Thursday, April 25, 2013

Girly Girls and Tomboys

I was in my late-twenties when I first heard the word "girly-girl," long after I stopped calling my self a girl of any kind, thanks to MTV's Made. The premise was pretty simple, and has been repeated several times throughout the show's decade-long run: the tomboy wants to be femmed up. The hair, the nails, the paint the training, the deference to men... you get the idea. Until then, I had naively assumed that women (and men, for that matter) could chose which aspects of femininity and masculinity they wanted to claim as part of their identity, effectively placing everyone on some sort of androgyny spectrum. Those on the extreme fringes of masculine and feminine were relics of the past, like June Cleaver and Arnold Schwarzenegger (pre-Governator). I said I was naive.

Or maybe I was just incredibly lucky. Whenever I read a post like Caperton's (and the one she linked to ), my reaction is to measure my own experience against it: yes, yes, I completely understand, hmm, not so much.

I'm in no place to deny internalized misogyny exists. I know it exists. I wasn't a "girly girl," but I wasn't really a tomboy either, and the pitting of one against the other seems like a relatively recent thing. I said I was lucky, but I also grew up with an idea of femininity that was economically out of reach. The "girl stuff" was expensive, so I decided I didn't want it. (Which is easier than pining for it.) But "boy" stuff held little appeal, too. Maybe my outright rejection of both was a kind of self-protection. Twenty years later, I still can't tell you which click I belonged to.

As for younger women's fear of the "f-word," can I offer some words of encouragement? I identified as a feminist from the moment I knew what one was, but I didn't openly call myself one until college when someone derisively asked if I was "some sort of feminist" after a pretty heated argument on sexual harassment (this may have been around the time of Clarence Thomas hearings). I said yes, yes I was, and it felt incredibly powerful.

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