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Superwoman! Er, Girl

Is it sexist to call a woman a girl? Yes it is. At the risk of having the world’s shortest blog post though, I’ll elaborate. The Washington Post published a piece this week about the new CBS drama, “Supergirl,” titled: “Is the term ‘Supergirl’ offensive? The story behind the ‘girl vs. woman’ speech in the pilot.” The article details a scene in the pilot episode during which the main character, Kara Danvers, after hearing on the news that her boss, Cat Grant, referred to her as “Supergirl,” storms into Cat’s office and exclaims, “‘Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman…If we call her Supergirl, something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?’” The executive producers of the show, the article explains, knew that their audience would be having this conversation, so they wanted to address it on camera.  

So why Supergirl and not Superwoman? A major reason is that the show is based on the comic book character of the same name, who first appeared in comic books published by DC Comics in 1959, a different time for women. Going back to The Washington Post article, the producers explained that keeping the original name was an important part of honoring and staying true to the comic. While I understand the producers’ rationale for keeping the original name, and appreciate their effort to address this issue on their show, none of that changes the fact that calling a woman a girl is inherently sexist, and that we as a society need to break ourselves of this habit.

When I Google definitions of the word, “girl,” the two that appear are: 1) “A female child,” and 2) “A young or relatively young woman.” When a woman is referred to as a girl, no matter the intention, it diminishes, infantalizes, and weakens her in society’s eyes. It makes her appear less powerful, and as less of a threat. It is also just straight up gender inequality. No one would refer to a 30 year old man as a boy, so why is it ok to refer to a 30 year old woman as a girl? We as a society have made great strides toward ensuring that women have equal rights, but our language used to describe women is lagging behind this progress.

Turning to a different example, in 1890 Ray Frank became the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States. While she did not try to become a Rabbi, her work forced American Jewry, for the first time, to seriously consider the possibility of ordaining women. Given Frank’s huge impact on the Jewish world, it will come as no surprise that she was referred to as “the Girl Rabbi of the Golden West.” While this was a very different time, there is no doubt that referring to this trailblazing, strong woman as a girl signifies an attempt to minimize her.

Here we are 125 years later, still using this sexist language. The fact that people are actually talking about this as an issue now shows that progress has been made, but as with so many other gender equality issues, we’re just not there yet. We need to stop referring to women as girls, but on a deeper level we need to recognize that this language tendency still exists because women are still viewed as lesser in our society. Should Supergirl be Superwoman? Yes. Should Ray Frank be referred to as the Woman Rabbi of the Golden West? Yes. Changing the language will signify that the attitudes that created it are no longer acceptable.   

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Melissa Benoist, June 30, 2015
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Melissa Benoist, of CBS' Supergirl, at the 6th Annual Thirst Project Thirst Gala, June 30, 2015.
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How to cite this page

Klebe, Larisa. "Superwoman! Er, Girl ." 28 October 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 15, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/superwoman-er-girl>.

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