In one breath, society defined femininity. In the next, society devalued it. Anything labeled as “girly” is immediately seen as lesser. Girls are mocked and belittled for the consumption of what is geared towards them. Boy bands? Vapid. Stuffed animals? Childish. She’s vain for liking makeup but plain if she doesn’t. Girls just don’t seem to be able to win at liking anything.

When parents attempt to go against gender norms, oftentimes it’s encouraging girls to adopt typically boyish hobbies rather than the other way around. There’s reinforcement that girls can be pioneers for their interest in male-dominated fields whereas males can be discriminated against for an interest in female ones. Women are powerful and non-conforming when they wear a suit. Men are gay if they wear a dress or have good hygiene.

“I’m Not Like The Other Girls”

We’ve all seen those comics pushing the narrative that it’s “I vs. They.” We’ve all probably subscribed to it at some point too. I reposted this exact image to my Tumblr when I was in middle school and struggling with my identity. Ugh, CRINGE!

This male-dominated society teaches girls to seek distance from other girls. Females get pitted against each other in competition rather than collaboration. Hatred of traditionally feminine things and those who like them is rooted in a misogynistic culture.

I loved pink as a child. Then I developed a severe hatred for the color and all its connotations, throwing away an entire collection of pink cat shirts and the like. The problem was never the color pink. The problem was how I was treated while wearing pink cat shirts. I felt like nothing more than a silly, stupid little girl in everybody else’s eyes. Then I did the whole “emo” phase thing. That’s a part of what I resonate with. And I eventually came back to pink, because that’s something I also resonate with. It’s not as simple as black and white, or pink and blue. Girls are as multi-faceted as everybody else.

Girly Girls and Feminism

The feminist movement may have overcorrected when it came to girly girls. The movement leaves girly girls and “traditional” women behind when femininity is seen as agreeing that women are sub-human. Housewives and mothers aren’t lesser for choosing what used to be the enforced norm. The thought that being girly is always solely due to societal pressure is also subscribing to the patriarchy. What is the point of feminism if it eliminates fluidity of choice?

In our attempt to free ourselves from the history of women’s oppression, we may have internalized a sexism that makes us want to shut off whole strains of items and experiences — to steer clear of pink or ballet or lipstick — and to associate the feminine with the bad. 

Like Tomboys and Hate Girlie Girls? That’s Sexist

As Taylor Swift best puts it, “I wanna love glitter and also stand up for the double standards that exist in our society. I wanna wear pink, and tell you how I feel about politics. I don’t think those things have to cancel each other out.”

The Power of Elle Woods

Girly girls in popular media usually come in two flavors: the popular school bully or the insipid idiot. These girls are depicted as having out-of-whack priorities and being out of touch with reality. Lazy, regressive stereotypes like these do nothing but feed into girl-hate.

For every one-dimensional girly girl, there is one who develops past the outdated archetype into a lovable character. Girly girl characters are better when they develop past being the punchline of a bad joke. A favorite is Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, who is as girly as it gets. Her story as an intelligent woman realizing her true potential serves as a feminist manifesto, #MeToo statement, and lesson in girl power. Elle never gives up her love of pink and flashy femininity. This defers from the many female characters who lose their feminine traits by the end of their character arc.

Female Badasses

Sokka: “I treated you like a girl when I should have treated you like a warrior.”

Suki: “I am a warrior. But I’m a girl, too.”

From Avatar: The Last Airbender

Furthermore, one of my favorite things in media is for pre-established female badasses owning their gender as an inseparable part of their identity. The fantastic Hermione Granger, brilliant and intuitive, is not devoid of stereotypically female interests to make her lovable. Hermione’s fan-girlish crush on Lockhart and excitement about the Yule Ball makes her even more relatable to many females. Her emotional intelligence and kindness never weakens her resolve or costs her the ability to save the day.

Katniss Everdeen, one of my favorite YA protagonists of all time, becomes a mother by the end of her story. It surprised me to find out there is such a backlash over this ending. Some people viewed it as an insult to her character’s badassery to have Katniss assume a traditional female role. I couldn’t disagree more. You’ve missed the point by thinking Katniss’s complexities are undermined because she wanted children. Strong female characters don’t have to live a sad lonely life as a recluse at the end to remain iconic.

The fact of the matter is that there are endless ways to be a female. Females don’t owe the world femininity. They also don’t have to be void of it to be progressive, inspirational individuals.

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