Blog / 2015 / My Female Colleagues Like It When I Call Them “Girls.”

October 2, 2015

Two months ago, my partner and I left the west coast to move to Richmond, Virginia. These last eight weeks have been difficult for a myriad of reasons but also completely fascinating. Travel has a way of helping you to see yourself in a new way, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that the longterm travel of moving turns up the juice on that powerful perspective-inducing aspect.

I’ve seen so many strange things here, but most of the time I’m not sure if is actually an unusual occurrence or if it’s bizarre to me but normal for the South. That’s part of why I have kept many of my observations private.

The other part is that I am a little nervous being in Richmond. I know that I’m still living in the USA, but I don’t feel safe here like I do on the west coast. And that isn’t necessarily a reflection on Virginia: it has at least as much to do with me and my identity as a west coaster as it has to do with the stuff I’ve seen in Richmond.

Still, I’m beginning to understand that keeping quiet might actually be contributing to my anxiety, so that officially ends today with a story about a lecture I attended this week.

It was given by an intellectual property lawyer, a good old boy litigator who was as slick as a used car salesman and just as annoying as one too. Throughout his talk, this lawyer referred to the two other lawyers from his firm who were present as “the girls.” These “girls” gave no visible indication as to how they felt about the term, and the other women attending the lecture didn’t seem to react either. I know I made a face every time the word came out of his mouth though, and the next day I wrote him this:

At your talk yesterday at ____, you referred to your colleagues as “girls” several times. It was unprofessional and off-putting.

He responded within a few hours:

Thank you for your note. We’re a pretty casual and friendly office, and I’m not an overly formal guy, so no pejorative connotation was intended for sure. Just being my typical colloquial self, but your point is very well taken. Others not knowing the nature of our office environment and internal friendships certainly might interpret it incorrectly, so I’ll make sure to curb that in the future. Both ____ and ____ are valuable team members and ably co-manage our RVA operations, so I’d not want my overly casual manner to detract from that internally or externally.

My Female Colleagues Like It When I Call Them “Girls.”
Gwenn Seemel
My Female Colleagues Like It When I Call Them “Girls.”
2015
marker on paper
8 x 4 inches

There are plenty of special and beautiful things about Richmond—some of which I’ve featured on my blog already, like here. What’s more, it is reassuring to be living in a city with more diversity than Portland, though, admittedly, that relief turns back to anxiety every time you meet a white Richmonder for whom “diversity” is a bad word.

All of which is to say that, like any place, Richmond is a mixed bag. I think the best bit of advice I’ve received about how to adjust to my new home came from my mother, even though it wasn’t advice meant for me. It was actually her response to the little litigator who could. When I told her about his email, she said:

O, grow up.

She’s right. He really should. And so should I.

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