In a scene from the debut episode of “Supergirl,” the CBS series based on that DC Comics character, an overworked news-media assistant named Kara Danvers (who is secretly the title heroine) challenges her boss, Cat Grant, with an important semantic question: Shouldn’t they call her Superwoman instead?

“If we call her Supergirl,” asks Kara (Melissa Benoist), “something less than what she is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-feminist?”

Pointing out that she, too, is a girl — one who is powerful, intelligent and attractive — Cat (Calista Flockhart) responds, “What do you think is so bad about ‘girl’?”

“If you perceive Supergirl as anything less than excellent,” Cat asks, “isn’t the real problem you?”

Take that conversation, which appears in this weekend’s New York Times. Flip the gender (and a few other words). Here’s what you end up with:

In a scene from the debut episode of “Superboy,” the CBS series based on that DC Comics character, an overworked news-media assistant named Kara Danvers (who is secretly the title hero) challenges his boss, Cat Grant, with an important semantic question: Shouldn’t they call him Superboy instead?

“If we call him Superboy,” asks Kara (Melissa Benoist), “something less than what he is, doesn’t that make us guilty of being anti-chauvinist?”

Pointing out that he, too, is a boy — one who is powerful, intelligent and attractive — Cat (Calista Flockhart) responds, “What do you think is so bad about ‘boy’?”

“If you perceive Superboy as anything less than excellent,” Cat asks, “isn’t the real problem you?”

In the realm of comic heroes whose names begin with “Super,” there is a “Superboy.” And there is a “Superwoman.” Neither have stuck. When we think of “Super” heroes, we think of Superman. We might think of Supergirl, which seems to happen once every 30 years or so, like an intergenerational hiccup. But for the most part, we stick with “man” and “girl” because for some reason, those feel right.

But it’s not that they are right, it’s that they are familiar. This is not a screed about comic heroes: Let those chips, which largely do not interest me, fall where they may. (Though, really, in the flipped version doesn’t this phrase: Pointing out that he, too, is a boy — one who is powerful, intelligent and attractive stand out as particularly strange and somewhat patronizing?)

Instead, this is a request for reevaluation of the use of the word “girl” for human beings who are clearly “women.”

If you are a human being identifying as female who:

  • Is over the age of 18
  • Lives alone or with a significant other
  • Pays your own way through life
  • Has a job or a career or a passion through which you receive remuneraton
  • Has responsibilities and perhaps dependents (like a child)

You are a woman.

Wait, I take that back. Let’s start over.

If you are a human being identifying as female who:

  • Is over the age of 18

You are a woman.

“But I like being called a girl! We have girl’s nights out! ‘Women’s nights out’ just sounds funny and old!”

Call yourself whatever you like. But let others who may have some sway in how the world perceives you call you “girl,” and you will be treated as such — even if only subconsciously: a dependent, immature individual who is as yet unable to make decisions for herself and/or relies on others to support her in the world. A child.

“But it sounds funny! ‘Woman’ has two syllables and ‘girl’ only one, like ‘man’!”

For real?

Stop bartering your independence for an tenuous fingerhold on vanity. A person who calls you “girl” when you clearly have a job (whatever a “news-media assistant” is) is not taking you seriously. A person who calls you a “girl” when you are being played by an actress who is 27 years of age simply does not get it. Words shape how we are perceived, both on the micro and macro scale, and we need to own the ones that help carve out our space in the universe.

It’s about respect. Imagine how many times you’ve called someone identified as male over the age of 18 a boy lately, and compare that to how often you hear “girl.” Insist on the words that are you are. Not the words someone else thinks you should be.

xo,

R