By Kjersti McDonald
“One of the guys.”
“Not like other girls.”
“The cool girl.”
If I said I didn’t subscribe to the idea that these phrases were compliments at one point in my life, I’d be lying. You see, like most other women, I was raised to believe that females were catty, dramatic, and shallow. I grew up thinking that girly girl colors like pink and purple were inferior; that wearing dresses and doing one’s hair and makeup every day made one superficial; that too much femininity was inherently bad.
Internalized misogyny wasn’t a term I really understood until a few years ago. When I got older, made close female friends, and started to really come into my feminist self, I realized that my whole life, I had been taught on a subconscious level that the average girl was bad.
“I didn’t have many female friends. I always hung out with guys because they were less drama.” Have you ever said this? I definitely have. And it has always been assumed that this fact would suddenly make me seem cooler, more down-to-earth. Really, what I was saying was: “Drama is bad. Girls love drama. Girls are bad. I am different, which makes me good.”
When we purposefully distance ourselves from our gender, we are giving in to the idea that women are inferior, two-dimensional beings, who follow a typical trope of stereotypes, and that if by some miracle you are able to escape the typical feminine aspects of our gender, you are automatically better – more valuable and more worthwhile – than the average female.
The truth is, women are complex. All of us are different. And we’ve been pit against each other our whole lives because society wants us to continue to believe that most women fit into this box of inferiority, and if you want to break out of that box, you need to take on typical masculine traits. But not too masculine. Just the right amount of masculine to make the guys around you feel important and valued, but just the right amount of feminine to remain attractive.
I’m reminded of the character portrayed in the journal of Amy Dunne in “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn:
“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.”
You just can’t win. If you’re trying to fit into the “cool girl” mold, I can promise you, you won’t win. You might be genuinely interested in all of those things that make you a “cool girl” and have genuine friends, and that’s great! But continuing to accept that as your role – to tout it as a proud label – only serves to degrade the rest of your gender, and your fellow women deserve so much better than that.
The truth is, there aren’t feminine traits that are inherently good or bad, and the presence of a specific trait doesn’t ensure a grocery list of other stereotypes to go along with it.
Think about this: why do boys and men who like stereotypically girly things catch so much flack? Because things for girls are bad and things for boys are good. Why are gay men seen as less capable than straight men? Because men who like other men are equated with women (who society typically expects to like men), and women are weak and inferior. The idea that “girly things” are bad affects more than just women – it sits at the base of homophobia, and also fuels toxic masculinity.
Escaping your own internalized misogyny is probably not a one-step process. You may find yourself distancing yourself from a new girl at work or in your group of friends. You might judge a girl based on her sex life, her style, her knowledge (or lack thereof) of sports, her music preferences. Just try to remember this: stereotypical femininity neither degrades nor defines a person. And there’s nothing wrong with embracing your “girly” traits, holding tight to your girlfriends, and completely rejecting the patriarchy’s rules about gender norms and stereotypes.
There are no “other girls” that you should try not to be like in order to have value. We’re all just humans, and we all have our own value.