Open Letter to Jay Leno by Sarah Lanoie

Dear Jay Leno,

We as women know how much you support women, especially the Afghan Women with the help of your wife, Mavis. Your and Mavis’ donation of $100,000, used to help start the foundations’ global women’s rights program was really appreciated. Supporting your wife and her work is recognized and respected within the feminist community.

However, we have one concern. We have been noticing that when you introduce or talk about women you call them “girls”. This may be unintentional, but it has occurred many times. For example, in one of your current episodes, aired on December 1, 2011, you are talking about the Lexus “December to Remember Commercial.” You are introducing the commercial and describing what it is about by saying “the girl opens it and hears the Lexus song”. It is pretty obvious that the “girl” you are referring to is not a girl; she is a woman. You can easily tell that this actress is a grown adult who is portraying a mother of two children.

You are probably thinking, why is this a problem? The problem with this is that it is seen as degrading and sexist to women. There is a lack of respect when women are called things other than their names; especially when they are called girl and babe. Girl and babe are the names that de-age women in a negative way.

Women who have clearly past maturity do not like to be considered little girls. The idea of treating and viewing adults as children is called infantilization.  “Infantilization of women is precisely calculated to make women not serious subjects, not to be taken seriously”. Women are infantilized by society in a way that makes us seem stupid and unintelligent. It makes people upset when women have powerful positions and jobs because they believe all women are childish and incapable of hard work because women are seen as girls and babies.

Men are never referred to as boys if they are clearly past maturity. This should be the same for women. Women are not happy to be called girls if they have already passed maturity because it is demeaning. Using the word “girl” instead of women objectifies women. The word seems to erase the individual person and humanity. “Calling a grown woman a girl implies that she’s not fully human, not fully capable of making her own choices, and shouldn’t be taken seriously.” Calling a woman girl makes her seem less then human. It allows women to be viewed like animals who have no respect for themselves and who are incompetent. It is saying that women cannot control their behavior because they are girls.

Even though the word women could be seen as the same in terms of calling a female girl, it denotes more respect. The word has a connation that implies respect compared to girl.

According to the Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “She was a shy and awkward girl who grew up to become a confident and beautiful woman.” The dictionary plays to this connation. The dictionary even portrays how being a woman is a step up from being a girl. It shows the respect the woman gets now that she is “beautiful and confident” instead of “shy and awkward”.

For some women, being referred to as a girl is like being called “babe”. Babe comes from the word baby. No one wants to be referred to as a baby; even toddlers want to be called “big girls”, not babies. Women seem to only be happy with being called babe if it is from someone they have a significant relationship with. This seems to be the only case that it is acceptable to be called babe.

One woman accurately describes why being called babe is intolerable, “It’s like I’m being metaphorically patted on the head and someone’s thinking ‘aww isn’t she cute.’” Just like being called girl, babe is trying to put women lower on the status pole. It is allowing men to look down on women and make them feel like they have no control. It is placing women in a position.

Being called “girl” and “babe” in a professional field is unacceptable. In the place of work, women find it extremely sexists and disrespectful if their bosses call them “babe” or “girl”. A survey of 2,500 women taken in 2009, found that their boss called 93% of the women “babe” one or more times. How are women supposed to be respected and move up in the business world if they are referred to as babies? When men are looking down on women enough for them to call women babies, they are exerting their social power. It is making male bosses over look their hardworking female employees because they are viewing them as children.

Back to what we want you to do Mr. Leno. We have no proof and we do not believe you are calling professional women “babe”, but we would like you to stop referring to women as “girls” unless they are girls. Taking this small action and recognizing what you are saying will help other people recognize how these small words are degrading women.

Thank you.


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