Girl Talk Being Feminine Doesn't Make Me Weak Julia Gazdag

There’s this thing that people do when they look at a girl lady who happens to be wearing, I don’t know, a fun little skirt and a bow in her hair and just enough makeup to look cute but not so much that it looks like 1992 threw up on her face. That’s not actually the thing that people do (it’s what I do, except when I’m home alone sometimes I hit the makeup too hard and 1992 gets way too real). The thing that people do is see the bow and just kind of dismiss a lady’s legitimacy because I guess they think that being feminine equals being weak or pleasantly innocuous.

I love that putting a bow in my hair is some kind of subconscious signal to people that I’m non-threatening, like how insects communicate through antennae dances (they do that, right?). Actually, what I really love is seeing the confusion on someone’s face when I sass them ruthlessly, until they figure out what my deal is. I don’t even get it, at this point. Isn’t this what the last couple waves of feminism were supposed to get us – aside from equal pay but who’s counting (lolz inequality!). That I don’t have to deal with being dismissed as a Betty Draper just because I’m feminine? Also that I don’t have to deal with being judged on my aesthetics, but like I said, who’s counting?

I like bows. I have one made of shiny stones in a ring that I got from my friend Almie and I wear it all the time. I like it because it’s shiny and pretty and will leave a cute looking bruise on your face where I punch you with it for underestimating me. Not that I advocate violence; I’m just saying.

I feel like I’m part of this cult of women, and everyone outside it only sees the surface and is content to judge us based on what they see. We bake cupcakes in cute aprons while listening to obscenely perky Swedish twee-pop (Acid House Kings = life). We knit and stitch and craft and DIY like we’re Etsy’s grandmother. We also discuss social theory, deconstruct films until we fall over from the weight of our own pretentiousness, debate Inga Muscio books and run circles around guys with music nerd-dom. (What is it with men and facts, by the way? Just once I’d love to talk cultural relevance with a guy about the Beatles instead of out-factoid-ing them until I’m bored and they’re insecure. Anyway. Back on track.)

I kind of don’t care when people box me into the uber-feminine container, because it amuses me. Also, I’m too distracted by all the brilliant ideals around me right now. Women on TV are kind of blowing my mind. There’s Leslie Knope, a female government official in a starring role, Liz Lemon head writing a hit show, and Jess on ‘New Girl’ holding her own in an apartment with three men (and Zooey Deschanel wrote her own theme song, the girl just owns everything she does). There’s ‘2 Broke Girls’ with the amazing Kat Dennings voluption fest and just the idea of two female characters on a hit show being fabulous while living unglamorous lives, being sassy and struggling. Then there’s ‘Once Upon a Time’, which I almost can’t handle, because it’s taken all of these traditionally passive fairy tale heroines waiting for a man to get his necrophilia on, and turned them into independent weapon experts out to get what’s theirs. Snow White handling a crossbow on network television? I’m all verklempt! There’s plenty more and ‘Girls’ hasn’t even premiered yet.

When I was a kid, I was a raging tomboy. Once in kindergarten I led all the others girls in an afternoon-long war against the boys because they said they wouldn’t let a girl (hi, me) play with them. Until about middle school, I wore sweatpants and sweatshirts, and didn’t even bother to check if they matched. Before my boobs popped up, I was mistaken for a boy for years. And I felt just as great as I do now in my “girly” skin, because I’m still doing my thing, it’s just changed over the years. In high school and college I had various jobs where I had to prove I could pull my weight – lift things, stand outside in freezing weather for hours, etc. Something about carrying 50 lbs in a dress instead of jeans always just felt good, maybe because it’s always unexpected.

I rock the bows and the dresses, the fabulous nail polish and the heels and, on special days the fake lashes (borderline dragalicious ones, no shame) because they make me feel feminine, and I just don’t feel like that has any bearing on how much of a 21st century woman I am. At the end of the day, it’s just what I wear. It’s fun and makes me feel lighter and freer because it’s what I’m comfortable in. Being girly doesn’t mean I see the world as one big, fluffy kitten – it’s my way of trying to keep at bay the fact that it can often be a vicious Rottweiler. My femininity makes me no less intelligent, curious, sassy, political, perceptive, passionate, or just plain full of strength. Judging me for it, though, seems to contradict the work of our mothers and just seems plain petty. I don’t think it’s on my shoulders to change who I inherently am to fit any sort of cultural stereotype; I’m still going to accomplish the things I set out to, it just might surprise a few more people who are still stuck on that whole judging a book by its cover train.

Featured image is the artwork of Adam Oehlers

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  1. Thank you so much for putting my feelings into words…:)

  2. You are absolutely right. femininity does not make a person weak…but it also fails to inhibit persons with aggressive tendencies, thus raising your chemical cocktail of cortisol which makes you more vulnerable to stress-induced illnesses from migraines and hypertension to strrokes and heart attacks :D Enjoy your frilled rompers ladies!

  3. Julia, I adore this post because I feel as if you’re reached into my head and pulled out my thoughts from the past few days. I’m a young manager in the government who has climbed the career ladder fairly quickly. I dress professionally but also try not to buy into the stereotype that in order to look like a professional, I need to own a boxed-off polyester suit with shoulder pads in every color of the rainbow that curtains were made from in the 60s and 70s. I wear the occassional hair accessory, mostly headbands with small bows, gems or flowers. I recently received anonymous feedback that suggested that “I should be conscious of how people view me,” calling my headbands “inappropriate,” and stating that I needed to act like a leader. Whoops, sorry, I didn’t know that my headbands were getting in the way of my ability to lead. The criticism went on to state that “others” have made disparaging remarks about the style choice, voicing concerns that it could “make me APPEAR less competent.” Last time I checked, I’m still considered a high performer who is incredibly competent in her role. But wait…I should conform to some male-inspired button-down style so I “appear” to be more competent? I think this person may be aiming the questions of competence in the wrong direction! Like you, I was a tomboy all through my childhood and didn’t really even discover my girly side until college. I was that girl who thought it was stupid to worry about hair and makeup and clothes, but now I love those things as much as I love sports. What’s ironic, though, is that no matter which side of the spectrum I have fallen on over the course of my life, it somehow isn’t good enough to not be labeled “wrong” in some way. I say I can lead and achieve in a black pantsuit or a dress with 15 ribbons in my hair..heck, maybe I’ll start wearing the suit and the ribbons together and give all of the judgers the best of both worlds. Because apparently these are the things we still use today…in 2012…to determine female competence. Isn’t it striking just how far we still have to go?

  4. I don’t think that its a good think that people are surprised that you can carry 50lbs and wear a dress or whatever. The fact that this surprises them is really sexist, surely it would be better if people weren’t like woah I thought you were a silly little girl but you’re not because that’s a really outdated view. Men are often surprised that I’m good at “boyish” video games, “oh wow I can’t believe you’d be good at this!” is not flattering. It sounds like you use this girliness as a cover to bring out such a reaction, rather than just for yourself.

  5. Oh by the way i think that picture you chose is PERFECT!!! i LOVE IT!!!

  6. I agree!! I feel like i am in the same boat. I’m studying to be a mechanical engineering so naturally i am the ONLY girl in all of the my classes. Though most of them are all gentlemen to me and treat me equally I do feel the same way when i feel like being pretty, sometimes professors (one in particular), always thinks he has to repeat himself for me. UGH it irks me. Just because i am in a male dominant major does not mean i have to be tom-boy-ish or a boy for that matter lol. I am ALL for women empowerment and femininity (no matter how you define femininity) for strong independent women!! GIRL POWER!!! haha

  7. I’m really glad you wrote this. I have a similar problem with belonging to the world of video gaming. Because women had such a hard time establishing themselves in a man dominated interest group, many of what you would consider “gamer girls” are extremely jaded and exclusive toward more feminine women who also like to play games. They view them as attention whores who are cashing in on these gamer girl’s hard work to get boyfriends. I find that my dressing in cutesy clothes or wearing makeup or styling my hair makes me less of a gamer in the eyes of these women, despite the fact that we’re playing the same stuff. Gaming shouldn’t have a dress code. I’m not a fake painted whore just because I wear makeup while trekking around Skyrim :/

  8. It’s all about wearing what makes you feel the most ‘you’. If that’s a skirt. Great. Jeans and a hoodie? Fine. A bikini? Nice for you. As long as you don’t let someone look at you, judge you on it, and allow yourself to shrink down into that judgement. She’s just saying be yourself. Don’t hide it. Let the world be shocked when the stereotype they tried to fit you into, didn’t work out.

  9. i loove this piece! but also, you should definitely write something else expanding on what is up with men and facts, because you’re dead on with that. thanks for writing this!

    • Oh, man. Maybe someday. I feel like going into detail on that has a lot of potential for gender bias, though. It is something that happens super often, though. I don’t have a lot of conversations with women that turn into pissing contests before I can blink, but it’s like I can’t get out of a conversation with a guy because he’s so busy either trying to one-up me with something, or discuss further how he one-upped me with something. But it’s also not all men, by any means! It’s just that when that DOES happen in a conversation, it almost always happens with a guy.

  10. Julia, You think of my comment as age-ist idea simply because I mention that I have some silver in my hair? I think that you simply define what is feminine differently than I do. I’m sure you mean well, I just feel that clothes, bling and heels do not qualify a woman as feminine. Perhaps as sexy, but women are feminine no matter what they have on simply because they are women. You should rethink using feminine as the key word in your article, because not everyone considers clothes as the key to femininity. Dressing like a girly girls may not make you weak, but not understanding what being feminine really is will.

    • Clifton: exactly! So true. So so true. I think it’s about the choice we make, and the freedom to not be assumed to have absorbed social norms blindly. And in the same way, that our choice doesn’t have to be earth shattering and controversial. Aesthetics are a first impression, it’s not the best way to define anyone.

    • Although dress code and gender construction do have ties to feminine philosophy, I believe that dressing fem has much more to do with the social construction of gender as opposed to the varying attitudes presented towards biological sex that are discussed by feminism. Dressing fem isn’t specific to the female sex, it is a sociological phenomena (i.e. males have dressed and still dress fem today).

    • I feel like one of the greatest accomplishments of the feminist movement is the fact that each woman gets to define, on her own, exactly what it means TO HER to be feminine, whether that be red lipstick and heels or sweats and flip flops (just to mention two, very broad, very stereotypical examples : P). THAT’S the beauty of it!

    • I was simply going off what your comment said. I feel like you and I are saying the same thing, perhaps in a different way. I’m discussing the social construct of femininity, and that I feel myself to be independent from it. I didn’t feel like writing an academically worded post, and I wrote enough gender and women’s studies papers in college to fill ten tumblrs so I felt like going the lighthearted route. I’m glad I’ve started some conversation on the topic, but I don’t think I said anything dismissive, ignorant, or biased. I merely discussed my personal experience and how I have made my own choices to be feminine by my own standard. I don’t feel I have to explain myself, and I’m not sure why I’m being attacked on a post that I feel is positive, empowering, and informed.

  11. woop woop! standing ovation!

  12. This is all great stuff, but I believe you’ve stereotyped Betty Draper the same way you’ve critiqued others for stereotyping you. In season three, Betty is a force to be reckoned with (she stands up to Don, moves the f*#k out, yadayada).
    Also, I think arguing in opposition to, or rather in spite of, an undefined mystery group of people who apparently offend you is questionable. It’s based on the assumption that these people are both reacting in the way you think they are and are reacting to what you think they are. In fact, this assumption violates the exact same ethical code you are promoting; one should not judge others by their appearances.
    Anyways, from a purely personal standpoint, I think that I judge people for dressing fem simply for the fact that it looks ridiculous and is mostly impractical (except for purses, they are glorious multi-pocketed treasure caves that I assume were originally designed to make up for the fact that skin-tight clothing can’t hold s**t). Put simply, I believe that forgoing the practicality provided by baggier clothing and wasting precious time padding on makeup are maneuvers done in bad taste.
    On another note, it seems like feminist writing many times blurs the definition of “strength” in a way that detracts from its better points. What are we talking about anymore? Physical brute strength or psychological strength? I think this would be a more effective argument if you chose one and stuck to it.

  13. Best Hello Giggles article EVER!

  14. Great article! LOVED it!!!!

  15. ” Something about carrying 50 lbs in a dress instead of jeans always just felt good, maybe because it’s always unexpected.” EXACTLY!

    I work as an Operations Assistant at a huge non profit in LA which basically means I do all the grunt work. Im talking carrying huge boxes of donations from shelter to shelter, going under desks to fix computers, and singlehandledly putting a catering event together to feed 300 homeless individuals, while rocking the full skirt, colorful flats, curled hair, and red lipstick is unbelievably satisfying.

  16. Wooohhooo You took the thoughts right out of my mind and wrote them in such an engaging and humorous way! Thank you!!!

  17. Loved this article! Just made my day !!!

  18. Amen, sister!! I love when people seem surprised by something I said.. like they weren’t expecting eloquence from someone who matches her lipstick to her nail polish..

  19. I love this!

    I had a conversation about the supposed contradiction between femininity and strength. I’m in the middle of working on a painting about it right now.

    They are not conflicting concepts and when women perceive them to be it is a sad indicator if internalized misogyny.

    http://www.browneyedamazon.com

  20. I think your post is a good start to a conversation about the accoutrements of femininity and what they seem to mean. I agree–we shouldn’t judge anyone by their appearance. But my question to you is this: you say you don’t think it’s on your shoulders to “change who I inherently am” to fit any cultural stereotype. I agree. So does this mean that bows and eyelashes (that make you feel feminine) are part of who you are inherently? I just think that who we all are (inherently) has nothing to do with bows or nail polish. There is a difference between the un-adorned, spurning of stereotypical femininity look (no make-up, so polich, no shaving) and the putting on of things that signify “femininity.” I really don’t object to these things, but I don’t get why you think they’re part of who you are. In my view, thay are part of defining women as a sex class, and I reject that definition.

    • Beth and Julie, I agree that femininity can be a part of who you are even if you don’t express it outwardly in a stereotypical way, such as with pretty bows and nail polish. However, I don’t think we should dismiss the accoutrements of femininity just because some feminine women choose to wear them. I don’t think Julia is suggesting that one way of dressing is better than another; she says that as a society when we see a girly girl wearing makeup and accessories we assume that she is silly and weak. Your arguments fall dangerously close to a similar dismissal of outward feminine presentation as inauthentic, artificial and silly. Yes, you are still feminine even if you don’t wear these accessories, but wearing them does not make you a silly little girl.

      I write a lot about cultural misperceptions of femininity and sexism against femininity on my blog. You might want to check my latest piece out on burlesque: http://lipstickterrorist.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/burlesque-sexy-or-sexist/

    • I agree with you, Beth. This is a good start to the conversation, but I think the issue needs to be explored more, especially in terms of how our choices and likes are socially constructed. I started trying to think through it on my blog here if you’re interested: http://sustainedenthusiasm.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/the-cult-of-the-hyper-feminine/

    • I think it’s who I am because it’s something I enjoy, and I came to enjoy it on my own, not because I bought into a cultural stereotype. I think the issue is that because of the cultural stereotype that exists, I’m perceived as buying into something if my personal preferences coincide with the mainstream definition of femininity.
      And Julie, you misunderstand me, I’m not even sure how or why. I don’t think I wrote anything age-ist, and how could I, when I’m not age-ist myself? My biggest regret is that while I inherited my father’s hair texture, I didn’t get his color genes and thus didn’t get to have my hair turn gray when I was 20. I already know, however, that I won’t be dying it once it turns. Honestly, your idea of my perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth and I feel like you might be a bit unfair in your judgment of me. Enjoy this piece I wrote a few weeks ago: http://hellogiggles.com/body-image-is-still-a-thing-apparently

    • I think what she is trying to say is simply that just because she enjoys things that society has deemed “feminine” like skirts and bows, doesn’t mean she is a weak girly-girl that can’t hold her own. She is trying to explain that in today world, we should be able to wear what we want, dye our hair, wear make-up, whatever, because WE want to. Not because other people think we should. I am the same way. My hair is naturally brown, but I dye mine red (and have been for 13 years now) because I enjoy it more. Not because someone else told me I look more beautiful with it. When I put my make-up on in the morning, I do because I have some extra time before class and I think it would be fun that day. Does that mean I’m not a strong, independent woman? No. She is trying to explain that there is no reason why women cannot be “feminine” (as society defines it) and a feminist at the same time.

    • I agree Beth. This woman has no clue what defines feminine. She likely buys into the idea that hair dye makes us more beautiful or “feminine” and our natural hair color (especially gray) cannot possibly be as beautiful or “feminine” as some dye that comes out of a bottle. You are simply accepting the definition of what feminine is as wearing skirts, blingy rings, bows in your hair, makeup etc. I do not wear all of those things, so does that mean I’m less feminine than you? I don’t dye my hair, I proudly let the natural silver show through, does that make me less feminine, less youthful and less beautiful? I don’t think so! I’m one HOT mama, trust me!! The problem is that you define feminine with some definition that a retailer, magazine or TV show has told you makes you feminine. I define feminine with the natural gifts that god gave me that made me feminine. Get off the retail wagon and get real. Give us all a break and figure out what being feminine really is. It has nothing to do with bows, rings, makeup and hair dye……. That’s why you might feel judged, because of your ignorance in thinking those things make you feminine. Maybe they make you feel good momentarily, putting on a mask that someone else told you looked better than your natural self seems to be self defeating and most likely causing the discomfort you feel in your tummy when you are looked at like a flake by some for wearing such retail garbage and thinking it improves you in some way.