I've been doing some thinking about the words "girl" and "woman." At what age does one stop being a girl and start being a woman? Is there some kind of weird step in between? Why don't I feel the same way about "boy" and "man"?
I am pretty sure my mind does not work correctly, but I tend to associate the word "woman" with what seem to me to be stereotypically grown-up, mature activities and behaviors: Women get married. Women cover their grays with Nice 'n Easy by Clairol. Women eat yogurt. Women go to the symphony and the opera. Women never put out on the first date. Women drink chardonnay and know how to waltz. Women wear sensible pumps and blazers to the office. Women schedule their days in BlackBerrys and Filofaxes. Women paint their bathrooms a nice shade of taupe. Women never leave the house without lipstick. Women write thank-you notes. Women use Olay and aren't in love anymore. Women write checks. Women read Danielle Steel and Dean Koontz. Women never miss a birthday.
To my consciousness, girls, on the other hand, much like Cyndi Lauper, just want to have fun: Girls fall off their stilettos. Girls don't know what they want. Girls dance on tables. Girls wear knee socks and drink Bacardi. Girls shop at Forever 21. Girls text all the time. Girls live in apartments. Girls eat takeout and watch YouTube. Girls fall in love with boys, men, other girls, life, lust, and laughter. Girls take photos of themselves and their friends. Girls paint their own toenails. Girls flake on plans. Girls tell secrets and lie to people's faces. Girls go shopping and spend too much money. Girls sleep in instead of going to church. Girls go to rock shows. Girls wait tables and accidentally explode things in their microwaves. Girls need rescued.
I remind myself of my younger brother, who used to (and still might) call every female, ages 1 to 92, a girl. He'd say, "I'm going to help that girl cross the street." My mom would be like, "Oh, that octogenarian 'girl' over there?" Although I share a few qualities with women, in my brain, I still picture myself as a girl, and out loud, I still call myself a girl. I remember the first time a kid called me "ma'am"; I was 15, and I didn't think he was talking to me at first, but I was the only person near the beach ball he had knocked out of the swimming pool, so I tossed it back to him, pondering the gravitas of this event. I was startled but eventually decided it had to have been a fluke. I'm not a "ma'am," I thought. I'm not so distinguished as that. I feel weird when someone calls me a woman, even in a compliment ("You are a beautiful woman"), like I haven't done anything to merit that title.
I occasionally call myself and my (female) peers "ladies" if we are being particularly fancy, but that's as far as it goes. I call males "boys" if they are very young and "men" if they are very old, but in between these age extremes, the two terms are interchangeable.
If I start calling myself a woman, do I grow up, or does it work the other way around? When I reach a certain age, will I start being able to accept being called a woman? Why does my mind pigeonhole you, me, and all women everywhere? What are the best terms to use? Am I the only one with such a word-association problem?