On Monday, YA author Claudia Gray wrote about a Tumblr post she's seen making the rounds. I've seen it, too. Basically, the Tumblr post is about not being like "the other girls" -- it's about liking geek things and not being a stereotypical girl. And Gray's post calls out a lot of the problems with that post, like: it's got tens of thousands of notes, so there ARE other girls who are just like that, it promotes women hating other women, and it buys into the groupthink of stereotyping.
There's this gross tendency online to position certain kinds of women as being better than those women, better than the women who aren't into technology, better than the women who aren't into sports, better than the women who aren't geeks.
I get the impulse, I do. It's the impulse to grind the mean girls from high school under the superior heel of your Chuck Taylor hightop because living well is the best revenge and the rise of geek culture has changed the social landscape a lot of us are navigating.
It's a pretty typical response from people who spent their formative years being picked on and bullied. But I still think it's a problem, so I love Gray's post.
I just got back from vacation. Ed and I spent a long weekend in Buffalo, NY. Almost every trip I take is somehow work-related (you can bring me to your college to speak!) but Convergence, an annual netgoth party, is 100 percent devoted to hanging out with people I know and love. And dressing up.
(Also, alt.gothic shout out!)
That's how Ed and I found ourselves crossing the border with some awesome friends and spending a fantastic day in Toronto on a recent Friday. Toronto is shiny and modern and well designed. People walk and bike in large numbers. I have to remind myself that they have winter so I don't totally fall in love with it. And there is a shoe museum.
Toronto is a 2-hour drive from Buffalo. We got up early and met our friends and hit the road. Our plans for the day: the shoe museum, the Fluevog store, the Beguiling (possibly the best comic book store in North America), and lunch in Portugal Village.
The border guards laughed (and asked if we were vampires but that's another story) at us for the shopping trip. ("You came all the way from Virginia and Florida to Buffalo to spend a day in Toronto shopping?") And everyone I've told since has also laughed.
My nerdly friends get the comic book store trip, at least. But there's a certain tone of disbelief when I tell most people about the shoe museum and shopping.
Loving shoes is one of those things people blow off as being a completely frivolous and girly endeavor. And when they call it girly, they don't mean that in a good way. They mean it in a condescending way that implies it's a waste of time and brain power. It's especially thick in the air from other women who think they are somehow above the love of something so banal as a shoe.
Listen, I spent a lot of money on shoes in Toronto. I didn't spend it without planning. I saved holiday gift cards and put money aside specifically to spend on shoes. I didn't go out and blow the rent money.
But I still feel bad because I don't feel bad about it specifically because I spent the money on shoes.
Gray says, "They will tell you that everything girls love is stupid and horrible." She says that "Pop culture wants to tell us that we’re all shallow, backstabbing, appearance-obsessed shopaholics without a thought in our heads beyond cute boys and cuter handbags."
I think those are great and amazing things to say because she's not wrong. A co-worker told me her husband would have divorced her for spending as much money on shoes as I did -- but I made the money specifically for this expenditure in the first place.
She also mentioned that he'd have spent it on wine. Because apparently that's an investment. Uh-huh.
But I also think, contrary to Gray, that there are different kinds of girls and that is totally okay. Because no kind of girl is superior to another kind of girl if they are all good people. Some folks ARE appearance-obsessed shopaholics.
And you know what? I don't think there's anything actually wrong with that. I think it's a problem when that is the ONLY idea of "girl." I think it's a problem when other people are made to feel inferior if that isn't their bag. But I don't think being image-conscious and into shopping as a hobby are in and of themselves bad things.
They aren't even particularly shallow things, because the crafting and control of your personal image is a huge deal. I want more people to be conscious of that, to think about it and have some really important conversations about it.
I think part of the disdain for the girls -- and women -- who are "shallow, backstabbing, appearance-obsessed shopaholics without a thought in our heads beyond cute boys and cuter handbags" is one of age. It's always a thin, white, middle-class or wealthy teenage girl who gets cast in this role. There's a lot of privilege there and, for a lot of people, the idea of a teenage girl having it all is truly enraging.
Teenage girls are also under a lot of social pressure, increasingly so as the cultural standard of beauty continues to narrow.
We are all, as Gray says, individuals. But I don't think that makes us the same girl. And I don't want us to have to be the same in order for us to respect each others choices.
I wish I gave a shit about sports, the way Daisy does. But I don't. I care about My Little Pony and glitter instead. Daisy isn't a better girl for liking sports. I'm not a better girl for liking sparkle ponies. We're just different.
And we both need to think about those cultural messages we're getting -- because that's the thing Gray is most right about. There's no hierarchy of how to be a girl. There is only how to be yourself. You can love sports AND sparkle ponies or none of the above. We aren't the same. But we aren't each others enemies.