Girly Girl Feminist

A photo by Leonardo Wong.

I felt a little silly writing about pretty things as a feminist.

We fought so long to wear pants, dig in the dirt, and kick off our high heels. We collapsed the naive idea that all women fall or ought to fall into traditionally feminine categories. Can’t boys enjoy more feminine things too — pink and paisley and skinny jeans? Shouldn’t we encourage girls to go hunt dragons instead of find wonder in pretty things?

There is, admittedly, nothing revolutionary about me as a woman enjoying pretty things. I’m not making counter-cultural waves by stepping out in pearl studs, pink pants, and a floral top. I’m not advancing women’s rights to be whoever they are by frequenting fashion and style blogs and buying more than one lipstick color. I fall into many generic female stereotypes, particularly when it comes to how I dress.

But I believe, however contrary this fits into perceptions of feminism, that egalitarianism is about letting a woman be her own person outside of the pressures of female stereotypes.

Every group has its stereotypes and its own pressure to fit them, whether that comes from actual demands or just glancing around and realizing most people in a group looks this one way.

I lived the stay-at-home daughter life, with the stay-at-home daughter wardrobe of long skirts and feminine-cut blouses. (I missed the memo on “tight enough to show you’re a woman, loose enough to show you’re a lady.” I lived too much in my head to know the first thing about makeup, style, or buying clothes in my correct size, so I rocked the frumpy fundie look for most of my life. The pillars of the stay-at-home daughter movement would have surely shaken their heads at my inability to be feminine and modest.)

When I became egalitarian, I learned that many feminists hated dresses and skirts — an impractical hindrance, an invention of patriarchal man. My mom’s general guideline was if you can’t do it in a skirt, you shouldn’t do it at all, so I managed to find a way to do everything in a skirt — climbing trees, hiking, sledding, volleyball, you name it.

Long skirts and I are well-acquainted. Before I discovered fleece leggings, I even preferred long skirts for winter months — they were built-in blankets for my freezing toes. On the coldest winter nights, I miss the fleece nightgown I lost during a winter/spring wardrobe transition.

I walked away from that mandated style stereotype still loving skirts, even long skirts. Now, as a liberated female, I know they’re called “maxi” skirts and come in more fabrics than khaki and denim. But as much as I thank the good Lord every day that I now own a comfy pair of skinny jeans, I can’t join in with my feminist friends’ diatribes against skirts.

Despite the Biblical mandates to dress femininely in my patriarchal circle, I didn’t discover a love for feminine things until my post-patriarchal years. My then-boyfriend, being the good soul he is, didn’t start teasing me about my frumpy homeschool outfits until after I revamped my wardrobe.

Pearls and pastels and nude heels — that’s the style I expressed my new egalitarian self as.

Feminism doesn’t mandate a specific way of dress the way patriarchalism does, but there’s still unintentional pressure (mostly in my head) to be as disassociated with stereotypical femininity as possible. I wonder if I’m complicit in the sexualization of women by buying makeup and wearing high heels and finding joy in pretty things. I wonder if I’m selling myself short.

And yes, absolutely, no woman should feel forced to wear makeup, and sure, a man invented high heels, and of course, a woman’s worth isn’t and shouldn’t be wrapped up in her appearance. I will fight for that and support any woman who hits the streets make-up-less in Nikes, a pixie cut, and boyfriend jeans. I don’t think a particular style has anything to do with a woman’s true femininity, her true womanliness.

So for me, my particular style, as stereotypical as it is, is how I express my personhood and my femininity. As a feminist, I style how I style not because I’m required to, not because it makes me a woman, but because this is me, this is my art, this is my interest, this is where I find some goodness and beauty in an ugly world.

Even with the dowdy, bra-burning stereotype still dominating the public’s view of feminism, there’s plenty of room in the egalitarian ideology for me, a girly-girl, the not-so-girly girls, and the women who resent the word “girl” in reference to themselves. Egalitarianism is about personhood, not maintaining stereotypes, even if a woman looks like an anti-feminist stereotype.

What’s your relationship with the stereotypical feminine style? Love it, hate it, somewhere in between?

5 thoughts on “Girly Girl Feminist

  1. wifemotherfriendblog

    Personally, I dress in clothes I like regardless of style and what others say I should. I temper this with my personal convictions on what is modest. The only other persons advice I consider, but don’t always heed, is my husbands.


  2. Bethany C

    Love this :) There truly is (or ought to be) room for everyone in feminism, even if there is lingering push-back against the ‘girly’ model because of how long it has been shoved down women’s throats. I appreciate how this post makes the point that women can enjoy their own style, without raising one up as superior.

    I think there can be a little of the same situation for women who work in tech, who often feel that they have to fit some variation on a ‘manly’ or gender-neutral stereotype in order to either ‘look like an engineer’ or be taken seriously by male peers. And I am sure that is unfortunately true in a lot of cases. I’m not aware of personally having experienced it, but a friend of mine who works in tech (and dresses in very feminine, tasteful lovely clothing and jewelry) said she really felt the pressure to look like other ‘nerdy girls’.

    Slightly off-topic, I was upset by an image in a business writing class that I took at my public (and usually quite liberal) university. The image was an example of how not to present yourself in photos used for business purposes: it was captioned “this woman looks like she is trying to use her body to get ahead”. It was a photo of a woman in tasteful makeup and a professional, well-fitted suit –the ‘problem’, I assume, was that she was photographed in front of a car which she was EVER so slightly leaning against. This was no pin-up photo–she was just leaning slightly back against it. It was a depressing reminder that you can dress the ‘right’ way and just a subtly ‘incorrect’ use of your body will still result in a host of negative social consequences which of course are a result of the patriarchy! -.- And that’s ignoring the far greater burden borne by women and girls who aren’t stick-thin–the difficulty in finding ‘modest’ clothing that hides curves, the idea of your own body as sinful and traitorous, the difficulty in finding pretty clothing at all in larger sizes.

    I think I always envisioned myself as something of a tomboy, probably because I identified so closely with Anne of Green Gables and other slightly gender-non-conforming heroines of older literature. At the same time growing up I loved clothing and always wanted to dress up in old-fashioned fancy styles for our once-weekly social outing (homeschool group). And the modesty issue was a constant and truly irritating factor: one of the books my mom read when I was 11 or 12 was ‘Beautiful Girlhood’ which talked negatively about girls who ‘wore their hair in new and daring styles’ in order to attract the attention of boys (THE SIN AND HORROR). I was crushed by this at the time (foiled in my ambitious plans to experiment with exotic braiding schemes) but my mom assured me that it was talking about ‘other girls’ who might dye their hair or something.

    During my first years of college I was truly surprised when I heard myself referred to as ‘the girl who always wore skirts’ because I really didn’t see myself that way and I certainly wore pants far more. I also have a vivid memory of being about 19, having a panic attack in a store dressing room because I was trying on and considering buying a dress which was slightly lower in the front than my very restrictive modesty standards allowed. It made clothing shopping incredibly frustrating. Fortunately I really am over the worries about modesty (except when buying clothing for work, heh).

    I guess as far as my current personal style (can I just say how much I love having a platform on which I am actually asked to reflect on this? :D ), it really varies between relatively feminine pieces (sweaters, the occasional striking floral, my exciting but under-utilized collection of formal dresses) and the relatively androgynous (H&M’s button-downs are my go-to). I don’t know if it looks weird to people at work when I am coming in wearing a floral shirt or dress one day, and jeans and button-downs the next–perhaps I will settle on one thing eventually but for now it is relatively free of heart-ache. And Old Navy is literally my favorite clothing retailer :) They have really busted in to the quality-made, relatively flattering and often quite stylish cheap clothing market in recent years.


    • Bailey Steger

      I find it frustrating that women feel like/are required to, either explicitly or implicitly, dress a certain way to fit into their workplace, especially if it’s a place where few women work. I watch a TV show where the nerdy girl dresses quite cutely, and it strikes me at how odd it is to see a highly intelligent woman in the tech field dressing non-androgynously. At the same time, her sense of style never detracts from her intelligence or work. She’s presented as a whole person who happens to be a techie and a stylish woman at the same time.

      I remember those dressing room panic attacks!! Fortunately I don’t have them anymore. I have my modesty standards that make sense to me, my style, and my work/church/life situation, so it no longer feels like I’m trying to dress according to an abstract standard.

      I think we share a similar style! I vacillate between feminine and jeans and button downs too. Dear old jeans. I went from wearing them all. the. time. at school to now only wearing them on the weekends. Teacher dress codes and all. ;) I love Old Navy too! They’re so comfy and classy all at the same time.


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