Growing Up: Mental Dialogue and Self-Reference

_statue of a young girl holding a nest_

You may have noticed the new tagline on this site's header. If you were exceptionally observant, you may have noticed that the tagline, for about a day, said "... one girl's interactions ..." rather than "... one woman's interactions ...." It only struck me later, after seeing the word "girl" at the top the webpage, that I had chosen the wrong word.

As I'm sure you're aware, "girl" tends to be used to discuss younger female people. When does one switch to referring to those females as "women" instead? Certain criteria appear to be in place for the new title: an age requirement, a threshold level of maturity, specific biological changes. One might hold different standards for oneself than for other people, requiring a particular amount of self-assurance that one is, in fact, mature.

So, out of curiosity, when did you start referring to yourself, in your mental dialogue, as a woman rather than a girl, or as a man rather than a boy?

For me, "girl" would have still been the wrong word a year or two ago. Why did I initially select it anyway? Perhaps I'm still getting used to the idea that I'm growing up. Isn't the end of adolescence and the beginning of adulthood is a fascinating place to be?

Sunday, August 1, 2010 - tags: life moments website


  • said: Reply

    At 26, nearly 27, I still think of myself as a girl, and get flustered when I am referred to as “Ma’am”. When did that happen? When did I become a woman in the eyes of society when on so many levels I still think of myself as a “Miss”. I mean, I’m a parent for goodness sake, shouldn’t I identify as a woman now?

    I guess on some level I don’t want to admit that I’m an adult, but at some point I’ll have to grow up. Stupid Peter Pan syndrome.

  • said: Reply

    I still think of myself as a “girl,” and it’s the term I would probably use for other females around my age. But I refer to males around my age as “guys,” not boys or men… My terminology could be a result of me not seeing myself (and people my age) as adults, or it could just be something I do out of habit.

    Most likely, it’s a bit of both.

    Whatever the reason is, I would feel weird calling myself a “woman” when I’m still in school and my parents pay all my bills. Which I guess means that, to me, self-sufficiency is what signifies adulthood. Huh.

  • said: Reply

    You go girl! hehe. Just kidding. I think I started calling myself a man the first time someone called me sir. I was about 24 or 25. But given my slow progress toward maturity, I probably should have waited even longer. By the way, you may want to reread your last sentence in your post.

  • said: Reply

    Tessa: You can be an adult without completely growing up, I think. I’ve known adults who’ve managed to balance out being mature adults and goofing off and doing crazy things like a teenager.

    Nichole: Good point with “guys.” It’s a nice, generic, not-old-not-young term for males. I’m failing to think of a similar term for girls that’s used just as commonly (“gals” doesn’t quite fit). And I agree: with all the people our age, particularly people with whom we grew up, it’s partly habit to call us “girls”–after all, that’s what we did for the past decade!

    Dan: Huh! That’s interesting; thanks for sharing.

  • said: Reply

    I wonder whether some of that Peter Pan syndrome has to do with the art created by adults who wish they hadn’t grown up as quickly as they did. I know that I seem to have always been aware of the “recapture the magic of your youth” trope, the idolization of childhood’s fresh vision, and I wonder whether the fruits of one generation’s overquick maturation predisposed the next to privilege childhood.

    It’s probably more likely that school’s a major factor, though. School carries on long past childhood, but with much the same structure – including the grading system, which makes it easy to place validation in the hands of older figures of authority – while earlier generations might have gone off to tend a field, apprentice themselves, or sign up for wage slavery in the mills. We don’t have a rite of transition, unless graduation counts, and that comes a bit late.

    Also, if school’s the delaying factor, it would explain this:

    To answer your actual question: I’m not sure that I have switched. On the one hand, I’d like to consider myself somewhat mature; it was a point of pride in childhood, and I think I’ve managed to stay ahead of the curve on some counts. On the other hand, identifying myself as a man would require a definition of what it means to be a man, not biologically but socially. Pardon me, but, ain’t never gonna happen. Intriguingly, reflection reveals that I would more readily say “I am an adult” than “I am a man”. Fascinating.

    It occurs to me that the one thing that would unambiguously, permanently recategorize me as a man in my own mind would be becoming a father.

  • said: Reply

    When John started referring to me as a woman.

    It felt wrong the first time or two that he did, but after that, it felt wrong to be a “girl.” I had been inducted by a member of the adult community.

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