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International Day of the Girl: Reclaiming the Girl Word

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To celebrate International Day of the Girl I would like to reclaim the word 'girl' and restore it to its original meaning: a young woman below the age of eighteen.

There are two ways that this word gets misused and the first is as an insult meaning weak and inconsequential. This week we've had two examples from public figures of this particular form of put-down:

Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler had to apologise for saying on the BBC's Football Focus that a couple of (male) players had spent much of a Premiership game 'at each other's throats, like a couple of girls.'

And in the same week Prime Minister David Cameron, at the Tory Party conference (when announcing plans to ban school-leavers from claiming the dole) made this statement:

'We will continue to take the tough decisions and do the really swash-buckling stuff. The other lot will only faff about with girly sticking plaster'.

The second misuse is the sex industry's co-option of the word to mean 'sexually available young woman'.

In this case the insult is directed towards adult women who, in the minds of the peddlers of porn and sleaze, are too old to be sexually attractive. 'Women' don't sell sex apparently, but 'girls' do. Strip clubs proclaim in neon lights 'Girls Girls Girls', click on any porn site and you don't see 'hot women' but 'hot girls' 'teen girls' and 'horny girls'.

And of course the most publicly visible branch of the sex industry, Page 3 of the Sun, invites you to 'take our beautiful girls for a spin' online. Pornographers have sexualised the word 'girl' and, because of the ubiquity of porn, innocent terms like 'teenage girl' and 'schoolgirl' have gained an undercurrent of sexualised meaning.

If 'girl' means either weak, silly and not worthy, or a fully developed sex doll, who would celebrate being a girl?

Today the Girls' Brigade have reminded us that real girls are neither of these things: the famous footballers, David Cameron and the sex industry have got it wrong.

As their way of celebrating Day of the Girl, they have followed the Girl Guides in publicly announcing their support for the No More Page 3 campaign and Girls' Brigade members have written to David Dinsmore, Editor of the Sun. Here are some extracts from that letter in their own words:

'We dream of living in a culture where girls and women are not objectified - where a woman's worth and value is not solely measured by her sexual attractiveness but instead acknowledges her gifting, personality and talents.

We dream of living in a society where a national newspaper, like The Sun, depicts men and women as equals and no longer feels the need to display porn on Page 3 in order to sell newspaper copies.

Using an online survey, we asked GB members (of all ages) to explain how they felt The Sun's Page 3 had affected them. Around 70% of survey participants revealed that they believed Page 3, which you support and have allowed to continue since you became editor, has had a negative impact on their self-esteem.'

So this is what 'girls' are. Neither silly creatures nor passive sex toys, but intelligent, thinking, sensitive young human beings who have a dream to simply be treated and represented as such and are brave enough to demand it.

Girls' Brigade Participation and Advocacy Co-ordinator Dr Claire Rush says 'We believe girls and women are uniquely created and their value and worth is not based on what they look like. Unfortunately that's not the message The Sun's Page 3 is communicating to a generation of young women in 2013. It's time to stop the objectification of women in the media and to start celebrating women for who they are and what they've achieved.'

That's not too much to ask on International Day of the Girl is it?

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