Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Into Every Life a Few Cliches Must Fall

Over the years I've had to accept that, although they are gender cliches and I hate being anything "typical", there are some things I do (or don't do) as a woman that fit some of the more irritating generalities made about us. The thing that's important to remember about them is that, though they may be cliches, the only reason they're gendered is because of sexism. They aren't universally true of all or even most women, it's just taken for granted that they are. And unfortunately, even the most acceptable feminine thing is "less than". That's just the nature of othering.

The problem with that, among many, is something I encounter when it comes to the phenomenon of being considered "girly". I'm going to define that here as things that are deemed cute, traditionally feminine (ie. dresses, lace, bows), and often domestic arts. Being "girly" is definitely not used as a compliment most of the time, it's generally diminutive because it's more overtly "feminine" and therefore not masculine...which even for women is often more positive than negative, so long as you don't go full on "butch". That's a whole other conversation.

Now, I am not talking about women who speak in baby talk or act like they're five when they're thirty. That's being childish, not "girly". What I'm talking about is the belittlement of things like baking, crafting for fun, enjoying cute, playful, or whimsical fashion, and not conforming to the modern idea of what a "mature" woman should wear or do for fun. Enjoying silly things does not mean you're the anti-mature, and it doesn't mean you're trying to remain a child. What it does mean is that you've been able to cultivate the same sense of wonder you had as a child and apply it to your adult life. How that's bad I don't know.

Plenty of women who wear much more objectively womanly clothes (ie. ones that make it obvious what your gender is in a sexual sense and are arguably worn for the male gaze) act more immature and childish than I do. If someone can't take me seriously because sometimes I wear a bow in my hair or prefer quirkier fashion than just whatever The Gap is selling this season, then that says a lot about how they judge others. I don't act or present myself as a child, I just don't adhere to fashion trends.

Granted, gender expressions of any kind don't exist in a vacuum. But it's as important to wonder why people want to genuinely infantalize women, as it is to objectively look at why many women choose to identify themselves in less male gaze oriented fashion, or dabble in activities that they enjoyed as a child, and why we would seek to belittle that because it's "girly". If wearing pink or lace is an automatic negative, we need to look at why. The same way we need to criticize other generalities associated with being female and what is and is not acceptable for gender presentation. And beyond that...I'm kind of really super tired of people trying to dictate my fashion sense. Wear what you want, but don't expect me to conform to arbitrary notions of what is and is not fashionable and appropriate. Especially when I'm covered from neck to ankles and in no way infringing on your space or somehow poking you in the eye with my sartorial choices.

As you can see from the above, caring about fashion is one of the many gender cliches I fall into. I legitimately give a shit about clothing and spend a lot of time figuring out outfits and pieces, especially for professional situations. I care a great deal about how I present myself. Some of it is from having an eating disorder and body dysmorphia. I'm overly aware of how I look and worry a lot about how that's interpreted/judged. But I also enjoy it as a way to express myself. I find clothing, when everything goes well, fun and creative and another aspect of who I am. And ultimately I make fashion choices based on what I like, not what I think others will like or accept.

What other cliches do I fit into? Well...I do love chocolate. I wear makeup. My periods are awful and I get cranky before and during. I sometimes spend to much money on shoes, though generally it's boots. I like kittens and things that are cute. I enjoy frilly dresses and Peter Pan collars. My personal style is eclectic...a dress, tights, and an old lady sweater will probably factor in. I like vintage silhouettes and stompy boots. And sometimes I lounge around the house in oversized sweats, or go for military coats. Mixing it up is something I enjoy.

I make things. Like, if I suddenly get a bug up my bum that I absolutely MUST HAVE a glittery octopus pin or skirt with a flower on it or some fancy icing cupcakes...then I make them. I keep jewelry supplies all over the house, usually stuff that is sparkly or fun, and just...make a necklace or a ring or a bracelet because I can. I like home crafts a lot. I go completely nuts at Halloween with the decorations, most made my me. I like pretty things, girls, colors, textures...I still think fairies are nifty, even if they are not really very nice in mythological terms.

Some things have shifted over time. I used to really hate the color pink, for instance. I hated how it was used in ridiculous discussions about what is and is not inherent to gender. I hated that I was expected to wear it just because I was a girl. I hated that people ignored the fact that not that long ago it was actually considered a masculine color, so attaching gender meanings to hue is just dumb. And then...I grew up. I didn't forget the meanings given to it, but I stopped allowing it to influence whether I liked it or not. And I do like it. I've had pink hair, and some pink items of clothing, and I find it unexpectedly flattering. I still prefer blue, but not because I'm rejecting gender norms.

The only cliche I fit that actually bothers me on a deeper level is that I both hate and am not good at math. I don't know if it's just that my brain is wired for narratives and illustrations, or because I'm so verbal I'm practically diarhiffic...but math and me have never been friends. There was a time when we were cordial. I didn't feel stupid at it, I just knew my limitations. I over think math by a lot and just in general would rather be reading something about dragons. But a time came, about late middle school, when I realized math and I were going to have words. And then a falling out. And then tense encounters until I was finally able to drop it my second year of high school.

I admire people who are great at math and wish I was. But the reality is, I'm good with the basics and that's as far as it goes. Everything else might as well be in an alien language.

The truth about all of these cliches or stereotype is that while they apply to me and I'm a woman...they aren't what defines me or any other woman. They aren't essential female traits. Many, if not all, are socially engineered. They're not biological. And that's okay. It's okay that some of things I like are social constructs because I know they are. I'm not blindly thinking they're created out of magic vagina powers every other woman I know will immediately relate to and feel the same way about.

At the end of the day it's about balance. I can accept the things about me that are considered "traditionally" feminine, and even the parts that are "girly" because I don't see them as negative. I'm a complicated person and no one part of me is better than the other.

And if you underestimate me because I wear pink or lace, well...you'll quickly learn it was a mistake.

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