Let’s leave the villainization of Femininity in the Past
I would like to take you to January 2022. I am sick with the spicy cough (it feels like more than a spicy cough, plz get your boosters!). And determined to make a dint in my “to be read” pile. I select a book I got 50 pages through in Bali before the capital P-Pandemic - Playing the Field by Zoe Foster Blake.
Before I unpack what I read, I want to acknowledge that ZFB is a brilliant writer - and the characters she created in a book presents an opportunity for commentary around how we think and talk about other women. It was also written in 2010 - years before we were having more nuanced conversations about femininity.
Playing the Field is about an average girl, Jean, who designs jewelry and works in a boutique, who meets and falls in love with a handsome and successful Rugby player. Throughout the book, we are introduced to the world of WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends of footy players) and how Jean navigates fitting into this fast-paced and luxurious world. But one of the most unfortunately striking elements of the book - written from Jean’s perspective - is how she relentlessly puts down other WAGs and women who pose a threat to her relationship. For example, she refers to two of the other WAGs who are into make-up and beauty and have their own tan shop as the ‘Tandoori Twins’. On another occasion, when Jean and BF are going to a party and a group of teenage girls approach wanting photos from Josh, she internally refers to one of them as ‘Skanky’. In these regards, it was at times an uncomfortably confronting read.
But what ZFB does, is highlight how internalized misogyny is so deeply ingrained in our society. And it’s something that needs to change. Throughout the book, Jean takes comfort and pride in being unlike the other girls - she’s cool and ‘low maintenance’ - she tells her boyfriend she doesn’t care if he goes out for drinks with the boys - even if it’s not true. Because the thing is, when we take something like being ‘not like other girls’ as a compliment, it is counterintuitive; we are perpetuating this notion that to be like other girls is a bad thing. And it’s vain, vapid and shallow to like things like fashion or make-up or the color pink. This is a blatant form of internalized misogyny. This almost villainization of femininity is well permeated into the media. Think about Mean Girls - Regina George and her group as referred to as the ‘Plastics’ - and portrayed as being overly obsessed with their physical appearances. One of the most iconic lines in the movie? ‘On Wednesdays we wear pink.’
If femininity isn’t villainized,, it is being trivialized. Society is so quick to consider anything feminine to be automatically “basic” and not to be respected the same way typically more masculine interests are seen. There is no reason why a girl who wants to put posters on her wall of her favorite pop stars should be trivialized anymore than a boy or man having whole rooms of sports memorabilia. Toxically, it subconsciously suggests that feminine interests are not to be afforded the same respect as masculine interests. Whether someone is getting excited about a new make-up line or upcoming football match, the important thing is that this interest brings them joy. There is no reason why feminine interests should be considered less valid. Especially when these interests are literally harming no one. Itsmetinx on Instagram breaks this concept down really well:
There are some great examples of decentralizing this narrative in television, movies and media. Hailee Steinfield’s Most Girls is an anthem striving to support girls’ embracing themselves for who they are. Similarly, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde proved that you can both represent the epitome of feminism but also be taken seriously and kick goals in whatever you set out to achieve. Think about how Josh in Clueless realized there was more to Cher than liking shopping and shoes through her pursuit of a meaningful life. Or how Buffy Summers constantly proved that she was capable of saving the world, while embracing teenage things like crushes and dating (albeit with vampires) and shopping. What else do these icons have in common? They are all kind and compassionate - a stark contrast to the idea that the feminine woman should be in a clique of her peers and mean-spirited. But it should be nevertheless acknowledged that these are examples of blonde haired and blue eyed women: greater representation is needed across, race, ethnicity, and lived experiences of misogyny.
In 2022, we are leaving this ‘feminity is the enemy’ mentality behind. Because if you want to like being feminine, or anything associated typically with femininity, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. And to like those things - does not mean you are “basic” or uninteresting or shallow. These things do not have to be mutually exclusive. But to actively rewrite this narrative - we need to hold ourselves and others to account. When we are having thoughts like Jean - and demoralising someone because of their appearance or interests - we need to take a step back. In Jean’s case, could it be said that she was projecting her own insecurity onto the WAG’s spray-tanning business because she had not dedicated time to her own jewellery line?
We all have those moments where we can slip into thoughts of internalised misogyny. But what we need to do is use those moments to remind us to do better for our fellow gals - if we don’t have each other’s backs, who will?
Thank-you to Jacinda Hill for the ideas and discussions that went into writing this piece. If you want to learn more about the topic, I highly recommend reading Florence Given’s “Women Don’t Owe You Pretty”. You can also find her on Instagram here.