Have you ever had a moment in your life where you feel stuck between being a woman and a girl? I feel like I’m at that stage right now. I’m 25 years old. I’m supposed to be considered a woman and most people do consider me a woman, however, I still feel like I’m a girl too, at times.
According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, girlhood is described as: “the state or time of being a girl” and womanhood is described as, “the state of being a woman; womanly character or qualities.”
These definitions seem pretty simple; but also vague. To help me on my quest to find more answers on what constitutes girlhood and womanhood, I asked two women – Nokubonga Sirhalarhala, 23 years old, and Sonia Solomon, 51 years old – their thoughts on the subject.
When I asked Nokubonga and Sonia, respectively, what they thought the state of girlhood was, they both said that it refers to a time when girls are young and more childlike in everything they do.
Sonia further explained that girlhood, is “… your sex, being a female… and other things that surround it; the way that you are, the way that you are dressed, they way that you are raised, how you talk and how you are as a person” – the things that are considered socially acceptable for a woman.
About womanhood, Sonia had this to say: “When you are a girl, you are still innocent, but once you become a woman you are more mature, and you know things better.”
Nokubonga explained that in her Xhosa culture some women go through a custom called Intonjane. Intonjane is usually performed when a girl gets her first period. Nokubonga said that she went through intonjane in 2015 and she was 16 years old.
“It is performed to welcome a girl into womanhood. During this custom the girl is isolated from the family members, especially the mother and father. They are not allowed anywhere near where the girl is. And through that process a girl is taught what a woman is, what a woman needs, how to behave like a woman, and how women cater for themselves. It usually takes about 21 days up to a month but it differs.”
Sonia admitted she didn’t go through a ritual or custom, but felt that she just knew when she reached womanhood: “I think it (womanhood) would happen more in your 20’s.”
Another issue that I felt quite insecure about as a young girl in primary and high school was that compared to other girls who were blossoming, and their bodies were changing, mine wasn’t. I was quite a late bloomer and only really blossomed when I was 22.
When I asked Nokubonga if she thought that the changing of a girl’s body influences your transition she strongly agreed.
“As a female the body changes when you reach a certain stage in life which is called the puberty stage; this includes your height, changing of breast and weight and your menstruation cycle. When you go into womanhood it means that you have been through these changes that happened during puberty.”
Sonia also agreed that your bodily changes influence your step into womanhood.
“Yes, definitely. It’s a time for you to know that things are different now. You become more conscious of your body. That you’re getting fat; that you’re getting thin; that you’re growing hair.”
Society and girlhood
Up until this day some of my friends call me a girl and to be honest, I don’t mind it. It makes me feel younger and more carefree.
When I asked Nokubonga and Sonia what they thought of this they both said that that hasn’t happened to them before. Nokubonga explained that because she has gone through the custom most people around her know to identify her as a woman. If someone calls her a “girl” she will correct them because she has been through intonjane.
I have realised that sometimes the people who are close to you, like close friends and family, may still perceive you as a girl, but those who are strangers will call you a woman as a sign of respect and maturity.
Are you a girl or woman?
Honestly, there’s no right or wrong answer, but depends on how you see yourself and how others consider you from observing how you behave, talk, dress and portray yourself.
Tori Amos couldn’t have said it any better when she said, “Womanhood is a whole different thing from girlhood. Girlhood is a gift… Womanhood is a choice.”
Tell us: What would you define as girlhood and womanhood?
Read here on beauty standards.