“Girl power,” “riot grrrl,” and “black girl magic” are all feminist movements attempting to reclaim the word “girl” in the name of equality. But the catchall usage of the word “girl” just isn’t in line with feminist messages.
The word “boy” refers to children, but the word “girl” can refer to a 5-year-old up to a 25-year-old. Every day we refer to our classmates in peers as “guys and girls.” Somehow girl has turned into a catchall for any female, including grown women.
By calling women girls, we literally infantilize them and diminish their accomplishments. We would rarely refer to college-aged men as "boys" and yet “girl” is the go-to word to describe the same age group of women.
While changing the word we use to refer to women isn’t going to solve the pay gap or stop gendered violence, this is an easy step for people to make toward a more equitable society. Language impacts the way we view others, particularly groups of people, and we should always be striving for more fair and, in this case, accurate ways to communicate.
Movements that attempt to reappropriate the word miss the mark. Instead of trying to change the definition of girl to not be one of infantilization, these movements ought to look for other words that fill the void. While in common language young men can be called “guys,” there aren’t too many commonly used comparative words for women.