So, I'm moving forward with the promised continuation of Tuesday's post.
That was, at least, how I perceived them to be.
In my defence, that is often how they were portrayed in the media around me and young women seeking approval often actually behaved in that fashion, mistakenly thinking that is how they should behave in order to be seen as women (and therefore "correct") because of how women were portrayed in the media they consumed daily. I saw it all the time.
I saw it in movies, portraying the beautiful, popular, hyper-feminine characters as unmitigated awful human beings obsessed with boys and looks and little else. It's a stereotype oft repeated in film and in books.
It is a stereotype, I have learnt, that is entirely untrue.
Sure, some beautiful young women did and do coast by on their looks alone. Sure, some of them were and are actually awful people. However, the vast majority of beautiful young women were and are actually very intelligent, hard-working, sensible and, while unable to escape society's obsession with physical appearance, generally well-rounded.
And the vacuous, silly, horrible bully-type is not solely relegated to the hyper-feminine presenting women, either. I've faced shocking amount of it from people the movies told me would be the more chill group.
I was not the only one who grew up thinking that hyper-feminine meant idiotic and mean, either. I grew up surrounded by young women mimicking just that kind of behaviour in the hopes that they would be seen as feminine enough to gain approval. I happen to know that much of it was an act.
Young women I knew to be otherwise intelligent people reduced themselves to simpering idiots in order to keep the boat from rocking, to appear non-threatening to those they desired approval from, to conform. It turned into some ridiculous self-feeding loop.
Media portrayed women thusly, and so young women behaved thusly, so media believed it's own portrayal, and young women believed the media... and so too did young men.
I, being vaguely unable to pick up on social cues, did not attempt to conform. I used big words all the time. I did not try to make myself smaller and quieter. I was continually told I was intimidating. And I was rejected for it. This led to a world of hurt, leading to a reactionary rejection of all things feminine, for which I blamed my condition.
Another self-feeding loop.
Now I was fortunate enough to have been growing up with television shows like Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, both of which provided a counterpoint to everything else I was seeing. Xena and Buffy were tough as nails, took no shit, and frequently kicked arse. Then there was Stargate SG1, who had the incredibly intelligent Samantha Carter, who was brainy and could fire a gun at aliens with the best of them.
Unfortunately, the damage was already done by the time these shows came into my consciousness.
While these shows didn't save me from myself, what they did do was highlight a different aspect of womanhood - the aspect I did not think belonged to the gender: fortitude, courage, independence, physical strength, intelligence and, perhaps most importantly, competence.
Buffy's strength came from her place as the supernatural arse-kicker of other supernaturals. Xena, however, did not have this aspect. She was just strong; a good fighter (well, as good as campy 90s television shows could make her). Carter was smart. Really smart. And her introduction to the series, where she shoots Kawalski's macho posturing down with the prefect rebuttal, was something I will never forget.
Then there was the problem of history, which proved, for the most part, to be very much his story. Women were woefully under-represented in history classes, despite being incredibly influential players in their times. I didn't learn about Boudicca, for example, until I started self-studying on the ancient history of Britain (before I started attending university for the same). This woman, who united several disparate tribes in Britain, raised an army and commanded them through several victories, this woman who has an entire archaeological layer named after her (the Boudiccan Destruction Horizon) apparently did not warrant a mention in the history books. Even today, I have a book edited as recently as 1991 who, despite mentioning smaller events in the same time, makes no mention of her whatsoever.
She razed three cities to their foundations and very nearly cast Rome from Britain.
She is not the only influential woman history books have failed to mention. Indeed, most history books simply gloss over women; they are reduced to mentions or after-thoughts. Not important enough for their own chapters. It wasn't until last year, for example, that I learnt that the person who actually discovered that DNA was in fact a double helix was a woman by the name of Rosalind Franklin (and had her findings stolen by the two men who are still, despite their crime being made known, credited with the discovery). It is improving, but women are still wildly unrepresented.
In case you can't tell, it pisses me off no end.
I'm a huge fan of Rejected Princesses because the illustrator does wonders bringing to life amazing women from history and legend, and letting the world know that there is a much fuller, far deeper, impossibly rich representation of femininity out there. Seriously, go read that site. It's so wonderful.
With these new representations, my day dreams slowly started to change. Instead of imagining myself saving the kingdom in full armour, and a man, I started to day dream about saving the kingdom in full armour, and still, and very proudly, a woman.
My perception of womanhood had changed. It didn't happen over night, but it started to.
None of the women I've mentioned in popular media presented as ultra-feminine. They simply weren't portrayed that way. Since there are no examples of the femininity of ancient women, even reading about their histories didn't help me much. So while my vision of what womanhood meant was changing for the better, I was still struggling with the concept of femininity.
Then, quite recently, something switched in my head.
I realised that all things that women do are feminine by virtue of the gender performing the act. U.F.C. Feminine. Yes, feminine means kicking butt. Black Widow? Agent Carter? Arguably very feminine. Still kicking colossal butt. Combat books and rifles? Feminine. Skirts and pretty dresses? Also feminine. And they don't mean the wearer has any less ability to kick butt or outsmart their opponents.
There are no tomboys. Those tomboys are doing perfectly normal things for a girl to do, which is, unsurprisingly, also what boys tend to enjoy.
Boys and girls really aren't as different as some people like to pretend they are (see: MRAs and their concepts of "real" women), and it is possible, even probable, to be a woman and like all the things I like - Bundi and Coke, swords and armour, video games, rough and tumble - and still be entirely, wholly and unmistakably woman.
I would never have been able to accept this if I didn't see it for myself, either in the women around me (thank you, Rhonda Rousey, for existing), portrayed in the media (thank you Xena, Buffy and Sam), and acknowledged in history (thank you Boudicca, Gwenllian ferch Gryffydd, Marie Curie, Hypatia, Ada Loveless and countless others we know too little about because of skewed representations in history books).
Representation matters. I am living proof of this.
So, when the black community, or the LGBTQ+ community, or the Asian community, or the growing number of stay at home fathers moan about the fact that there are no black heroes, no LGBTQ+ heroes, no Asian heroes, no competent fathers represented in media I cannot dismiss the claims as so many do.
They have a very valid, very concerning point.
It helped me make peace with myself.
There is so much more that could be said on this topic, but I'm running late as it is and need to get working.