But for a Boy to Look Like a Girl is Degrading

When I was young, I asked my mother a question. “If a tomboy is a girl who acts like a boy, what’s the word for a boy who acts like a girl?” She thought about it for a moment, and then replied, “A fairy. But that’s not a good thing to be. You shouldn’t call someone that.”

“But why?” I wanted to know. “Why is it a bad thing?”

So, in all my childlike wisdom, I decided that, since my brother’s name is Thomas, the male equivalent of a tomboy would naturally be a melissagirl. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

So why, then, is tomboy a natural, accepted, even encouraged thing for a girl to be, and melissagirl isn’t even in our lexicon? Feminism has come far enough that it’s fine and wonderful for women to dress in men’s clothes, to wear pants and play sports, to shun makeup and fancy dresses. Which is a good thing! A girl should be able to express herself any way she chooses. But it’s still not acceptable for a man to dress in women’s clothes, or wear makeup, or play with dolls and stuffed toys. His sexuality is questioned, and he gets called derogatory names, merely for expressing himself the way he chooses. Why? Because in our society, it’s okay to want to be a man. It’s not okay to want to be a woman.

The same thing is true even for women. It’s not okay to take interest in stereotypically feminine things, because femininity is inherently inferior to masculinity.

In most shows aimed at tween or teenage girls, the main character is at least a little bit of a tomboy. Usually down-to-earth, doesn’t obsess over makeup and clothes, maybe she’s into sports. If anything, she’s a little bit boy-crazy. On the other side, her “rival” is the stereotypical girl, vapid and shallow, always out to make herself look good and the main character look pathetic. She’ll sometimes have sidekicks, brainless airheads who only know how to be pretty. The message is clear: girls, you don’t want to be like this.

I’m glad that in this day and age, it’s acceptable for girls to like sports, and mud, and frogs, and typically “boyish” things. A girl should be allowed to like whatever she wants. But why then are more traditionally feminine interests portrayed so negatively? If a girl likes to wear dresses and look pretty, to wear makeup and accessorize, she’s categorized as either a brainless girl who will coast through life on her looks, or an evil, conniving villain who wants to tear everyone else down. Why can’t a girl just be a girl, in any way she happens to enjoy?

I Heard She’s Had Like, Three Abortions

Who hasn’t heard that rumor, or something like it, during their tenure at high school? Usually leveled against one of the ‘popular’ girls, the cheerleaders, the ones that are rumored to be sleeping with the entire football team, and probably many other boys besides. Right? Teenage girls can be cruel.

In high school— and who am I kidding, far beyond high school— basically everything is a competition. Not only in the academic sense, competing with your peers for honors and elusive college spots, but everything else besides. Popularity and coolness, making and keeping friends, getting a boyfriend, extracurricular activities, etc. And girls are taught, over and over again, that they can’t possibly hope to compete with the boys, so their only option is to turn on each other. Tear other girls down in order to elevate your own status. It’s hardly an isolated phenomenon. If you’d asked high school me, an unmotivated girl with a small, but close circle of friends, who had no interest in being popular OR getting a boyfriend, I still would have told you that the ‘popular’ clique were bitches, they were probably sleeping with all these different guys, a couple of them had probably had abortions. Quelle horreur.

What was my motivation to say things like that? It didn’t really affect me in any way. It wasn’t even really true. Plenty of those self-same girls had been perfectly nice to me in isolated incidences. They’d really saved my butt once or twice. But if teen movies taught me anything, it was that popular girls were bitches and sluts, and I, however consciously or subconsciously, latched onto that even as I scoffed that real high schools are nothing like the ones in the movies. And on the flip side, the girls who do have status will often use that influence to tear down other girls; the poor ones, the desperate ones, those who aren’t doing well in school, or who have never had a boyfriend— or the ones who they suspect might be horning in on “their” man. It’s a vicious circle, and nobody wins.

The fact of the matter is, even if what I believed about those girls were true— that they slept around, or even had abortions— it was no one’s business but their own. A woman’s worth is not determined by the number of people she’s had sex with, or at what age, whether she’s taking birth control, or not, or what she chooses to do in her free time. Every woman has worth, whether she’s a teen mom or a Rhodes scholar working on a double PhD. Popular culture likes to insist that there’s an upper limit on the number of men a woman can sleep with before she becomes a worthless, valueless whore, and of course, even a single abortion means you’re an irresponsible skank that’s going to hell for murdering your baby. (My opinion: if you’re responsible enough to realize that a child isn’t in your plan right now (or ever), and to reduce the number of unwanted children on this planet, more power to you!)

Society teaches women that we need to tear each other down to elevate ourselves, but nothing could be further from the truth. YOU determine your own self-worth, and by elevating others, you elevate yourself as well.