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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Live and Let Live

Do you enjoy taking selfies?

I mean, it’s a common enough pastime now. You might take multiple selfies every day and post them all over social media, focusing on your face or your outfit or your cute butt. You might take a selfie every once in a while, just when you’re feeling particularly cute that day. Or maybe taking selfies just isn’t your cup of tea. Maybe the thought never occurs to you, or you have just never felt the need.

And yet, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of selfie-takers, I’m sure we’ve all heard extensive debates about what the taking of selfies means about people. Is it a sign of the end of the world? A pastime enjoyed only by narcissists and monsters? Is the duckface the universal sign of a stupid, vapid person?

We as a culture have been absolutely baffled by the existence of selfies, and confused about what it means. We’ve written articles about it, we’ve put money into researching it, and chances are, regardless of what you think about selfies, you can probably find a study that backs up your opinion. Because we are so obsessed with finding out what this means about us, about people, about society.

But let’s change our focus, just for a little bit. Let’s talk about music. Do you like music? I like music. In particular, I like a lot of retro music – 70’s and 80’s rock or pop has always been my thing. I’m into Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, a little bit of Guns & Roses – it depends on my mood, really. And pretty much all my life, I’ve hung out with people who also enjoyed retro music. People who will waste hours complimenting Queen as though they were made of solid gold (okay, they kind of were), but in the same breath, they would dismiss the latest chart-topper as talentless and vapid and unnecessary. They would refer to us as the group that had taste, the ones who knew real music, while all those who listened to the most recent popular music were stupid sheep who just enjoyed what they were told to enjoy.

Do you enjoy movies? Superhero movies are popular lately, aren’t they? But have you ever actually picked up a real comic book? Can you name off every character who ever served as Batman? Or Robin? Because if you can’t, then there are some who would argue that you aren’t a “real” fan of superheroes. You’re just a lame poser, with no respect for the history of these characters.

We could even move away from media for a little bit, couldn’t we? Let’s talk about fashion, because the way that we enjoy dressing might communicate a lot about who we are as well. If you’re a woman who keeps herself covered from head to toe, then you’re assumed to be a prude, or you’re stuck-up, or you’re enslaved by the patriarchy. If you’re a woman who shows her cleavage, then you’re assumed to be a stupid slut with no self-respect and deserving of no respect from others. If you’re a man dressed in a feminine manner, then you’re assumed to be frivolous or weird or confused. If you’re an older person dressed in an alternative fashion, then people will tell you that you are too old for that, and you should start acting your age. If you’re a lesbian wearing a dress, then you aren’t “gay enough”, or you “don’t look gay”.

Heck, we could even talk about simple lifestyle, because even the choices that we make are full of assumptions. The people we date, the jobs we pursue, the places we live, the friends that we make – all of these are full of stereotypes and insults that try to tell us what the ‘proper way’ to be is.

These messages are everywhere, and, quite frankly, they’re confusing. They bounce you around from one place to another, telling you how you should act, what you should pursue, whether or not you’re allowed to enjoy this thing, who you’re better than. And, trust me: a lot of these judgements hinge on a hierarchy. They are based on the idea that one person (usually the once making the judgement) is automatically better than another person, based solely on the fact that they do or don’t do something.

And do you want to know who you’re better than? Nobody. Nobody at all.

You are not more emotionally stable than someone else just because you don’t take selfies.

You do not have better taste than someone else just because you listen to different music.

You are not more deserving of respect than someone just because you dress a certain way.

All of these, everything that I have been discussing, is just the difference between people. Some people like taking selfies. Some don’t. Some people like comic books, or superhero movies, or wearing jeans, or walking around naked, or sushi, or steak and potatoes, or rats or dogs or cats. Some don’t. And whether or not you like superficial things like these has nothing to do with your character, and more to do with how you enjoy filling your time.

And, really, you should feel free to fill your time with whatever makes you happy.

So long as what you enjoy doing doesn’t hurt anyone, there’s nothing wrong with it. And yet, we’re constantly trying to find new ways to shame people for enjoying things, whether it be scoffing at a girl drinking a pumpkin spice latte and calling her a “basic bitch”, or shaking our heads at a girl casually playing video games and labelling her a “fake gamer girl”.

And why do we do this? Why aren’t people allowed to enjoy things? Why must we make people feel ashamed for who they are, or what they enjoy?

And, more importantly: why do we feel the need to imply in this way that we are better than someone else?

Because it won’t make us any better people. It won’t make us smarter to call someone else stupid. It won’t make us more deserving of respect if we disrespect another. It won’t accomplish anything – nothing good, at least. The things that we say reflect nothing about them, and everything about us, and the way that we judge and belittle others. The things that we say are nothing more than reflections of our desire to prove that we are different and, therefore, better than them. The things that we say are evidence of our insecurities, not their failings.

And trust me when I say: it is more constructive to look at yourself. To truly and deeply try to figure out who we are as people, what makes us happy, and then strive to become comfortable with that, by reminding ourselves that there is nothing wrong with who we are, that we are valid and good and strong. At least, doing that is much more constructive than constantly looking down on other people.

So the next time that you see someone enjoying something that you don’t, let them. They aren’t wrong; they’re just different. And different is okay. Difference is what makes us the whole world, and we should be allowed to explore and enjoy our difference. We should be allowed to be ourselves, and enjoy who we are as people, while simultaneously allowing others the same right.

As the old idiom goes, “live and let live”.