Yesterday I decided to snack on some cookies during break at my internship with a fellow intern. My mom sent me back to school with Pumpkin Spice Milanos from fall break, and I stashed them in my car for a snack emergency such as this. I casually offered my colleague a cookie and she shook her head.
“Are those pumpkin?”
I laughed, “Of course! What do you take me for?”
She grinned, but dismissively responded: “I don’t know, not that basic.”
Call me sensitive, but that remark has been stuck in my craw ever since. Not that I have any sort of personal connection to pumpkin flavored cookies, but her words instantly made me take a hard, shrunken look at myself.
Inch-long acrylic gel manicure. Freshly bleached highlights. Kylie Cosmetics encrusted lips. Basic. I sank.
Beyond the physical, I’ve always struggled with confidence in my own intellect. If you were to peek over my shoulder at any given time, you would find me checking Britney Spears fan sites, watching beauty tutorials, browsing cat photos or reading Hollywood gossip forums. Basic girl, basic interests. How foolish I felt sitting in bright pink sneakers with nothing more on my mind than Instagram and pumpkin cookies.
I recognize the narrative of my situation– there is a certain privilege in claiming I’m bullied as a basic white girl. The currency of Ugg boots, salon appointments and specialty coffee are white and expensive. Victimizing myself with these devices would be ignorant and misguided.
Rather, I recognize that femininity is cross-culturally categorized as subordinate. Extending beyond luxuries of the white American girl, women of all backgrounds constantly work to prove themselves despite femininity. Masculine interests or traits are employed to somehow redeem women of their identities.
Growing up in small-town Virginia, there was a dichotomous expectation and shame in my expression of femininity. Girls are supposed to play with dolls, dress-up and go to dance class, but comments from family members like “she’s so smart!” or “what a confident young lady!” came with condition. I’ve always felt like I’ve had to sacrifice parts of my pink and glittery Barbie imagination for my presentation to others in the academic and creative fields. How could I ever prove myself as a professional with a bedroom the color of Pepto-Bismol and false eyelashes that reach my eyebrows?
Anti-feminine feminism was my first brush with the feminist movement. Based on my skewed understanding of femininity’s worth, I believed that I had to deny some of myself to be a truly strong, independent female. If I wasn’t “like the other girls”, I would then surpass all the other females in my life by some intangible male standard of worthiness.
Though it is certifiably a bop, the song “Stupid Girls” by P!nk perfectly encapsulates my insecurity. When this song popped up on my Spotify queue recently, I realized anti-feminine feminism denies validity to girls of a certain status. The song, and its borderline offensive music video, demean women for their characteristically feminine interests. I understand that P!nk encourages girls with “ambition”– but her message comes at the price of other females.
It has become increasingly clear in my lifetime how much our society hates femininity. Even though we are expected to be sexual, flirty and glamorous, we are still mocked for it. Femininity will always lack validity compared to the masculine. That’s why simple things like Starbucks, Beyoncé karaoke and cosmetics– things all people should enjoy– are used as tools to put us as the lesser.
If I am, in fact, subscribing to patriarchal oppression by taking selfies or organizing my Hello Kitty collection, to what effect will my self-awareness give men power? I’ve always looked up to media figures like the fictional Cher Horowitz or Elle Woods for their glamour in tandem with their strength. Ambition and overall intelligence as female should, in no way, be limited by one’s femininity. I feel most empowered when I express myself as my authentic blend of girly, gorgeous, confident and savvy.
I admit there are times when I wish with my whole being the sorority members across the cafeteria would just shut up, or suck in my cheeks when I hear a gaggle of girls squealing about the new Taylor Swift single. But I try to remember the pumpkin cookies.
My high school English teacher calling the romance novel in my backpack trashy.
The burning embarrassment I’ve always felt in debuting a new fashion trend.
The glaze in people’s eyes when I explain what I write about on MyJawbreakers.
What, in that instance, makes me any better than the misogyny that breeds my insecurity? Exploring femininity is liberating, dynamic and so, so fun. Trading in the traits that have helped me flourish for something more acceptable to men sounds a lot like surrendering.
And the kind of girl I am will never give up.