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A girl is any female human from birth through childhood and adolescence to attainment of adulthood and may also mean a young woman.
EtymologyThe word girl first appeared during the Middle Ages between 1250 and 1300 CE and came from the Anglo-Saxon words gerle (also spelled girle or gurle), likely cognate with the Old Low German word gör (sometimes given as kerl). The Anglo-Saxon word gerela meaning dress or clothing item also seems to have been used as a metonym in some sense.
Girl has meant any young unmarried woman since about 1530. Its first noted meaning for sweetheart is 1648. The earliest known appearance of girl-friend is in 1892 and girl next door, meant as a teenaged female or young woman with a kind of wholesome appeal, dates only to 1961.
Deprecated meaningAlthough the word girl is sometimes used to describe a female of any age, such as in some casual social settings by women among themselves, when meant to describe a woman in professional or other adult contexts it might imply child or be otherwise misleading (as with the term boy when applied to an adult man), hence this meaning is often deprecated.
DemographicsIn 2004 there were more than one billion girls in the world. At birth girls are a slight minority although this changes with age. Since the 1700s the human sex ratio has been observed as about 1,050 boys for every 1,000 girls born and sex selection on the part of parents further lessens the number of female births. Although the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has asserted "primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all" girls are slightly less likely to be enrolled as students in primary and secondary schools (70%:74% and 59%:65%). Worldwide efforts have been made to end this disparity (such as through the Millennium Development Goals) and the gap has closed since 1990.
Gender and environmentBiological gender interacts with environment in ways not fully understood. Identical twin girls separated at birth and reunited decades later have shown both startling similarities and differences. In 2005 Kim Wallen of Emory University noted, "I think the 'nature versus nurture' question is not meaningful, because it treats them as independent factors, whereas in fact everything is nature and nurture." Wallen said gender differences emerge very early and come about through an underlying preference males and females have for their chosen activities. Girls tend to like toys and other objects they can interact with, while boys will more likely prefer "things that they can manipulate and do things to." According to Wallen, expectations will nonetheless play a role in how girls perform academically. For example, if females skilled in math are told a test is "gender neutral" they achieve high scores, but if they are told males outperformed females in the past, the females will do much worse. "What’s strange is," Wallen observed, "according to the research, all one apparently has to do is tell a woman who has a lifetime of socialization of being poor in math that a math test is gender neutral, and all effects of that socialization go away." Author Judith Harris has said that aside from their genetic contribution, the nurturing provided by parents likely has less long-term influence over their offspring than other environmental aspects such as the children's peer group.
In England, studies by the National Literacy Trust have shown girls do better than boys in every area of learning before they are 5 and girls score consistently higher than boys from the ages of 5 through 16, with the most striking differences noted in reading and writing skills. Moreover, girls tend to outperform boys at GCSE and A level in the UK. Historically, girls lagged on standardized tests. In 1996 the average score of 503 for US girls from all races on the SAT verbal test was 4 points lower than boys. In math, the average for girls was 492, which was 35 points lower than boys. "When girls take the exact same courses," commented Wayne Camara, a research scientist with the College Board, "that 35-point gap dissipates quite a bit." At the time Leslie R. Wolfe, president of the Center for Women Policy Studies said girls scored differently on the math tests because they tend to work the problems out while boys use "test-taking tricks" such as immediately checking the answers already given in multiple-choice questions. Wolfe said girls are steady and thorough while "boys play this test like a pin-ball machine." Wolfe also said although girls had lower SAT scores they consistently get higher grades than boys across all courses their first year in college. By 2006 girls were outscoring boys on the verbal portion of the SAT by 11 points. A 2005 University of Chicago study showed that a majority presence of girls in the classroom tends to enhance the academic performance of boys.
Art and literatureEgyptian murals included sympathetic portraits of young girls who were daughters of royalty. Sappho's poetry carries love poems addressed to girls.
In Europe, some early paintings featuring girls were Petrus Christus' Portrait of a Young Girl (about 1460), Juan de Flandes' Portrait of a Young Girl (about 1505), Frans Hals' Die Amme mit dem Kind in 1620, Diego Velázquez' Las Meninas in 1656, Jan Steen's The Feast of St. Nicolas (about 1660) and Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring along with Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. Later paintings of girls include Albert Anker's portrait of a Girl with a Domino Tower and Camille Pissarro's 1883 Portrait of a Felix Daughter.
American paintings featuring girls include Mary Cassatt's 1884 Children on the Beach and Whistler's Harmony in Gray and Green: Miss Cicely Alexander and The White Girl (shown at right).
Many novels begin with the childhood of their heroine, such as Jane Eyre who suffers ill treatment or Natasha in War and Peace, who is sentimentalized. Other novels include Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird in which a young girl is protagonist. Vladimir Nabokov's controversial book Lolita (1955) is about a doomed relationship between a 12 year old girl and an adult scholar as they travel across the United States. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden begins as the female main character and her sister are dropped off in the pleasure district after being separated from their family.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll featured a widely noted female protagonist. Moreover, Carroll's photographs of girls are often cited in histories of photographic art.
Popular cultureEuropean fairy tales have preserved memorable stories about girls. Among these are Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Rapunzel, Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Match Girl, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Pea and the Brothers Grimm's Little Red Riding Hood.
Children's books about girls include Little House on the Prairie, Alice in Wonderland, Pippi Longstocking, Dragonsong and A Wrinkle in Time. Books which have both boy and girl protagonists have tended to focus more on the boys but important girl characters appear in Knight's Castle, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Book of Three and the Harry Potter series.
There have been many American comic books and comic strips featuring a girl as the main character such as Little Lulu, Little Orphan Annie, Girl Genius and Amelia Rules. In superhero comic books an early girl character was Etta Candy, one of Wonder Woman's sidekicks. In the Peanuts series (by Charles Schulz) girl characters include Peppermint Patty, Lucy van Pelt and Sally Brown.
In Japanese animated cartoons and comic books girls are often protagonists. Most of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films feature a young girl heroine, as in Majo no takkyūbin (Kiki's Delivery Service). There are many other girl protagonists in the Shōjo style of manga, which is targeted to girls as an audience. Among these are The Wallflower, Ceres, Celestial Legend, Tokyo Mew Mew and Full Moon o Sagashite. Meanwhile, some genres of Japanese cartoons may feature sexualized and objectified portrayals of girls.
Sexualization of young girls in art and entertainment has been a common theme across all eras and mediums. This has been more or less explicitly visible in modern cinema and television. Some famous examples include Taxi Driver, Diva, Lolita The Blue Lagoon, Léon: The Professional and Pretty Baby, all of which deal with young girls in adult situations, typically under extraordinary circumstances.
fille in Arabic: بنت
fille in Azerbaijani: Qız
fille in Breton: Plac'h
fille in Danish: Pige
fille in Pennsylvania German: Meedel
fille in German: Mädchen
fille in Esperanto: Knabino
fille in Persian: دختر
fille in French: Fille
fille in Irish: Cailín
fille in Scottish Gaelic: Caileag
fille in Korean: 소녀
fille in Hungarian: Lány
fille in Dutch: Meisje
fille in Japanese: 少女
fille in Norwegian: Jente
fille in Norwegian Nynorsk: Jente
fille in Low German: Marjell
fille in Polish: Dziewczyna
fille in Portuguese: Menina
fille in Russian: Девочка
fille in Sicilian: Carusa
fille in Simple English: Girl
fille in Slovak: Dievča
fille in Swedish: Flicka
fille in Tajik: Духтар
fille in Turkish: Kız
fille in Yiddish: מיידל
fille in Contenese: 女仔
fille in Chinese: 女孩