The Vagenda

Girls on The Apprentice

So the other day, I was watching The Apprentice (just for the lolz, not for the power-dressing tips). This can be a troubling experience for me, mostly because I have to deal with the fact that a man named Lord Sugar is actually not anything like Gene Wilder in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (although I do see him as Willy Wonka’s capitalist candy-making nemesis with golden tickets to gold. Kind of.) 
This time, however, there was a whole different thing I noticed that had me staring thoughtfully into my dinner-time bowl of Special K like it was the tea leaves of FEMINIST ISSUES.
It was in the boardroom, and the female contestants were referring to themselves and their teammates as ‘girls’, even when trying to explain how their all-female team failed the flat-pack furniture task (oh yeah, that’s a task.) Now, I struggle with the boardroom dénouement at the best of times. There’s something tragic about watching a group of adults argue amongst themselves like young cousins vying to become the one child whose name their emotionally-stunted grandfather remembers at Christmas, when we all secretly know that the ONE PERSON Lord Sugar really wants in the room left several series ago (Margaret, still miss you). But, in all honesty, this girl thing really bothers me. Why, exactly, would a woman in (what the producers and set-designers clearly intend to portray as) a high-pressure work environment – trying to convince a potential employer that she is capable of doing work stuff well, if not way better than her competitors – refer to herself as someone who has yet to achieve maturity? We all know That Female Thing of apparently trying to make yourself less threatening to men, but surely, if there’s anywhere to be hard-nosed, it’s The Apprentice (Neil is offish ‘prepared to trample over people’, just so we know.)
And the reason this ‘innocuous’ problem grinds my gears is because it’s one of those things that’s so pervasive that it doesn’t seem offensive at all. I’m sure the couriers who turn up at my desk calling me ‘sweetie’ and ‘princess’ don’t consciously think they need to baby me through the devastatingly stressful process of signing one of those phone-things, but the implication still hangs around like a bad brand of J-Lo-sponsored perfume. And you can be sure that they wouldn’t take that attitude with one of my male colleagues.  The thing is, at work, the way you address people matters – that’s why everyone gets up in their grill when you sign off an email to the MD ‘keep hanging loose’, rather than ‘kind regards’. And calling a woman a ‘girl’ denies the possibility of her having seniority. A girl doesn’t head up a board meeting or lead a pitch, because she’s too busy applying lip-gloss in the loos or gossiping by the water coolers. She’s a schoolchild.
It was Uzma who referred to ‘the girls’ in her team though, not Willy Wonka’s nemesis. She’s definitely self-referencing; nobody is ostensibly thrusting this linguistic insult upon her.  Girls are the fun, cute ones (if not the ones you need to take seriously) and those are kind of the things that us-with-the-vaginas are meant to aspire to be, right? Likeability is the golden chalice of womanhood: something to which we all are all expected to aspire. Our culture is all about women having to be youthful and beautiful to be relevant and worth attention. Hell, even everyone’s favourite of-the-moment, hailed-as-feminist TV series is named Girls. Some guys even seem to think it’s a compliment not to call us women – because it is just so gross to be ‘old’ in Uterus Land. Men don’t have that problem: in fact, Mad Men are probably the coolest people on TV right now, and they don’t have to be boys to be worth watching. Besides, a man calling another man a ‘boy’ would be regarded as devastatingly insulting (disregard Made In Chelsea for this one – but then, surely, you always do anyway?)
But then, what are the dudes on The Apprentice responsible for? Well – SPOILER ALERT – Zee got fired this week. I think we all knew it was going to happen as soon as he called Dubai ‘a second home’. Turns out he meant it like one of those second homes Justin Bieber probably has, the one that he sent his PA to buy after his accountant told him to diversify his portfolio. He only ever goes there to deposit pets he’s got bored of, so he doesn’t really remember the route from the front door to the stairs or anything like that. 
Zee also managed to go out in a shit-storm of sexism accusations, which totally hurt his feelings. All the female hysteria got so offensive that he had to tell Natalie to ‘calm down with your language’ when she started chucking the word ‘chauvinistic’ around just because he took the only two women in his team back into the boardroom with him. Even though Kurt had GOT CONFUSED BETWEEN CENTIMETRES AND INCHES (for serious) and Neil had both bought the wrong item (resulting in a fine) and used the phrase ‘I’m in a very very hurry’. But, whatevs. At one point Leah got so unreasonable that Zee had to get her to pass the phone to the nearest man so, you know, you’re probably right Zee: it wasn’t your behaviour that was insulting; it was those bolshy ‘girls’ calling you out on it that was.


Of course, if you want to describe a person of the female persuasion there are other options apart from ‘girls’ – like ‘ladies’, for example, which is supposed to be polite and respectful when you’re in the 1920s, but often sarcastic and demeaning otherwise. ‘Ladies’ comes with that whole unspoken reminder to be ‘ladylike’  – which is basically just reminding us not to do fun stuff like sex or drinking or voicing thoughts too much. And then there’s the old Heat-esque LAYDEEZ spelling which gives me stress spasms (seriously, I typed LA CUCTG the first time round.) But I feel like that covers most of the workplace bases. Not including the names you say under your breath. 
At the end of the day, we all have the right to self-reference as we like, including Uzma and her ‘girls’. I merrily marched down Piccadilly identifying as a ‘slut’ not so long ago, and it felt empowering and important. What bothers me is that in the place that I work, and in the culture that surrounds me, women are constantly referenced as children. It doesn’t sound respectful to me, and it carries on that whole trope of news items that wonder if ‘women and children’ – those tiny, silly, defenceless little souls – are a part of ‘people’ killed or wounded in the latest war or natural disaster.
So, from the dregs of my feminist teacup, some of the new TV we could enjoy if ‘girls’ wasn’t so prevalent:
Two Broke Women: a show written and produced by parents of arts grads who failed to do law conversion, detailing the tragic lives of middle-aged ladies with no money. Because it’s only OK to be broke when you’re young. No one can live off VKs forever.
New Woman: post-divorce mother of grown-up children has an epiphany and becomes a late-onset hippy. Alec Baldwin appears as Jack-Donaghy-from-30-Rock-with-a-different-name/ her appalled Republican ex-husband, mostly because I miss Jack Donaghy.
Women: named after the cry of exasperation from our four young, male protagonists as they try to find their places in the Big Apple. Main character, Hansel, thinks he may be the voice of his generation for expressing how hard it is for him to grow up/get a job/ hold down a relationship now that his female peers are generally succeeding/taking all the jobs/ emasculating him and his generation. As we do. 
Later, laydeez.

13 thoughts on “Girls on The Apprentice

  1. I think the problem is that there’s female equivalent to the term ‘guys’. (I’m certainly not suggesting we call ourselves ‘dolls’).
    I’m 20, and whilst I don’t feel like a girl anymore, I sure as hell don’t feel like a woman. If I refer to myself as a woman, I can’t help conjuring up an image in my head of Emma Thompson in An Education retorting condescendingly, “You’re not a woman”. So what am I?!
    It’s fine for the menfolk. ‘Guys’, although not the most formal term, emcompasses in a non-demeaning manner everything from adolescent boys to grown men- and even woman! We nowadays refer to groups of women as guys, because there’s no better alternative that’s not horrific (a quick google sugegsted ‘cum-dumpster’) or plain patronising (‘sweetie’, ‘babe’, ‘ducky’, etc). All these alternatives are terms MEN use for women, not what we’d use ourselves. We’re stuck between ‘girls’, ‘ladies’, and ‘women’.
    I think it’s still important to differentiate between groups of men and women, and my grandmother hates it when the lady in John Lewis says “Hi, can I help you out, guys?” to her and my my grandfather. A shop assistant with better training should really say ‘Sir, Madam?’, but how do you refer to younger people with a bit more formality and respect- as would be appropriate in the boardroom?

    For now, to save judgment from my imaginary Emma Thompson, I’ve resolved to not refer to myself as anything until I’m Definitely a Woman. And fuck knows when that will happen.

  2. The males in the apprentice are always referred to by Lord Sugz and everyone else on the show, including the narrator, as The Boyz. Is this offensive to males? I personally have no problem being referred to as a girl, I’m 21 and consider myself to be a girl, in fact in a way i think i’d be insulted if i was referred to as a woman because it makes me think of someone old(er) like 30-40. I also think Ladies is fine, the male equivalent – Gentlemen – implies the same thing as Ladies does; formality, correct/proper/polite behaviour. It would be better if there was a female equivalent to ‘guys’ but saying that, when i’m with my group of female friends, i refer to them as guys!

  3. I agree that ‘ladies’ often has a sarcastic tone to it, as in, ‘you’re-not-really-a-lady-i’m-just-patronising-you’. I’m for ‘guys’ becoming gender-neutral!

  4. You lost me at “Ladies”….

    Again, what’s the subtitle for this site?
    Like King Lear, but for whom?
    This site considers itself to be “…for girls” and yet, me and quite a few other guys (men/blokes/gentlemen?!) read it to try to keep up to date with issues regarding equality.

    This site broaches subjects a LOT more urgent and important than whatever that yuppie TV show being broadcast over there deals with, and yet….
    I understand that the word “ladies” can have ironic implications meaning ‘you’re-not-really-a-lady-i’m-just-patronising-you’ like the poster above said, but it just makes me more determined to rescue the word back from the idiots.

    Equality of rights and equal opportunities doesn’t mean there are no differences between us. Vive la différence in all its diversity

    I never met an actual gender neutral person, only men and women (so far), regardless of how they perceive themselves (I address transvestites as ladies, for example, because that’s how they – in my limited experience – perceive themselves). Dunno about the UK, but call a Portuguese cross-dresser/transvestite a “ladybro” or whatever Latin equivalent might apply and be prepared to run for your life.

    No matter how asexual someone might be, I never actually met or known anyone to consider themselves to be gender-neutral (sexuality and Brian Molko’s sexual identification as being of the “3rd sex” doesn’t make him any less of a man) or that would like to be considered or seen as a gender neutral person (maybe Varney from Sopor Aeternus could shed some light on this).

    Maybe it’s because the Vagenda Team and most readers on this site might be in their 20′s that the term “ladies” when addressed to you might indeed be exclusively heard on a patronizing basis, but I’m pretty sure older women are often called both “laydeez” and “ladies” and can easily tell when they’re being addressed by a sad tosser or a gentleman. I’ll wager they’ll have nothing against “ladies”.
    I could be wrong, of course, but here’s my 2 cents anyway….

  5. Just to clarify, “Like King Lear, but for girls” was part of a review that we read in Cosmopolitan magazine. We thought it was so ridiculous that anyone would even think to write a review categorising something as “like Shakespeare, but for women” that we put it as our tagline so we NEVER FORGET

  6. yeah….i dunno about anyone else but my mum (‘older woman’) was the person who pointed out to me ‘ladies’ is kinda patronising. And i know this is petty but i kinda feel like if a woman of any age is saying she doesn’t wanna be called a girl or a lady, maybe no guys/men/blokes/gentlemen should be trying to correct her on that.

    i think this article deals with subjects a LOT more urgent than ‘rescuing the word lady back from the idiots’

  7. @ Vagenda Team: Thank you for the clarification… Cosmo…should have seen that one coming…

    @ HSD and Kirst: Point taken.

    Not trying to have the last word here, especially when this site exposed and has taught me a few things and concepts such as “checking my privilege” and learning a bit more about my own misconceptions and prejudices, but I can’t help thinking that if I were to address a group of women with Cleasi’s mindset (1st comment), I might just be perceived as patronizing as if I had used the term “girls” or “ladies”.
    I mean, if we can agree that there are people saying “laydeez” and “ladies”, there are also people saying “women” and “womin” (imagine if you will an american redneck accent) with totally different attitudes.
    I’ll try to stick to “everyone” and everybody” and simply “you” from now on, but probably always afraid in this politically correct minefield of (personal) sensitivities that no one is perceiving it as “you people”…..
    Thank you…. I’ll be chewing on all of this for a while…

  8. While I agree with the article I do have a small cavil. I do hear the term ‘boys’ amongst women and men amongst my contemporaries (middle-aged, working-class). I spend most Fridays with the ‘boys’ down the pub (would sound like I’m crashing an Iron John event if I said I was out with the Men) and half of Wales has taken themselves off to Australia for the rugby with the ‘boys’. And it’s also in the workplace, most especially in the building trade. So, I guess, I’m agreeing with you in a roundabout kind of way: that these diminutive terms are either the product of a youth-obsessed society or a way of diminishing the relevance of their work (even if self-referential)
    p.s the only response if someone calls you a girl is to either reply witheringly, ‘I think I’m long past girlhood, don’t you?’ or to simper, giggle, push them then skip off down the office (this should work well if you are heavy-footed)

  9. I ranted about that on twitter recently. in an earlier episode, one man referred to the women in his group as a bunch of ‘strong girls.’ Er, are we on the hockey team all of a sudden?

  10. Dear Vagenda,
    Just reading the comments above, please do not remove the quotation “like king lear for girls” from your banner.
    I think its the most hilarious thing and I think that most understand the irony.