Girls at the Olympics

07/08/2012 17:07 BST | Updated 07/10/2012 10:12 BST

One of the things that I have found rather disturbing and depressing about the Olympics is how often the commentators refer to the women competing as "girls". I occasionally hear male competitors referred to as "boys", but most often they are "men". So why are women treated so disrespectfully?

"Girl" is a term for human females from birth through adolescence. It's true that some people use it for women in an affectionate way (my grandmother, who is about to turn 90, might talk about having lunch with "the girls" or might refer to her 60-something daughters as "girls"), but generally, when it is employed for women in their late teens and older, it seems disparaging. This is because it makes women seem younger and weaker and less able than they actually are.

This happens in society at large, and not just at the Olympics, but given how public the Olympics are, it seems a shame that women are still regarded as being less than men. A recent New Yorker magazine cover by Frank Viva exemplifies this.

His piece is called "London 2012" and it shows nine stylised athletes. All nine figures are male. Considering how historic the London Olympics actually are in terms of gender equality - this is the first year in which men and women are competing from every single country, which is a major achievement - it seems quite odd that Viva and the New Yorker promote the idea that the Olympics are about men.

But then again, if women are viewed as "girls" - while males are full-grown "men" - their contributions to the Olympics, among many other events, would naturally be downgraded, and perhaps seen as "sweet" or "cute" rather than "impressive" or as the culmination of many years of relentless effort and exertion.

Women have worked so hard to attain the rights they have, and of course the fight for equality is far from over. At stake here is the right to be respected and treated fairly, regardless of gender. Using the term "girl" diminishes women; it makes them seem to be children, and that in turn suggests that they need to be protected and taken care of, most likely by men. Women, as opposed to girls, do not require men to make decisions for them or to watch over them; women are adults with commensurate rights and responsibilities.

It's time to drop the usage of "girl" for anyone but young females and to begin recognising women for who and what they actually are.