What does the narrator mean when she talks about the meaning of the word "girl" in "Boys and Girls"?
"The word girl had formerly seemed to me innocent and unburdened, like the word child; now it appeared that it was no such thing. A girl was not, as I had supposed, simply what I was; it was what I had to become."
The narrator now feels a negative connotation to the word “girl” as she develops a better understanding of gender roles.
Part of growing up is determining your place in the world. Gender roles are a large part of that place, especially on a rural Canadian farm in the mid-twentieth century. Previously, the narrator considered the word “girl” as just a moniker, with no judgment implied.
It was a definition, always touched with emphasis, with reproach and disappointment. Also it was a joke on me.
Not having associated herself with the females of the world, like her mother, she now feels like her father is not on her side either. She would need to take the girl’s side or woman’s side. As a result, she feels adrift. As part of growing up, she is constantly being reminded of what a “girl” does, and how to develop a ladylike presence. It results in a kind of identity crisis, as she has to come to terms with what others expect of her and what she will become.
At the end of the story, when her father dismisses her with, "Never mind, … She's only a girl," the narrator feels the full force of this gender. What “girl” means to her has changed. It used to be just something she was. Now it has become her defining characteristic.