Society is convinced that only two genders exist: Strong, smart, truck-loving, money-making boys and glittery, sweet, soft, ballet-loving girls. Men have been at the forefront of our society. They hunted the food, made the money, drove the car, and never had to fight for the right to vote, while women have fought tooth and nail for rights and respect.
Women can’t be both masculine and feminine. The perfect example is in the movie Miss Congeniality. Sandra Bullock’s character is a scruffy tomboy and a fighter, but when it comes to being a pageant queen, she struggles. In reality, women have proven time and time again that they are capable of doing both, with the rise of menswear on women thanks to Katherine Hepburn and even Kamala Harris becoming VP. So, why isn’t this shown in our films?
This becomes known as the “not like the other girls” trope. She’s one of the boys. She likes getting dirty. She has masculine characteristics which means she can be outgoing and assertive and it’s acceptable. However, there are a few exceptions. For purposes for relatability, Hollywood gives the female character virtually no personality so the audience can project their own characteristics onto the character. So, even though these women are often the lead character, they are often therefore the audience, not the story. Examples of this are Katniss Everdeen and Bella Swan and also in TV with characters like Elena Gilbert and Tori Vega, who are also the main characters on their shows.
Another exception is the Ugly Duckling stereotype which involves a transformation from an unattractive woman to every boy’s fantasy. Examples of this are She’s All That, The Princess Diaries and My Fair Lady.
Another exception, and my personal favorite, is the badass ultra girly character, where they use their feminine traits to their advantage and are empowered and unapologetic about doing so, like Legally Blonde.
This demonization of femininity doesn’t just happen in movies. It happens everywhere in pop culture. Is bubblegum pop really music compared to heavy metal (in my opinion, is heavy metal really music compared to a Taylor Swift bop?)? Or what about the homophobia around men with high singing voices like early Justin Bieber?
During the 60s, many feminists disowned stereotypically feminine things because those things held patriarchal ideas, which in turn made the hardcore feminist a stereotype that you can’t be girly and feminist.
The other option is being the mean girl. Although I see a mean girl as a more positive empowering feministic archetype, especially one with a great arc like Regina George (whose arc is criminally underrated) or TV’s unbeatable queen of mean Blair Waldorf, many view the mean girl archetype as demeaning, especially in its early days. That’s because most mean girls during that time were catty, boy-obsessed and self-absorbed. Some iterations of mean girl archetype go so far to show how demonizing femininity is that they make their feminine mean girls cold blooded killers like Jawbreaker and Heathers, which is a very entertaining dichotomy, but when you look at the bigger picture, is pretty dated thinking (don’t get wrong though, I adore Heathers).
A movie that fully centers on this archetype, Mean Girls, shows a woman’s journey of being a tomboy, a girly girl, then denouncing femininity as whole, much like Hollywood’s approach to femininity. Cady Heron transforms from the poster child of the “not like other girls” trope to an ultra-feminine catty girl only to denounce the pink ultra-femininity all together.
Another trademark of the mean girl archetype is an emphasis on hair, makeup, wardrobe and the color pink, a stereotypically feminine color (i.e. gender reveal parties having blue for a boy and pink for a girl). These girls value their appearance, but Hollywood shows that is a bad thing, that wearing short skirts and pink makes girls evil, therefore we see pink as an evil color. This isn’t true. It’s perfectly okay to value your appearance, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you value. You should wear what you want, whether it’s short or long, fitted or oversized, or full coverage or cropped. Also, pink is the color of love and romance, so why are those positive ideals demonized when they are associated with women? Everyone loved Regina George but also feared her because she was powerful, but cruel. Why couldn’t a woman just be powerful?
The bimbo trope is similar to the mean girl, but in a kinder way (not in its treatment, but bimbo archetypal characters are often kinder people than mean girls). These girls aren’t cruel, but are dumb and show that women aren’t allowed to be pretty because you can’t be both pretty and smart. But society also tells us we have to be pretty all the time at the same time, and so smart that we don’t entice men, who are stereotypically very intelligent, with our short skirts and low-cut tops. That’s all we are worth. I’m exhausted even explaining this, not to mention having to navigate it.
I want a character who is feminine and smart at the same time, assertive and determined, to be dolled up without fear of backlash for being a diva or high maintenance, like Blair Waldorf, Chanel Oberlin or Cheryl Blossom. I guess it works for TV, when you have more time with characters, and not movies when you only have an hour or two with a character. But the real question is, why can’t this work in real life?
This article was inspired by the YouTube channel SHANSPEARE and the information is taken from the same video.