When I was in high school, my best friend’s mom was a powerhouse. She was raising six(!) teenage boys, keeping an immaculate house, preparing delicious meals big enough to feed an army on a tight budget, and always making herself available for a non-judgmental chat or friendly pep talk.
She was up before the rest of the house and was always the last to go to bed.
Yet somehow, when she hosted a church women’s group at the house (adding to her already intense work load) people invariably called it a meeting of “the girls,” making it sound to my adolescent ears like something not very important or significant.
Of course when her husband (who didn’t work half as hard as she did) hosted a deacons meeting, it was a serious matter indeed, a gathering of men and elders, a concentration of power and responsibility.
While I sometimes felt mildly curious about why hard working, capable women like my friend’s mom were called girls, I didn’t really question it. I internalized the values, I’m pretty sure.
In my teenage mind, the “girls” meetings couldn’t possibly have been as important or as meaningful as the men’s. I eventually grew out of that kind of sloppy thinking, but not thanks to the paternalistic words men (and women) in my world chose to use.