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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 March, 2004, 20:36 GMT
Head to head: 'Girls' or women?
Female students often do not go on to fulfil their academic potential in the workplace, according to Ofsted head David Bell.

In a speech to mark International Women's Day, he said using the word "girl" as a playground insult, to suggest someone cannot hack it, is partly to blame.

American and British author Bonnie Greer thinks the UK habit of calling grown women "girls" is strange and irritating. But MP Ann Widdecombe holds no truck with efforts to stamp out its use.

Bonnie Greer, playwright and author

"It was one of the first things I discovered when I moved here 20 years ago. I found that quite shocking, to see grown women call themselves girls and to allow themselves to be called girls.

Bonnie Greer
Bonnie Greer believes calling women 'girls' is wrong
A girl is someone who is not an adult, not a grown up, is not someone who takes responsibility for herself, she's a wimp, a loser, a cutie.

When you get past a certain age, as a mature adult, you want to be treated as an adult. You put away the things of a child.

To use the term political correctness is one of the laziest things you can say. It's a cliché and it has absolutely no meaning.

This is International Women's Month. People can call themselves whatever they like. But it fascinates me that a woman as high-powered as Ann, of great stature, would be content to be called a girl. She's not a girl.

In a culture where women are underpaid, are striving to make inroads, we should pay attention to how we address one other.

Of course it applies to (the term) "boys" but you don't throw the word around as often .

We should look at the way women are addressed, especially in the workplace, and if the word "girl" is used in a derogative way, in which it is used against boys on the playing field.

Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP

Ann Widdecombe MP
Ann Widdecombe says there are more important issues
The things of the child are to whinge and to complain. I cannot believe the extent to which we are slaves to political correctness.

My old school reunion is called 'convent old girls'. I wouldn't want it to be called 'convent old women' for obvious reasons.

If somebody says, 'What do the girls think?' it has no resonance with me at all, it is the same as saying, 'What do the ladies think?', 'What do the women think?'.

Haven't we more important things to worry about?

The next thing we will have is a big movement behind it, then it will become politically correct. Then some poor man somewhere will find himself charged with harassment because he has called somebody a girl.

It depends on the tone in which it is said. When we have troops deployed, we talk about "our boys", that is not derogatory.

That is a mark of absolute respect.

Use the form at the bottom of the page to send us your comments.

Your comments:

Now that I think about it, using the term 'girls' has always been a sign of familiarity and friendliness. If it is to become politically incorrect to use it, then I believe it would create divisions rather than cure them. Things can get really silly sometimes.
Gerry Noble, UK

I am 25 years old and my boss quite often uses the term 'good girl' when he is impressed with my work. I do find it patronising, but it also makes me laugh. I'm half his age - to him I am a girl! I'm not entirely sure the term is appropriate in the workplace but of course with so many of these words it depends on the individual. Being told, 'good girl' made me do a double take but I was in no way offended. And in casual use I think it is a term of endearment more than anything. My 'girl' friends say, "Go Girl!" and my 'boy' friend might say to me, "Are you OK there, girl?" If they're still saying that when I'm 64 I think I'll be pleased!
Claire, UK

I completely agree with Bonnie. The word 'girl' when applied to a grown woman, specifically by a man, is a way of trivialising her. There are implications, however unconscious, of how a girl is considered as opposed to a woman. There are mental associations with this term. If woman are ever to achieve equal opportunity and respect this type of labelling must not be tolerated.
Ali, UK

What needs to be changed is the attitude behind the terminology
Kate, London
Clearly it is a bit patronising. It can't be doing much good to reinforce the image of professional women as more junior, less experienced and more childish in the office. At the same time changing the terminology used will have little effect. What needs to be changed is the attitude behind the terminology.
Kate, London

It's bothered me for years that people constantly refer to women as 'girls'. It is just habit and simply not helpful. While there may be more important issues to deal with, the fact remains that it should be much easier to change the language we use when addressing one another, than it is to achieve equal pay or representation overnight. As a first step it might just change sexist attitudes towards women in the process.
Clare, UK

From the point of view of someone "middle-aged", it's actually quite nice to be referred to as a girl. I would take far more offence at being referred to as a "bird" (too blokeish) or "wench" (archaic and suggestive of a woman of dubious morals). I also agree with Anne that we girls/women (delete as appropriate) have far more important issues regarding equality than getting all pedantic about words.
Amanda Miller, UK

As a Canadian living in the UK, I was shocked to hear men at my work walking into the office and saying, 'Hello, girls.' I think it puts women on a lower level than men, and is not flattering at all. You never hear men being called 'boys' in a work situation, do you? It has nothing to do with political correctness; it is simply a recognition of the fact that women should be recognised as grown-ups.
Anna, Canada

Defining a word as discriminatory is puerile
Emma, UK
Defining a word as discriminatory is puerile. The interpretation of a word relies on the relationship between the user and the recipient. If the "girl" in question is insulted then it will usually be in conjunction with many other mitigating factors. Obsessing over semantics isn't going to change anything.
Emma, UK

If Bonnie Greer had been complaining about the trend for Afro-American males to refer to all females with a derivative of the word "whores" - especially in songs - she would have got my vote. As it was, Ann Widdecombe was spot on, got the laughs, and delivered an excellent killer blow to Bonnie. But then I'm just one of the lads!
Paul, England

Ann Widdecombe's remarks about political correctness are a red herring - language does matter. The sex discrimination legislation was passed when I was at school, and I thought that my own experience of hearing 'girl' used as a term of abuse would become a thing of the past. Thirty years on, I hear today's children repeating the nasty (and it often is nasty!) sexism of previous generations. David Bell's remarks are a reminder that cultural shifts in how we value men and women are much harder to effect than legal changes.
Melanie, UK

Bonnie Greer has failed to realise the difference between the use of the singular and plural. Of course it would be rude to address someone as "girl" or "boy". But "boys" and "girls" is different. We've always had the boys in the backroom, the boys in the band, "our boys", the lads, the Brylcreem boys, etc etc.
Alex, UK

The women in my office are off on a 'girls night out' this weekend. I will break the bad news
Marc, Uzbekistan
Wasn't the word 'women' once thought to be derogatory as it contained the suffix 'men'? Now we are to use it! The women in my office are off on a 'girls night out' this weekend; I will break the bad news that this is too juvenile a phrase and insist they re-name it 'women's night out' for clarity. Mind you me and the boys want to join them later!
Marc, Uzbekistan

The use of "girls" is idiomatic English. Another illustration of the gap between American English and "British" English and the misunderstandings that can arise! There are many American phrases which are complete baloney on this side of the Atlantic, to coin a phrase!!!
Heather Cooke, England

And there was me thinking diversity was a good thing. What a dull world if we removed all the lasses, cheeky chappies, old dears, darlings and loves from our vocabulary. Personally I answer to anything that isn't obscene in the joyous world of modern commerce. Wonder if Bonnie Greer has ever worked in an office?
Peter, UK

After 20 years in the UK Bonnie Greer should appreciate that there are subtle but important differences in US and British versions of English. And by the way it's "derogatory", not "derogative".
John, Switzerland

I love being a girl! And I would find it terrible if people stop using the term when talking about me. To me being called a "girl" as opposed to a "lady" or a "woman" suggests that someone is marking the great qualities that make us different. It shows that you are warm and approachable with a fun outlook on life. Today we are marking the achievements that women have made in society and to my mind the greatest women have always shown their warm side even in the most difficult if circumstances and that's what makes us different! And I am so proud of it! Lets hear it for the girls!!!
Chloe, England

It is not the word that is the problem, but the tone and manner in which it is used
Carrie, UK
I think that in this situation as with many others it is not the word that is the problem, but the tone and manner in which it is used. Any naming word in the language can become offensive if used in an offensive manner
Carrie, UK

I do not think calling a woman a girl belittling in any way. Taken out of context it could be used in such a manner. I find that a call to some fellow female work colleagues 'Hi girls!' a term of flattery, not one of abuse. In turn a smile is received at the compliment. In this day and age, political correctness is making people walk on egg shells and is being thrown around as some kind of symbol of constitutional rights. Pity those rights are still to this day, fairly narrow-minded in some of their views.
Richard, UK

Shouldn't the Convent Old Girls be pronounced Convent Old 'Gals', the slightly posher way of pronouncing the word? I think it doesn't matter what they are called, someone will always object - ladies/birds/her indoors/SO (Significant Other)/the other half¿
Colin Bartlett, Oxford

I think the world has gone barking mad! And I am amazed to say that I agree with Ann Widdecombe - we have or should all have better things to worry about. Destroying the planet and mucking around with mother nature when we all know she's going to get her own back is a little bit more important than worrying about being called a girl, isn't it?
Jo W, England

I am certainly glad that I no longer have to deal with it myself
Dr Martha Graber, US

I recently visited a well-known academic hospital in London. I was aghast when a senior male consultant turned to the women consultants during discussion of a case and said, "Let's see what the girls think". Make no mistake; the comment had nothing to do with political correctness. It was an example of the grandstanding and personal nastiness common to such occasions in the academic world and as such was designed to be derogatory. I am not sure if one could expect to get away with this kind of thing in many other countries, and I am certainly glad that I no longer have to deal with it myself.
Dr Martha Graber, US

I wonder what the girlies in the armed forces think about being called boys?
Arnold Powis, UK

Ann Widdecombe's example of her school reunion being called 'convent old girls' is misleading the argument. As school children we are appropriately called boys and girls, thus it makes sense for alumni associations to use the terms old boys and old girls. The central issue is how we refer to adults in the context of adulthood.
Alef, United Kingdom

For the first time ever I totally agree with Ann Widdecombe. I went out for a drink with the boys last weekend before cheering on the lads at the football and meeting up with the girls later for a bite to eat. None of us are under 30 and all suffered no loss of maturity as a result. A good example of the difference in British and American culture despite using the same language.
Alan, UK

As a mature female I have no problem being called girl socially as it feels almost like a term of endearment but in the workplace I think it is derisory and meant to be belittling.
J Wheeler, England

If you refer to the men as boys then it's ok to refer to women as girls. I don't think anyone in my office would dare suggest I can't hack it because of my gender.
Sara, England

In my personal opinion, she's a girl if I perceive her to be younger than me and a woman if older. Also, it's true to say that one at the extreme of either, yearns to be the other.
Marc, UK

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Author Bonnie Greer
"I am quite shocked"

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