The male gaze is more inescapable than you think

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

The “pick-me” girl has taken over social media; it has become synonymous with a woman who values male validation above all else — her friends, her interests and even herself. 

Videos of girls pretending to be pick-mes garner thousands of views with people in the comments praising themselves for how they could never do this. 

They would never stoop so low to shape themselves around the affinities of men. However, I find that whenever I read these comments or watch these videos, I feel a pang of familiarity. I’m not proud of it, but there was definitely a point in my life where I thought that way — that I associated femininity with silliness and lauded boys for being so much cooler.

Whether it be because I grew up idolizing my older brother or the lack of meaningful and healthy female relationships I saw portrayed in the media, I struggled to see why I shouldn’t want to be picked. 

In shows, girl friends were always one step away from stabbing you in the back; in movies, they were just the supporting cast to get you together with the man who would actually, truly bring you happiness. 

Raised in an immigrant household with parents from a country where being a woman was considered lesser, I quickly picked up that femininity was an obstacle, that the only way a woman could be taken seriously was to be strong and accepted by men, to be the woman a man could respect because that is how you made it. With this in mind, it is of little surprise then that I wanted to be “picked” so badly. This was not even in a romantic sense, but I just wanted the validation that I wasn’t like the other girls who were too lost in their frivolous arguments about boys, makeup and clothing to do anything of meaning. I’m sure if middle school me saw me writing this article right now, wearing all pink with a Hello Kitty scrunchie on my wrist, sitting with a girl friend that I value like family, she would do a little flop in her grave.

However, I might be closer to middle school me than she thinks. Similar to her, I find myself trapped in the confines of what I should do, but now, on the other side of it.

I love my friends, almost all of whom are girls, and I own more bows than I ever thought was possible. But, as I walk into a professional room in hot pink slacks or lead a meeting in a short sundress, I wonder whether a part of me does this as rebellion, rather than a desire to be myself. Making a tangible effort in your appearance, such as coordinating your outfit or doing your makeup, outside of what is deemed necessary for you to be professional, automatically reduces you to being vapid and dumb, to being a woman, and there is no worse sentence than that. 

When you’ve been constantly talked down to, underestimated and sized down in every room you’ve ever walked into, sometimes you have to see the silver lining — to take it as empowerment, to strive for the rightful justice in knowing that you are so much more than they can give you credit for, to live for the surprise on their face when they realize you are capable.

And while you’re going down that path, why don’t you play into pre-existing notions?

Wear pink and say your favorite movie is “Legally Blonde,” since they’re going to act like you’re not there anywhere. 

In doing this, I have found that being prototypically feminine is my way of saying that I am succeeding not despite the fact that I’m a woman, but I’m succeeding as a woman. However, even though these confines are much pinker and prettier, I find myself still feeling trapped. If I abandon the bows, am I conforming? If I keep the bows, am I just doing it to stand out?

At what point does rebellion become performance? In an effort to non-conform, do we take so much time drawing ourselves outside the box that the box becomes the central focus anyways? In trying so hard to write around, speak around, exist around a concept, are we not just creating a life in its shape?

I’m still trying to figure out who I am separate from the male gaze. I know that I may never fully know the answer, but I can try. 

I can set out to dress for myself, not who I think I need to be, and carve a meaningful path for myself that doesn’t have to veer around the patriarchy. 

Years later, I find myself asking the same questions from when I was in middle school, begging to be picked. Have I even changed since those days? Who am I when I am not conforming or rebelling, but just being?