadway in 1950, I think and was then made into successful movie (also with Merman) several years later. I can remember most of the music and lyrics, which is more than I can say about today’s musicals. Merman did not need to be miked; you could here her in Hoboken.

Re: age; I am neither proud nor ashamed. It is what it is. Why waste energy on that?

wundayatta's avatar

It’s not age, per se, but everything that comes along with it. That’s why people say “you’re as young as you feel,” and other bromides. Perhaps being called a “young woman” is patronizing, but people mean well. This is why we want to know someone else’s age. It tells us approximately what kind of issues that person is dealing with.

So, what’s the progression here? Does it go like this:

A little girl (sometimes called “Daddy’s little angel”)
A girl
Tween
Young lady
Woman
Une femme d’un certain age
Aging gracefully

aprilsimnel's avatar

Aw, now I’m thinking of sad old Patsy on AbFab.
“Excusez-moi, Madame…” ”MADEMOISELLE! MADEMOISELLE!

gailcalled's avatar

I have young friend who teaches french to fifth and sixth graders. She is unmarried, but has her students call her “Madam, pour prestige.” She feels it adds a little more dignity to her position.

dragonflyfaith's avatar

I think it depends on how mature the girl in question is. A 25 year old that’s out at parties all night is a girl, but a 25 year old with a career and/or kids is a woman.

mattbrowne's avatar

I think 16 is a good age to call her a young woman. I guess there’s some overlap, so for 15–17 both big girl and young woman might be appropriate. Actually a lot of older woman tell men “I’m a big girl” to let them know they can decide on their own and handle things. Many words and expressions are ambiguous.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

What is her occupation?

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