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Words to Rethink: Gal February 9, 2015

Filed under: Opinions No One Asked For,Thoughts,Words to Rethink — Meghan Hamilton @ 9:19 pm
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imagesThere are certain words that bother me.  I wish they would disappear from our working lexicon.  Today I would like to talk about the word, “gal.”  It’s bothered me for a long time.  Over the weekend I finally figured out why.

Let’s start with a definition.  www.dictionary.com defines it as:

noun, Informal: Sometimes Offensive.

1. a term used to refer to a girl or woman.

They have some other information about its usage in science and it’s history.  But this is the common usage and the one that bothers me.  I realize that some people just see it as the opposite of “guy.”  However, guy has evolved over the years to include females and doesn’t carry the connotation of naivete that gal does.  When I hear women referred to as gals, I think of a bunch of airheaded children in adult bodies.  I don’t think of grown women with the maturity and experience that the word woman suggests.  I can’t think of a single time that I have heard female children referred to as gals.  They are usually called girls.

The situation that clarified this for me was a Facebook post a friend shared.  A church is trying to organize a mission trip to bring counselors to Iraq that can minister to women and girls who have been enslaved by ISIS.  This is a noble cause and I hope that they are able to do some good.  What bothered me was that the person who wrote the original post referred to these women and girls as gals.  In this particular situation, it just seemed to diminish the horror that these people have been through.  That sort of abuse more than deserves the most formal terminology.  Why?  Because in our culture, proper terminology indicates a certain level of seriousness.  (Thank you, Mark!)  When we use slang, we detract from the seriousness and gravity of a situation.

Ok, but what is wrong with the word?  Why would I have a problem with using gal when referring to my female friends?  Is it just too old fashioned?  NO!  I think that too often we needlessly separate genders.  There are very few instances when we need to differentiate between men and women.  Our language doesn’t have many gender neutral pronouns.  Guy is becoming one of them.  Though it has its origins in referring to males, it’s often used to refer to a group of people of any gender makeup.  When we separate people, it’s often to compare them in a way that makes someone look better and someone look worse.  There is a long history of making women look worse.

So when is it ok to use gender based wording?  It can be ok when you are directing someone to a specific person.  “Give this book to that woman in the blue shirt.”  It’s a descriptive term akin to blue shirt so that the right person gets the book.  Or if you are dealing with a medical issue, your doctor certainly needs to know what parts your body has.

We’ve made great strides towards treating women as equals to men here in America.  I realize that compared to how women are treated in some other parts of the world, my annoyance with this word is not a huge issue.  But I am here in America.  I would like us to take more steps towards seeing people as people and not defining everyone based on their genitalia and making assumptions about them based on what’s between their legs.  Our words can help that process or hinder it.  Please, do me a favor.  If gal is a word you like to use, consider referring to women as women.  Better yet, ask yourself if you even need to refer to women in particular or if the word people would work just fine in the situation.

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2 Responses to “Words to Rethink: Gal”

  1. Tim Says:

    It’s funny: on one hand, I’ve never felt like “gal” seemed that offensive or diminutive of a term; on the other, I never use it myself… although I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s too close to “gull,” the foulest branch of fowls? I typically use “guys” as a non-gender specific term, but I’ve had people object to that. “Women” seems too… serious? Not informal enough for casual conversation? And it becomes problematic when talking about females of all ages: “women” makes you think of adults, not children. Perhaps this is why the ISIS ministry worker chose “gals?” Either way, it doesn’t match the seriousness of such a ministry. What do you think of “ladies?”

    • I think that one of the things sticking in my craw is our continuing need to segregate people by gender. As I stated near the end of the blog, there are few instances where it’s necessary. Why is it more horrific for women and girls to be enslaved than men and boys? That line of thinking perpetuates the myth that females are the weaker sex. It’s horrific for anyone to be enslaved. It is the rare instance that segregation produces good results when talking about groups of people. Look at how “separate but equal” schools worked out for America.

      So, generally speaking, call people “people.”


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