In American society, masculinity is considered to be more desirable than femininity. Women can wear pants and baggy t-shirts, but men who choose to wear skirts or makeup are often shamed and ridiculed. Because of internalized misogyny—the involuntary belief women have that stereotypical, sexist lies about women are true—often women distance themselves from other women (“I just don’t like other women!” “I’m not like other women!”) to gain social capital.
When I openly started involving myself with feminism, a lot of people had questions and comments. “What happened to you?” was probably the most common remark, but a close second was “I don’t like feminism because I don’t want to be masculine.” I thought about the second comment a lot.
When I was a child, I loved Barbies, pink, purses, make-up, Disney princesses, and glitter. I gravitated towards those things, while my younger sister did not quite as much as I did. When my family moved into our new house in the town where I went to middle and high school, I insisted on painting my room pink. I had a pink ballet shoe rug and pink feather boas glued onto my mirror. In high school, I loved shopping, pretty dresses, and high heels. I was not a fan of outdoor camping, and I rarely wore sweats. I did not have very many male friends; most all of my friends were always girls.
While girls tend to only get compliments on their appearance rather than their actions anyway, I found myself being even more overvalued for my looks than my competence because of the way I displayed my femininity. When I did play sports, people either could not believe it, or they asked my questions like, “What color is your uniform?” or made comments like “you must be getting such a good body from that!”
So when I heard comments about not wanting to be masculine after I started being open about my feminist beliefs, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own life. I always explained that feminism was not about ‘being masculine’, but I still hesitated when I thought about the way I was displaying my femininity. Displaying femininity often makes people assume you are incompetent, brainless, or super passive.
Once, when I was waiting for the bus at the mall, the guy next to me struck up a conversation. He remarked on my appearance and asked me questions about the items I had purchased. After awhile, the topic somehow turned to feminism, and I began to explain my views. “Wow, you sure know a lot about…stuff. I would have never guessed you were a feminist. I always imagine feminists to be so…well, manly.” So I gently explain that—surprise!—the girl in the blue tulle dress and pink ballet flats (me) could be a feminist.
Feminism for me has become a way to say “I can make my own choices. I will make my own choices.” Some of those choices include taking selfies and talking about race intersectionality. There are parts of femininity I unabashedly cling to, because feminism has taught me I can be competent, smart, and a good learner, all while wearing lipstick.