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Why We Dislike the Idea of Being Girly

By: Sindura Vuppu

I watch my thirteen year-old cousin grow into an incredible young woman. She is mature, opinionated, and kind-hearted, with morals so great that I learn something from her everyday. Not long after, my proud smile falters. “I’m not like the other girls,” she says, “No offense, but the girls I know are…too girly.” I’m immediately reminded of my thirteen year-old self. 

I called myself a feminist at a very young age, and held so many strong opinions about issues like gender discrimination and misogyny. What I failed to recognize was my own hypocrisy. Books and movies made me believe that being a “regular” girl was scornful. I had to be different, so I hid my Barbie dolls and started watching Power Rangers because I believed that it was cool and tomboyish. I wore makeup in secret as if makeup were a ridiculous thing to do. I said I disliked “typical” girls who wore pink and talked about boys all day. Instead, I idealized the “girl next door,” who, as One Direction once put it, doesn’t know she’s beautiful and needs help recognizing her beauty. She reads books instead of partying, pays no attention to boys, has high morale, and is intelligent unlike the other girls.  

Pop culture played an important role in defining idealistic standards and contrasting archetypal girls to me. In Taylor Swift’s song “You Belong With Me,” Swift sings, “She wears high heels, I wear sneakers, she’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers,” which I believed meant that all girls fit into two binary categories; they were either sweet and innocent or mean and callous, depending on how “feminine” they are.  This depiction is a reinforcement of the famous Madonna-wh*re complex that was first identified by Sigmund Freud. In psychoanalytic literature, this concept explains that men view women as either “tainted” and “impure,” or as saintly “Madonnas” who are worthy of love and respect. To live up to this bizarre dichotomy, literature and cinema have often brought up contrasting characters to glorify the Madonnas. Now known as the “girl next door” trope, these “good girl” characters have been idealized for generations, tracing back to Lizzy from Jane Austen’s famous love story Pride and Prejudice (1813). Lizzy is presented as a contrasting alternative to her glamorous rival Miss Bingley who competes with her over their love interest, Darcy.  Lizzy is tomboyish, intelligent, and rugged in her ways, while Miss Bingley is more stereotypically feminine. Similar to Regina George’s character in Mean Girls (2004), Miss Bingley is portrayed as “the bitch” who is pretentious, manipulative, and sabotaging. Because she differs from Miss Bingley in that she does not publicly vie for Darcy’s attention, Lizzy’s character is glorified for being different from other young women of her time. Her individuality is focused upon in a more positive light, while Miss Bingley is degraded as the “typical” girl, as if it was inferior to be one; she is dismissed and ignored by Darcy for not being his “Madonna.” The girl next door trope in such stories mainly serves as the good alternative for the male protagonist to choose. Her individuality bears no significance if it does not align with what our patriarchal society expects from a respectable woman. Today, these Madonnas have a different role to play. Often paired with “bad boys” with a traumatic past, these “good girls” heal and transform them into better men. The character of Jamie from A Walk to Remember (2002), and Tessa from the popular fan-fiction inspired movie After (2019), serve as perfect examples of these angelic life-changers. These characters exist solely to contribute to the character development of the male protagonist. 

Perhaps one of the most popular female archetypes is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, first coined by film critic Nathan Robin to explain the character of Kirsten Dunst from Elizabethtown (2005). Unlike the soft-spoken and composed girl next door, the manic pixie dream girl is impulsive and spontaneous. As described by Robin, the manic pixie dream girl “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The manic pixie dream girl approaches the depressed and gloomy man in order to “help” him recover and open up to life’s infinite possibilities. This highly stereotypical depiction of  a free-spirited and quirky girl has been celebrated in several movies, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and 500 Days of Summer (2009). Once again, this “dream girl” is associated with a man and is assumed to serve as his life-changer. But this type of girl is being challenged more recently; the character of Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) calls out the ridiculous assumptions about her character: “I’m not a concept. Too many guys think I’m a concept or I complete them or I’m going to ‘make them alive’…but I’m just a f*cked up girl who’s looking for my own peace of mind. Don’t assign me yours.” The coining of fearless and self-reliant girls like Clementine as “manic” is sexist by itself, and to make it worse, we get too busy focusing on her role in the man’s life and often ignore what she means to herself.  The breakdown of female characters into rigid categories, and the glorification of some of these as “ideal” stems from generations of misogyny. Both young girls and grown women are made to believe that the stereotypes associated with their gender are somewhat contemptuous. By portraying some of these categories in a negative light, literature and cinema have normalized the attitude of these characters as derisive. While we laugh at Mean Girls’ Karen Smith for being ditzy and gullible, we don’t recognize the degradation of what is considered the “girly” girl trope. Society has defined the characteristics and roles of men and women and has asked women to fit the “feminine” standard. The portrayal of the same femininity as manipulative and toxic, or as shallow and dim-witted, influences young girls to dislike the idea of being girly or feminine. This double-standard often leads to girls being torn between following the stereotype and being different at the same time. As a result, they start an unhealthy competition to be respected. Eventually, each girl’s originality is compromised as she chases a different kind of “originality”. On the other hand, young boys lose their perception of girls as they are, and instead place them into discrete and dichotomous categories. A set of unrealistic expectations follow, often ending up in disappointment. Girls come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Every person’s priorities and interests differ and sets them apart in their own unique way. I like to think of these personality types as a bunch of Venn diagrams; some traits overlap with a couple of others’ and create a unique product. Glorifying some of these and degrading the others only damages the already fragile perception of women in society.

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Classically Promoting Anti Feminism

By: Natalie Lopez



If you’ve been on YouTube lately, you’ll know exactly who I’m talking about when I mention the unavoidable ads. As much as I don’t understand how exactly the YouTube ad algorithm works, I’m pretty sure my watch history didn’t trigger her invitation to my feed. If you hadn’t already guessed it, I’m talking about Classically Abby, the conservative lifestyle channel headed by Abigail Roth Shapiro. If her name sounds familiar, you might be thinking of her older brother, Ben Shapiro. Taking a page from the family book, Ben Shapiro is also very publicly conservative and a political commentator that has attracted lots of media attention for his outspoken attacks on democrats and social issues. So it seems that everyone of her videos preaches among the same lines. With titles like, “Why I Came Out As Conservative”, “Why YOU Should Dress Modestly” and “Why We Should NOT Just #BelieveAllWomen” it’s easy to see that Abby wants to spread an ideology. Only, why is this being shared with me? Even after disliking, reporting and blocking her videos and channel, I can’t seem to shake her from being advertised to me.

I looked more into Abby and how her ads were so powerful in resisting my blocking of her channel. It seemed that I definitely wasn’t the only person that had a problem with the persistent ads. The videos with the boldest titles, the most advertised of course, all feature comments mentioning the same situation and spite for the bother. Abby is just under 70,000 subscribers, which were very recently gained, so why did she previously invest so much money to carry her message? More important, what is her message?

At first look-over her channel, Abby is teaching the world how to be – in her words – classic. If you didn’t know that was a thing that could be taught or even that it was a proper way to describe a modern woman, neither did I. Abby preaches a time when women were more conservative in thought, dress, and almost everything else. Seemingly as conservative as they come, the ClassicallyAbby channel is outspokenly anti-abbortion, religious (and believes you should marry within your faith), against the Me Too movement (doesn’t think you should believe survivors), and includes the occasional skin care routine. What I took from this is that Abby is very anti-feminist, among other things.

In her perception, Classically Abby lists that women play the victim in cases of sexual assault, believes women should conform to mens’ livestyles when entering a marriage, believes the gender roles should be clear and divided, and tells women to cover up and monitor how they dress. If you were ever unsure about what an anti-feminist sounds like, it’s her. Frankly, I’d never heard of such an outspoken anti-feminist before her, and there’s a good reason for that: her perceptions are insane and misogynistic. Classically Abby struggles through the dislikes and hate comments to produce videos which are intended to transfer value from her onto her husband (and all men). She teaches women that we need to cover up in order to leave something to be desired, as if a woman’s body is indubitably to be viewed as a sexual object that needs to be hidden just enough to stay respected. In insisting there is one right way to dress, she slut shames the women who choose to wear crop tops or who don’t want to wear ginormous scarves with their summer dresses. She tells that she needed to change much of her single life to adapt to her husband and advises women not to expect men to change their old ways. Why should a wife conform to a new lifestyle that their husband won’t bother to change for? Abby clearly announces that she believes it’s a woman’s job to focus on the relationship and by all means, not make your husband uncomfortable.

We shouldn’t be listening to Abby on these ideas. Feminism is always necessary. Always. It’s 2020, the centennial anniversary to the woman’s right to vote, yet there still exists an extensive gender divide. Even more, something that Abby might not understand, there exists issues between feminism and equal rights for women of color. In every space, the fight for gender equality is different for BIPOC who identify as women. Abby’s physical and identifying privilege is also coupled with the fact that she has a net worth of a few hundred thousand dollars while her brother exceeds a 25 million dollar net worth. Money is not an issue for the Shapiro family and as they aren’t a part of the working class, she wouldn’t understand the struggles that many women in this country go through with financial struggles and wage gaps. Often times there exists less obstacles for high-income, heterosexual, cisgender, white women, which is why Abby speaks from a privileged perspective that invalidates the struggles of other women.

It’s important that we don’t go back to believing we should shame women for problems that are “provoked”. (Intersectional) Feminism has the clear intention of advancing the voices of all women, and it’s not something anyone of us should try to speak (or make a YouTube channel) against. So no, we shouldn’t be listening to Abby when it comes to how to be a “proper, classic” woman. I still don’t know why these recommendations persist beyond every option I have to avoid Abby, but they’re not harmless, because Abby’s message is in itself dangerous. You may choose to follow her makeup tutorials, but even then I wouldn’t choose to participate in raising her view revenue on the chance that it goes straight back into advertising more conservative points that spell out anti-feminist ideas.

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Vulnerability as a Vice

By: Sheyenne White

It was a humid night filled with ambivalence that paved the path for a profoundly sudden and striking realization. It was particularly late and I couldn’t sleep so I turned to Netflix to comfort me. Needless to say, I approached my quest for some quick entertainment in a distracted and inattentive manner. In my deep dive into Netflix’s extensive collection of movies and tv shows, I stumbled upon a a self declared fat lesbian Australian comedian named Hannah Gadsby. My curiosity was piqued but the little teaser clip is what hooked me. The thirty second clip revealed her epiphany that “self deprecation is not humility but humiliation.” Her epiphany quickly became mine as it forced me to reflect on my own self destructive habits. To paint a picture, I was sitting on my bed dumbfounded as I came to the understanding that my at times overwhelming insecurities are tied to my struggles with vulnerability.

Vulnerability has long been associated with femininity, weakness, and dependency. Considering that I proudly identify as an intersectional feminist, I think this reductive negative view of vulnerability is bullshit. However, I have come to realize that my disdain for the current dualist nature of vulnerability—one that positions vulnerability in opposition to invulnerability—has allowed me to create a dangerous dichotomy between vulnerability and strength.  It is by my very own contempt for arbitrary gender associations that I fell into the trap of a “together woman” and demonized vulnerability in the process. A “together woman” is defined as one who presents themselves with poise, dignity, and most importantly competence. It must be noted that these traits cannot always be conveyed organically and one’s unwillingness to accept that allows one to construct a facade. The comfort behind the facade pushes one to concoct a mask, with the purpose of concealing internal uncertainties and apprehensions from the outside world in fear that such inner turmoil will be dismissed as mediocrity. The irony lies in the fact that this style of thinking directly aligns with gendered loopholes and reinforces the same gender stereotype I was grappling with in the first place.

Nonetheless, I believe this contradiction of mine is more universal than what I imagined. The struggle to find a place for vulnerability within contemporary feminist thought can be traced back to the patriarchal aggressive binary frame that dictates gender norms; a framework that equates vulnerability with a susceptibility to harm and instead promotes invulnerability. However, invulnerability fosters an unhealthy desire for control and security so as to mitigate unpredictable and threatening events. On the contrary, vulnerability forces one to unveil their insecurities and risk emotional exposure. Simply put, the fear of vulnerability is a reflection of one’s fears surrounding themselves. Until we own our truth and embrace our individuality, we will be stuck in a perpetual cycle of subconscious self-loathing. I am a person who thrives on projecting the illusion that I have it all together, and being vulnerable means revealing that I actually… don’t. The walls I have built to protect myself from the instability of life has curbed my ability to devote myself to authenticity and accept my humanity.

After all, humanity is inherently rendered vulnerable and therefore vulnerability paints the true contours of recognition for the individual. With this in mind, the pursuit of invulnerability is illogical to say the least and we must learn to embody vulnerability. Ultimately, only a more comprehensive, nuanced and nonreductive concept of vulnerability can combat obsolete gender associations. It may seem strange that this epiphany of mine came from a Netflix comedy special but I’ll forever be thankful for Hannah Gadsby’s reminder that the incompatibility between vulnerability and strength is nothing but a myth.

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The Puzzle of the Sari and Indian Womanhood

By: Atmanah Parab

When I had six yards of fabric wrapped haphazardly around my body, hands clumsy and unsure of which step to take next. I wondered, was now the time for a YouTube search? I also wondered whether my cousins would laugh if they could see me at that moment. 

When my mom had helped me put the sari on just two days prior, the fabric had slipped through her fingers like magic and laid precisely where she wanted it to, the result of years of experience. Eventually, with the help of several safety pins, two or three friends, and the aforementioned Youtube video, I strolled out of the house, sari somewhat intact. I felt a sense of pride as that was the first time I’d put on a sari on my own without my mom’s assistance. 

When I was seven years old, I remember gasping in awe as my mom showed me a newspaper clipping of an article about her and her sari collection. In 1997 when my mother and father moved into a small apartment in Ontario, CA, they were some of the first Indian people in the city. The article featured pictures of my mom doing her laundry in the apartment complex laundry room wearing a shiny green sari. The luster and hue of the fabric in stark contrast with the neutrality of her background despite the fading from age.

When I was just a little older and living in India, I marveled at my grandmother who wore a sari almost every day of her life. Uncomfortable in pants of any kind, she lived her life in a balancing act of fabric and friction. In it, she couldn’t run or jump but she could work in the kitchen, walk around the neighborhood and take her afternoon naps without even a grumble of discomfort. 

When I tried on my first sari at thirteen, I was shocked and confused when I didn’t instantly look like my favorite Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone. The saris present in the movies certainly tell a story of womanhood but it is one altered by the need to appeal to lust. Featuring prominently in Bollywood movies is not the Indian woman and her sari but almost a costume of them. Blouses are reduced to bejeweled bras and the front of the sari is pushed off to the side to expose a flat stomach. There isn’t anything wrong with choosing to wear a sari that is decidedly sexy, but the use of such saris almost exclusively in songs or scenes where a female in a movie is to be highlighted as attractive runs counter to the true significance of saris to the Indian woman. 

The sari is not just an item of clothing, it is an institution. Indian women wear the sari as a form of expression, but the sari itself tells a story of the woman who wears it. Traditionally, a girl is bought her first sari after her first period, a sign of her transition into womanhood. She is taught how to wear it by the other females in the house and can now wear it on special occasions. 

Buying a sari is an event in itself. There are as many variations to the sari as there are languages and subgroups within the Indian subcontinent. Not only that, locales are known for saris in special fabrics, colors and patterns. The way a sari is draped around the body is also a matter of regional preference. All this versatility and identity wrapped up in a length of fabric. 

Upon setting foot into a specialty sari store in Kerala, two states over from where my family lives in India, we were greeted with a bustle of activity on arrival. Sitting around a large table laid out with a veritable competitive bracket of potential purchases, we chatted and exchanged stories while sipping on complimentary sodas. The four women in my family including me, did not leave the store until each of us had two or three saris each in a sampling of the local flavor. Simply the mode of shopping makes the experience feel heavier and more substantial than running to your local Forever 21 for a dress. 

However, for some the cost of donning sari is higher than just the rupees or dollars on the price tag. For Indian transwomen, life is incredibly difficult, outwardly using femine presentation such as saris and having other people be aware of their identities often leads them away from their homes and communities to the “hijra” communities that are mired by poverty and kept afloat by coerced sex work. However, these communities are often the only places where they can be accepted for who they are. In an interview with the Diplomat, Shreya, a transgender woman living in Mumbai, spoke to her experience, “We leave our families, the security and safety of our homes, only to plunge into poverty and destitution. All this so that we can wear a saree.”[1] There are risks to being authentically feminine, to wear something like a sari that for many woman is an unquestioned given.

To be a woman anywhere is complicated, marking a balance between what is perceived as femininity and what is seen as “other”. As a symbol of womanhood and femininity in India, the sari is not just beautiful fabric draped about the body free from the complexities of history and society. It is history, it is womanhood, it is femininity. Uncovering the secrets of a sari as I’ve learned go far beyond a Youtube tutorial. 

[1] https://thediplomat.com/2020/01/what-does-indias-transgender-community-want/

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COVID-19 Pandemic Disproportionately Affecting Women and People of Color

By: Claire Armstrong

We all know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers are shouldering more than their share of the burden to protect our people and keep our country running. What we often neglect to discuss, however, is that women, immigrants, and minorities make up the majority of workers on the frontlines. According to the New York Times, “one in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential,” and women of color are even more likely to be essential workers. Under the umbrella of “essential workers” are social workers, healthcare workers, critical retail workers, medical supplies distributors, food processing workers, delivery and warehousing workers, and more. A study by the New York Times states that over 75% of social workers and healthcare workers performing essential work are women, and over 50% of critical retail essential workers are women. Overall, the study found that 52% of essential workers are women. AP News reported that “in New York City, more than 76% of healthcare workers are people of color.” And healthcare is not the only essential work sector made up of a majority of people of color. AP News also noted that “More than 60% of warehouse and delivery workers in most cities are people of color,” nearly 60% of grocery store workers in most cities are nonwhite, and 74% of janitors in most cities are people of color. This is only a small sampling of essential work industries in which people of color are taking on the majority of the work.

An article in The Guardian found that female healthcare professionals on the frontlines are in greater danger than male healthcare professionals because personal protective equipment, or PPE, is designed for men, meaning that it is too large for many female healthcare professionals. The article quotes Dr Helen Fidler, the deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) UK consultants committee, as saying, “Women’s lives are absolutely being put at risk because of ill-fitting PPE. We know that properly fitted PPE works, but masks are designed for a male template, with the irony being that 75% of workers in the NHS [United Kingdom National Healthcare Service] are female.” As a result, many female healthcare professionals are forced to interact with the virus on a daily basis without proper PPE. This is likely the reason that, according to the CDC (as reported by Kaiser Health News), 73% of healthcare workers infected with coronavirus are women.

In an article for The Atlantic, Helen Lewis discusses another burden that women are disproportionately shouldering during the pandemic: childcare. Lewis writes that the pressure to become a new and improved version of yourself while stuck at home during the pandemic is unrealistic for the people caring for children. And, overwhelmingly, those people are women. Lewis also points out that as an economic recession seems more and more inevitable, childcare professionals become less and less likely to find paid work. “school closures and household isolation,” she writes, “are moving the work of caring for children from the paid economy—nurseries, schools, babysitters—to the unpaid one.” 

Not surprisingly, in families where both partners work remotely, unequal patterns around childcare and managing the household have become more pronounced. In April of 2020 scientists decided to study these conditions. They found that just as women had carried the majority of the childcare burden before the onset of the pandemic, it has become even more unequal since. Adding homeschooling to the already long list of tasks necessary to care for children and maintain a home exacerbates this burden. In addition, the “mental load” is carried by the female parent almost exclusively and includes providing emotional support, distractions and stimulation for children, as well as meal planning, organizing social connections, and all of the myriad mental tasks that are part of parenting. Women have always been the default go-to parents, and although more male parents may be working from home, that default status has only become more pronounced.

The world has always been a place where those with less political and financial capital have been forced, out of economic necessity, to take on jobs others do not want, whether because they are dangerous, distasteful, low-paying, or all of these. During the current pandemic, many women and minorities are working outside of the home and at jobs that are, while “essential,” not highly paid or rich in benefits and in which they cannot obtain adequate personal protection to keep them from getting sick. Meanwhile, women who are working from their homes are finding themselves juggling their professional obligations with the mental load of organizing, planning and caring for the family, and even providing home schooling. Overall, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to exacerbate gender and racial inequalities, despite the fact that women and people of color are doing the majority of the work to serve communities on the frontlines of the pandemic.