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Culture > Entertainment

She Wears High-heels, I Wear Sneakers

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ashoka chapter.

Edited by: Ajitesh V.

Remember middle school, when we had to pick between being a girly girl or a tomboy? There were BuzzFeed quizzes and videos on YouTube that would let you know which box you fell into. Somehow,  I think we forgot that we are not characters from fiction; we are real-life human beings with three-dimensional personalities that cannot be neatly categorized into two stereotyped boxes of ‘likes and dislikes’. We forgot that these two tropes are very limited and present a narrow view of women who are actually multi-faceted, complex individuals.

 Many women, including myself, went through a phase where we rejected the girly-girl trope in an attempt to be defined as more than that and leaned towards the tomboy side through no fault of our own. Look at how the media portrays the girly girl— she’s vain, stupid, materialistic and catty, obsessed with shopping and clothes and makeup. Oh and of course, she absolutely loves the colour pink. Her character is hollow; her interests are frivolous. At least, this is how Girly Girls have largely been written or depicted on screens by people attempting to ridicule her. But when we start equating “girly-ness” with lack of intelligence, constant victimhood and vacuity, it not only devalues Girly Girls; it devalues all women because liking everything gendered ‘feminine’ automatically makes your likes and dislikes ‘less than’ or as we now call it, ‘basic’. ‘Basic’ is an insult that has been advertised as a critique of all things mainstream, but it actually only applies to everything the average girl might happen to like. After all, liking pumpkin spice lattes is basic but liking beer will never be. 

The ‘Girly Girl’ is often juxtaposed against the Tomboy who is, as we all know, “not like other girls”. To quote Taylor Swift, the distinction is simply put, “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts.” In the movie Twilight, Jessica is the girly character, the one who tries too hard, directly contrasted against her friend– the bookish, unconventional, Bella. Jessica crushes on two guys who both end up falling for Bella because she’s ‘different’. The movie actually successfully convinces us to think that even though Bella is actively pursuing a guy who is threatening her life, she has more depth than Jessica because at least she doesn’t care about prom. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia runs away with heartthrob  Wickham, risking her well-being and her family’s honour. She’s depicted as a shallow, typical girl, who wears her heart on her sleeve. Everything Lizzie is not. Lizzie is calm, Lydia is vivacious. Where Lizzie reads, Lydia flirts. But why is it so difficult to sympathize with Lydia, when even Lizzie herself was charmed by Wickham? Why did we villainize the Girly Girl so easily? Often in the girly girl storyline, it is only when she moves away from her glittery pink narcissistic side to the denim-wearing laidback girl does she finally get her ‘happily ever after’.

The Tomboy is also referred to as the cool girl. Gillian Flynn managed to wonderfully call this trope out as an unrealistic male fantasy in her novel Gone Girl. The cool girl, or the tomboy, is easygoing, doesn’t care about her appearance and is just ‘naturally gorgeous’ without trying. She’s one of the guys; she likes traditionally masculine things like playing sports, obsessing over cars, eating frozen pizza and drinking beer. She’s not emotional and would never, ever wear pink. Most importantly, however, she is without a doubt, always conventionally hot. We see this trope reiterated again and again in media like Megan Fox in Transformers, and even celebrities, like Jennifer Lawrence, who have portrayed this persona in real life. Jo March, the protagonist of Little Women by Louis May Alcott, is a popular example of a tomboy in classic literature. Jo March is represented as a free-spirited and spontaneous girl, who is different from her sisters and other girls around, especially contrasted against Amy. But despite all of her glorified qualities, there is often a makeover scene, ever prevalent in mainstream media, where the tomboy finally wears a pretty dress and lets her hair loose, and the male lead starts seeing her as beautiful all of a sudden. So inherently, one could belong to either of the tropes, but the heroine has to change herself based on what her hero wants. In The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway’s character makes a mockery of how much it mattered to her boss, Miranda Priestly, that the model wore the right belt, however as Miranda explains to her how fashion surrounds everything she does, we realize there is art and depth in every small inch of an outfit. As Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl once said, “Fashion is the most powerful art there is. It is movement, design and architecture all in one. It shows the world who we are and who we’d like to be.”

Now we have come to the opposite end of the spectrum, with the rise of mainstream feminism. The female gaze is being given more importance, and male validation is only supposed to be desired by the insecure tomboy, now rebranded as the pick-me girl. Putting down girlish interests and hobbies is no longer a personality trait of the ‘different’ heroine and the internet loves to tear any character who dares to hate pink to shreds. Famous youtubers and social media influencers do skits to reiterate just how annoying this trope of the pick-me is. But this has come to a point where if someone just doesn’t have girly interests and they accidentally broadcast it, even without putting anyone else down, they still get ostracized.

The irony is that men do not face the same pressure to conform to specific boxes when defining their masculinity; they can simply just be. In contrast, women are expected to pick a side and conform to it. There are times when the media catches these tropes in the right light as well, such as Elle in Legally Blonde, who never changes who she is, and breaks out of the Dumb Blonde light everyone viewed her in by getting into Harvard Law. In the final scene, she actually wins her case because of her girliness, not despite of it. Rachel Green from Friends is another character who starts out as a runaway bride who is spoiled and selfish and loves spending money, but as her storyline progresses she becomes an independent single mom who is very successful at her job.

In conclusion, mass media has come full circle and has critiqued both the tropes, condemning hyper-feminine portrayals as villains and alienating traditionally feminine women as the women who are too materialistic and who try too hard. Similarly, we’ve criticized the tomboy trope for perpetuating a “cool girl” image that can be detrimental to women’s empowerment and self-worth and often seeks male validation. It is crucial to call out the disparities and shortcomings of both tropes. Still, ultimately, the most important step is to move away from these tropes altogether. We are more diverse and complex than these limited aesthetics suggest, and we should feel free to embrace various interests and preferences without being forced into tiny societal boxes.

Srishti is an editor, poet, debater and a content writer for Her Campus. She’s currently pursuing her undergraduate degree at Ashoka University. In her free time, she loves to read books, everything from the classics to murder mysteries to love stories. She also enjoys binge-watching sitcoms, stealing people’s food (never healthy food though) and being a troublemaker (you only live once). She has been writing poems since she was eight and has since branched out to different forms of writing. She also enjoys swimming and badminton and the sound of Chase Atlantic songs 24/7.