It's time to reclaim the female version of "guy."
There are countless words you can use to degrade a woman: bitch, slut, whore. The list goes on. But the word that does the most to set us back has nothing to do with outspokenness or sexual choices. It's a word that's used openly, in public, shamelessly, to our faces. In fact, it's the word I—along with most young women I know—use to describe myself.
The worst word to call a woman is girl.
Girls are children. Girls are dependents. Girls can't make their own decisions. And yet, when we talk about feminine achievement, we talk about girl power. Girls, according to Beyoncé, run the world. The character of Lisbeth Salander, self-sufficient though she may be, is a girl with a dragon tattoo. And, most importantly, in real life, among people I know and respect, female colleagues are "girls from work." The women with whom we studied for advanced degrees are "girls from school." A lot's in a name; although we don't mean to hurt each other, the word girl diminishes our maturity, our responsibility, our power. But what alternative do we have?
Even though my feminist heart hurts to admit it, woman is no good.
MORE ON LANGUAGE
It's not that there's anything wrong with the word. It's just that to advocate for the use of "woman" rather than "girl" is to ignore the practical truth. If all who identify as female were to go from girl to woman when they turned 18—or 21 or 13 or 16 or at menses or upon graduation or at some other arbitrary milestone—the scales of language would still be unbalanced. At least among English-speaking males, growing up is far more nuanced. A boy doesn't just instantly become a man: he gets to be a guy.