A close friend and I were ensconced in the armchairs next to the pick-up counter at the local coffee boutique, as is our wont on a weekend morning (at best, we view this once-weekly chat as cheap therapy; at worst, we're just hiding from our kids).

We were deep in conversation as the patrons milled about, and so were a little startled when a middle-aged man brightly said, "Good morning, girls!" as he reached for his java.

Now, I was a card-carrying member of N.O.W. (Ooh look! A pun!) in my youth, so I couldn't resist. I looked over my shoulder at the wall, confused, and then turned back to our new friend and smiled. "Are you talking to us? Because we're grown women."

He winced, and it was his turn to be genuinely, and understandably, confused. After all, can't we take a compliment? He told us how he always called young women under the age of 18 "ladies" because they like to feel older and he was equally certain that women of a certain age liked to be called "girls." So he was just trying to be nice to us women "of a certain age."

It left me wondering: What's my deal with that? Why have I always bristled when I hear a woman called a girl?

The Associated Press stylebook is clear: The word "girl" is applicable only until the 18th birthday. But that's not it.

The common, women's-libber reason for The Bristle is the whole drill about how calling a 50-year old woman a "girl" is a way of minimizing her, of making her less threatening (the way my husband keeps tossing me herbal mood lifters while my perimenopause rages does give some credence to this; maybe I could use a little de-threatening some days).

But even that's not what bugs me about this so-called courtesy. I've been thinking about it ever since our encounter with Java Man and can only conclude: I bristle when people assume that I need to be flattered like that. That my psyche is so fragile that, not only can I not be reminded that I'm 50 years old, I'm so brittle I must be actively lied to about it. And that I'm so dumb that I can be deluded into thinking that someone actually thinks I'm some ingénue. And that I'm so starved for positive attention that the thought someone wanted to lie to me to try to make me feel better should make me feel better. And that the lie that I look like I'm 17, should I be insane enough to entertain it, is something that would make me feel better.

When in all truth? The lie "Have you lost weight?" would do all the above and then some.

Here are the facts: I will never pass for 17 again, thank goodness, as I hated the way I looked then. I'm liking the looks of the woman I've aged into, and hope that I continue to like her looks as I get older. My age is an achievement, and not a cringe-worthy one.

Oh, and for the record: "N.O.W" stands for "National Organization for Women." Just in case you're too young to know that.

You know: Like, if you're a girl.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at elizabethann40@hotmail.com. Her column appears monthly.


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