I recently attended the stateside launch party for Issue #12 of Riposte magazine, an independent publication founded championing issues from social media self-care to disability funding with a decidedly woman-focused voice. I serendipitously discovered Riposte through Instagram’s algorithm and was thrilled to see they would be holding their launch the subsequent week. Held at Brooklyn’s Picture Room, we heard from Canadian-Lebanese designer and guest editor, Céline Samaan, on sustainability in the fashion industry beyond band-aids like Guppy Bags and washing machine filters but on true sustainability at scale.
“If there’s waste, you’ve done something wrong.”Céline Semaan, Slow Factory
But this isn’t a story about sustainability (that’s for another time, trust me). This is about women and the words we use. As I browsed the new issue sporting a cover with one of my favorite R&B singers, Mahalia, and sipped on all-natural wine from local Glou, a woman approached me to share her sentiment about me: “That woman is so tall!” only to realize that there was a step in the room. While I’m used to people commenting on my 6’1 frame, I couldn’t help but be taken aback at her choice of word. Woman. I can count on one hand, if that, the number of times someone has referred to me as a woman rather than a girl. And I realize part of this is perhaps the location (a room full of sophisticated, educated women) and perhaps my age is showing (I’m fairly certain a crease is forming above my brows) yet still, I wrapped myself in the phrase, warmer than my leopard coat.
She didn’t know the power she held with that word but for someone who feels like an imposter: at work and at home and on the sidewalks of my beloved city, woman showered upon me, christening me with the feeling that I had made It. More than receiving my first job offer in New York, more than moving into my first apartment on my own, being called woman by a stranger at a party gave me the most power I’ve felt in my adulthood. It confirmed everything that I had ever wanted to become. I was no longer “that tall girl,” I was a woman. A woman who went to magazine launch parties in Brooklyn and drank wine while listening to stories of women-led entrepreneurship. A woman who is on her way to becoming everything she has ever envisioned for herself.
Woman. How long had I longed to become her? How long had I worked to be taken seriously? I recently engaged in an, admittedly, accidentally heated, discussion in the comments section of Facebook (I know, *Facebook* but I just couldn’t help myself) in which an older woman referred to me as “kid.” Despite being the one to have the audacity to move to a city of eight million with nothing but savings and a dream, despite being the one to graduate with a college degree, despite being the one to build a new life for myself outside of my hometown, she reduced me to everything that I’m trying to prove I’m not in one word of a Facebook comment. It felt like a kick in the gut. And while it’s comforting to know I’m proving myself to myself, it was a blow nonetheless, especially from another woman, one who had I had known since childhood. I couldn’t help myself form wondering, when will we respect young women as autonomous beings, in charge of our lives in every aspect? In charge of our opinions, our bodies, our sexualities, our beliefs, our lives?
This sentiment isn’t restricted to Facebook comments, either. I can’t help but cringe every time I hear the term “Girlboss” (I’m looking at you, Sophia Amoruso) or “Mompreneur” and it just underlines everything that I’m trying not to be. I think as women we’re used to co-opting terms and shaping them to somehow become more traditionally feminine, as if adding “girl” softens the blow. It’s an apology for assertiveness, it’s confidence in shades of bubblegum and coral, as if being a “boss” is something canonically reserved for masculinity.
I’m not a 24 year-old girl. I’m a 24 year-old woman.
And more than anything, I’m a human.
In many ways, I’m still striving. I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be solved with a stranger in a crowded room calling me a “woman,” but it’s moments like these that remind me who I am becoming. When my professional ideas aren’t taken seriously until a man presents them months later, when I express my opinion online and am dismissed, when politicians want to regulate what I’m allowed to do with my body, I have to fight to feel like I am my own. But I’m feeling more like her everyday and I love her. She is the result of centuries of struggle and striving and rebellion. I can’t wait to make her proud.