I was admittedly very uncool in middle school. I cut off all of my hair, only wore boxy, oversized clothes and made the decision to hate everything my female peers enjoyed. Taylor Swift, UGG boots, the color pink were all filed away as girly or basic.
As my peers tried desperately to make themselves feel more comfortable throughout the awkward stages of junior high puberty, I snickered at them for both their empowerment in standing out and their comfort in blending in. This is not an uncommon occurrence; many girls throughout their youths are encouraged to turn away their femininity — to be “not like the other girls.”
As someone who has perpetuated this stereotype throughout most of my life, I can’t help but unpack the reasoning behind it. Why was I so adamant about not being like the other girls? What is so bad about being like the other girls?This ties back to the greater problem of misogyny within our society. Men are strong and intelligent. Women are weak and emotional. Weak and emotional is bad. I, at 13, didn’t want to be like the other girls, because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak.
So what? I’ve grown up, and I’ve realized the error in my thought processes. Now what?
The problem is that my internalized misogyny is far from resolved. During my time involved with Greek Life, it was clear that college-aged women are still taught to hate not only their own femininity, but the femininity of those around them. My chapter was constantly abuzz with all the latest gossip on who we hated that day and why.
Outwardly, Panhellenic gave us constant reminders that we as women need to support each other, but behind closed doors, we were pitted against each other, particularly by the men on campus. Although Tech does not have a rigid sorority ranking system, there are clearly a handful of chapters that were chosen as the cool, popular ones. We didn’t like them, because they received too much validation from men. There were also a handful of chapters that were seen as low-tier. We didn’t like them, because they did not receive enough validation from men. For as long as I’ve been alive, my worth as a woman has been defined by the value men assign to me.
This issue, in addition to being deeply damaging to individuals who portray feminine traits, can be dangerous. A mainstream example of this is singer-songwriter Taylor Swift. As I said, I loathed Taylor Swift and everything she represented. She was constantly with another boyfriend just to break up with him a week later and write a song about it for profit.
A brief history: Taylor Swift entered the mainstream music industry at 16 years old. By the time she was a legal adult, men twice her age had already formed a line to take their share of the blonde-haired teenager. As she processed the trauma left behind, she wrote a series of both vulnerable and uplifting songs about these heartbreaks.
Why did I hold Taylor responsible for the actions of the men taking advantage of her? Why did society judge her so harshly for turning her emotions into art?
The double standard for men and women penetrates every aspect of daily life and, in cases of murder and sexual assault, puts victems, men and women alike, at serious risk. While the primary perpetrators of this are men throughout history and our society as a whole today, we as women can step in to relieve the pressure on each other.
Whether that means being a little kinder to your female peers — even if she is wearing the wrong jeans or is a member of the wrong sorority — or to yourself, the smallest of actions can completely change someone’s mindset.
If you’re not doing it for the unity and wellbeing of women, stereotypically feminine or otherwise, as a whole, do it for my middle school self. Because it took me a long time to grow out that haircut.