Girls, Ladies, Women, Folks

Recently I was walking downtown with my friend and a young man passed us, smiled and said, “Hey, ladies.” I said hello back. I was pleased with the seemingly non-sexual encounter with a man. Or at least, if he did think we were pretty, he kept it to himself and out of his remark.

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Gratuitous sunny, summery picture of Central Square. Unfortunately, where I have received much harassment.

I expressed to my friend that it was refreshing to have a pleasant interaction with a man when out in public that didn’t leave me uncomfortable. She wasn’t left with the same understanding. “Why ladies? Why not just ‘hello’ or ‘hi there?’” I hadn’t seriously thought about that, since in my experience with men on the street, I am happily able to adjust the standards to what was an acceptable and respectable way to approach me. Sure, greeting me like you would greet anyone else on the street, gender not included, would be ideal, but my expectations are lower. As long as you (read: men) don’t ogle me or use sexualized terminology, I can exhale after I pass you on the street.

But why stop there? In a world infused with misogyny and patriarchy, what is my ultimate goal with Hollaback? What would public encounters look like, in my ideal harassment- and gender-based violence-free world? Should gendered nouns be left out of it completely?

If you think about it, it’s strange for a woman to address a group of men as, well, “men”, as men are the default. “Hello, men.” It has a strange ring to it. It sounds inherently sexual, as I’m reading it aloud in my head, because obviously if a woman is addressing a group of men she doesn’t know she interested in them sexually. A group of men are “guys,” a group of women are also “guys,” and a group of women with one man are “girls” and “guy.” Be careful not to lump the lone man when addressing the group as “girls.”

Is “ladies” too sexual? Is “girls” too demeaning to those who are female-identified above the age 18? Is “women” too stern? Is “folks” too PC?

I’d like to know your thoughts about gendered nouns (not gender slurs, such as bitch, cunt, slut, and all of those colorful words that have been shouted at us) in public interactions with strangers. I’ve only focused on a few of the main ones for the sake of brevity. What do you prefer to hear? What leaves you feeling icky? Would equal treatment on the street mean leaving gender out?

Share your thoughts below!

-Jane

Author:

We actively denounce the notion that street harassment is culturally accepted and that victims somehow "deserve" it. Through raising awareness and sharing experiences, we hope to put an end to catcalling, groping, stalking, public masturbation, assaults, racial slurs, and other forms of street harassment. Because we believe we have the power to create a world where we can feel hot, confident, and badass, while still feeling safe!

2 Responses

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  1. fosser says:

    I have mixed feelings about this. I definitely don’t think “ladies” as a term is too sexual, but it does have a connotation about women’s behavior (ladies are “classy” and “well-behaved” and “docile” historically). Many women dislike the term because of that. Many others specifically identify themselves as ladies. But the thing is, most people don’t really think about the historical use when they use the term. Depending on who is using the term, “girls” can infantilize, but can also just be a really neutral way to address females. I think what’s important is the person speaking and their intention, rather than the words themselves.

    I frequently address groups of men as “gentlemen.” Not just MEN, which as you wrote above is kind of weird. I’m not trying to say anything about them as a group, but it’s become my standard way to say hi to a group of males. I have a feeling a lot of men are the same way. Women frequently do this to each other all the time, and men hear it. My assumption is that most men who would say “Hi Ladies” as they are walking down the street are simply being polite. I’m sure you could say the same thing in a creepy way too, but for me, tone is everything. A nod, a calm expression or even a smile, and a simple “hello” is exactly how I want to be interacted with on the street, whether there is a gendered noun there or not.

    In the end, I think that if you are uncomfortable with gendered nouns, that’s completely fine. You should be able to tell people you interact regularly with not to use them for you. But when someone is simply saying “hello” (in a non-creepy, non-harrassmenty way) and continuing with their day, I think it’s better to move on.

  2. [...] Tyra WM. Check out her amazing street harassment work! The site also published a great blog post this week asking the question, in a harassment free world, would gendered nouns be left out of [...]

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