Recently, I was talking to a woman, probably in her late thirties, who was totally surprised that my friends and I ever call ourselves girls. She said that, for her generation, college marked the beginning of ‘womanhood’ and they called each other ‘women,’ even when it didn’t quite fit, until they finally grew into the title.
As I listened to her, something seemed off. It feels like there’s gravity to the word ‘woman’ that I don’t always feel. When I do grown-up things—get a paycheck, care for a newborn, put on a classy, curvy dress—then I feel like a woman.
But I don’t do grown-up things all the time, and I don’t always feel like a woman. Sometimes I laugh so hard I pee my pants, or have a nightmare and need someone to cuddle with me. And when I go out with my girlfriends, I go ‘out with the girls.’ Not ‘out with the women’ or ‘out with the ladies,’ just casually ‘out with the girls.’ So Carrie Bradshaw.
I find myself, most of the time, somewhere in-between where I feel grown up but youthful.
It occurred to me that men get a word for this in-between. Men older than 18 would never be referred to as boys (except with a stab of sarcasm). Sometimes they are called men, or young men, but most of the time they’re ‘guys.’ They go from boys to guys to men. And despite all their heel-dragging, they do get to move out of boyhood.
As women, we often lament how much faster we mature than men, but we keep referring to ourselves as girls, offering no distinction between our 25-year-old and 9-year-old selves. We go straight from girls to women. But when? Where is our youthful adult in-between? Where is our “guy” stage?
The words we have for ourselves seem to convey a feeling, or a measure of how youthful we feel in that moment. We may not ever be exclusively girls or women, but we seem to be missing a chunk of our vocabulary. Maybe we should come up with a word that lets us be grown-ups without having to always be women.