The Role of Teenage Girls

When I was born, the doctor took one quick look at me and announced to everyone in the room, “it’s a girl!” and my mother was overjoyed. Because now, she had someone to dress up and make pretty.

For the first twelve years of my life, I was a doll. A little porcelain doll, really, with blonde ringlets and pink bows and dresses made of velvet and lace. I wore white stockings and hair ties and braids. I smiled big, and I batted my long lashes, and I knew I was pretty. I got told that I was pretty from everyone I passed, from strangers, old men in the hallways of my apartment, women who threatened to take me home with them or gobble me up.

Around the age of twelve, however, my prettiness began to fade. I was too tall and too skinny now, built out of awkward proportions and acne. My teeth were full of gaps that made me smile less, or at least smile smaller. I no longer got compared to princesses and fairies, but to hockey players who had taken a hit to the face one too many times.

It was around this time that I became more aware of the comments that were made about that initial announcement, as well; insinuations about all those people who got told “it’s a girl” from the delivery room.

Girls were stupid, I heard. Girls were weak. Girls were vapid and frivolous and vain, and they couldn’t be taken seriously for the life of them.

Well, if that’s the case, I thought, then why would I want to be a girl?

I went up to my bedroom, opened my closet, and ripped out all the dresses of velvet and lace, all the pink bows and white stockings, and I threw it all away. All that I left at that point was black.

And thus began my descent into one of the most universally mocked groups of people in North America: I became a teenage girl.

Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, a lot of my time was spent trying to prove that I was different from them. Because whatever they did, there always seemed to be something wrong with it.

They listened to vapid pop songs made by people without talent who used Auto-Tune for everything. I sort of thought that these songs were fun. Without substance, sure, but they were sort of fun to dance to anyway. Not that I’d let these thoughts occur to me at the time, though, because if they liked that music, then I liked retro music that was totally different from anything they were listening to (retro synth-pop music, but whatever, it’s totally different, man).

They read and watched Twilight, so, of course, I abhorred Twilight, along with everyone else. I didn’t connect the fact that, while the girls my age were ridiculed for liking Twilight, the boys my age were praised for liking Michael Bay’s Transformers movies or the Fast and the Furious franchise. I didn’t notice that they were all equally as stupid and misogynistic, or that Megan Fox was sexualized for a straight male audience just as much as Taylor Lautner was sexualized for a straight female audience. I didn’t question any of this; I just accepted that Twilight was bad because it had poor writing (not because it was linked with teenage girls), while Fast and the Furious was good because it had car chases (not because it was linked with teenage boys).

They took selfies, which made them open-season for widespread mocking, because it obviously meant that they were stupid and vain and self-indulgent, so, of course, I was too good for that.

They drank pumpkin spice lattes, so, of course, I drank green tea.

They caused drama and liked to talk about their feelings. I remained silent.

I wore “I’m not like other girls” proudly across my lips, not because there was anything wrong with the other girls, because I didn’t want to be treated like the other girls.

But I was still treated like them. If I posted one picture of myself on social media, the immediate assumption was that I thought I was so good, and I was so vain, and did I really think that everyone wanted to see that? I still had simple things explained to me like I didn’t understand them. I was still condescended to and shut out of certain male-oriented spaces and sexualized, even when I didn’t dress or act like them. Because the truth is, anyone who demands that you not act like a woman in order to earn respect is not the sort of person who respects any woman.

And, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, I began to realize that there was nothing wrong with being them, not really.

Taking selfies does not make you any less of a person.

Pumpkin spice lattes do not make you any less of a person.

Listening to boy bands and popular music does not make you any less of a person.

We as a society simply like to judge and criticize anything that is connected to a primarily female audience. And maybe nowadays it isn’t Twilight that gets all of the hate, now it’s movies like the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot or Oceans 8. If young women have the opportunity to enjoy something or see themselves in it, then the knee-jerk reaction that society seems to have is to belittle it or call it stupid, or at the very least, to hold it to a much, much higher standard that anything connected to a primarily male audience.

And especially when you’re growing up and still trying to find your identity, like teenage girls are, what this creates is a need to distance yourself from… yourself. You try to change to please people. You refuse to enjoy things because you don’t want to be mocked and belittled. You watch your every movement, try to make sure that you can be considered respectable and good. And despite all of this, you still fail.

So when you reach adulthood, you have two choices: you can continue to enforce this idea that the things teenage girls do are stupid. You can keep chasing this mythical idea of becoming a woman worthy of a misogynist’s respect, except that will never happen. All you will accomplish is denying parts of yourself, and making other women feel bad about themselves.

Or, on the other hand, you can just say fuck it and be yourself.

I chose the latter.

I wear make-up and dance to pop music and dye my hair pink, all while sipping on my Starbucks brand frappuccino, thank you very much. I don’t go out of my way to do these things or anything; I just do them without guilt now.

And we should be allowed to do these sorts of things without guilt. We should be allowed to try new things without fear of being judged. We should be allowed to zone out to a mindless, stupid movie that appeals to us without being told that we’re wrong. We should be allowed to enjoy things, actually, truly enjoy them, so long as they don’t hurt anyone.

And nothing that I have listed in this article hurts anyone. What hurts people is a misogynistic society that immediately assumes that, just because someone was born to the words, “it’s a girl”, then that automatically means that they are vapid and stupid. That is what I truly think is wrong.

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Why I Wear Make-Up Every Day

We as a society have a lot of different ideas when it comes to women and make-up.

“Men don’t like a lot of make-up, you know.”

Cool. If that’s the case, I recommend that they stick to a bit of light foundation, maybe some mascara.

Oh, wait, you mean, they don’t like a lot of make-up on me. Well, who cares? I’m not wearing make-up to impress men. I haven’t done anything with the express intention of impressing men en masse for as long as I can remember.

I first started wearing make-up when I was about ten years old, and I started to find an interest in the more alternative, punk, goth, or “emo” scene. I cut all my hair off, dyed what was left dark, and started wearing some serious Pete Wentz-style eyeliner. It… wasn’t a good look. For anyone.

But my mom, who was a casual make-up artist, was delighted to see me take an interest in make-up, even if it was a rudimentary interest. She encouraged me to try out different looks, different styles, and at first I found it frustrating. Just like any art form is frustrating before you get the hang of it. Because that’s what make-up is, I soon learned: an art. You have to know your canvas. You have to understand where the light hits your face, what will open your eyes up, what will make them appear smaller, what will make you glow in the right way and what will make you glow in the wrong way.

I learned a lot. In fact, I’m still learning.

But, I have to admit, my favourite thing to do with make-up, to this day, is to go a little bit alternative with it. I like to explore the styles of Amy Winehouse or Joan Jett. I like to play. I like to explore.

It has nothing at all to do with men.

“But aren’t you a feminist? How can you rationalize being a feminist and wearing make-up?”

Simple: I just do.

I wear make-up of my own choice. Nobody is forcing me to do it. In fact, I enjoy it; applying make-up is the way that I relax before the start of the day. Without it, I feel rushed and clumsy. And wearing make-up is part of what makes me feel put-together, powerful, a warrior woman with winged eyeliner sharp enough to kill a man.

And I understand: there is a feminist argument that states that women are encouraged to wear make-up by the patriarchy, and as a result, the simple act of a woman putting make-up on is playing into patriarchal expectations. But to that, I say two things: 1) my body (or, well, face in this instance), my choice, and 2) I don’t think that I’m necessarily playing into patriarchal expectations of how a woman should look. If I were doing that, I’d have to grow out my mohawk and get rid of my tattoos.

“But when you stop wearing make-up, you feel so much freer!”

Well, I’m glad that you found that when you stopped wearing make-up. I hope that you continue to feel free. But that just wasn’t my experience.

Because, despite popular opinion, I can actually leave the house without make-up on. In fact, I’ve done it before, and I always felt… half-dressed. Underwhelming. Less… me, for lack of a better way to word it. The make-up isn’t me, of course, but it’s part of how I choose to present myself. It’s fun, it’s a symbol of my artistic side, my rebellious nature come out to play. I don’t feel free without it, I feel naked and awkward. I feel the way that anyone would feel if they were forced to dress like someone else for a day.

And I’m not trying to put down women who don’t want to choose make-up. I’m not trying to tell you that you’re wrong if you don’t. All that I’m trying to say is that there are multiple perspectives, and mine is equally valid.

“Why don’t you try not wearing make-up for a day? It’s like you’re hiding behind a mask.”

Only if you choose to see it that way. Make-up is not a mask; it does not change who I am, fundamentally, as a person. It does not hide me. It does not keep me any more or less safe than I would be without it. I am not trying to make you think that I’m something I’m not when I wear it; I know that you know my eyelids are not actually gold (or, at least, I hope you do).

We never make statements like this about any other style-oriented choice. We never ask someone to “try not wearing a shirt for a day” because “I don’t really know what your torso looks like, do I?” And if we did tell someone to do this, then we’d all see this statement for what it is: an odd and slightly invasive request.

Because, personally, I choose to wear make-up. And some women choose not to wear make-up. And both of these types of women are perfectly valid, with their own reasons for doing as they do (trust me; I focused on why I wear make-up here, but I can understand why someone wouldn’t too. I wouldn’t if I didn’t enjoy it, because it costs money and it takes time).

But we get so caught up in what women should be doing with make-up that we end up trying to force a constant stream of messages down women’s throats.

“You’d look better without make-up, you know.”

“You’d look better with a little make-up.”

“Who are you trying to impress with that make-up?”

“Oh my god, what’s wrong with you, are you sick? Oh. That’s just your face.”

No, no, no, you know what: who cares? Make-up is not a universal rule that can be applied to all women; it is an individual choice. Some women like it. Some women don’t. And both are fine. The only thing that isn’t fine is trying to tell women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies, or making unfair assumptions about them because of their choices.

 

The Judgement of Women

There is no one right way to be a woman.

There are some women in this world who cannot imagine anything more rewarding than motherhood. Women whose happy ending involves that devoted husband, that stable home, that white picket fence. Women who would prefer to stay at home and take care of their kids than go out and work. Women who identify with the terms ‘wife and mother’, ‘stay-at-home mom’, and ‘housewife’, without any qualms or objections.

And then there are women in this world who don’t want any of that. Women who never really saw themselves as mothers, never really wanted any of that. Women who could not imagine anything more rewarding than their career. Women who never felt the need to attach themselves to a single partner for their entire lives, who were perfectly content with their own love for themselves and their passions.

And then there are women in this world who fell somewhere in between these two spectrums. Women who want both the career and the family. Women who want the children, but not the husband. Women who knew that the white picket fence was never an option for them, but worked their ass off all their life to get as close to it as possible.

All of these women, every single one of them, are valid.

There are some women in this world who enjoy wearing make-up, and dresses, and high heels. There are some women in this world who enjoy going fresh-faced, wearing oversized sweaters or yoga pants. All of these women are valid.

There are some women in this world who enjoy going out to party every single weekend. There are some women in this world who would honestly rather die, and spend their free time with a book, a cat, and some hot cocoa. All of these women are valid.

There are women who wear mini skirts, women who wear hijabs, women who kiss boys, women who kiss girls, women who kiss everybody, women who play video games, women who do make-up tutorials online, women who sing, dance, play baseball, tell jokes, get tattooed, get pierced, shave their armpits, don’t shave their armpits, shave their head, grow their hair long, do every goddamn thing that this world has to offer, and Jesus Christ – can I stop now?

My point is, there are a lot of different kinds of women out there. And all of these different kinds of women enjoy different things. And. All. Of. These. Women. Are. Valid.

Why am I saying this?

Because we as a society have this tendency to get really, really judgemental when it comes to the behaviour of other people – particularly, it seems, with women. And we all have our own reasons for doing so.

I’ve heard this judgement presented in the obviously-old-fashioned-sexist way, wherein it’s super obvious. The old mentality of, “well, she’s a girl. She shouldn’t be doing that.” This idea that women are supposed to procreate, like that’s the whole purpose to their existence (it isn’t. Trust me; people don’t have purposes to their existence, unless they’re purposes that the individual themselves has decided on and says – like an artist saying “I feel like I was meant to paint”). This idea that women are supposed to be attracted to men, and they’re supposed to cater to their every whim and need as though their husbands are children that can’t take care of themselves.

I’ve heard this judgement presented in the case of slut-shaming, where groups of people will get together and whisper about how that girl over there should really be wearing more. I mean, why doesn’t she respect herself more, am I right? (Here’s a thought: maybe she isn’t the one not respecting her. Maybe she wore it because she knows she can, and she feels good in it, and your criticisms of her choice aren’t helping anyone).

I’ve heard this judgement presented in the case of upholding a phony, restrictive definition of feminism, wherein a woman can’t wear make-up, shave her armpits, be in a relationship with a man, or wear high-heels without being a ‘slave to the patriarchy’ (and, yes, I know that there is a larger discussion that can be had here, about how women are encouraged to do these particular things by the patriarchy. But at the same time, if she’s aware of the discussion and still chooses to do it, then isn’t that her choice? Shouldn’t her choice be respected, as a full-grown woman capable of thinking for herself?).

I’ve even heard this judgement presented as a way for women to distance themselves from “other women”. To say that they aren’t like “other girls”; they like beer and sports and trucks, not all of that stupid, vapid stuff that “other girls” are into (question: why is it that only traditionally feminine pass times are dismissed as stupid and vapid? And why are we automatically assuming that all other girls are into the same stuff?).

There are probably hundreds of other ways that this habit of judging women for their behaviour is presented, because it is so deeply engrained in our society that we do it all the time, even if we know that we shouldn’t.

And we shouldn’t. We really shouldn’t. Because there is no one right way to be a woman. There is no wrong way to be a woman. As long as you identify as a woman, then you are valid, and you deserve to be treated as valid.

We spend too much time and energy and judgement; telling other people the right and wrong way to live, even if the ways that they live don’t actually hurt us in the long run. We become offended merely because of the way that the other has chosen to exist. And that isn’t fair to anybody. It most certainly isn’t fair to the women who knows how she wants to live, who knows exactly what makes her feel comfortable and happy, and yet is constantly judged and told she is wrong for doing so.

Women are intelligent and rational beings, with the ability to choose what is best for them. And women should be treated as such, whether that be in the case of a larger life decision, like whether or not to have children, or a smaller life decision, like what clothes they decide to wear that day. Either way, these are her choices to make, her life that she is leading. And we should all seek to empower her, to help her become the best person that she can be. Not tear her down and tell her how to live.

Women, we need to support our sisters. We need to help each other to live our best lives, and we need to do it together.

And there are so many ways that we can do this. All we have to do is change our judgement.

Instead of saying, “look at what she’s wearing”, we can say, “you look nice today!”

Instead of saying, “I’m not like other girls”, we can say, “oh, I’m into this thing!”

Instead of giving a judgement, we can give a compliment. Because while not every woman is the same, every woman deserves to be complimented.

Support women who do not often receive support. Love women who do not feel loved. Because our life choices, our hobbies, our clothes – none of that make us worthy of dismissal.

I Am Not An Insult

What’s the worst word that you can think to call a woman?

(Warning: foul language below)

When I asked you that question, you probably thought up a few examples. Words like bitch, whore, slut, or cunt. There are a few more specific examples, words like prude or ugly or fat, but those four examples are the more general terms that you might use to refer to any random, unpleasant woman.

So, in other words, the worst thing that you can call a woman is a woman.

And, in some cases, these insults refer to very specific types of women as well. Bitch, for example, when defined as offensive, is “a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman” (emphasis my own). The ‘bitch’ is a pro-active woman, a take-no-shit sort of woman. The ‘bitch’ will not accept being ignored, being taken advantage of, or being belittled. This is the reason why many feminists have moved to reclaim the word ‘bitch’, because, while many people may use the word ‘bitch’ as an insult, there should be nothing wrong with a strong, competent woman.

Words like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ also refer to a particular type of woman; a promiscuous woman, or perhaps a woman who merely takes charge of her own sexuality. The use of these words as insults is meant to shame women for being sexually active; while the use of the word ‘prude’ is meant to shame women for not being sexually available.

The type of insults that we use reveal something about the way that we as a society view these specific people. If you call someone a ‘slut’ in a negative way, then clearly you don’t feel all too keen about women who are sexually active. If you want to make someone feel bad by calling them ‘fat’, then you don’t think highly of people who are overweight.

But let’s turn our attention around for a moment. Let’s ask this instead: what’s the worst word that you can think to call a man? Well, according to the logic of the last time I presented this question, you’d think that the worst thing that you can call a man is a specific type of man.

Well, yes and no.

Once again, you probably thought of a few examples of insults when I asked you that question. Men get called fag, queer, sissy, or girl. Hell, earlier today, I listened to a man trying to insult and belittle another man by referring to him as ‘half-woman’.

In other words, the worst thing that you can call a man is a woman, or a gay man.

And why does this matter? Why am I bringing this up? Well, it matters because, as I said before, the type of insult that we choose reflects how we view a specific type of people. If we as a society use ‘woman’ or ‘homosexual’ as an insult, then what does that say about the way we feel about women or LGBT+ people? But, more than that even, these insults enforce the way that we behave.

If a woman wants to avoid being called a slut, then she will act in a particular way that, she hopes, will mean that she won’t be called a slut. She will dress differently, relate to men differently, walk differently, dance differently, flirt differently, date differently, and so on and so forth. She won’t be fully free to explore her own sexuality, because her sexuality will constantly be judged and viewed by others who are too quick to label her with an insult.

And if a man wants to avoid being called a woman or a gay man, then he will have to shave off any hint of femininity about him. This fear of being insulted this way will affect the way that he dresses, the hobbies he enjoys, the food that he eats, the stores that he feels comfortable going into, the way that he relates to his male friends, the way that he relates to his female friends, the way that he relates to emotional trauma and tragedy, the way that he relates to any emotions at all, and so on and so forth.

Men will not talk about their own feelings because they don’t want to be perceived as ‘too girly’. And yet, despite this, men still have feelings; they just aren’t fully explored or understood.

Men are encouraged toward violence and dominance and aggression – all of which can be very harmful, both to themselves and to others.

But this doesn’t matter, right? Just as long as they aren’t a woman, or gay. Wouldn’t that just be the real tragedy? (Please read a heavy dose of sarcasm here)

And, end of day, changing our behaviour so that we aren’t perceived in this way is just ridiculous and nonsensical. Because there is nothing wrong with being a woman. There is nothing wrong with being a gay man. There is nothing wrong with being a virgin, and there is nothing wrong with having slept with many, many partners (just make sure you stay safe).

And, more than that, there is nothing wrong with identifying with one gender, and still not perfectly aligning with that gender’s roles. Women should be allowed to be aggressive and assertive without the fear that they’ll be undermined as a ‘bitch’; I mean, if men are encouraged toward that behaviour, then why can’t a woman do it?

Men should be allowed to enjoy baking, or talking about their feelings, or dressing up in any which way they want, without having their identity thrown into question.

We are all of us people, and people are built from balances: the balance of good and evil, the balance of reason and emotion, the balance of masculinity and femininity. Not one of us are one thing and one thing only. We should not have to deny whole parts of ourselves in order to fit into a narrow definition of what we should be.

Because you know what really sucks? Policing the way that other people can and cannot express themselves and their identities through the use of insults that undermine whole groups of people. And even if you wanted to ignore the fact that the threat of these insults forces people to shave off parts of themselves and deny themselves certain experiences – it just isn’t okay to use an entire group of people as a way to undermine and belittle someone. People are not insults, and the simple act of being who you are should not turn you into one.

The Issue of Compromise

The issue of compromise is an interesting one when it comes to women and relationships.

When I was twelve years old, one of my good (male) friends asked me out. I told him I’d get back to him with my answer, because I felt like this was one of those things that I should discuss with my girl friends first, and they all vehemently told me that I should accept. I told them that I wasn’t interested in him like that, that he was just a friend to me, and they told me that that didn’t matter. He was a boy, and he liked me, and that was all that mattered. When I stood up for myself and said that I was going to say no, they told me I was making a mistake and that I would regret this.

Something similar happened to me later on, when I was sixteen years old, and a boy in my class decided to pursue me. Despite my constant dismissal of his advances, my friends would ramble on over how sad he was, how much I should give him a chance because he was such a nice guy. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t interested.

When I was nineteen years old, a friend broke down all pretence and told me that it didn’t matter if I was attracted to the person I was dated; I just shouldn’t be alone.

But let’s backtrack a little bit more; let’s go to a conversation that I had with a (female) friend when I was seventeen. She was telling me all about a date she had recently been on, and about how he had bought her dinner. “And, you know,” she said, “after they pay for you, you have to give them something in return.” I was horrified to hear this; “even if you aren’t ready for that?” I asked, and she said, “well, yeah. If they pay for you, then they expect it.”

Growing up, I was told, in multiple ways, that women always needed to compromise for a man. Women needed to compromise their comfort so that they could have a man, or refrain from making him angry. Women needed to compromise their careers so that their man could pursue his career. If the man was unhappy with the relationship, then it was the woman who needed to change; she was the nag, the bitch, the ball-buster, the crazy ex, the prude, the slut. If the relationship ended, then it was the woman’s fault, because she didn’t compromise enough.

A woman’s education is rarely seen as more important than her marital status. A woman’s ability to excel at her job is undermined by her ability to bare and raise children. A woman’s intelligence is not valued nearly as high as her ability to attract a man.

This idea of unceasing compromise created in me a great fear of commitment. I didn’t want to give up everything – my happiness, my ambitions, my comfort – all so that I could keep a relationship going. The way I saw it, there was no way that I could have both. People simply expected too much from women. And, quite simply, the idea of having a man, any man, did not matter to me more than I did.

Some might even say, I’m a rigid, non-compromising, prudish bitch. I’m not ashamed of that; I’ll own that title if you want to give it to me.

Because compromise is important, isn’t it? Relationships are built off of compromise; you can’t stay together if you won’t compromise. Right? And I’d fully agree with this if the compromise that I saw was evenly distributed.

But I recently watched an interview with the great Eartha Kitt, where she is asked if she would be willing to compromise if a man were to come into her life. “A man comes into my life and you have to compromise, for what? A relationship is a relationship that has to be earned. Not to compromise for,” she says. When pressed about whether or not she even wants a relationship, or if she is simply in love with herself, Kitt continues on to say, “I fall in love with myself, and I want someone to share it with me. I want someone to share me with me.”

When I first saw this interview, I watched it three or four times, over and over. I thought it was incredible, hearing this perspective, because it was so different from what I had heard about relationships in the past. This was not “accept the first man who will take you and hold onto him for dear life, because you need him”. This was not “sacrifice everything – your comfort, your dreams, everything, because it will make him happy”. This was, “love yourself first and foremost, and accept no less than what makes you happy. Because when you do that, you will fully, truly fall in love – and that is a wonderful thing”.

This is what a relationship should be.

We should not strive to create a relationship for the sake of creating a relationship. We should not have to give up everything to uphold a relationship that no longer makes us happy, just because that’s what we are expected to do. The purpose of a relationship should be to make us happy. To form a connection with someone who makes us better, who supports us.

Relationships should build us up; not hold us down. And the latter is what I have too often seen, especially for the women. The wives. The mothers who must sacrifice a career they wanted, an education they worked hard for, because their male counterparts were not expected to compromise as much as they were.

I love myself too much to give up my life and happiness for all that.

So I beg this of you now; love yourself, and do not settle for what doesn’t fulfill you. Do not do something for a loved one that you are not ready for. Do not lie to yourself, or force something, just because you feel pressured to do it. Because, end of day, if someone truly loves you, then what matters to you will matter to them. They will find a way to support you, to make your life better. They will find a way to compromise for you.