Fall TV: Where the men are men and the women are girls.
Three new comedies, "2 Broke Girls" on CBS, "New Girl" on Fox and HBO's "Girls," revolve around female twentysomethings living in New York City. They join, of course, "Bad Girls Club" the Oxygen reality series that is already in progress. (Progress is a term we use loosely here.)
Zooey Deschanel is often delightful and will likely prove so in "New Girl." And we're all for more female protagonists. But aren't they all a little old to be "girls"?
"Girl has a sense of youth and freedom that's very appealing," says Carolyn Bronstein, associate professor at DePaul University and author of the newly released "Battling Pornography: The American Feminist Anti-Pornography Movement, 1976-1986" (Cambridge University Press). "Girls are young and sexual and pretty and focused on their bodies and focused on attracting people of the opposite sex. A girl doesn't have to take things so seriously."
And what, dare we ask, is a woman?
"Woman carries the image of an older, strident, militant kind of feminist presence that is, in popular culture today, frowned upon," says Bronstein. "Woman just weighs heavily, and girl is light."
Bronstein attributes the language to two things in our culture. First, a celebration of youth.
"I once read a New York Times headline that said, 'We will not go gently into that Eileen Fisher store,' " Bronstein laughs. "And it's true. We continue to jam ourselves into skinny jeans and tight-fitting clothing and keep up this societal obsession with youth."
Second, an embrace of what Bronstein calls "third wave feminism."
"Girl power is kind of the battle cry of third wave feminism," says Bronstein. "It stands for embracing your girliness, embracing your feminine side, not being afraid to be silly, not being afraid to be pretty, embracing your sexuality."
Contrast that with '60s and '70s feminism, she says, which is viewed as "militant, issue-oriented, serious and angry."
Not really the stuff of prime-time sitcoms, in other words.
"Why wouldn't you cloak yourself in the language of girls," she points out, "as opposed to the language of women, that's really perceived quite negatively in a lot of corners?"
We ran the topic by one of our favorite girls, Mignon Fogarty, who blogs and podcasts as Grammar Girl and who wrote "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" (Holt Paperbacks).
Fogarty says she's caught some heat over the years for calling herself "girl," but she likes the alliteration of her moniker and notes that "a true feminist would let me call myself anything I want."
"Because grammar can be intimidating," she adds, "I wanted a name for my podcast and website that would feel friendly and approachable."
Maybe it's time to coin a phrase that lies somewhere between "woman" and "girl."
"It would be nice to have a female equivalent of 'guy,' " Fogarty acknowledges. "I suppose it would be 'gal,' but that sounds quite antiquated."
" 'Gal' sounds like someone in her 60s," scoffs Bronstein.
And we know they don't make sitcoms about those folks. Except "Golden Girls," that is.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun