I was recently at a recital where five sopranos were performing, taking in turns to perform cabaret songs, accompanied by a chap on the piano. At the beginning, the organiser got up to introduce the evening, and said, of the sopranos "don't they look lovely".
He was not wrong. They were kitted out in lovely dresses, and were smart, just as one would expect a professional to dress at a classical recital.
Two weeks later, at another recital, this time, a cycle of Britten songs, there were four tenors/baritones, and a male hornist there. The organiser got up and introduced the evening, but said nothing about their appearance.
The men were kitted out in smart black suits, with plain blue shirts (no tie). They were all very smart, just as one would expect a professional to dress at a classical recital.
Now, if the organiser had said of the men "don't they look lovely" that would have seemed a little odd. Smart might have been a more appropriate adjective, but, generally, we don't think it appropriate to comment on the appearance of men, unless there is something particularly unusual or striking.
So why is it acceptable to comment on the appearance of women? Why did the sopranos look lovely, and why was it OK to say so? Why did a former boss of mine used to describe men as "a good chap" or "a hard worker" and women as "a lovely girl" or "and pretty girl". Why is such attention paid to the outfits Theresa May wears?
I want to point out that the organiser of these concerts is known to me. He is a good man, and deeply committed to equality and inclusivity. But I think his words, which meant no harm, betray something deeper down, even in those who strive for fairness. The fact that I would have found it jarring if he had said "don't the boys look lovely" but found it less jarring that he said this about the women betrays that I have been accustomed to these societal norms.
I want to think more about this. Using things said to women and transferring them to men often shows how inappropriate we are in the way we address women and their appearance. This video shows the ridiculous way we portray women: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SrpARP_M0o
Lastly. A girl is a young female child. And older female is a woman. She might be a young woman or an old woman. But not a girl.