Is it possible to be a feminine Feminist? Is it possible to love pink and princess dresses and still demand gender equality? Er, yes of course it is.
The collision of femininity and feminism is something I think about often. When my daughter was born, I was fairly sure I wouldn’t be decking her out in head to toe pink and was keen to steer away from the princess narrative.
This is how that went.
In many ways, the traditional stereotypes are limiting and we should be careful of shoehorning our children into roles that we think they should be in, rather than ones they choose for themselves.
But then as I watched my daughter develop a love of frilly dresses and jewelry (which comes first the love of frilly dresses, or the frilly dresses? ) I began to ponder why I thought that had any reflection on who she really was. Did it make her less bright, or less funny – both characteristics she shows in abundance. Of course not.
Did I think that women who liked to dress up in make up and high heels were somehow different to the feminists I admired? Well, if I’m to be 100% honest I suppose some part of me did. Internalised misogyny is a bugger. It also manifests itself in the ‘Cool Girl‘ phenomenon, as famously described in the novel Gone Girl, or ‘not like other girls’ syndrome. The Cool Girl likes sport, drinking, she’s funny and smart, and will laugh at all his jokes. She’s also pretty, and, crucially, won’t nag and is happy for him to do his own thing. Do Cool Girls exist or are they a figment of male imagination? That’s another day’s work but, this is what you’re saying when you say you’re not like other girls:
Look at the silly women with the make up and the frills and prettiness. I’m not like them, I’m serious and thoughtful and clever. I’m better than them. Because why? Because they like girly stuff.
Internalised misogyny also leads to things like Julia Hartley – Brewer sniggering with Giles Coren about Emma Watson. In case you missed it, Hartley – Brewer sent out this lovely tweet below and then proceeded to demonstrate how ‘cool’ she was by toadying up to Giles Coren, ‘nice tits, though’ was Brewer’s comment after Coren had declared Watson gives ‘feminists a bad name.’ Of course, this is just ‘banter’. Oh, lolz.
The problem is not with pink, nor Emma Watson and her photoshoot. The problem is with the negative associations that society has attributed to pink. Emer O’Toole describes this perfectly in her book ‘Girls Will Be Girls’,
The problem isn’t the symbols it’s what they represent in our sexist society. Long hair shouldn’t signify passivity nor make up frivolity.
There are obviously problems with the princess stories, they tend to put forward a passive narrative for girls rather than, as Nora Ephron would have it, letting them be the heroine of their story.
But let us not tell our daughters that a love of dress up means they can’t be the heroines.
Dress your daughter in a princess dress, let her hair grow long, and let her go climb a tree or conduct a science experiment. Science and make up are not mutually exclusive – neither are femininity and feminism.
When Hair is Gendered
As a somewhat tangential aside, I took my son to the barbers yesterday. I have had my daughter’s short bob cut there in the past also. As she has informed me she now wishes to grow her hair, I just wanted a quick fringe trim. Literally a straight line across her forehead. The barber told me he couldn’t do it because they don’t cut girls hair.
Leave aside for the moment the skill level of the task ( if he wasn’t able to cut a fringe, I’m not sure I wanted to let him loose on the entirety of my son’s head of hair). What did he mean by ‘girls’ hair’? Long hair, presumably. So if a boy had come in with long hair would he have refused to cut it also? If my daughter was having a short back and sides , then it would have been OK to cut her ‘girls’ hair’. I do understand there are technical skills involved in cutting certain kinds of styles, but not cutting a straight line across someone’s forehead, because the hair on it belongs to a girl. Well, that seems a bit bonkers to me.
And so a trip to the barbers, becomes a prolonged analysis of gender stereotypes and their perpetuation in our sexist society.
God, being a feminist is exhausting.