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I’m not sure how to own femininity — not that it’s a requirement to be graceful, pretty, or worthy of attention. But still, I feel less of a person when I fail to mimic the shifting familial and societal expectations of what a desirable, modern woman should look like. I’m not a Mary Sue, nor am I a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I’m tired, yet programmed to chase outdated ideals. Beauty, sex, and our livelihoods should not be tainted by stereotypes.

Just because I download (and re-download) tinder every month, does not make me a so-called slut; let’s just say it just makes me single — and bad at coping, and also bored. But seriously, the fact that I feel the need to list out excuses, rather than admit I like sex, is disappointing. And I know it’s because the dainty virgin ideal is ingrained into my identity. I’m hyper-aware of this, yet I still feel the need to justify myself because I’ve been conditioned to remain complacent in a society that upholds toxic gender norms. Part of me craves to be that outspoken, headstrong, feminist. The other is a scared little girl, corrupted by internalized misogyny.

The first time my friend wore mascara was to distract everyone else from the pimples on her cheeks; “pin-cushion” they called her. Her parents pointed and laughed until the paint came down in streams. The first time my aunt realized body hair wasn’t attractive in this country was when masses at the pool mocked her; she came home and my grandmother found her in the bathtub trying to fix a razor accident. The last time I felt romantic was when a boy told me I was too pretty to be depressed. The chase is a trick. If I wear makeup, I’m shallow. If I don’t, I’m lazy. If I shave, I’m perpetuating the standards I preach against. If I don’t, I’m unhygienic; undesirable. And if I let out a sliver of resistance, I’m ungrateful: the naive little girl needs to play along.

It's kind of like a double edged sword, isn't it? Well, if you say you haven't, you're a prude. If you say you have, you're a slut. It's a trap...You want to, but you can't, and when you do, you wish you didn't, right?

The Breakfast Club

So, how do we heal from this? How do we erase memory after memory where we are taught that our value as women is somehow unattainable? How do we stop the chase? Of course, we should strive to be our best selves, but when these standards are internalized, it's only natural to replace the "best" with the most "pretty" or "pure" or "pleasant." I don't know how to own femininity, nor do I know how to define it. But I do know that in the feminine realm, everyone wields the same double-edged sword.

It's funny because, for the most part, I think our country has come a long way from gender inequality, so I feel almost careless making this rant — but then I realize, this isn't necessarily about inequality. Gender roles suck for men and women alike. And drawing from my experience as a woman, toxic beauty standards, fetishization of virginity, and overall misogynistic insecurities, make me feel suffocated: alone or less than. Instead of arguing and demeaning each other's struggles, we should learn how to listen, and empathize with one another's ceaseless, unattainable Today Girl.

Kiley is a third-year English major passionate about art, poetry, and trying new things. In her spare time, you'll find her gorging down coffee, binge-watching Tim Burton movies, and deleting the Sims (again). After graduating, she hopes to pursue her passions as a writer and artist.
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