Difference between Girls and Women

Key difference: ‘Girl’ refers to a female from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood, after which she is usually referred to as a ‘woman’. ‘Girl’ can also be used to refer to a young woman, while, ‘woman’ may be used to refer to female regardless of age.

The term ‘girl’ and ‘women’ are used to refer to females. ‘Girl’ refers to a female from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood, after which she is usually referred to as a ‘woman’. ‘Girl’ can also be used to refer to a young woman, while, ‘woman’ may be used to refer to female regardless of age.

The oldest appearance of the word ‘girl’ dates back to the Middle Ages between 1250 and 1300 CE. It is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘gerle’, also spelled as ‘girle’ or ‘gurle’. The Anglo-Saxon word ‘gerela’ means dress or clothing item, and was probably used in the same context.

The word ‘woman’ is derived form the Old English word, ‘wīfmann’ which means ‘female human’, whereas ‘wēr’ meant ‘male human’. Mann or monn stood for ‘human’, ‘person’ or ‘someone’, irrespective of gender. However, over time ‘man’ began to be used more in reference to ‘male human’, and ‘wīfmann’ became ‘woman’. The first part of ‘wīfmann’ began to be used as ‘wife’, referring to a married woman.

Since 1530, ‘girl’ has meant any young unmarried woman, while the term ‘girlfriend’ first appeared in 1892. However, in modern terminology, ‘girl’ is any female from birth to till the age of 18, as that is when most cultures deem that a person becomes an adult. An adult female, is always referred to as a ‘woman’.

Referring to an adult female as a girl is considered derogatory or disrespectful in professional or other formal contexts, same as referring to a man as a boy. Hence, many feminists challenge the use of girl to refer to a young or unmarried woman, as this implies that the person is not mature enough to be deemed an adult. This is why the phrase, “You’re acting like a girl” or “You're just a girl” are considered reprimanding and insulting. However, to contradict these uses of girls, many women have thence adopted the term ‘girls’ to refer to females in general. Thus, phrases such as “All us girls” or “A girls’ night out”.

In some cultures, girl is a young female who is never-married, and hence is considered to be a virgin. Referring to a never-married female as a woman, may imply that she is sexually experienced, which would tarnish her honor, as well as her family’s honor.

Essentially puberty is the defining characteristic, as a female is a girl, before completing puberty, and a ‘woman’ when she is physically an adult, and old enough to marry and bear children. Many cultures have rites of passage to symbolize a girl's coming of age, i.e. when she becomes a woman. These rites of passage include confirmation in some branches of Christianity, bat mitzvah in Judaism, Quinceañera in Latin America, etc.

Image Courtesy: sparklegamer.com, old-photos.blogspot.in

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