The Civil Service Girls

When do you stop being a ‘girl’? It seems to me that if you work in the public sector in Ireland, than you will be a ‘girl in the office’ until retirement. Is this sexist or just a another cultural difference that I don’t quite understand? While it doesn’t seem to bother anyone particularly but me to hear grown working women referred solely to ‘the girls’ or ‘the girl, I can’t help feeling it represents a systemic disrespect in the Council that I worked in that goes beyond language.  Now this would certainly not the first time that I would be accused of taking things too seriously and making too big a deal out of equality stuff so I am open to the possibility that I am simply missing the intent.

So who is a girl and who is a non-girl? I would hope as a non-girl, that I’ve reached woman status but I suspect there could be other less endearing ways to refer to us non-girls!

Do you have to be young, sweet and single to be a girl? No, doesn’t appear to be any correlation to age, temperament nor marital status.

You can be a bitter, frumpy, 45 year old with a man’s haircut and a mustache and still be a girl if you sit at a certain desk usually surrounded by other ‘girls’. In fact, it took me a while not to laugh when I heard some women referred to as girls because they were so far beyond being girls it seemed ludicrous to pretend otherwise.

Is it a sign of affection and endearment used by men for women they’ve worked with for years? Possibly. Is it just common Irish slang, like referring to men of any age in certain contexts as lads? Possibly but I don’t ever hear anyone referring to a meeting of the Senior Management Team or Directors as ‘the lads are meeting in the conference room’ so it seems to have more significance than simply being an expression although that is the preferred explanation when pressed.  Most commonly men and women are referring to ‘the girls in the front office’ or ‘the girl at reception’ who they are offering up to provide some admin or secretarial support or make tea and coffee.  The context is what makes the language sexist.

These positions and employees are always women. It is hard to compare how a man would be treated in a similar role because simply there appear to be no men in clerical roles. They are just so good at administrative and clerical tasks that they fly through the grades and receive promotion after promotion despite that fact that I’ve worked with numerous life long civil servants who couldn’t’[t write a letter or even seem to type and have zero phone skills. Hmm?

A clerical officer once asked me “Don’t you have someone who does all this for you?” referring to sending emails, making phone calls, updating outlook calendars, and reminding her boss to ring or meet people. I couldn’t help laugh and replied “I don’t know any woman who doesn’t do all that stuff herself and come to think about it, I don’t know one man who does.”

I hope this culture is simply just the leftover sexism from an all around out-dated and unfit for purpose Irish public sector.  Is everyone a ‘girl’ in the private sector? Is the American civil service any different? Or am I just an uptight Yank missing the point?

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