By Grace Wydeven
“I was not so sure, but Jem told me I was being a girl, that girls always imagined things, that's why other people hated them so, and if I started behaving like one I could just go off and find some to play with. (4.119)”
Jean Louise Finch, otherwise known as Scout, knows what it’s like to crack under the accusation of “being a girl.” Being a girl in her world means being pretty and poised, well-dressed and warm, silent and submissive. The other thing she knows for sure about being a girl is this:
She has no interest in it.
From the moment we are born, we are typically assigned genders and with those genders come stereotypes, assumptions, and prejudices, in addition to either blue or pink balloons. Before we can walk or talk, girls and boys alike have the weight of cultural norms and societal expectations resting on their delicate newborn shoulders.
Growing up I remember never liking dolls. Honestly, I hated them. My mom always tried to tempt me with American Girl Doll Samantha or the latest Barbie Dream House, but I thought it was creepy that I was supposed to play with a miniature girl made of plastic. I always preferred collecting rocks and Breyer Horses instead. I had never considered myself “a tomboy” (pink was my one of my favorite colors and I regularly donned Lily Pulitzer), but recently as I think back on my childhood I’ve begun to wonder: did that make me any less of a girl?
Because of what we are conditioned to think, girls are led to believe that “being a girl” involves some certain and essential foundational elements to femininity. Girls are supposed to be passive princesses awaiting a prince charming, while boys are active, strong princes who are capable of anything, particularly saving the girl. With that thought process, each individual female has a conflicting idea of what it means to be a girl: what if there is some aspect of her character or personality that doesn’t quite mesh with those “foundational elements”? Does that mean she’s less of a girl?
After a brief wave of panic at the realization that I didn’t like dolls, which are supposedly universally loved by little girls, I took a deep breath and relaxed. Me not liking dolls does not make me any less of a girl, in fact it simply makes me more of one.
Despite what girls may hear their whole lives, despite the stereotypes, despite the ugly inequality women have faced and continue to face throughout history, there is one important and universal trait that I think of when I think about “being a girl”: WOMEN ARE STRONG. Women are allowed to like watching NASCAR, getting dirty, playing sports, being outspoken, and fighting for what they want, just as much as boys are. Whether you played with dolls or footballs, your femininity is yours, and it is not only valid, but admirable. And although we still have a way to go, there are plenty of women on local, national, and international stages who have proved that the fight is a winnable one. From Sophie and Katherine who co-founded and own of Georgetown Cupcake to Hillary Clinton in her campaign to become the first female President to Malala Yousafzai’s fearless activism to advance the rights of women and girls everywhere, all prove the same point: there is no one way to “be a girl,” but there is room for strength and leadership in the female sphere.
But just as women are allowed the right to express themselves however they choose, I certainly don’t mean to suggest that if that choice is in the more classic sense, they are weak. A pink dress should be taken just as seriously as a pantsuit, and a made up face is no prettier than a clean one. I worry that in our society, for a woman to be taken seriously she is told to repress those aspects of her femininity, and that is also wrong. That expectation simply implies another, albeit opposite, extreme: don’t be too feminine if you would like to be taken seriously, but don’t be too masculine either because then you are not truly being a girl.
Women and girls are expected to straddle a fine line that is impossible to find and unrealistic to achieve. So, I have decided to erase that barrier in my mental picture of what it means to be a girl.
To me, being a girl means accepting and embracing my femininity as I so choose. If I want to wear a pink dress, I will. If I want to go to the gym and lift weights after a 3-mile run, you better believe I won’t mind breaking a sweat while doing it.
Being a girl is something I am proud of because it means that I am not only strong, but ever-evolving—never allowing myself to be categorized. As Aimee Finnicky wisely remarks in The Spectacular Now: “I like to think there’s more to a person than just one thing.” If you, like me, identify as a female, I want you to remember one thing: be proud of your gender but never let it define you, allow your passions, interests, character and actions to define it for yourself.
Being a girl is what you make it, so do as you please, and remember that there is no one way to go about it. Your way is just as valid as anyone else’s, and your potential to make a difference is just as infinite.
" ‘Scout, I'm tellin' you for the last time, shut your trap or go home—I declare to the Lord you're gettin' more like a girl every day!’
With that, I had no option but to join them.” (6.24)