There Isn't One Way to Be a Girl

So I came across this tumblr post yesterday, and after chatting with one of my CPs about it, it got me thinking.

http://bethrevis.tumblr.com/post/116119181047/this-is-what-frustrates-me-people-dont-like

On one hand, I agree with the quote and the article it came from. I think oftentimes, in books and TV shows and movies, the women who are praised for being strong often do tend to be more masculine than the traditional “norm.” From Katniss to Arya, Mulan to Daenerys, Tris to Black Widow, the image of strong female characters almost always feature girls who (literally) kick ass, and hide their emotions, and rebel against gender conformity. Girls who, conversely, are more feminine tend to come under fire for being too passive, too “girly,” too emotional, too implicitly weak. 

But being feminine and being strong are not mutually exclusive, and I definitely agree with everything said about Sansa in that post. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to come down on gender nonconforming girls either, because they stand as a societal reminder that there’s no one way to be a girl. And that’s something that even now in my twenty-somethings, I’m still re-teaching myself.

Photo credit: Jemimus on Flickr
As a not-traditionally-feminine girl who grew up in a household with a very feminine mother and two very feminine sisters, it was, and still is, refreshing to me to see girls embracing themselves, even when that person doesn't necessarily conform to gender norms. I didn't until just recently ask myself why, for example, Mulan was hands-down my favorite Disney princess and the only one I ever identified with and I suspect it was because she was a strong princess who didn’t look or act like what you'd expect from a princess. She hated dresses (as a kid, so did I!), and rolled her eyes at her mother’s attempts to make her appear more girly (*cough*), and she did everything the guys did and no one could stop her (it will be a surprise to no one, I think, that my favorite sport has always been martial arts). 

It wasn’t until recently that I really began to embrace myself, even when that person wasn’t as girly as years of dresses, skirts, and frilly blouses insinuated I should be. It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized I could like makeup, and nail polish, and earrings and yes, even dresses, but also like (very) short hair, and hoodies, and jeans, and blazers, and graphic tees, and beanies. For years I had this idea in my head that being a girl meant liking all the girly, frilly things and because the clothes I often wanted to wear were decidedly less feminine, there must be something wrong with my taste and style. 

There isn’t one way to be a girl, and there isn’t a wrong way to be a girl, either. Girls can be feminine and masculine simultaneously. Girls can be emotional black belts, stoic fashionistas and make-up wearing sword-wielders. Girls can show strength in different ways—whether it’s through Sansa’s controlled political-savviness or Arya’s daring courage. Feminine, masculine and strong can all be used to describe girls—or even the same girl, and I want to see representation of them all. 

There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine. We are complicated, and layered, and contradictory, and we are raw, and real, and here. 

What do you think? 

Twitter-sized bites:
"There are limitless varieties of girls, and every single one of us deserve to see ourselves as a heroine." (Click to tweet)  
.@Ava_Jae says there isn't one way to be a girl, or one way to be strong. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

15 comments:

Johnsen_MH said...

Thank you! This is one of my pet peeves. To laud women who exhibit traditionally masculine traits at the expense of those who display traditionally feminine ones seems to me just another way of saying 'girls have cooties'. In fact, one is measured on the same scale whether one is applauded for being traditionally feminine or not being traditionally feminine; the only difference is where the mark for 'best' performance is set. This: "There isn’t one way to be a girl, and there isn’t a wrong way to be a girl, either" sums it up nicely!



I've got a soft spot for Brandon Sanderson's Jasnah Kholin (Stormlight archive) for this very reason.

Sam Taylor said...

Love, love, love this post! It touches on a point I've been arguing for a while: feminism and equal opportunity for girls should empower us all to embrace ourselves as we are, however that may be. Because we are complex people, and should not be confined to any boxes or either/or definitions of what it "means" to be a girl.

Gwen Tolios said...

What always pissed me off about Sansa wasn't that she was feminine, but that for the most part she was passive. Things happened to her, she just went along with the flow, and of all the characters in the book, I'm surprised she wasn't one that got killed. I do like the fact though she's a foil for her sister, they are two different ways of surviving in Westeros and they both do it. That's cool to see.

Mirjana V. said...

I think you'll like Savannah Brown... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WAHCBmjyy8

Heather said...

I think this is very true. I have more "traditionally feminine" sisters I would say, and my parents have sometimes struggled with me when their idea of what I should wear and what my idea of what I should wear differ. And yet, I have no doubt that I'm still a girl, and better, it is something I enjoy to be. I really enjoy seeing girls who get to express different aspects of being a girl—I remember really enjoying that in the Artemis Fowl series Juliet Butler wears sparkle eye shadow and kicks pizza boys in the solar plexus. But at the same time, I also really enjoy girls like Sansa who fight their own fights quietly, with silent strength, and look awesome in fancy dresses that I would never wear. It's awesome seeing all kinds of girls, but it's also awesome getting to enjoy all the kinds of girls out there, even if we all have our own quirks.

N said...

Ohhh. She's from Game of Thrones! I was wondering what Sansa was from!

Ava Jae said...

Ha ha yup! She is.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks! I agree that oftentimes a "best" marker is set on one end of the spectrum or the other, but it's totally unnecessary. There isn't a "best" way to be a girl—just be yourself. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thank you so much, Sam! I absolutely 100% agree and love the way you stated that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! :)

Ava Jae said...

See, I agree and disagree. I think she started off passive, yes, but after her father was killed and Joffrey continued to become more and more horrible and she realized a) she was on her own and b) this was not going to be the fantasy marriage she was hoping for, she became a much more dynamic character. Yes, she often went along with things, but she didn't do it because she didn't care—she was playing a political role of the "passive fiancĂ©e" that she needed to play to survive. She was careful and cunning and smart and she survived because of her faux-passivity. Or at least, that's how I see it.


I agree though that she plays an interesting counterpoint to Arya. And I like how different they are, because it really shows that sibling dynamic well.

Ava Jae said...

Yes! I completely agree. I also liked Holly in the Artemis Fowl series for similar reasons (although I think she was a little more tomboy-ish than Juliet, but she was still very much a girl while being an awesome girl). And I also agree that seeing a variety of girls is important and awesome—especially given that we all have quirks. :)

Ava Jae said...

Wow! Good call, I LOVED that vlog! I'm following her now. So great. Thanks for sharing! :)

Mirjana V. said...

Glad you liked it! And thank YOU for being awesome!

Kaitlin said...

I love this post, this is something that has been on my mind for a while now and something that has been getting under my skin about YA. When browsing what agents are looking for I see requests for "strong" female characters with "strong" meaning "kick ass." I don't like how the two have become the same thing. I like kick ass characters but they're not the ones I tend to identify with most as a reader. I'm more of a Hermione Granger kind of girl.

I wrote a similar post about this and I mentioned you in it if you would like to peruse it: http://inkandquills.com/2015/04/22/your-heroine-doesnt-have-to-kick-ass-to-be-strong/

I hope we start seeing more varieties of strong girls!

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Kaitlin! While I do think that many agents have a more nuanced idea of "strong" than what we tend to see already portrayed, I do agree that that's often where the focus lies. Also, I'd love to see more Hermione Granger-type characters as well as other varieties of strong girls—I hope we do!


Also, thanks for linking me to the post (and mentioning me in it)! I definitely agree with what you said. Feminine can absolutely mean strong—it's just a different kind of strength than what we're used to seeing portrayed in the media.

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