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One Woman Can Change Anything. Many Women Can Change Everything

I’m so excited for my baby girl. I really am. The other day I bought her a little outfit with a kitten on the front, and it came with a tiny hat adorned with little cat ears, and I nearly died right then. Truly, I am very excited for a little girl.
I’m excited for my little girl for less superficial, and less gendered reasons as well. (Although, I’d put a little boy in that cat outfit too, rest assured.) I’m excited to share my favorite books and favorite movies with her. I’m excited to take her to my favorite places. Someday she’ll come home from school with little-kid pictures to hang on the fridge, where all the people look like big smiley spider blobs. Hurray for little girls, and little kids! (I never thought I’d type that. That is the miracle of life, right there.)
But someday, I want my little girl to grow up. If she’s 25 and still wearing hats with kitten ears on a day other than Halloween, (or unless she’s joined a revival cast of Cats,) I’m going to feel like a bit of a parenting failure.  
That seems obvious, right? Someday, little girls grow into women.
Not entirely. Lately I’ve noticed a trend, mostly in the form of celebrities and “lifestyle” blogs, in which the newest, hottest thing is to act like a little girl, but with breasts. Sometimes I call it the Zooey Deschanel  phenomenon. Adult women wearing frilly little dresses and lacey ankle socks, legs bowed like they just took their first steps in Mom’s high heels. Their voices are breathy, and their online profiles state “Hubby is a 2L in law school, but all I want is a hot pink swing set for the backyard!” In one particularly disturbing profile picture, the husband sat on a park bench, looking stern and grown-up in a suit and reading The Wall Street Journal. The wife sat on the other end, legs and mary-jane shoes in the air, blowing a big bubble-gum bubble.
Apparently I’m not the only one annoyed with the Zooey -Deschanel- little-girl phenomenon, and Zooey even addressed her critics by stating that “If you feel like dressing like a girl, there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t know why femininity should be associated with weakness. Women should be free to express who they are without thinking, I need to act like a man, or I need to tone it down to be successful. That’s a very good way to keep women down.”
On many levels, I completely agree with Deschanel . I don’t think there is a right way to be a woman, and I’m not even opposed to occasional forays into sartorial whimsy (I have some ballet flats with bows, that’s girly, right?) I also don’t believe the solution to gender inequality is dressing like a man. For me, it isn’t so much the clothes, but the attitude behind them, the attitude, the posing, the refusal to talk about anything other than rainbows and butterflies.  It should be noted that the Deschanel  quote I used comes from an interview in which Deschanel poses by making wide-eyed kissy faces at the camera.
But Deschanel is absolutely right about this: Femininity shouldn’t be associated with weakness.  I think we simply disagree on what it means to be feminine. When I think of feminine, I absolutely think of strength. I think of my Grandmother who gave birth naturally to five children, one of whom was born feet first.  I think of First-Lady Obama, looking positively beautiful in a pink sheath dress, with arms so toned she could beat any of the Republican nominees in an arm wrestle. I think of Joan of Arc dying for her beliefs at 14. Joan of Arc should have been wearing ballet flats with bows on them, but she had bigger fish to fry.  I think of Mother Theresa, who crossed cultural, social, and political borders to help those who were truly weak.  Mother Theresa   didn’t need to make kissy faces at the camera to prove she was a woman, and neither should my daughter.
Likewise, I’m discouraged by all the positive praise the recent article, “The Death of Pretty” received. In the article, Pat Archbold claims to be sick of all the slutty “hot” women, and wants us to go back to being “pretty, and innocent.” First, oh look, a man telling women how to dress so that he can feel better! Revolutionary! No. Men, stop telling us what to do with our bodies because you don’t know how to handle yours. Women, stop telling Men it is okay to tell us what to do with our bodies.  I don’t want my little girl dressing like a prostitute, but I don’t want her to need to be “pretty” either.  She is worth so much more than her face.
Secondly, and more disturbing than the “pretty” comment, however, is the idea of women in perpetual “innocence.” Children are innocent. Yes, to be innocent means “free from guilt or sin,” but it comes at a price: to be innocent means “to be free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil.” I want my little girl to live a life free from guilt or sin, of course, but not at a sacrifice of knowledge. As she grows into adulthood, I want her to be knowledgeable, so that she can know evil, and fight it.  I want her to alleviate guilt from knowing how to make it better. To get all Biblical, Adam and Eve lost their innocence when they left the garden, but look at what they gained: the opportunity to become parents, knowledge of good and evil. Sex. Experience.  Life.  Even if you don’t believe in the literal story, the myth itself is intriguing: Would you rather remain a little girl, or grow into a woman?
Lastly, I will confess that I was inspired to finally publish this post after reading Alice Bradley’s post “On Being an Object, And then Not Being an Object.” In her post she shares this antidote:
“ A year ago I was at a family event and a few of my mom's friends--older women all--were expressing amazement that I would let my hair go gray. One of them--a woman I've known since I was born--said, "Men don't mind it when their hair goes gray, because gray hair makes you look more intimidating. And a woman doesn't want to look intimidating."
Alice Bradley’s response: “Do I want to look intimidating? God, yes. I do.”
So often women are told, sometimes openly, and sometimes in whispered mumbles of “Bitch,” that we must choose. We can be feminine and pretty and girly, which translates into nice, and lady-like, and good. Or we can be strong, aggressive, and accomplished, which must mean bitchy, rude, and ugly.
I refuse to accept that false dichotomy. I refuse it for myself, and I refuse it for my little girl. Baby, you are beautiful for so much more than your tiny, pretty, cat-hat head. You can be brave, lovely, wonderful, kind, confident, accomplished and strong. You can be a woman.



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45 comments:

Teryn said...

I seriously love your blog. I usually lurk, but I love it. You are going to be a fantastic Mother. And if I should ever meet you in person, I will count myself very lucky.

Stephanie said...

Thanks, Teryn. I blush. :)

Heidi said...

Heyyyy and Teryn is my cousin. Small world!

Just wanted to say, Stephanie, that I'm a lurker, but admire you incredibly much.

Thanks for this post--you rock!

Fig said...

You know what I consider a symbol of femininity? Birth. And it is anything but dainty and pretty. It's intuitive, primal, agonal, powerful, creative, expressive, loud, human, and wild.

Of course, it's not THE, singular, symbol of femininity - that would be unfair to women who don't give birth, by choice or otherwise. But it's a physical embodying of our most innate characteristics as women, it's where we all came from, and it's heroic. Women are heroes too.

Sharone said...

Yeah, you nailed this. It's one of the best things I've read on this topic. The kind of thing I instantly want everyone I know to read.

Flo said...

That's one great post. More mothers should read it.
Congrats on your baby!

Hillary said...

Such interesting thoughts. I wonder, if I ever have a girl, what and how I will teach her about what it means to be a woman. There are so many forces out there--in society, in the LDS church, with confusing, demeaning, and patronizing messages.

I guess I hope to teach her that she is valuable in and of herself, and her value is not dependent on what value someone else--like a man--places on her. I hope to teach her that she can be what she chooses--strong, accomplished, confident--but those things don't have to come at the expense of being pretty if that's what she wants. If she wants to curl her hair and paint her nails and wear mary janes, that's fine be me, but those things should please her, not someone else.

I hope to teach her to find a mate who knows and respects her for who she is. No marriage is perfect, and mine is certainly far from it. But I do feel blessed to have a spouse who is unconcerned with how feminine or not I choose to present myself on a particular day. He just doesn't care or really notice. So I know when I change my hair color, or buy a new dress, or paint my nails, or whatever else, it's for me. and I can wear that new dress or nail or hair color whilst simultaneously giving a killer cross-examination in a deposition. It pleases me. And that choice--to do what makes me happy without sacrificing strength, accomplishment, and knowledge--is in my opinion the height of femininity.

Maggie said...

Oh my goodness! That "Death of Pretty" article is revolting.

"Most girls don’t want to be pretty anymore even if they understand what it is. It is ironic that 40 years of women’s liberation has succeeded only in turning women into a commodity. Something to be used up and thrown out."

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/the-death-of-pretty/#ixzz1kyi0HgaD

What does this even mean? And in what way has the women's lib turned women into commodities. If he chooses to view women as such, this view is nothing new. Women have been treated as commodities since the beginning of time.

And I love what you said about innocence. Why should feel inclined to project innocence? I'm a grown ass woman. And he assumes the false diachotomy, that a woman must be either a saint or a whore. Is there no 3rd way? Can't I be beautiful and informed and powerful and loved?

Stephanie said...

@ Hillary: Well said! I agree that our daughters (and we) can look awesome and be strong and powerful.

@Fig: Amen, and amen.

@Maggie I'm so tired of dudes telling me that women's lib makes me sad. Let me tell YOU how I feel. I feel awesome that I can vote, that I can work if I want, that I can participate in society. Women's Lib FEELS EFFING AWESOME.

hellien said...

Great post...thanks for introducing me to Alice Bradley

evangeline said...

Oh my heck! My cousin Teryn AND my sister Heidi in this comment section? Family reunion!!!!

A Toast to Kos said...

You're awesome. One day, I hope we meet. I think we would be very, very good friends. I had my first baby four months ago and he's blowing my mind with cuteness. I loved your kitten hat-on-boy child comment...ditto.

All this, so good. Can't pull my thoughts together at the moment but yes to all.

Anyway. Bosom buddy.

@emllewellyn said...

Wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful. Thank you for your blog!

heidikins said...

Yes. This. Thank you.

xox

Jane of Seagull Fountain said...

I was thinking about this last week a little, but I was calling it Anne Shirley Syndrome in my head. And I love Anne Shirley, and I've read everything (including all the not-so-good short story anthologies) by LMM, and still grown women (okay, lifestyle bloggers) who project the Anne Shirley ingenue-ity to motherhood and life get me down. I can not be that sort of woman/mother. Even the parts of it I want to be.

But it's complicated -- tired/resigned middle age isn't a good look for women either. My husband loved me for my passion for life but he's not so excited about it when the main manifestation is swearing at the kids.

I want to be the coming-of-age heroine in my own life, but instead I'm the sagging mother at thirty-four. So I can see the appeal. Where are my chunky black glasses?

Stephanie said...

@Jane

Those are good questions, and good points, and I don't have any answers. I want to be Anne Shirley too, sometimes. I want to be adorbale. Sometimes, like you posted recently, I want to be Marilla.

I guess the only sort of answer is that in the end I want to be myself: I'm a woman, who sometimes wears bow flats, and would snatch the Wall Street Journal right out of the smug hands of that photo husband.

And since I feel like we are speaking in code: I will find your chuny black glasses if you find me my impossibly skinny neon-colored jeans.

Lisa Louise said...

i am so glad you can put so eloquently into words what so many of us feel as well steep. thanks!

Naomi said...

After reading this post, my girl crush on you is full-blown.

UK Yankee said...

Amen to this post! I love it all, and I agree with it all. You really will be an amazing mother, and your daughter is a very lucky girl!

Aubrey said...

What disturbs me is this "little girl" persona is just as sexualized as the "whore" look. We can be sexy without being sexualized, believe it or not. We can be feminine and womanly and strong and beautiful by our own definitions. I love how you called out the Death of Pretty article. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Christi said...

I apologize if this doesn't make sense, I'm still vetting my feelins on this.

I'm torn on this. It is an issue for men to be telling women how to dress/act because of how it makes them feel, but it's also an issue for women to be telilng other women how to dress/act because it makes them feel better about being a women. With the Zooey Deschanel example, she should be able to dress however she wants and pose however she wants. I think it hurts us as women when we tell other women, "You need to act this way for us to be taken seriously."

On the other hand, your example of the photo of the huband reading the WSJ and the wife playfully blowing a bubble seriously distrubs me, so I'm not sure what the solution is.

Ru said...

Agreed to all of the above. Though not the cat accessories because dogs are where it's at. :)

I do take issue with women who dress like toddlers and then claiming they're just dressing in a "feminine" way. The word "feminine" encompasses so much possibility, so to hide behind oversized hairbows and ribbons and a My Little Pony purse and just declare it "feminine" seems disingenuous. Most (not all) of the time layers and layers of frill usually cover a person who also lacks substance.

Take your WSJ/bubble gum example. If instead she had been holding a camera, or a paintbrush, or even just putting up the peace sign like some hippy throwback, I think everyone would have gotten, "Oh, she's a free spirit and he's grounded! That's cute." Instead she chose behavior that really isn't acceptable from adults -- when was the last time you saw someone over 18 in real life blowing a bubble and didn't think they were incredibly obnoxious?

At some point women need to ask themselves, "Am I showing people that I am a serious person? That I can handle responsibility and go toe-to-toe with my female forebears like Alice Paul or Susan B. Anthony or any given pioneer woman? That if my grandmother or great-grandmother could see me now, she wouldn't be rolling her eyes?" Because I suspect that people older than our generation understood that "feminine" and "child-like" were not synonymous. When I was a child, I spake as a child, but when I became a woman I put away childish things & all that jazz. No, Paul wasn't talking about clothes, but if you are a serious person, your outward behavior should not trick people into thinking otherwise.

And I don't think that's a woman-ganging-up-on-other-women thing, I think that's a common sense thing.

Stephanie said...

@ Christi

I know, I'm torn myself and I wrote it. I did try hard to differentiate that I'm okay with dressing/posing as a part of your identity, but not as ALL of it.

Like with the "Death of Pretty" article, all the author cares about it how a woman LOOKS. There is nothing wrong with pretty, until you make it the measure of a person's worth.

I guess that is also what bugs me about Deschanel, is she is constantly pushing the girly thing as the ONLY way to be feminine.

Anyway, I tried hard to stay away from saying you CANT be a certain way, only that you CAN be many things. You don't have to choose between the wall street journal and bubble gum. Women can be everything.

Lindsay and Lexie said...

Amen, girl. You echo the words my twin sister and I shout from the rooftops at our website, beautyredefined.net, and when we travel around speaking about how capable women are of so much more than being looked at. Thank you for doing what you do - for being a voice of strength and happiness and beautiful femininity in every way that matters. Beautiful!

Christi said...

I see what you are saying. Thanks for making me think about these things. Your blog really helps me to figure out what my opinions are on matters I never even thought of. :)

Kayce said...

AMEN!

Melissa said...

I love you more and more every time you post. I had a baby four weeks ago and I have to admit I was relieved to find out we were having a boy, because it seemed easier. But the more I think about it the more I don't know how to teach a boy to respect the women in his life any more than I know how to teach a girl to respect herself. I hope when he grows up he is strong and confident and love women who are strong and confident too. It seems overwhelming, but not as overwhelming as having a girl.

Risa said...

A big hearty amen to everything you wrote.

The truly hard part (having a 10 year old daughter myself) is even no matter how hard you try, the cultural message seeps in. It's an every day battle, something I did not anticipate 11 years ago when I found out I was having a girl baby. And I was raised by feminist parents! Heaven only knows how much harder it was for them 30 years ago.

Crystal said...

I'm very confused about what it means to be a woman and how I want to handle it, myself. I'm 27 years old and I feel like I'm stuck in this weirdo limbo. I want to be the bitch in a pencil skirt, not the one that is hateful without purpose, but the one that gets stuff done. No questions asked. But on the flipside, I do have a stuffed unicorn with pink wings that I made with my bff last year still in my closet.

I feel like I'm torn between the two stereotypes and I can't balance it out because if I do, I'm "cheating" on the one or all the negativity of that particular stereotype is going to eat me alive.

I'm also concerned that because of the things I want I'm not going to get married because all I'm seeing is that men WANT those Deschanel types, little ditzy girls who are just pretty arm candy. I'm not a ditzy little girl, I mean I can fake ditzy just as well as the rest of them, but I'm better than that.

Femme Facetious said...

You mirror my thoughts exactly on this. Just...yes. So much yes.

I had my daughter almost a year ago (next week!). When I found out I was having a girl, I...my heart didn't fall, per se, it was more of an "oh sh*t" moment. Because I? I am not good at "being a girl". In all those girly ways. Sure, I like girly things, and I like to look nice, but I am fairly useless when it comes to makeup and clothes and all of that stuff, and downright snarky when someone tries to put those giant effing bows that look like ace headbands on my daughter's head.

Which...is fine, I know. I know that that is not what I need to teach her how to be a good person, a strong woman, a productive member of society and all that. But that "Death of Pretty" article made me want to punch that guy with a chair.

I love my little girl. I love her to pieces and it's scary, knowing that even as the sheltered, naive bookworm science nerd I was, I was *still* exposed to some of that crap we speak of, and it still affected my outlook (see feeling bad that I am not girly enough, above). ANYWAY. Enough about my issues. Imma just print out your whole post and tuck it away for the day she comes to me asking for advice on how flip this pretty= good strong = bitchy dichotomy on its ass.

Stephanie, your writing is superb and I might have the tiniest bit of a blog crush on you. If I ever meet you in real life, I will shake you by the hand and say "Well done, woman." Which will hopefully be not awkward, but oh well. Awkwardness, unlike eyeliner, I am very good at.

Stephanie said...

@Crystal, if it makes you feel any better, I think a lot of us are confused. I want to be authoritative, but kind. I want to be attractive, but not in the little-girl way. Am I ruining feminism if I wear a tight shirt because my husband likes it?

I don't know. I do know that it shouldn't seem so impossible to balance the bitch in the pencil skirt and the unicorn in the closet. Good for you for wanting to have both.

LovelyLauren said...

What especially bothers be about grown women acting like little girls is that little girls don't even act that way. You can talk about how cute-silly it is that you're 27 and love to watch Disney movies, but last week I had a fifth grade girl come talk to me about how she was afraid of people dying because of a lot of deaths in the family recently and another talk about how she doesn't have any friends because she doesn't like anyone in her class. Kids aren't all ponies and rainbows at all.

It also bothers me when grown women refuse to read books written for grown women. It's fine to like YA books, but I have a hard time respecting someone as a serious reader if they actually think that The Hunger Games are like, the best books ever!

Slight tangent...anyway, this was a really great post. I also hated the Death of Pretty article, for many reasons.

griffin said...

First of all I just started reading your blog a few weeks ago and I love it. I'm an extremely driven, ex college athlete, career woman and I've had to stand up to a lot of gender stereotypes in my life.

That being said, I think a lot of the posters are misjudge Zooey. I've followed both Deschanel sister's careers (in case you didn't know her sister is Bones, a very feminist, strong character) and I fell in love with her character in Tin Man which documents a naive girl's transformation to a strong woman. I think this transition is a vital part of any feminist's journey. Her character learns to not fear expressing her own desires and quit succumbing to the desires of others, something that all feminists should be able to do. In our society it takes real guts for an actress to not morph into another "hot" blonde (see Megan Fox) flaunting her body for everyone to see. I think the awkward, quirky and fun loving Zooey is a breath of fresh air. It's true she doesn't come across as someone who's happiness is based on her ability to cure a disease or run a marathon, but it also doesn't seem to come from what the world thinks of her. Maybe it is ok that she is happy just being herself.

Essentially, if she is dressing/acting the way she does for other people, then I don't respect her. However, if the Zooey that is projected to the public is her actual personality, and it makes her happy then I like her. She has been criticized her entire career for being who she is. The fact she hasn't changed that impresses me and makes her seem more genuine.

Stephanie said...

@Griffin

Those are good points, and I didn't know that about Zooey. I will be totally honest, most of my Deschanel experience comes from me seeing photos of her in a magazine, usually doing something infantile like licking a lollipop or wearing bunny ears (not the playboy type, which is one positive, I guess.)

To clarify, I think she has a good point on a lot of things (You don't have to dress like a man, femininity is good, etc.) I disagree with the line where she equates being "girly" with being "feminine." I'm not very "girly" but that doesn't stop me from being a woman.

Brian and Lindsey said...

well written. your little girl is going to be great!

Joni said...

I'm teaching a combined English/History class this year focusing on the 20th Century of America - we just got to the 50s. I look at the model of womanhood that starts then and think about Catcher in the Rye and just feel so blasted torn. (I also just finished reading "A Doll's House" with my classes, so that has fueled the fire. . .) As a woman I sometimes enjoy dressing up. As an actress I take great pleasure out of running around in hoop skirts for the novelty of it. I love the days when I step in front of my class and just feel like I look great. But I also feel like Holden sometimes - trapped in a society that doesn't quite understand the reality of my life because it is easier not to. I'm single, but I don't need to be babied or pitied. I'm a woman, but I don't need a man to make sure my oil gets changed. Someday I'll be a wife, but I don't want to be a mother to my husband or a child to him either. I want to be a powerful and effective and involved person in the world without feeling like if I share my opinions I'm going to get myself in trouble, but I also want to embrace the gentility and understanding of a kind woman. I just want to be ME. I want my experience in all of its many varied realities to be validated and appreciated for what it is, not for what it isn't, or what it could be compared to Jane Doe next to me.

Anyway. Bless you for writing this.

TheOneTrueSue said...

Wonderful post Stephanie. You've just expressed a lot of the things I've been feeling lately, and have been able to clarify them for me in a way I probably never would have. Thanks for that. Add me to the list of people who would love to meet you live and in person at some point.

Stephanie said...

@ Sue

Awwww shucks. Thanks.I'd love to meet everyone as well. I'm a bore in real life though. :)

Eliza R. Snitch said...

Yay! I want a girl baby, especially since if we have a boy, my husband wants to name him Socrates or Theophanes. Yikes. But hypothetical babies and hypothetical baby names aside, I also want to look intimidating. Yes please. I have been looking for some Harold B. Lee-type glasses because are you going to take a lady in Harold B. Lee-type glasses seriously? Yes. Yes, you are.

ChristyLove said...

None of my comments on your blog ever match the amazingness of your posts, and I think that might have to do with my lurking on the weekends every other month when my brain is fried and all I have the energy for is to play on the internet. Nonetheless,

I decided from a young age that I'd let my hair go gray naturally, as it has fairly early, for these same reasons. I don't think I've ever articulated it so well as the woman in your example, but my reasons are the same. In my family, an aged woman is a graceful, powerful one, and that's what I aspire to be and example to my girls.

I became afraid of Mrs. O. the day I first saw a picture of her crazyarms. What the crap? I often wonder if I emailed her about her personal training schedule would she actually share it with me.

Finally,

I want my little girl to be free of the guilt that comes with liking how she looks in a dress despite someone else's version of modesty, or reading yet another article about how the world "needs" less stregnth in women and more softness... If you have tips, I'd love to hear them. Because I'm scared to death that by the time she hits thirteen, she might have written me off and joined a cult.

Stephanie said...

@Christylove

If you get Mrs. O to send you her arm workout, forward it to me. I probably won't ever do it, but I'll THINK about it, which should count for something.

No tips, I fear for raising girls, except I noticed that with my students, the most well-adjusted girls are the one who are passionate about something, and believe that they are good at it. Doesn't matter if it is soccer or drama, those girls seem much more self-confident. Even the girl who wants to draw anime porn professionally when she grows up.

AzĂșcar said...

You're not a bore in real life, you're adorable. Shame about that brain though, maybe we can tone it down?

JustMe said...

I wanted to comment, but after I finished drafting it, my comment was a blog in itself so I will spare you.

As usual, I agree and disagree with you.

Tiffany said...

(I didn't read this word for word, as I have been chasing children around.) This is an issue I feel pretty strongly about. There is way too much emphasis on what women wear. This is a little bit of a tangent but along with clothes I've been thinking a lot about modesty. Modesty is such an arbitrary thing. I think the LDS Church puts a little too much into the modesty of women. I really think the amount of concern about modesty actually ends up objectifying women. If I wore a tank top or somewhat short shorts people would think less of me in LDS culture. We are more than what we wear. (although I do loves clothes:) ) Interesting thought: Do you think pornography would be such a problem if our society wasn't so sexually repressed? I doubt there is much a problem in certain African societies. (Sorry about the super delayed comment)

Bryan and Sarah said...

You are awesome and I love this post.