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January 08, 2006

Girls, Bitches, Sluts

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A few bookjackets noticed during recent visits to Amazon:






It wasn't so long ago that people lived in fear of referring to human females older than the age of 12 as anything but "women." What changed? And when? Me, I think we owe Monica Lewinsky a big debt of gratitude.



posted by Michael at January 8, 2006


Ah, it's just a phase. In a year or two these books will look like quaint relics from the distant past.

Posted by: Peter on January 8, 2006 1:25 PM

Human bling. The commodification of relationship. "Pretty Woman" syndrome. The illusion that the power is in the arm candy -- that she's really the power behind the throne or that at least he's obligated to her. Monica was into it, but her mom was urging her on.

I think at the deepest it means that our economy is not making room for young women so they're trying to take shortcuts. This is not new. I like the "Vanity Fair" version better -- Susan Mary Alsop (the new issue) DID find her feet and take charge of her own income and relationships. After all, men are more than lollipops.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on January 8, 2006 5:08 PM

I'm guessing that these instances of "bitch" and "slut" are just marketing fad, a manifestation of the proud-of-my-(supposed)-vices chic that comes and goes. I don't think it has all that many ramifications.

"Girl" is a different matter entirely. While it may offend some feminists, in the real world "girl" is the standard analogue to "guy" or "dude". It seems to be canonically appropriate for youngish women and in casual registers (i.e., sociolinguistic contexts), and trailing off such that a group of 50yo friends might still be "girls", as might some 25yo strangers, but probably not some 50yo strangers. Yes, there are the painfully obvious evo-psych motives for males to start rejecting "boy" far earlier and more broadly than females reject "girl". But let's also remember "girl"'s substantial fluctuation with "gal", the latter AFAIK not referring to true female children, and only becoming marginalized as it began to seem dated. We also have "chick", which I personally use more than "girl", and which very few of my low- and middle-brow acquaintances seem to have any problem with. My guess would be that there is a societal pressure to have a casual neutral term for young and/or chummy women that doesn't associate them with children (as with "guy"), but it may be counterbalanced at the moment by negative reaction to the candidate terms that attempt to emerge.

Posted by: J. Goard on January 8, 2006 6:03 PM

I don't know about anyone else, but I suffered during the years of every-female-a-woman-in-all-cases. "Woman" ... "Woman" ... It conjured up images of heavy-spirited, depressive Joan Crawford types, or creatures with endless organic worries ... Yeast infections ... Menstrual periods that never stopped ...

I know "woman" was supposed to imply dignity, but to me it also implied grossness, lugubriousness, and general wet-blanket-ness. I certainly didn't want to date (let alone marry) one of these "women." Especially when it came to dating and goofing around, I wanted to hang out with girls -- someone with a spark. I was a guy, they were girls, it was all silly and fun. Let's laugh in the face of tragecy, not act all tortured about it. At least in "girl" there's a spark of mischief and hope. In self-defence many years ago, I settled on "gal." It wasn't great, but at least it wasn't "woman," and though some thought-police types looked at me suspiciously, I got away with it.

I suspect the young gals who came along post-boomer thought, Sheesh, what's with all the heavy self-dramatizing? I wanna have fun! And then reclaimed "girl." I think they also wanted to reclaim the sexy side of being female. Enough with the torment already.

But I'm too old to be sure this theory holds water.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 8, 2006 7:26 PM

When I hear the word "gal," I think of a group of 75-year-old women addressing one another.

Posted by: Peter on January 8, 2006 9:36 PM

This is probably attributable to rappers referring to bitches and hos. It just filtered down through the culture and was made acceptable.

Posted by: lindenen on January 8, 2006 11:01 PM

MB, who do you think wrote this?

...None of the traditional resources women have had seem to have been developed in the young gals; a trad upbringing, whatever its disadvantages, was to some extent preparation for life, its un-fun as well as its fun sides. The new upbringing, on the other hand, seems to be preparation for fun -- for fun careers, for being fun and all-conquering, and for fun experience after fun experience of kapow, zowiee and shazaam. It seems to make no allowance for fatigue, depression, confusion, frustration, or decay, let alone the quieter or more eccentric pleasures. (italics are mine)
I also recall same author regretting that cinematic (and artistic, in general) female ideal shifted from a woman to a teenager...

May be I should skip 2-3 lines when reading, does seem to bring me less and less good.

Posted by: Tat on January 8, 2006 11:11 PM

I like girls. Chicks are fun. Chicas are really fun, especially if they are also babes. Women are very attractive, but also serious in a way that I sometimes do, sometimes don't feel like dealing with. I'm not sure about gals -- the term suggests older women pretending to be younger, and I think I might like them more if they relaxed a bit and acted like themselves. Broads are OK too, but quite scarce nowadays. Honeys may be extinct.

Posted by: Jonathan on January 8, 2006 11:35 PM

I'm for broads. Or dames. Let's bring back broads and dames.

Really, "girls" as a term is like old buildings and whores--enough time passes and...

Well, you know.

Posted by: communicatrix on January 9, 2006 2:39 AM

On the one hand, I'm glad that girls are back. In many countries it'd be an insult to call anyone under 50 a woman. On the other, I don't share MB's optimism that these are young girls reclaiming girliness. The "Modern Girl's Guide to Life" is a good example of a larger trend toward females opting out of dating & mating, much like the increasing number of guys who opt out and just play video games w/ each other rather than cruise for chicks. See also the recent popularity of The Man Show & Maxim-esque mags.

Once egalitarian feminism won equal rights, radical feminism drove a huge wedge of distrust b/w males and females. As females were on the offensive, it was males who first opted out. Now the girls are starting to opt out for whatever reason, and gather together to discuss Style Network shows. (Though I'll admit I love, love Isaac.) A uniquely Anglosphere phenomenon, as was rad fem.

So it's like a separation. Maybe in another 10 or 20 years things will go back to normal.

Posted by: Agnostic on January 9, 2006 3:43 AM

What about black's use of the "n" word? Is the use of "bitch" in any way analogous? Maybe.

Posted by: jult52 on January 9, 2006 9:59 AM

I think Cyndi Lauper probably said it best, girls wanna have fun.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on January 9, 2006 10:33 AM

Actually, Lauper said "Girls just wanna have fun." Which is where the argument probably comes in. Girls do want to have fun. They might want to occasionally do something else, too.

Posted by: annette on January 9, 2006 11:29 AM

One of my hunches is that we all get hung up on names and labels too much, as though they're going to tie us down once and for all. Is Pam a girl or a woman? Well, maybe at her law-office job, she's a woman, dammit. But maybe batting long eyelashes at a sexy guy, she's a girl. (And maybe when she's unncecessarily difficult, she's a bitch.) I'm hoping, probably naively, that this girl/woman/bitch/whore/slut era that we seem to in the midst of represents the bunch of us finally shaking off the idea that labels 1) define us and 2)are immutable and immovable.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 9, 2006 11:39 AM

Some of this also comes from the influence of shows like "America's Next Top Model" and the feedback from bloggers and Web sites that cover the show. Some of the former model judges (and gay men from the fashion industry who guide the model wannabes) regularly refer to them as "bitches." The lingo has been picked up by fans of the show.

By the way, the other thing about these book covers is the kind of 1950s Madison Avenue/semi-high fashion Gigi/Leslie Caron/Audrey Hepburn stylization of the graphics.

Posted by: Alec on January 9, 2006 1:14 PM

Alec is right about the look of the book covers--at first I did think they were from the 50s to early 60s. I sort of connect the bitch name in particular with a "bad is good" trend, as well as the allure of the bad girl image that survives despite feminism. Girls is fine; gals is a no-no. Very old-ladyish as someone has mentioned.

Posted by: susan on January 9, 2006 1:37 PM

Agnostic seems to have hit the nail on the head. It's the opting out of the radical feminist "equalitarianism." Women want to be equal, unless it's fun, then they get to be girls, or when it's elegant they want to treated like ladies. Men mostly think this is crap, but can't say so. On the other hand, alpha males beat out sensitive guys in the marriage market. So the sex roles are confused and no one knows what to expect.

Demography will probably win out. With so many more women than men in college, we'll see more of the over-educated women fighting it out for the high-status, high income males. The Hirschman's of the world can scream all they want about the need to force men to change their behavior, but men won't and women will continue to want families. So in the end, girls will be girls, especially if they want the cute or wealthy boys.

Posted by: anyone on January 9, 2006 4:19 PM

annette: Yes, I know. That's why I left the word out - in order to attempt to avoid someone jumping on the just.


Posted by: Yahmdallah on January 9, 2006 4:42 PM

anyone: the over-educated women might find they've "overpriced" themselves for the alpha males, who'd rather marry more subservient women, and since he's an alpha male he gets what he wants.

Its not uncommon for sucessful men to marry down for a girl who will be a more traditional wife, instead of one whose over-education has filled her head with lots of feminist ideas. Such is life.

Posted by: Zetjintsu on January 9, 2006 6:20 PM


You've reinforced my point. We are in the middle of the transition right now. As educated women figure out that they're overpriced, the norms will change. Sad that the boomers and boomer children had to pay the price.

You are already seeing this. Today's female graduates of Yale or Stanford are more likely to plan on giving up or postponing their careers for family than their mothers. More important, they are upfront about it and less resentful. They worry about balancing career and family from the get go.

When ideology meets biology, biology always wins.

Posted by: anyone on January 9, 2006 7:13 PM

I've met a number of educated, accomplished, high-status women who have poor social skills or other character flaws. What do many of these women have in common? They are quick to attribute setbacks in professional or social interactions with men to sexism or a general male preference for subservient females. I'm not saying there aren't men out there who prefer subservient women, but it's obvious to me as a male that there are so many high-status men who do not fall into that category that any women who repeatedly uses the "they just don't like strong women" excuse invites questions about what her real problem is.

Posted by: Jonathan on January 9, 2006 7:56 PM

I knew ladies back in the 80s who insisted on being called girls. It was largely a reaction to and against radical feminism. These were women who had control of their lives, and resented being told what to do by a group they saw as just as controlling as any equivalent group of men.

To get right down to it, they didn't want to be told what they had to do. I'd say that attitude has persisted in the general female population up to today. The feminist movement gained rights for women as a whole. Radical feminists are seeking to impose a new tyranny on women, and women won't stand for it.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on January 9, 2006 9:45 PM

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