Dismissive Language and Feminism: “That Girl”

One of the issues we face when we are both feminist and vocal is being labeled as “that girl.” That girl who won’t shut up, that girl who complains about everything, that girl

Yes I am.

who just can’t take a joke. Yes, I’m that girl. I’m that woman, that person. That person who stands up for her rights and the rights of others, who calls people out for being misogynist or homophobic or racist or anything else, who takes offense when offense should be taken. I keep thinking that if we all started being “that girl, ” then maybe we wouldn’t have to be singled out for speaking up for human rights. What a wonderful thing that would be. Until then, those of us who voice our opinions just get to be “one of those.”

And it’s always “girl,” isn’t it? It isn’t “woman” or “lady,” and it certainly isn’t “person.” It’s girl, which is both condescending and infantalizing, and positions the user as one who is wiser or better than. When paired with a phrase like “one of those” it becomes even worse, because “those” people are not desirable. This language has been used over and over again for years and years to oppress and demean various marginalized groups in many different ways, and its purpose is always to hide under a veil of politeness. Because, you know, they aren’t really saying anything bad! It’s not like the used a slur or anything! So it may seem mostly harmless, but those words have a much deeper meaning.

The problem isn’t just the words that are used; it’s the dismissal behind them. Saying that I’m just “one of those” when I do something like, oh, throw some rape statistics at an apologist, is dismissive. Women’s words already mean nothing to so many, but apparently they mean even less when those words are feminist. This language is used to dismiss us, our facts, and our opinions as being nothing more than silly radicalism. I lump this in with the whole “it’s just a phase” thing, particularly when the words are coming from someone older than myself in a self-perceived position of power. Well, guess what, Mom? My feminism isn’t a phase (like so many other things you want to dismiss), and my facts are real and evidence-based. I’m not being some edgy youngster – I’m fighting for the rights of those who deserve them.

I imagine that, in part, the disdainful terminology is based in the fear that because we typically back up our social justice with facts, we’re smarter than everyone else. Think of it as a sort of know-it-all syndrome. When I start fact-slamming, I know that at least one person is thinking that I’m some liberal intellectual elitist and having flashbacks to the kid in grade school who knew every answer. And because I am a woman, I imagine it’s worse, because usually if I’m debating someone on this, they’re at least somewhat sexist. And we all know how sexists feel about smart ladies! Sorry I’m not living up to your stereotyped ideal. Oh wait, no, I’m not.

All of the whispers behind my back, the snarky comments that I’m meant to hear, the words about me said to someone else within earshot, the stories I hear from eavesdropping friends mean only one thing to me. When I hear that I’m “that girl” or one of “those women’s lib types,” when someone sighs heavily or clicks their tongue or rolls their eyes when I open my mouth, when I hear someone say, “Here she goes again!” or, “ugh,” all I know is that I’m doing something right. I have a reputation for speaking out, and I’m happy with that because I know that, at the very least, people are listening. They may not like what I’m saying, but they’re hearing it well enough to remember it. I hope that one day, if they hear it enough, maybe they might start thinking that hey, women do deserve the right to choose what happens to their bodies. They might realize that queer people are people like everyone else, that equality is a right, and that sexuality is complex and nuanced. Maybe they might start seeing that rape is real and that survivors aren’t lying about it for attention/money/shame.

One day I hope that we won’t need those labels. One day I hope that we’ll all agree on human rights and autonomy, and everyone will stick up for everyone else. We’ll all be “one of those,” so that none of us need to be “that girl/woman/guy/person.” But as for right now, the patriarchy can take that dismissive language and eat it, because I will not be dismissed. Our premise is valid, and we can never allow it to be dismissed.

By Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

4 replies on “Dismissive Language and Feminism: “That Girl””

On top of everything else, ‘girl’ makes my skin crawl when it’s used to demean or even describe a grown woman too.

I tend to find that certain people think that my feminism/humanism beliefs and opinions are okay – when it’s convenient for them. Like, they’ll humor me and ‘allow’ me to talk about my opinions so long as it’s not putting them out any. They’ll mansplain things to counter all of those pesky things about women with things about men to ‘be fair.’ Yeah, I’d better get some male perspective, there’s never any of that around everywhere all the time… But if I want to bring it up at an ‘inconvenient’ time? When I won’t just sit back and let some sexist buffoon railroad me? Well, somehow then I become ‘that girl’ indeed.

And then there’s my husband, who does all of the above at times. He’ll also come home from work and vent about his day, share his thoughts on everything, and has lots of opportunities to communicate with me, but will suddenly get melodramatic if I want to talk about women’s issues and/or my feelings as a woman about them. He doesn’t get why I get upset about the lack of parity in our relationship, and avoids things he doesn’t want to deal with. I feel like I give him a safe space to be himself; he is not exactly gender-rigid and you’d think that would make him more considerate; but if anything, it just makes him think that his issues with gender identity are way more important than any women’s issues, or even mine in particular. It’s WATM to the extreme.

And of course, there’s most people, who like to find any means to bully and shut up women. The women who care so much about male approval and attention that they’ll mock anyone who cares about equal rights. The ones who think ‘they got theirs’ who benefit from the status quo and don’t want to change. The men who think of women as things that exist for them, not with them. There’s so many of them. And I know it’s tiring, overwhelming, and comes at personal cost to not just conform and go with the sexist flow. But it’s worth it.


We get the same issue in disability rights. I’m one of “those disabled people”, the “bad autistic,” the “non compliant crazy”. Speaking the truth that people don’t want to face, talking about injustice makes you one of “those”- whether it’s one of “those girls” or one of “those disabled people” or one of “those [insert wide range of racial epitaphs here]”.

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