I started dancing just a few months after I learned to walk. My older sister wanted to go to dance class, and since she was the one who usually watched me after school, I was enrolled right along with her. I loved it. My fondest childhood memories all revolve around dance class. The hair rollers on dress rehearsal day, a million bobby pins glued to your scalp with hair spray. Sitting in class the day all the costumes come in and bringing them home to show your mom. The music, the lights, the sisterhood you create with your teammates; dancing was the first thing in my life that I was passionate about.
However, all roses have thorns. Growing up in small-town rural America, you can imagine the types of folks who live here. When outed as bisexual in high school, girls in my dance studio were taken out of classes by their parents. Some just didn’t feel comfortable around me anymore. Everything eventually worked out alright, but for the longest time I had an identity crisis around being feminine and what that means when you like women.
I started thinking if I’m a bisexual woman, am I allowed to be feminine? If I’m too femme, will girls even be interested in me? Since I like girls, am I supposed to find mini skirts and lip gloss sexually appealing? As a child, I adored Miss Sharpay Evans. She is an icon, a legend and THE moment. Sharpay is blonde, bitchy, goal-oriented and loves the color pink. However, after much thought, I do not think I had a crush on Sharpay. I think I just saw someone who I wanted to be... blonde, bitchy and goal-oriented.
So, all of this to say, it's time to declare the end of the "not like other girls" era. Being like other girls is actually so fun. They know the best iced coffee orders. Getting a full set of gel tip nails can transform someone into a whole new person. Taylor Swift actually goes hard. These stereotypes of "bimbos" and "basic girls" have been used in the media to make girls feel inferior for years, but in the words of Elle Woods: "I object!" I want the joy of the dance class back, so I’ve started creating that ambiance in my everyday life. The lesson I’ve learned is that your sexuality and gender identity do not dictate your style. I realized for me, the more I lean into femininity, the more I find joy.
By girls, I don't just mean those assigned female at birth or identify as she/her. Girls, or the gworls if you will, includes anyone who understands the experience of feminine joy. The gworls are the people watching rom-coms, getting their nails done for spring break and wearing princess crowns on their birthdays. When I say boys, I mean dudes. Actual bros who don’t do any form of self-care, in fear of being too feminine or just out of ignorance. I have lots queer friends who identify as male, paint their nails and put on lotion every night before bed - I’m not talking about these guys.
I want to be clear that I'm not excluding those who identify as nonbinary, transgender or agender from this narrative. My underlying point is that what society has deemed "feminine" can be enjoyed by all - no matter sexuality or gender. Every human can embrace self-care if they want to! Think of "boys" as an overarching term for those with no feminine joy.
It's a common stereotype that women take forever getting ready. While the guys are simply throwing on a flannel and deodorant, the girls are going through hours of self-care rituals.
There's, of course, The Bath. This generally involves a face mask, exfoliating and shaving. Next comes skincare. Face globes, jade rollers, gel eye-covers and a gua sha are pulled from fridges across the globe. Personally, I use vitamin-C oil, niacinamide 10% + zinc 1% oil, face wash, toner and moisturizer to get my skin prepared for the long night ahead. My favorite step of the skin-care routine is “microblading”, which is basically the gworls version of shaving your face. It gets all the peach fuzz and dead skin off of your face, so your foundation can lay on more even. It’s disgusting and yet incredibly satisfying. Be sure to finish off with a nice layer of moisturizer to protect from wrinkles and sun damage. It's a nice little treat for your face after dragging an eyebrow razor across it.
After skin-care comes selecting the outfit, which is then protected by tossing a pink satin house robe on during the pregame. Then, hair is rolled into velcro rollers and spritzed with some water. While the rollers are drying, the final and most important event comes next: makeup. Doing my makeup is an art. It's a form of meditation. It's 45 minutes or so of just me and the mirror. All of that time for me to spend time with myself hardly ever happens with a busy college schedule.
It was during this time of makeup self-reflection that I realized…. boys don’t do this. Now, it's not uncommon to see guys and people who don't identify as female in makeup. There are many male makeup artists, celebrities who wear it on TV and rock stars have always been seen with eyeliner. I mean boys don't have this ... feminine ritual. They don't sit on the bathroom counter surrounded by mountains of eyeshadow pallets making sure every lash is in the perfect place. Plucking each new brow hair that has grown since last weekend. Guys can be hygienic and take care of themselves, but they will never understand the delicacy and meticulousness that a feminine hand can bring.
I feel like so much of the way I experience this life is so foreign to the experience of most guys.
Boys will never know gossip. The sweet, sweet release of telling new updates to your closest friends. Gossip is genuinely what makes the world go 'round. There's a scientific theory called the Dubar theory where Robin Dunbar, the head of the Social and Evolutionary Neuroscience Research Group in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford, compares the humans' need for gossip to the primates' need to pick fleas off one another. The media made gossip taboo when most gossip isn't actually spiteful. Dubar and his team of researchers did a study in Britain that concluded that only 3% - 4% of gossip is malicious. It's storytelling! It's history being passed on to one another. For example, think about pre-social media times when you found out that people were engaged by seeing them in the local grocery store. You would have taken that information to church or the hair salon, and then suddenly the whole town is aware that Rebecca is tying the knot with that Steven boy that coaches the Little League team. Have you seen him with those kids? He is just so sweet. You know, I heard that his mama donated those new tablets to the high school. She has some fancy office job in the city and just had her youngest graduate. I think she's on the PTA, really nice lady.
See, isn't that so fun?
So if gossip is human nature, why is it usually considered feminine? Sociolinguist Deborah Tannen researched relationships between sisters, mothers, daughters and friendships between women. Her studies talk about how from childhood, girls spend more of their time just sitting and talking than young boys. I think it's beautiful the way that we confide in each other, using secrets as currency to prove our trust. However, not everyone has viewed gossip this way. In the Middle Ages, if a man was told his wife was gossiping, he would wrap an iron muzzle around her face which would puncture her tongue if she tried to speak. We owe it to our grandmothers to reclaim the reputation around gossip. We are made to keep history alive. Without us telling stories, our granddaughters won't be able to learn from the mistakes we made. Tannen reiterates the notion that gossip's bad reputation is undeserved. She stated," "being interested in a friend’s personal life is a show of caring; a way to create closeness.”
Boys will never know what it means to feel pretty – and that makes me so very sad. When spending those long hours of perfectly contouring my nose or redoing my winged liner, know that I'm not putting in that work for some bro at the bar to think I'm pretty. Bro at the bar will think I'm pretty because I am. I put in those hours so when I take a selfie I get to think, "Damn, I look good."
Boys don't feel beautiful. I smoke the occasional Marlboro Gold and have some shitty tattoos. I do not think my body is a temple. Instead, I like to think of myself as art. My body isn't perfect according to beauty standards, but she is perfect to me. I love my tummy, my long hair, my moles, my hands and all the spaces in-between. I pay attention when little things change, like when the texture of my skin is different or when water in one city makes my hair feel different than the water in another. I truly think of myself as a beautiful creature. It makes me sad to think that there are people out there that will never feel that way about themselves.
Boys will never know just how soft everyday life can be. Somewhere in our souls is the innate instinct to nurture a home. It's common for people in the late stages of pregnancy to "nest". Nesting is the overwhelming desire to prepare a den for your baby. It happens differently for each person. Some paint, some organize clothes, some clean. I feel like I have to "nest" in every setting I'm in. As soon as I inhabit a space, I have to decorate it. Not to brag, but boys are often very impressed by my room decor. They are so shocked that you can have multiple decorative objects that have no actual purpose except to express personality and bring joy. I had one particular cis, straight guy in my room one time for...no real particular reason or anything. This current UofSC student wanted to remain anonymous in this retelling, so for now let's just call him Harry Styles. He complimented my posters and decorations, and he asked why I had an old map hanging on the wall. The answer is: because I think it looks cute there.
This prompted a conversation about girly things and then femininity. I asked him if he does any type of self-care for himself. He said he, "does his best to keep a skincare routine." His skin care routine is comprised of three steps: exfoliate, cleanse and moisturize.
I asked Harry if his identity as a guy has ever been threatened by a typically feminine thing. He responded, "I’m personally very comfortable with my sexuality and identity, and what I do for myself doesn’t change who I am."
Now, to be clear, I don't think we should applaud men who respect women and others around them. That is the bare minimum. However, I do still admire a nice guy who can avoid the gas-lighty, misogynist thing. I asked Harry how he avoided the ideas of toxic masculinity. "It's easy," he said, "It’s definitely easier being in college and that sort of environment, it definitely helps to open up my eyes to new opportunities and to see the things people do in a new perspective."
Maybe boys do understand a little bit. Maybe there's a near-future ahead of us where we can all go to Starbucks, get manicures and destroy the patriarchy.
I hope we start to break apart the word 'feminine.' And the word 'girl.' And 'gender.' And all of the unnecessary labels humans created. Let's all go out back, smoke a cig and gossip together. Let's listen to Taylor Swift and admit that she makes great music (and that Kanye was wrong). Let's all do a face mask, talk about our feelings, share sex stories, drink peach wine and put a little blush on our noses. Let's go to therapy and learn to be okay with boundaries. Let's always ask for consent. Let's put on some lipgloss and have equal pay. Let's all be in control of our bodies. Let's let humans age without shame. Let's let everyone have sex with as little or as many people as they want without judgment.
Let's all dress up like hipsters and make fun of our exes.
I challenge you to embrace your inner femininity in whatever way feels comfortable for you. Go buy some flowers. Take a bubble bath. Paint your nails. Have a good cry. Then, call me and tell me the hottest goss that you've heard lately.