“Women are girly. Again,” she says. And apparently, that sucks.
Writing for the Huffington Post, Peg Aloi bemoans the death of the “tough gal,” as evidenced by blogs about cupcakes, gardening, Hello Kitty, and knitting. Women write about cuddly kitties. BUST is sponsoring a craft fair, holy shit! Feminism has not only come to an end but is actually regressing, and it’s all because of heirloom fucking tomatoes. Thanks, ladies.
It would appear that the world, as seen through Ms. Aloi’s TV, has become squishy, pink, and birthday cake-scented. (Oh, my God, how cool would a birthday cake world be, at least for a few hours?) The view from my window looks nothing like delicious baked goods, though, so I thought I’d share some of that view with Ms. Aloi.
Before we begin: Ms. Aloi, most of the examples of “tough gals” you provide hit somewhere around the mid- to late-’80s. Blogs, in the form we enjoy today, didn’t really come into popularity until the late ’90s. Women in the Age of Ripley still were knitting and baking cupcakes–they just weren’t blogging about it, because, y’know, no blogs.
Those “tough gal” examples cover a fairly vast range: leather-wearing rock rebels like Joan Jett and Courtney Love*; supernatural kickers of ass like Xena, Buffy, and Ellen Ripley**; iron-spirited fighters for right like Norma Rae and Erin Brockovich. You identify them as “strong, sexy, and take no crap.”
If that’s your standard for “tough gal”–if leather or a spine of steel or a shoulder-high side kick is all it takes–where do you see a lack of them in the world today? Do Shirley Manson, Deborah Dyer, Bif Naked, and/or the assorted Donnas not qualify as rocking and rebellious? Did half the female cast of Battlestar Galactica or Firefly find their strength in Pilates? Are Treme and The Good Wife but beds of wilting hothouse flowers?
You celebrate the new “tough gal role models” on TV: Jemma from Sons of Anarchy; Sarah Linden from The Killing; the detestably whiny, determinedly naive, completely-lacking-in-any-sense-of-self-preservation Sookeh Stackhouse. And that’s great. It’s also nothing new. Sarah Linden, quietly courageous as she might be, is following in the footsteps of The Closer’s Brenda Leigh Johnson, Castle’s Kate Beckett, Fringe’s Olivia Dunham, (personal favorite) In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon, and a host of others. Hard, smart, flawed, brave, awesome–and attainable, something that women not only can admire but can achieve.
Why are we looking for our “tough gal” role models in pop culture anyway? Being tough on TV is easy–the bad guy folds like a lawn chair under your stony glare because the script tells him to. What about the women who fight for the right to go out on the front lines of combat, without the comfort of knowing that the bullets flying their way are CGI? What about the women who have to prove themselves in the boardroom, the courtroom, the classroom, and/or the living room without writers feeding them the perfect, compelling things to say? If we want tough role models to raise tough girls (and inspire tough women), Buffy is great, but so is a woman who bravely fights real-life demons.
To you, writing about cupcakes and drinking “vintage cocktails” is a sign that we’ve left badassery behind. To me–to many of us–badassery and toughness aren’t mutually exclusive with cupcakes. A woman can go home from her power-suit-wearing corporate job and unwind in front of Cute Overload. A “supermom” can enjoy a vintage cocktail–and even wear a vintage apron, if she wants to–without becoming squishy and ineffective. Hell, Laila Ali gives her favorite hobbies as cooking and interior design. You can tell her she’s retreated from a “reign of awesomeness,” but you might want to do it over the phone.
One of the goals (of many) of the “suffragettes [pejorative], bra-burners [urban legend], free love artists [it's an art?],” and other feminist activists was to get us to a place where we are able to define the way we live. When the imposed standard was traditional femininity, the boldest act of rebellion was to present masculinity–leather pants and rock music, power suits with linebacker shoulder pads. In a time when simply being a woman was the ultimate insult, being not like a woman was the only way to gain power and respect.
Their hard work has put us in a place where we can wear our rebellion on our backs, but we don’t have to. While some level of femininity remains the standard, the rest has been downgraded from “rebellious” to “fun.” Leather pants are a trendy fashion statement, corporate leaders lead their corporations in bitchin’ heels, and top cancer researchers cook for their families in the evening to relax. The progress of feminism has given us the ability to be tough without having to sacrifice the less-tough pastimes we enjoy. Maybe your “woman-who-wanted-and-got-it-all” also really wants, when she gets home, knitting and Hello Kitty jammies. Does that lessen what she did for the rest of the day? And why do you think it should?
“Take it from me, ladies: We’re not fully equal yet.” We don’t actually have to take it from you, but thanks for the offer. While you’re mourning the cancellation of Xena: Warrior Princess, the women you aren’t looking at are pushing through lines of angry protesters to get to the clinics where they work every day. They’re marching, speaking, and sacrificing to eke out funding for women’s health care. They’re fighting crime in the streets and sexual harassment on the job at the same time. They’re campaigning for equal rights and respect for every oppressed or underrepresented population. They’re struggling their way to the top so they can guide other women up behind them. They’re telling their painful stories, over and over and over, to save other women from the same experiences. Sometimes they even blog about it. And the fact that you’re ignoring them because some chick is blogging about Jane Austen is, frankly, kind of insulting.
The reason you’re not seeing a satisfactory number of “tough gal role models” isn’t that they no longer exist–it’s that you don’t recognize them, and you aren’t really looking. It’s confirmation bias: A couple of cat blogs are enough to convince you that feminism is dead, and so you stop looking for evidence of its continued existence. When called upon to name someone tough and admirable, you’re stuck digging through your memories of the 1980s and thinking, “Meryl Streep***? I guess?”
Allow yourself to look past the cupcakes, knitting, and cocktails. Realize that when you look us in the eye and call us complacent, what you’re really telling us is that we can’t be tough, that the strong women we idolize aren’t tough because they’re also soft. Realize that real tough women do have flaws, don’t have scripts, do show weakness, and don’t disappear when the TV goes dark. Realize that any chick can wear bike chains and sling an axe, but real toughness can’t be put on, and it can’t be taken off in exchange for Hello Kitty PJs.
**While Sigourney Weaver herself does kick ass, she has never, to my knowledge, faced down an actual goo-drooling alien.
***And again: Meryl Streep is a badass actress; Karen Silkwood is a real-life badass.