Women, Girls, and the Words Used in Online Dating

So, I clicked on this really intriguing infographic on Facebook, about how the words people use in their online dating profiles impact how many people contact them. While the article attached to this infographic was slightly horrible, the difference between the use of the terms “woman” and “girl” intrigued me.

Apparently, men who use the term “woman” get 28% more contacts than men who use the term “girl.”

And women who refer to themselves as a “girl” get 16% more contacts than those who claim to be a “woman.”

Interesting, huh?

Let's face it: unless you are an actual girl, the term is diminutive. It implies a lack of maturity and agency over one's own life. Same thing goes for the term “boy.” And quite honestly, when a woman refers to her partner as a boy, it's an insult, even if she's chuckling and rolling her eyes. I think this is why women instinctively shy away from profiles that cast women as “girls.” There's an implied lack of status, lack of respect. As for men preferring “girls”–no comment.

I'm not completely hung up on this. If a group of women want to be all giggly and refer to each other as “girls,” or a man wants to go hang out “with the boys,” that's fine by me, because the implications are that they're taking time to be carefree and perhaps a bit childish. Fair enough. And if older people who have known me since I WAS a girl still want to refer to me as a girl I won't be offended. Heck, I still think of my cousins as kids, even though most of them are in their twenties and well into adult life. Not because I don't respect them or view them as real adults, but because I remember the children they were, and my mama bear instinct toward them has never faded.

But if a male peer refered to me as a girl? There's a better than 28% chance that I would NOT be amused.

So what do you think? How do the words we use to refer to ourselves and others impact the way people see us and treat us? How do you respond to people who call you things you'd rather not be called?

19 Responses to Women, Girls, and the Words Used in Online Dating

  1. Virginia Knowles February 22, 2014 at 8:46 am #

    I was having this conversation with my teen sons recently. We were trying to parse the connotations. I’m not sure we came up with much! I think it depends on how close you are to the person, and what tone of voice is used.

    With strangers, I would be very put off by “boy” and “girl” to describe adults.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong February 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

      It really does depend on a wide variety of factors! My personal opinion is that “girl” can be used through college age without any negative connotations, but I’m sure there are plenty of 22-year-old women who would disagree with me. “Woman” is safer.

  2. Kathy February 22, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    Not long back our pastoral assistant at church wrote to myself and three other women – all of whom are 20 plus years his senior. He address the email “Hi girls”!! He received a ‘polite’ but extremely firm reply from me to the effect: “Don’t you dare!!” Just appalling! In his defence English is his second language and he was trying to think of a friendly ‘all-encompassing’ term. I think he’s learnt his lesson though! :) Another issue I have a bit is with the term “guys”. I know in some situations it can refer to a group of both genders but I struggle with it a bit when our Lead Pastor uses it to refer to our pastoral lead team which includes four men and myself. Just not sure…
    BTW Tim (sorry completely lost his last name at the moment but he comments here regularly so hopefully he can add to this!) wrote a good blog on this topic sometime back.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong February 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      Too funny! Yes, Tim has made some great points on that topic, although he objects to my use of “ladies.” :-D I totally see his point, but I say it anyway.

    • Tim February 24, 2014 at 10:01 am #

      Thanks for remembering about this post, Kathy. I think there’s a line that stretches from calling adult women “girls”, “ladies” and “women”, among other terms.

      And Jen, the best part of that linked article was how attractive it can be to use “whom”. From now on I’m going to use it incessantly, correctly or not.

      Cheers,
      Tim

      • Jenny Rae Armstrong February 24, 2014 at 10:06 am #

        I found the whole “whom” thing rather disturbing. :-D

      • fiddlrts February 24, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

        Count me among those for whom only the correct use of “whom” would lead to a call back ;)

  3. Jeanne February 22, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    If I am referred to as a girl, I try to take it as a compliment that the person using the word thinks I’m younger than I am. I know there are great differences in regional slang, but I don’t think its offensive here in North Dakota. If someone refers to “the boys” I usually assume its a family group or a close knit group of friends. “The girls” would also refer to family members or close friends. However if a stranger refers to you as a girl or boy, then its awkward, and I assume they are “not from around here”. But we are perhaps a bit more friendly here in the upper Midwest. ;)

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong February 24, 2014 at 10:16 am #

      I’m an upper-midwesterner too, and I do think things like that are more common up here–I have to remind myself not to call other people’s children “sweetie” or “kiddo” when I travel. Sometimes I remember, most times I don’t. :-D I was pretty commonly referred to as “kiddo” by dentists, doctors, receptionists. etc., through my twenties, and I didn’t take offense. But there comes a point, even for us Norski “girls.” :-D

  4. Tyler February 23, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    You go, girl! ;)

  5. Laura Droege February 23, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    I was just thinking about this as I read my email this afternoon. It included a women’s ministry announcement regarding an upcoming conference, complete with breakout sessions. The sessions included these topics: “Friendships for big girls: amazing gift from God” and “How God’s girls survive disappointment”. Um, I thought this conference was for WOMEN, not my preteen daughter! I really dislike this use of the word “girl”, especially in a Christian setting. It’s one thing in a casual conversation (“you go, girl!) and quite another as an actual title for a breakout session at a conference.

    I also dislike it when country singers refer to women as “girls”; I have to wonder how old the female is that the male singer is trying to pick up in a bar. (I’ll still listen to country music, though. I don’t know if this is common in other genres of music.)

    • Joy February 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

      Honestly, the name of the breakout session “Friendships for big girls: amazing gift from God” makes me think it’s for pre-teen girls who are overweight.

    • Jenny Rae Armstrong February 24, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      I could SO psychologize those breakout session titles, but I’ll refrain! And you’re right about country music. I had never thought about that before, probably because I don’t listen to much country. But I wonder if it’s the same sort of “all-American girl” philosophy behind the term’s use in the church and country music.

      • Laura Droege February 24, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

        It’s probably the same philosophy. The musicians constantly refer to males as “boys”. I guess, on the bright side, that the references to “boys” and “girls” makes both genders about the same age.

  6. Melody Harrison Hanson February 25, 2014 at 7:45 am #

    I’ve always had a problem with women speaking of our sex as girls. It is exactly as you say Jenny, diminutive and implies something about how they see themselves in the world. It’s nice to see numbers attached to something intuitive.

    Thanks for highlighting this.

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