On being one of those girls

Something about this piece at Delusions of Equality really resonated with me — and I’m not entirely sure why, because it doesn’t describe my experience as a young not-yet-feminist. While I couldn’t pull off girly-girl convincingly or hide my good grades, my desperate efforts were definitely in the direction of conforming. I tried to act normal. (This was two decades prior to my diagnosis as Clinically Abnormal.) I tried to follow fashion. I hung out with guys in carefully unoffensive yet girly casual outfits and talked about having more guy friends than girlfriends because girls were too dramatic and emotional. (This wasn’t true; I treasured my female friends. It was just a Thing to Say.)

In college, I wasn’t a feminist. I believed in women’s equality, a woman’s right to choose, and birth control on demand. I objected to the gender wage gap and supported extended maternity leave. I believed in gay marriage. Without undue pressure I would acknowledge that I believed all the things feminists believe but I just wasn’t a feminist because, y’know, I wasn’t one of them. I shaved my legs and wore skirts and high heels and makeup. I wore a bra. I didn’t think men were evil. I wasn’t angry and shouty. You know, like feminists. (I don’t remember when I stopped believing that, really. This would be a great opportunity to recount some poignant conversion tale, but I don’t recall having one.)

I do understand that plenty of people have perfectly valid reasons not to call themselves feminists (not that it’s my job to validate anyone’s reasons). But mine were baloney. They were based on false premises, which were based on not knowing anyone who self-described as a feminist, which was based on my false premises that would make a feminist sound like an unpleasant person to know. And I suppose that’s what really struck home with me about the Delusions of Equality examination of internalized sexism.

‘Me??? I’m not one of THOSE girls! See, I’m almost one of you! You can take me and my opinions seriously! They are not clouded by my femaleness, they are not diluted by layers of makeup, I don’t have time for all these superficial things, I promise!

Except I, of course, did have the layers of makeup; my defense of being “almost one of you” and “you can take me and my opinions seriously” was to not express my opinions and to wear just enough makeup to come across as feminine and unthreatening.

The post also quotes Ariel Levy, of whom I’m not generally a quoter but there is this:

“Attacking femaleness, deriding ‘girly’ stuff, rolling your eyes at ‘women’s issues’, declaring yourself a ‘tomboy’ who gets along better with men because women are silly or pretty or whatever — these are expressions of internalized sexism. If that’s the way you feel about your own sex, you’ll be doomed to feel inferior no matter what you achieve in life.”

So while “I’m not one of those girls” for me referred both to girly-girls (kind of) and to hairy-legged feminists (pretty much), it still pitted me against women. And while I didn’t know it at the time, that’s what made me not a feminist, not any specific objection to the (apocryphal) burning of bras.

And not only is it disloyal: it’s dangerous also. It creates a divide between the “good” and the “bad” girls. Between those who are to be taken seriously and those whose opinions can be dismissed. Between the “rational” and the “hysteric.” And, between those who behaved prim and proper and those who “had it coming.” In times, in which the whole world discusses whether binge drinking at a party actually equals consent, in times in which it is actually necessary to stage Slut Walks and hammer it into peoples’ heads that the person responsible for a rape is… (drum roll) the rapist and not (surprise!) the victim, for wearing a short dress, for exercising her right to walk public spaces, for previously having fun, this is hazardous.

Anyway, what I’m saying is… sorry for college, I guess.

[h/t Feministing]

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25 Responses

  1. matlun
    matlun April 24, 2013 at 4:35 am |

    I think the juxtaposition of your own experiences with this article is very interesting. An illustration of two groups that both are rejecting the other even though they pretty much have a common cause.

    It is a part of the human condition.

    I do understand that plenty of people have perfectly valid reasons not to call themselves feminists [...]. But mine were baloney.

    Baloney or not, I think that it is a very common type of reason. Ie if you do not want to identify with the group of people known as “feminists” (whether you have a correct picture of that group or not), then you do not call yourself a feminist. The question of whether your beliefs and ideology matches feminism (whatever definition that is “correct”) is secondary for many people.

  2. ellid
    ellid April 24, 2013 at 6:52 am |

    Or, why one of the best things about attending a women’s college was that I didn’t have to play the girly-girl, I’m-not-a-feminist, let’s defer to the boys junk that still happens way too often at coed schools. I could be myself and no one cared.

    1. Computer Soldier Porygon
      Computer Soldier Porygon April 24, 2013 at 9:02 pm |

      I sometimes wonder what my experience would have been like at a women’s college. I took classes at Smith (so you can guess where I went, I suppose!) and it was an interesting vibe. The one boy in my class got a lot of attention, though, and I resented it.

      It took me until I was 20 or 21 to actually use the word feminist in relation to myself although I was always a big ol’ lefty. It’s just that my first encounter with FEMINISTS!!! in college was very alterna-cool ladies I assumed I could never be like (I always thought being visibly radical was for regulation hotties) arguing with me over shaving my legs. Coming off the high school / family experience I had, I was in just no mood for another group of people who (I thought) all just wanted to tell me what to do, like everyone else. And there were a lot of things I just wasn’t… quite ready to hear. I had to get tired of my precious dude friends bullshit (‘oh, we don’t mean YOU… you’re a cool girl!’) on my own first.

  3. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers April 24, 2013 at 8:57 am |

    The piece itself describes me almost perfectly.

    I was a *very* girly child — I wore dresses and in fact felt really uncomfortable with non-gender-conforming behavior like wearing pants or pretending to be a boy in a play-pretend game. But I was disgusted by adult women. If you grabbed their legs underwater when you were pretending to be a fish, they were all prickly and felt like some weird animal skin, whereas children were smooth and men were hairy like normal mammals. They had weird stuff in their bathrooms. Sometimes they smelled funny when they hugged you. (I never observed this of men because men did not hug me against their stomachs like women did; I now know men smell equally funny.) They spent so much time worrying about stupid stuff like clothes and shoes.

    So when I became a teenager I gave up my girliness, almost overnight. I started wearing pants and eschewing dresses (I couldn’t give the dresses up until I was out of my mother’s house, picking my own clothes, but I stopped wearing them as my own choice), I bitched endlessly about my mom’s demands that I wear makeup and eventually stopped, I threw a fit when I was forced to get my ears pierced and eventually stopped wearing earrings entirely, I stopped wearing any of my jewelry… I even became athletic. I’d previously been notably anti-athletics, but as soon as it was no longer cool for a teenage girl to be good at sports I started trying to excel at running. I didn’t start shaving my legs or armpits until college, but I started cutting off my pubic hair with scissors as soon as it grew in, because adult femaleness grossed me out.

    Now, I had been a self-declared and ardent feminist, bordering on a female chauvinist, since the age of 3. I would not read anthologies if they had no female writers in them. (This was harder than it sounds because I was a huge science fiction fan.) I didn’t stop being a feminist, but I became much more comfortable around boys and men than I was around women and girls, and much more patronizing toward my own kind, because they deserve equality and to be taken seriously but really all that makeup *is* stupid and maybe they should get serious if they want to be taken seriously and who the hell even likes the color pink?

    It took having kids — which put me in an inescapably feminine position that I actually respected and also could not evade, once the kids had been had — to recognize that there is nothing inherently wrong with “feminine” ways of being. They are not for me, at least the ones about catering to the male gaze (I am all about the world catering to *my* gaze. I am not here to be looked at, I am here to look at you, so grow your hair long, wash it and actually brush the damn stuff, and while you’re at it how about you trade out those saggy pants for some tight jeans, huh boy?) But I can’t simultaneously believe that it’s a great idea for men to wear long hair and eyeliner, and also believe that women never should. There is nothing that makes people stupid about wanting to be beautiful; there is nothing morally wrong with wanting to be fashionable; and I’ve come to believe that the model in which you kind of idolize and really focus on the objects of your heterosexual desire as people who you want to understand and support is actually normal human behavior and the way men behave, where the objects of heterosexual desire are constructed as alien Others who need to be conquered or tricked or something and who are inherently not understandable or particularly likeable or respectable, is actually an abnormality forced on them by patriarchy. (In other words, we humans are actually built to *love* the people we love, but women are the ones who are capable of doing this freely because het men are simultaneously taught to hate us even as their biology wants to compel them to love us.)

    Because, really, you *can’t* get away from it. You think that with your pants and your geekiness, the guys who are your friends have accepted you as one of them, until you figure out that half of them are only your friends because they want to get into your pants. (Why does no one ever talk about the awfulness of this from the female perspective? We hear endless whining from NiceGuys about the “friend zone”, but how about the fucking betrayal you feel when you realize your best bud was only your friend because he wanted sex and he’ll drop you like a hot potato when you get a boyfriend? What zone is that?) And if you have kids, you discover, if you didn’t already know, that while motherhood is a narrative that is shoved on women, it is also a disempowering narrative constructed to make us seem weak and pathetic. “Your mom” should be a figure of power, but instead she is an idiot about computers and she whines that you never call her and she never actually did anything *important* with her life because she was focused on raising you. And a lot of women who reject that narrative do the exact same thing to mothers that we, the non-girly-girls, did to the girly girls — because I do not want to be a mother, I am not like *you*, weak and pathetic woman who had kids! You let your children consume your life, you think about them as the most important thing in your life, you are obviously stupid and have nothing important to say in life, and I will have to do all the talking for you because you’re a stupid weak *mom* who can’t protect yourself. Just like we said about the girly girls.

    Fuck that noise. Let’s all agree to respect each other, all right? I will respect your pink and your lipstick if you respect that my brain did not fall out my uterus when I had kids, and we might actually get somewhere in life if we spend our time fighting the real enemy rather than each other.

    1. JBL55
      JBL55 April 24, 2013 at 12:48 pm |

      We hear endless whining from NiceGuys about the “friend zone”, but how about the fucking betrayal you feel when you realize your best bud was only your friend because he wanted sex and he’ll drop you like a hot potato when you get a boyfriend? What zone is that?

      Amen, sister. I’m 57 and it happened to me (again) not that long ago from someone I’ve known for over thirty years. Fortunately it was less betrayal than a disregard of the inappropriate comment accompanied by a quiet inner disappointment: “What? You? Oh, come on!”

      And a lot of women who reject that narrative do the exact same thing to mothers that we, the non-girly-girls, did to the girly girls — because I do not want to be a mother, I am not like *you*, weak and pathetic woman who had kids! You let your children consume your life, you think about them as the most important thing in your life, you are obviously stupid and have nothing important to say in life …

      I didn’t “reject that narrative” — I always wanted kids and thought I’d have them, but as John Lennon said, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Long story.

      Anyway, the only women “who had kids” I tend to think of in the terms you describe are the ones who actually do let their children consume their lives, the ones who, unlike my own mother, see motherhood and being needed as a lifetime commitment to be imposed on themselves and their children.

      Thanks be to God my mother had her own life, and when her baby birds flew the nest under their own steam she was happy to move on to the next stage in her life which was far from anything most so-called empty nesters contemplate. She enjoyed watching the childen she raised stand on their own two feet while she continued to grow in her own vocation.

      One thing I find particularly sad about mothers who insist on remaining in child-rearing mode is the way they deprive themselves of the pleasures of a full and mature life. Not only can it retard their own emotional lives, it sets a lousy example for their children.

      But if they don’t care, who am I to judge?

    2. DouglasG
      DouglasG April 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm |

      [We hear endless whining from NiceGuys about the “friend zone”, but how about the fucking betrayal you feel when you realize your best bud was only your friend because he wanted sex and he’ll drop you like a hot potato when you get a boyfriend? What zone is that?]

      I suspect it’s next to the zone in which one finds oneself when one’s best friend reveals her attitude that of course any f* would be only too grateful to return her advances and convert to straight.

      Then again, the OP as a whole has a pretty close parallel for those who weren’t one of “those” Ls, Bs, Gs, Ts or other letters.

  4. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date April 24, 2013 at 9:33 am |

    I remember believing, in college:

    1. But if she didn’t say no, it wasn’t really rape.
    2. Human rights are one thing, women’s rights another.
    3. Women who spend a lot of time on hair, make-up, and clothes are shallow (unlike me).

    And I did consider myself a feminist. I’m sorry too.

    Also, thank you to the young internet feminists, from whom I have learned a whole lot.

  5. LC
    LC April 24, 2013 at 10:07 am |

    Ie if you do not want to identify with the group of people known as “feminists” (whether you have a correct picture of that group or not), then you do not call yourself a feminist. The question of whether your beliefs and ideology matches feminism (whatever definition that is “correct”) is secondary for many people.

    Which I think also leads into that endless discussion of labels and identity vs praxis? philosophy? ideology? — not even sure what the right word is here. (That tension is by no means limited to feminism/feminists, of course.)

    1. matlun
      matlun April 24, 2013 at 11:08 am |

      That tension is by no means limited to feminism/feminists, of course

      Right. But it is something that is often discussed as a problem when it comes to feminism. Ie why are so many women unwilling to call themselves feminists? Even if they actually hold values that I would call feminist.

  6. Ladeeda
    Ladeeda April 24, 2013 at 10:10 am |

    I think it’s really important to be able to forgive yourself for the fact that you become a decision-maker in this world long before your worldview comes into focus. Most of us were “bad” at feminism, by our standards today, before we really knew much about it, before we had the life experiences that could cement what feminism means in a living, breathing way.

    1. Marni
      Marni April 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm |

      This, just. We are all so heavily conditioned, whether it be by girlyness or tantrums of protest – one cannot shrug off the childhood programming before 30.

    2. K.M.
      K.M. April 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm |

      Yes, exactly, this. Plus, allowing forgiveness means it’s easier to admit mistakes and grow than if there is no forgiveness (whether from others or yourself). So how can a person’s feminist beliefs (or beliefs about anything really) become more logical/well-reasoned/nuanced/developed without the ability to acknowledge mistakes and move on? To err is human or something like that.

  7. EG
    EG April 24, 2013 at 10:18 am |

    I don’t know, I don’t think it’s just about feminism, it’s about being young. By definition, I didn’t know or understand as much when I was young as I do now. So I got more things wrong than I do now. But fortunately, I didn’t stop learning, and in a very real way you can’t learn if you never get things wrong. So…I don’t think you should feel bad, is what I’m saying.

    1. EG
      EG April 24, 2013 at 12:36 pm |

      And in 20 years, I’ll probably look back to now and cringe at some things, the way now I look back at my late teens and either cringe or feel a little sorry for the young, deluded person I was (not for everything–I mean, sometimes I look back and I think, “Damn, I was dead right on that and good for me for hanging in there.” But not always.).

      1. JBL55
        JBL55 April 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm |

        And in 20 years, I’ll probably look back to now and cringe at some things …

        Funny — I had a similar moment not that long ago about something I thought I had finally gotten right about five years back but realized, “Nope. Not yet.”

        I guess it never really ends — there are always some small improvements (and sometimes major adjustments) to be made.

        And that’s good. It means we’re paying attention. :-)

    2. Fat Steve
      Fat Steve April 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm |

      I don’t know, I don’t think it’s just about feminism, it’s about being young. By definition, I didn’t know or understand as much when I was young as I do now. So I got more things wrong than I do now. But fortunately, I didn’t stop learning, and in a very real way you can’t learn if you never get things wrong. So…I don’t think you should feel bad, is what I’m saying.

      I agree, though I don’t know if it’s actual age/maturity or just not having been exposed to the term feminism in a positive way. Coming from the family that I do, feminism was the norm. However, I remember an occasion when I was first dating my wife where she got truly offended when I called her a feminist. I made a long list of reasons as to why she was a feminist based on my observations, yet she ultimately won the argument with “don’t tell me what I am.” Nowadays she would be just as offended by someone who said she wasn’t a feminist.

      Now, this was 20 years ago, and I would hope that the female view of ‘feminists’ has changed, but I guess from the OP…not so much/

  8. bekabot
    bekabot April 24, 2013 at 1:13 pm |

    I’ve come to believe that the model in which you kind of idolize and really focus on the objects of your heterosexual desire as people who you want to understand and support is actually normal human behavior and the way men behave, where the objects of heterosexual desire are constructed as alien Others who need to be conquered or tricked or something and who are inherently not understandable or particularly likeable or respectable, is actually an abnormality forced on them by patriarchy.

    I’m certain you’re right, and I’m equally certain that one of the suckier parts of male life (as observed by me, from a distance) is the constant/boundless vetting men are subjected to so they won’t betray the brotherhood.

    (In other words, we humans are actually built to *love* the people we love, but women are the ones who are capable of doing this freely because het men are simultaneously taught to hate us even as their biology wants to compel them to love us.)

    Straight men are taught to be dubious about women, because women stand outside their group. The loyalty of straight men is construed by the group to be due to the group and not to influences outside the group, and any loyalty het-dudes direct outside their group is thought by the group to have been stolen from the group. When a guy champions a woman over his friends, his friends are understandably pissed off (from their point of view) because they’ve been deprived of their rights.

    The level to which they get pissed off may reach the point of hatred, but then again it may not. Either way their aggravation, their view of themselves as having been cheated or shorted by their friend or the woman or both, is something their society supports.

    1. PM
      PM April 24, 2013 at 7:36 pm |

      I’m a straight cis male and I believe this is 100% correct, at least here in the US. The minute I dropped this:

      “I’ve come to believe that the model in which you kind of idolize and really focus on the objects of your heterosexual desire as people who you want to understand and support is actually normal human behavior and the way men behave, where the objects of heterosexual desire are constructed as alien Others who need to be conquered or tricked or something and who are inherently not understandable or particularly likeable or respectable, is actually an abnormality forced on them by patriarchy.”

      is the minute I started forming lasting and REAL relationships with women – as friends, as lovers, and even with my own mother and sister. And feminism, including this very site, has been a big part of that.

      1. FYouMudFlaps
        FYouMudFlaps April 25, 2013 at 10:49 pm |

        Solidarity to the both of you. You’ve nailed the concept of othering perfectly, and glad to see you escaped the black hole’s pull. This is a reason I (bi male, Feminist identified) strongly click with women and gay men as friends far more than most het men.

  9. thefeministblogproject
    thefeministblogproject April 26, 2013 at 8:35 am |

    [...] week, I read a post by Feministe blogger Caperton, “On being one of those girls,” (http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2013/04/23/on-being-one-of-those-girls/) that was a personal reflection/reaction to this article originally posted on [...]

  10. Lovely Links: 4/26/13
    Lovely Links: 4/26/13 April 26, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

    [...] prejudices that float around – namely hairy legs and man-hating – which amount to internalized sexism. Also take a gander at the inspiration post over on Delusions of Equality, which is equally [...]

  11. K.M.
    K.M. April 27, 2013 at 10:17 pm |

    I loved this article. Few miscellaneous (slightly tangential) thoughts that came to mind in response (and most are in agreement with the article’s main ideas):

    1) The comments about the fine line of femininity that is acceptable vs. unacceptable particularly resonated for me since I am somewhat of a tomboy but still like some traditionally feminine things (like jewelry). It’s this idea that women often have to wear makeup to appear professional or attractive but not too much because that’s high maintenance! Same thing for clothes, behavior, etc. It’s such a hard, fatiguing line to walk.
    2) I don’t often call myself a feminist even though I believe in the feminist ideals and theories because I don’t actually do anything to further the cause. I don’t advocate, volunteer, or go to protests/events. Sometimes I try to figure out how I can behave more in line with my feminist ideals (and other social justice ideals) in the course of my own life but I don’t do any actual social justice work.
    3) The whole thing about not hanging out with girls or women because they are petty/catty/silly/etc always bothered me. It’s an idea that suffers from a confirmation bias whereas women who are not that way are not considered in the argument but women that do are better remembered. This whole argument treats women as a monolith that then leads to the distancing the author talked about.
    4) The idea about “good” vs. “bad” girls and some are to be taken seriously and their opinions valued (the others not) falls prey to judging an argument based on the messenger not the message quality.

    Anyway, these are just my random (and somewhat obvious) thoughts in response and I always appreciate something thought provoking like this article.

  12. April Sonja Wise
    April Sonja Wise April 29, 2013 at 5:20 am |

    Greetings. I’m coming to you as a first time responder on this blog.
    Yes, I am one of “those” girls; feminist, lesbian, trans, radical…and many more.

    The original article that Caperton is commenting on resonated with me as well, because it reminded me that I’ve come a long way since my youth, living in ignorance of the conditioning I carried; internalized sexism, and a heap of other fallacious, uninformed and uninspired notions.

    I’m always so focused on living and dealing with the present that I rarely ever have the opportunity to reflect and be thankful for the changes I’ve experienced.

    I feel that it is good to be reminded of former versions of our perception, so that we can be empowered with those insights to better live now in a way that makes us feel reasonably well.

    We need all the tools we can get in that field, because, aside from the tasks of being a positive example and taking affirmative actions, the process of dismantling our conditioned thought structures is lifelong, and not just because we’ve lived with it since our first moments and are immersed in it every day; these things were and largely still are (I do assert) internalized within our perception.

    To take yourself to task to investigate the full width and depth of patriarchy’s influence on your outlook, whilst attempting to discover and protect your true intrinsic self, is to declare that no longer will you simply allow the thoughts that arise in your head to go without notice, and be unexamined and unchallenged.

    This is to declare that you see that there is a headspace and a heartspace that you have glimpsed where no longer are you plagued by patriarchy’s rule; no longer subject to their dogma and their control; no longer embodying the thing that you most wish would cease.

    Of course, as the original article’s author states:

    “Yes, as a woman, you have been born into a world that is made for men. They set the standards, they define what is “normal”, you will always be the “other”. But it doesn’t, in any way or form, get better for you or for anyone else with a vagina, if you think you can enhance your position by talking down on things traditionally associated with being female.”

    What this means for us as women is that even as we struggle to maintain our hard-earned personal awakenings, we live in a world that hasn’t changed much on the gender front since the settlement of nomadic tribes into villages, and we thus need to not forget that even though we’ve come a long way, internalized patriarchy is still with us, so we must be considerate of ourselves and our sisters, that we not build ourselves a new cage from the remnants of the old one, and if we’re not presently making our exalted revolution into the glorious utopia, we at least avoid trampling our sisters as we make our way, always lending a helping hand, and of course, keeping a cheery attitude.

    1. EG
      EG April 29, 2013 at 10:42 am |

      Welcome to Feministe, April.

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