“Ladies” Versus “Girls”

On Twitter today I came across an interesting discussion about the word “ladies” via The F Word UK (@thefworduk). Emma Dixon had been sent a message that said “Attention Ladies, come to our Xmas lunch.” Emma asked if there was any women who would prefer not be be addressed as “lady” or “ladies”. The replies showed that some women hate it, others don’t mind it. The same goes for “girls”.

I’ve actually been musing on this topic for a while, even since I saw this comedy sketch by Demetri Martin.

At 1:49 he says “If you want to sound like a creep, just add the word ladies to the end of things that you say. You can even say something harmless like ‘Thanks for coming to the show…. ladies.’ ‘Help, I’ve fallen into a well and I’m trapped… ladies’.”


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It’s funny but it also makes a point about why women aren’t so keen on the “ladies” word. It can so easily be used in a creepy, suggestive or condescending way. “Ladies” used to be a term of respect or politeness but now it can be… sleazy. Or sexist. I’ll admit I’ve never been that keen on the word. And the other awful way it’s used is when you are called a “lady” on the street by a child or by a stranger. “Look at that lady.” “Get out of the lady’s way, darling.” I knew I was old when someone called me a “lady” for the first time.

Way back when I got started in women’s porn there were a few adult sites that attempted to cater to women and more often than not, the tem “ladies” was used. Ladies Secret. Just For Ladies. Ladies Only Porn. A lot of those sites were run by mainstream companies trying to cater to a newly emerging women’s porn market, not sure what to do. To me, there was often an element of condescension to them and the name reflected that. You could say the same thing about “Ladies Nights”. Even if it’s meant to be a female friendly event, the word suggests an “otherness”. Ladies nights are about attracting women to a location, perhaps to bring on the sexytimes…. ladies.

Compare this with the word “girls” as a way of addressing a group of women. It too can be problematic, especially if it’s a guy that’s using the word. And yet I want to defend it, not least because I have a paysite called For The Girls (more on that in a bit).

One of the triumphs of the feminist movement in the 70s was their insistence that grown women not be called girls, as was often the case in workplaces and at home. And rightly so; the term infantilised women and took away their power. It didn’t matter if you were 50 and had been working somewhere for years, you were still the girl who brought the coffee. It’s good that that changed. And today, it’s still a no-no for a man to refer to a woman as a girl.

And yet when women use the word “girls” to refer to their friends or their family, it’s about comeraderie. “Come on girls, let’s go.” A “girl’s night out” is about women getting together to have a good time. Even the phrase “you go girl!” (which I personally don’t like) has an element of empowerment. Girl power.

When we named For The Girls in 2003, we wanted to capture that feeling of female inclusiveness. We wanted to be a porn loving girl’s club, a fun time with like-minded women, a girl’s night out online. No restraints, no need to be “ladylike”. I suspect that when Violet Blue started her Smart Girl’s Porn Club she was thinking the same thing.

I’ve since wondered about the suitability of For The Girls as a name. Perhaps some find it as bad as “ladies”. And goodness knows I don’t want anyone to think that it’s somehow catering to underage females. Perhaps “For Women” or something similar may have been better, although I must admit, we were working with pre-existing domain names so that restricted our choices at the time. Nonetheless, I do think that the intention of comeraderie remains. For The Girls is about a special women’s space, by women, for women. In that context, using “girls” is OK.

Shall I also muse on the word “chick”? I used to hate it but I’ve come to accept it because it’s a relatively non-derogatory female word, similar to “guy”. It’s usually referring to young women but not necessarily so. I think I’d prefer strangers called me a “chick” rather than a “lady”. Then I can pretend I’m young and groovy.

Yes, there’s chick lit and chick flicks. Both of these things are derided because women enjoy them but the term “chick” in and of itself isn’t the problem. Originally those phrases were positive things. I think the way they’re now used negatively reveals volumes about how society discounts the experiences and stories of women.

What are your thoughts? Do you find “ladies”, “girls” or “chick” offensive or are you OK with them?