Infantalization is an oldie but baddie in the rich pageant of misogyny’s offerings. First you require women to act in immature ways in order to be considered properly feminine, and then you make fun of them for being immature. As a bonus, you then get to sexualize actual children since there’s no distinction between a girl and a woman. I’m not going to go into the full implications of that, because it’s just too dark for me on a Monday morning as the second cup of black (like my soul) coffee kicks in.
Calling a grown woman a girl implies that she’s not fully human, not fully capable of making her own choices, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. It also codes into language the unspoken but known by all assumption that women should be girls—that is to say should stay young for ever and once we are no longer young should strive to make an artifice of youth by starving our bodies to girlish thinness, by covering up the character in our faces with makeup, by turning our bitter, mirthless laugh into an appropriate giggle, by erasing from our bodies not only the signs of age but even the signs of puberty. When you really start to think about it, it’s creepy as get out.
When someone calls women who play video games “girl gamers” I’m 99% sure (numbers provided by the Bureau of Statistics Made Up on the Spot) they don’t mean it that way. I’m sure if I pointed it out they would say, first, whoa, why so seriouscat! and second if they were more sympathetic, hey, I didn’t mean it that way.
That’s part of the problem though. Infantilization of women is precisely calculated to make women not serious subjects, not to be taken seriously, and even the infantilization itself isn’t serious. As I learned from my intersectionality studies though, intent is not magic. You don’t have to mean it that way for it to mean what it means. Misogyny is pernicious. Sometimes it’s hidden by being presented as natural, other times it’s presented as something not very serious.
Changing language without changing the assumptions behind it isn’t enough. I don’t want to fall into that trap where we merely change the labels without changing what’s behind them. But language is an easy place to start the analysis and the change.
That’s why I’m always careful to call us women gamers, not girl gamers. In this small campaign, I take inspiration from the Olympics, where on television the women’s sporting events used to be referred to as girls’ events, ostensibly on the grounds that the women competing were quite young. But so were the men and no one called it the boy’s gymnastics event. It took a lot of social pressure to change the language, and one hopes that has lead to women athletes being taken more seriously.