Feminine Discomfort: Feminine Coded Interests, Internalized Misogyny, and the Cool Girl.
Updated: May 9, 2021
When I think about my childhood, sometimes, it feels very split. I'm no expert, but I think that all kids, at some point find themselves divided between performances. For example, we learn that we have to perform differently with our friends than we do with our family. Through traversing (sometimes harmful) social groups and situations, female-identifying children and youth morph themselves.
Now, I realize how fantastical that sounds. It's like I'm attempting to describe a highly intelligent, cunning superheroine who can change any part of herself at the snap of her fingers. But that's not what I'm trying to get at.
This isn't a superhero origin story.
This is an internalized misogyny origin story.
I started thinking about internalized misogyny yesterday while flipping mindlessly through Instagram stories. A friend of mine posted the following:
"Used to be so against how feminine I am. And that's on internalized misogyny. I have always loved makeup, dresses, ballet... the whole shebang. I grew up thinking this was a weakness..."
I was immediately struck by that. I thought about all of the times I felt the need to announce with some strange male-constructed-cool-girl pride that I "wasn't like the other girls" or that I "played video games" just like all the other boys! Like a version of Pinocchio, I was convinced that if I just had the right hobbies or said the right things, I would be of more value.
While, yes, I genuinely do enjoy playing a video game or two, this is bigger than a Sunday-night lazy activity. When I was a teenager, I genuinely felt that having a masculinely coded interest made me "cooler" or "better" than other women who openly accepted their feminine coded interests.
But wait — I'm getting ahead of myself. What even is internalized misogyny? Misogyny is a practice (usually on a societal level and trickles down) that serves to reinforce the dominance of male groups and the subordination of women. Internalized misogyny is intrinsically linked to this process. Internalized misogyny manifests when an individual or group of subordinated individuals (in this case, women) ascribes negative stereotypes, beliefs, and thoughts about their own group identity, to themselves.
Internalized misogyny appears in many different ways, through attitudes, interests, or opinions that are either conscious or unconscious.
Returning to my friend's post on Instagram, I replied:
"I remember feeling so embarrassed being into feminine coded things, thinking that it made me less 'cool'"
To which, my friend wrote back:
"Oh absolutely. My dad, unfortunately, made me believe [being feminine] made me lesser. He taught me how to use a gun (which I HATED) and signed me up for martial Arts (also hated). He wanted me to be masculine so badly."
Much like my friend, I came to realize that from a young age, being interested in things like dresses, makeup, the entire colour pink, barbie dolls, fashion, nail polish, etc — labeled me as "girly" or "soft" or "sensitive". Thus, I began to associate feminine-coded interests with weakness and embarrassment. I remember my childish envy of watching girls play soccer and excel in athletics (which was never my strong suit no matter how hard I may have wanted it to be at some point) because they were closer to being the unattainable "cool girl" than I ever could.
As I grew up, the image of being a "cool girl" grew with me. I was stumbling over "cool girl" trends. Skateboards. Black nail polish. Hating Taylor Swift (for no apparent reason — I still don't know why). Then, I was smacked in the face by the hypersexualized femme-but-also-not-cool-girl of my high school years. I had to wear makeup, a push-up bra, do my hair, and dress like a glorified blow-up doll while also appearing laid back, comfortable and knowledgeable about the latest Call of Duty video game. I had to look like Megan Fox while having the interests of a fifteen-year-old boy. Year after year, my concept of the "cool girl" shifted with the standards (and films) of the time.
Here's a quick rundown of movies that influenced my understanding of how to behave as a "cool-girl" over the years:
Princess Diaries: Mia's makeover. Because getting a blow-out makes you instantly popular and desirable.
500 Days of Summer: Self-explanatory manic-pixie-dream girl character Summer.
Grease: Sandy. Just, all of Sandy.
The Devil Wears Prada: Being a woman in charge means that you're a bitch, not a boss.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend: If you remotely show any sign of anger, you are crazy. Whatever you do, be emotionless after a breakup or you're the crazy ex.
All of the Transformers Movie: don't get me started in the sexualization of a teen tomboy character who is seen as desirable because she can fix cars.
Going into my twenties, I became increasingly aware of how I should or should not behave around men in the dating world. My head was full of rules and expectations that I'm still trying to shake off. For a long time, my worth was rooted in my love life. I chased attention and affection not because it was fun or it was something I wanted to do. I did it because I thought that's what every other young woman was supposed to do.
These experiences are not all-encompassing. I realize that a lot of these interests, stereotypes, and feelings are interconnected to other areas of my identity as a white, cis-gendered person. These experiences come from a place of privilege. But I think this also speaks to a larger issue of the general distaste or internalized misogyny a lot of people may experience in relation to feminine-coded interests. If you go through life long enough being told that a female-identifying person can only look or behave in certain ways and you begin to believe it.
I became a Jedi master at changing myself to be viewed as more desirable. I still am, in a lot of ways. But I'm learning. And I think that's really all that any of us can do.