In a new article for Ravishly, Anne Thériault explains why it’s so important that we stop associating power solely with masculine traits while devaluing femininity. I love this article because it made me question a lot of my own internal biases. Even though I consider myself an open-minded feminist, I’ll still sometimes instinctively reject something “girly” because I subconsciously associate it with weakness. That’s messed up on many levels, and Thériault eloquently explains why:
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Little girls are, for the most part, taught that women can be anything. This is a message that we try to instill in them from day one. However, what they aren’t taught is that people who dress, think or act in a traditionally feminine manner can be anything. The message that we consistently send out is that in order to achieve any kind of significant career goals, girls need to adopt traits that are typically associated with masculinity. Like, sure you can be a girl and write code, but you can't write code while wearing a dress. You can chair a meeting, but not while wearing sparkly hair clips. You can repair a bicycle, but not while wearing lipstick. Everyone knows that lipstick prevents people from being competent.
The flip side of all of this is that we shame any boys (and, to a certain extent, girls) who participate in activities or behaviors that are seen as being more “feminine.” I can’t tell you the number of parents I’ve seen who think they’ve somehow failed at feminism because their daughters like lace and Barbie dolls; it’s much rarer to see the parent of a boy upset because his love of Batman and Star Wars doesn't sufficiently challenge gender roles. This devaluation of femininity is why everyone was fine with Izzy's Iron Man tattoo, but balked at my son’s appreciation of My Little Pony. It’s less about enforcing rigidly defined gender roles on boys and girls, and more about straight up misogyny. Anything regarded as “feminine” is still seen by men and women alike as occupying a lower status.
Gender equality doesn’t mean that everything has to be androgynous. It means that all the girly things we've been taught to have such disdain for should be seen as being just as good as all the masculine stuff we self-described patriarchy-hating folks continue to embrace. The way forward isn't to teach girls to be more like boys—that’s just the same old patriarchal shit of privileging masculinity over femininity. Instead, we should be teaching all kids that wearing skirts and loving pink and wanting cuddly baby dolls are totally cool and fine ways to be. There’s nothing inherently bad about being femme; problems arise when we try to enforce femininity on people as a means of oppression.
Read the full article at Ravishly. And after that go revisit the secret feminist masterpiece Legally Blonde, which makes the same points with a healthy dose of humor.
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