I had an English class last semester that was almost entirely made up of female students. My professor was one of the nicest women I’d ever met, and she treated all of us like we were her equals. She taught class sitting at a desk in a circle with the class getting as much speaking time as her.

I liked that teaching style. I learned a lot in that class, and not just about English. Most of the specific things we talked about have slipped my mind, but I remember one conversation we had about women respecting themselves.

When a boy turns eighteen, we call him a man. Sometimes we call him a man before that. When a girl turns eighteen, though, she’s still just as likely to be referred to as a girl. It’s patronizing enough to hear “young man/woman” all the time, but to call a woman a girl is to deny her maturity.

A girl turns into a woman when she can manage a household, when she gets her first job, when she buys her own groceries, loses her virginity, graduates from high school, starts forming her own thoughts, makes decisions about her career for herself, or moves out of her parents house.

I’m not a girl. I stopped being a girl at one of those points in my life. Take your pick. I stopped being a girl when I stopped calling myself a girl. I’m a woman because I say I’m a woman, because I recognize that I’m the master of my life now.

This isn’t something that we can point to one specific group of people as perpetuating the issue. Men do it, women do it, children are taught to do it, and it’s something as present in our vocabulary as the concept of gender itself.

This is a cultural flaw. It’s something we won’t fix overnight, and something we shouldn’t pretend to try to fix overnight. It starts with one person taking one word out of their vocabulary. You don’t have to jump in when someone else says it. It’s not a see something-say something change. Just make a quick comment, “I’m not a kid anymore.” And then let it go. Just make that choice in your personal life.

I know what that feeling is. I’m seventeen and a college Sophomore. That equates to zero respect for the most part, and the first time I identified myself as a woman (I was fifteen) one of my friends told me that I should keep my age in consideration. What’s the excuse for women in their thirties being treated this way, then?

Like I said, this isn’t something we can direct at one group of people. We’re all guilty, and we all need to be careful how we think. The first thing we can do is recognize when we’re using language wrong and correct ourselves.

It’s small things like this that show us the flaws in our culture.