Why Is Being Girly Uncool?


Frances Robertson, Writer

        As a little girl, I loved all things “girly.” Most of my very first memories either have something to do with dressing up, the color pink or copious amounts of lipgloss. My parents never forced this femininity on me growing up. In fact, I was encouraged to express myself however I wanted. 

        Despite my neutral upbringing, society’s gender binary was never a secret. Basically from birth, it’s obvious – the boys’ toy aisle is blue and the girls’ is pink. Personally, I didn’t gravitate towards the pink aisle because it was “for girls” – I just genuinely favored the toys and clothes considered to be “for girls.” But as I aged, I realized the term “girly-girl” was said only with a negative connotation and string of insults. Girly wasn’t cool. Girly wasn’t smart. Girly wasn’t strong. So I shed my dresses for basketball shorts and swapped my favorite color from pink to blue. My tomboy stage was in full swing by the time I was ten. 

        It’s normal for young people to go through phases and explore different sides of themselves as they go through puberty and their teenage years. But I believe the girly-to-tomboy switch is a different animal. It’s surprisingly common – in fact you can find countless articles and threads online of women sharing their similar experiences. They all go about the same: Girl grows up expressing her girliness freely, girl learns some time during her childhood that girly isn’t cool, girl stifles this part of her.

        But why does this happen? The truth is we grow up seeing movies and reading books that portray girls who strongly embrace femininity as either naive and dumb (the “bimbo”) or shallow and mean (the “mean girl”). Both of these stereotypes can be seen in the beloved y2k chick flick “Mean Girls.” In the movie, Regina George portrays the gossiping, shopping and makeup wearing antagonist in contrast with the main character Cady Heron, who is more reserved and nerdy. Karen Smith, one of Regina’s friends, shows an example of the “bimbo” stereotype. Being new to public high school, Cady isn’t aware and doesn’t seem to care about clothes or makeup until she joins Regina’s circle, where she begins to show interest in more feminine things. Surprise, surprise – as Cady changes her appearance from what’s seen as “chill” to “girly” –  she becomes mean, self-centered and superficial.

        While the feminine woman is degraded in these shows and movies, the woman on the opposite side of the spectrum is celebrated. There are many different variants of her, but they all emulate the idea of the “perfect woman.” This woman doesn’t care about the way she looks but always seems to look effortlessly hot, she’s “chill” and likes things men like, she’s not too feminine, but never too masculine because she still needs to conform to the male fantasy. While this trope has been seen in Hollywood for a while now, the first time I encountered it was with Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl. It was released in 2012 and follows the seemingly ideal marriage and disappearance of our gone girl and main character, Amy Dunne. In a since iconic speech about her corrupt marriage, she describes the woman that her husband fell for, that any man would fall for. Amy refers to this character as the “cool girl.”

        The reason for the “cool girl” fantasy even starting and the negative light on “girly-girls” in pop culture and the entertainment industry, thus dictating our views on femininity, has a complex history behind it. It all begins with American cultural expectations of women. As we know, women half a century ago were generally expected to present themselves as very feminine, to wear dresses and always have their hair done. Stereotypically feminine values were also much more strongly pushed on the women of this time, such as cooking, cleaning and bearing children. Riding the second wave of feminism in the ‘60s, women fought for the change of this and the United States’  stereotypical “housewife” expectations. While this era did bring change and granted women tons more opportunities in the workplace, the feminine role women were pushed into was shunned during the movement. If you weren’t actively rejecting gender norms and stereotypes, you were against female liberation. 

        This vendetta carried into the entertainment industry and pop culture at the time. To appease the cultural shift, writers continually created strong female leads who wanted nothing to do with the gender roles placed on women for so many years. These characters became prevalent around the ’90s and really picked up in the early 2000s, as seen in Mean Girls. While it makes sense to push back against the box women have been put in for so long, demonizing harmless pieces of femininity in Hollywood sets a rotten example, especially when it’s planted in the minds of young girls.

        There’s nothing wrong with being girly. One’s femininity or lack thereof doesn’t define them. As a young girl, figuring out who you are and what femininity means to you is hard enough – but outdated expectations and patriarchal judgment shouldn’t be a factor in that journey. If I could say anything to 7-year-old me, I would tell her that if she wants, she can wear the basketball shorts. But the dresses are just as cool.