Good women: intelligent. Virtuous. Feminine but not to a frivolous degree; well-manicured but would never own Hello Kitty pens and does not read gossip magazines. Loyal to her man. Goes to church, probably. In charge, but not too in charge.
Bad women: stupid. Sleeps with whoever she wants; unlikely she’s in a committed relationship. Highly sexual. Extremely girly; she owns too many hair accessories and loves watching reality TV. If she’s in a position of power, she’s probably a bossy bitch with a shrill voice. Oh and she doesn’t deserve it, because of the aforementioned stupidity.
We’ve all heard about these categories. We’ve all, at some point, been labeled a good woman and at a different point, a bad woman, sometimes even in the same day. Whatever we did, it was always as some type of woman. You got accepted into college? Oh, wow, what a good girl. You had a one-night stand? You horrible, bad woman. The societal perception of a good, virtuous, smart woman versus a bad, sexual, dumb woman is nothing more than a tactic to pit women against each other and take away their agency of self regardless of which category they fall into.
You can be a woman who is a professional in her field and is highly intelligent and talented and loves sending nude selfies and watches reality tv and volunteers at an animal shelter and wears pink glittery nail polish and reads academic journal papers and also loves giving blowjobs and buying pretty jewelry. Yes, it’s possible. They’re out there.
Several women, particularly younger ones who society has a death grip on, aim to establish their self-worth by outright stating that they are not like other girls, because everyone has told them that other girls are idiots with frivolous interests. Other girls aren’t deep like you; how can they be when they wear earrings and lipstick to school?! We understand you, so buy our product to show everyone how different you are. You see it in pop culture: from Taylor Swift’s “She wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts, she’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers” to essentially any young adult novel on the market with a precocious female lead who scoffs at the girls that gossip and wear makeup. But the lead’s deep, of course. She reads books for fun. And her lips are chapped (though of course, the male teenage vampire / werewolf / rebellion leader / auto mechanic still wants to kiss ‘em, because she’s still like, you know, female). Some women adopt this type of thinking in order to try to establish their own sense of self outside of societal norms, but end up playing into misogynistic societal stereotypes anyway.
While younger women have the bulk of this targeted at them because they’re considered more impressionable, older women also fall prey to this kind of thinking. Twitter user er0b captured the ridiculousness of it beautifully:
This also often is switched to “real” women versus “fake” women for an older audience. As in real women cook for their men and take care of their children, fake women sleep around, etc. Apparently when we have a life outside of others, we become fake, and we are validated as humans by having a family.
A woman who has characteristics of both categories is not wearing several hats. She’s wearing one: human woman. The categories are not a real thing; no one woman will exactly fit one mold and it’s infantile to think so. Yes, I am including the Malalas of the world along with the Kardashians, and if you’re scandalized by that you need to reassess where those feelings are coming from. Femininity is a spectrum, but make no mistake that the higher you rate as feminine and sexual, the more the world will label you stupid, vapid, useless even, and be taken aback when you say anything other than “I love glitter!”. Let’s use Kim K. again: people absolutely neglect the fact that she’s a savvy businesswoman and call her stupid day in and day out simply because she’s chosen to make money off her femininity (like her beauty products, her style, and her family) and sexuality. And the higher you rate on the traditional societal intelligence spectrum, like the PhDs and activists and philosophers of the world, the more people will be taken aback by displays of femininity and even use them to discredit you, like when Tim Hunt said that women in his lab would either fall in love or be fallen in love with, and they would cry when criticized. Because of course, showing vulnerability when criticized by your sexist boss (who resigned after the comments came to light) apparently diminishes your abilities as a scientist, as if basic human emotions and lab techniques are somehow related.
The world pits femininity and intelligence at odds with each other because they want us all to believe, at the end of the day, that girls are dumb. That’s the takeaway. An intelligent talented woman is an anomaly, and is probably a woman with masculine traits and very little feminine traits. She shaves her armpits of course, but she goes into cardiac fits if you try talking about celebrity gossip with her. She doesn’t like shopping for fun and her favorite drink is absolutely not a fruity cocktail, because she’s smart. And a highly intelligent, highly feminine, and even freely sexual woman who has diverse interests like molecular biology and pole-dancing workout classes and computer programming and rhinestoned phone cases is like a unicorn: nice to think about for girls, but ultimately imaginary and even dangerous. You have to pick a side, and of course most women will pick the smart side and shun pursuits that they deem stupid in the process, like listening to the latest pop music and decking out their car with pink accessories. But it does not have to be that way. You can be both and most women are; they’ve just been indoctrinated to keep certain parts of them shoved down deep inside. Of course women have different personalities and not every woman likes feminine things, but those that do tend to discredit themselves and keep it secret. It’s time that society starts acknowledging us as complex individuals with a wide range of interests, none of which dictate whether we are smart or dumb and good or bad. Reading books doesn’t make you smart, and showing off your body doesn’t make you dumb. We’ve made some progress in media with characters like Elle Woods and Mindy Lahiri, but we need to change the narrative for everyday women.
If you are one of those self-proclaimed feminists that praises people like Mother Teresa and writes paragraphs about what a whore Kim Kardashian is, I’ve got some news for you. You are not a feminist. If you are a feminist that empowers your daughter by buying her science kits instead of dolls but you mock her when she wants to go to the One Direction concert and tell her that’s dumb, you are not a feminist. If you’re a feminist that read this article to feel good about yourself on International Women’s Day but quietly think “I’ll believe it when I see it” about real, feminine, unabashedly sexual, academically intelligent women with so-called frivolous interests, you are not a feminist and you don’t have to look any further, because you just read a piece by one.