Do you know what it is like to overthink about the patriarchy? I do. It is, of course, a slippery slope. “It” being that one time, you remember the one, when you were dress-coded in high school, but you shouldn’t have been at all because it was hot as blazes outside. You know what the “it” is.
This “it,” to which I am referring, also encapsulates what I think about “Girl Dinner” and group nouns, as in, what we call a group of nouns: for example, mice, not mouses, geese, not gooses. I am no stranger to “Girl Dinner,” I think few of us are. Lord knows I’ve had my fair share of cheese sticks and toast with brown sugar and a side of celery sticks when nothing else seemed appealing. But I never considered it to be something only girls did or even something that was of enough importance that it could possibly have a name. It was just what I did. It was just what happened.
I believe it was in the summer of 2023 when my semi-habitual routine began to have a name. “Girl Dinner.”
There has been plenty of discourse on whether or not “Girl Dinner” is a sexist idea. Why is it that certain eating habits must be given a gender? Why is it “Girl Dinner,” not “snack dinner,” or some other name? But I would like to propose that what is most interesting about “Girl Dinner” is its twin, “Boy Dinner,” and how it relates to group nouns.
When referring to a group of women, the group noun I hear most often is “girls.” The idea of “girls” has taken over, in a sense. Many chats I’ve had with my teenage brother have to do with “girls” he likes. And “girls” has taken over my own life as well. I am a legal adult, a 19-year-old, and am, technically speaking, not a girl. But “girl” is, nevertheless, the word I use to describe myself most: I am a 19-year-old girl, and a girl is not a woman. In my own head, it feels almost cringe to refer to myself as a woman. I always get a certain amount of secondhand embarrassment in movies like Titanic, when Jack says to Rose, “You are the most amazingly astounding wonderful girl, woman, that I have ever known.” Ew.
When I refer to myself as a woman, it is as if I am giving myself a level of power I have neither earned nor deserve. My grandmother, for example, is a woman: a prison chaplain in northern Canada who is the daughter of illegal immigrants and who rode motorcycles all around Canada. I respect her very much, which is why she will always be a woman until long after we are both dead. This is why, when I refer to myself as a girl, I feel as if I am shrinking myself. It is as if I am shouting from the rooftops that the person who was a girl at five, at six, at seven has not changed with age and still sees the world with the inexperienced five, six, or seven-year-old eyes she once had. But for men, it doesn’t matter what age they are, they can be a guy when they are six or 60. When one is at the age when they are neither a boy nor a man, they are simply a “guy.” Easy-peasy. Done. Guy. That’s it.
Perhaps this is why there is something about the “Girl Dinner” trend that I sort of adore: the inverse to “Girl Dinner” is not “guy dinner,” it’s “Boy Dinner.” Similarly, the inverse to “girl” is not “guy,” it’s “boy.” What the female equivalent to “guy” is, I do not know. But I would encourage us to also think about how we say “girls” and how we say “boys.” Because, weirdly, “Boy Dinner” feels like a dismantling of something intangible but so, so present: the sexism in group nouns.