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Memo to My Male Colleagues: Don’t Call Me ‘Girl’

I think if I live to be a 150, I’ll still be called “girl” by my Israeli male colleagues.

The term is still alive and kicking in the Israeli workforce. A reporter friend of mine once told me that years ago, when she interviewed Ehud Olmert — certainly not the most savory of characters, but still — he prefaced his reply with “maideleh,” or little girl.

I can’t say how many times I’ve fought against men calling me “girl,” whether it’s saying it privately or in a meeting. I’m not shy. I tell them: That’s the last time you call me “girl.” Usually, there’s silence — the silence of not getting it. Sometimes the conversation goes something like this:

Israeli male: What happened? What did I say? All I did was call you “girl.”

Anglo-Israeli Nettie: In the US, calling me “girl” can be considered harassment.

Israeli male: But why? What did I do? What’s wrong with calling you “girl”? You’re making something out of nothing.

What makes this situation most galling is that Israeli women — at least the ones I’ve met — don’t seem to get what the fuss is all about. “I love being called a girl, it makes me feel young,” says one powerful project leader in the high-tech industry.

“What’s the big deal?” Why do you make such a fuss? It’s only the guys, after all. Who even listens?” says another crackerjack marketing professional.

Once I tried an experiment: I worked with an Israeli sales manager — you know the type, aggressive, always on the defensive and seemingly very sure of himself. He called me “girl,” in front of my colleagues. Instead of my usual, “that’s the last-time-you-call-me-girl,” I smiled and said: Yes, noki (noki is slang for tinok, or baby). I continued to call him noki every time he addressed me.

He said nothing.

Did he not hear it? Did he choose not to hear it? Was he insulted?

We live in a society that many outsiders praise for its egalitarian attitude; after all, women are also required to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. But we are actually living in a very patriarchal society, where women are still not being paid the same salaries, still bumping their heads against the glass ceiling and still are not taken seriously enough.

And I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to say it begins with calling us “girl.” Because if a man calls you a girl in a professional or even a non-professional setting, it’s a statement that you’re only a girl.

I have not lived in the United States for nearly 30 years, but I’m sure that, despite many inroads, there’s also plenty of room for improvement on the “girl” front stateside.

To ignore or laugh it off just perpetuates things. So why don’t more women say, point blank: Don’t call me “girl”? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Start squeaking.

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