Are you a girl's girl?

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler host the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Photo: Handout

Like most people, I didn’t much enjoy being a teenager. In addition to being lumpy in all the wrong places and covered in what I thought were unseemly freckles, I felt deeply unfeminine. I resented other girls for appearing to have it so easy. They had the kinds of slim legs and delicate features which lead to party invitations, which lead to kisses, which lead inevitably to boyfriends and thus everlasting happiness. (My understanding of how the working model of high school romance clearly came Fed Exed direct from Hollywood.) I had thick calves, a succession of terrible haircuts and no boyfriends. Worse, I had no prospect of getting a boyfriend; with no makeover montage to transform me from ugly duckling to a shorter, lighter, blonder swan, I thought I was doomed to fail at the one thing I knew it was so important for me to get right - the difficult balancing act of Being A Girl. 

In the late 90s, I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could look to for reassurance that I was more than the sum of my parts. These were the days of 90210, Heathers and Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed. The women I watched on celluloid either began as idealised versions of femininity or ended up there through good fortune and/or reward, or were pitted against each other from the outset. There were no Lena Dunhams parading the awkwardness that I felt must be my singular shame; no Ellen Pages declaring themselves feminists in interviews; no Amy Poehlers or Tina Feys working in solidarity with one another rather than competition. And if these women did exist, I sure as heck didn’t know where to find them. 

With no one to teach me how to see girls as allies, I went through a period in which I proudly declared to anyone who would listen that ‘I just seem to get on better with boys’. In explanation, I’d rattle off any number of the stereotypes I’d heard and internalised about the untrustworthiness of girls. Girls are bitchy. Girls are boring. Girls talk about stupid things. Who would ever want to be thought of as a girl? 

The delight of being able to declare myself a guy’s girl was twofold. It allowed me to first distance myself from the inherent shame of being just another stupid female, and then to bathe in the approval and acceptance of boys and men who saw that I could be so much more than that too. The sentiment has been echoed by one of my favourite writers, Emily Maguire, who once wrote about the time she made a snide joke to her male peers about one of her girlfriends: 

‘“You,” they told me, “are just like a bloke.” It was the most wonderful compliment I had ever received and [it was] reinforced every single day when I heard the things people said about girls...the simple, contemptuous way that almost everybody - kids, teachers, even members of my own family - used that word, “girl”, as the ultimate insult.’ 

That contempt for the state of being a girl hasn’t disappeared, but there are perhaps more complex, inviting role models available now. From Leslie Knope's friendship with Ann Perkins on Parks & Recreation to Lena Dunham's crafting of a ridiculous yet empathetic Hannah Horvath in GIRLS, I'm seeing more examples of strong, three dimensional women whom I can look to for inspiration. For all the criticisms of Dunham’s GIRLS, it is a show that has put the various relationships experienced by women at the forefront of pop culture in a way that I think Sex and the City failed at (primarily because it was a story about women being written by a man). There are the relationships we have with each other, which exist in flux and are invariably more complicated than most narratives would have you believe. There are the relationships we have with our chosen partners, and how they shape the evolution of ourselves. And there is the relationship we women experience with ourselves, that long and ongoing negotiation between our self loathing and our self belief. Arguments regarding whitewashing aside, Dunham writes and creates GIRLS with the acknowledgement that women, as Laurie Penny argued so beautifully recently, 'deserve to be able to write our own stories rather than exist as supporting characters in the stories for men.'

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It told the story of Bliss Cavendar, a 17 year old small town Texan whose life changes when she encounters the high impact, high energy world of roller derby. After watching her first game, Bliss effusively declares her devotion to the women of the Hurl Scouts. “You guys are my heroes!” she tells Kristen Wiig’s Maggie Mayhem. “So put some skates on and be your own hero,” Maggie replies. Bliss goes on to do just that, falling in love along the way but defying most Hollywood conventions by ditching the guy at the end in favour of the real contender for her heart - roller derby, and the relationships with other women that she’s formed within that sphere. 

I have my fair share of pop cultural heroes, Dunham and Barrymore included (for different reasons). Perhaps it’s their unashamed bearing of the Girl’s Girl tag that draws me to them. What does it mean to be a Girl’s Girl? Perhaps it’s as simple as wanting to not be a hero, but wanting girls and women to be courageous enough to ‘put their skates on’ and become their own heroes. Girls might not rule the world, as Beyonce would have it, but that doesn't mean we can't don our party dresses and make every day Galentine's Day.

 

66 comments

  • I've never considered myself a girly-girl but I do like the idea of a "girl's girl" as someone who can support her fellow women in all their variety. Just do me a favor and don't try to make me wear a pink, frilly skirt and high heels. I grew up with male best friends and was an utter tomboy and never quite got the hang of being delicate - I've also long since stopped trying. To be honest, my efforts were half-hearted at best and quickly dropped in favor of just being the me that I am most comfortable with. I've never regretted it.

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 8:50AM
    • I agree and was very similar.

      My pain comes from the fact that it was only ever girls who made me feel dreadful because I never wore a dress. No boy ever commented on what I wore, what I did, how I looked but with girls it was an obsession. Girls give girls a bad name sometimes.

      Commenter
      Melinda
      Date and time
      July 02, 2013, 9:47AM
    • As a child I was never interested in Barbie dolls or hairstyles or fashion and I loved climbing trees and doing "daredevil" things, but I also loved reading books and playing with "baby" dolls (as opposed to fashion dolls). I guess I was a bit of a mixture. With three younger sisters who I get on with very well, making female friends was never a problem, but I get on well with men too. Though I've never been into fashion, makeup etc much myself, I don't care if other people are, as long as they're not obsessed with it. To each their own.

      Commenter
      MO4
      Date and time
      July 02, 2013, 3:35PM
  • Oh, and...I adore Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I think they'd be great fun to grab a drink and chat with. So glad that girls growing up these days have these two wonderful, smart women to look up to!

    Commenter
    TK
    Date and time
    July 02, 2013, 8:52AM
    • ....I'm having trouble caring.

      I wish girls would be less girly. Aren't we supposed to be doing away with stereotyped behaviour? Painted nails, glammy dresses, lipstick, raunch, pretty hair, mascara, beauty pageants, boob jobs, nose jobs, botox, lip jobs....give me boys any day. Boys rule because they are not busy doing all the crap that girls do.

      Commenter
      Melinda
      Date and time
      July 02, 2013, 9:17AM
      • Ugh, this is exactly what the article is talking about.

        Why is what boys do any less crap than what girls do? How is sport less frivolous or unimportant than fashion? Why is bulking in the gym any less superficial than a beauty routine? Why are fishing or woodwork more worthy than cooking? Why is misogynistic boy culture preferable to gossip?

        The answer to these questions only comes from one source: because men do it, thus it must be great. Boys suck just as much as girls do, but neither suck as much as mindlessly accepting whatever rubbish you got told about being 'just like the guys' after a sick COD-sesh. That's not a compliment: it is the most insidious kind of insult.

        Commenter
        So much this
        Date and time
        July 02, 2013, 9:37AM
      • Every now and then I head into the world at night. Getting out of trackies and into some heals seems like a right pain in the arse. Then when I'm all dolled up I look in the mirror and think Thwarrrr!!! There's a hot chick under those trackies after all. And feeling fabulous I trot off into the night. We can be boys whenever the hell we like.

        Commenter
        Rachael
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 02, 2013, 9:41AM
      • eeer, Melinda, as the mother of an 18 year old son, and the guardian of another, and the assortment of other young men who seem to reside at our house for the bulk of the time, I can tell you, young men are just as preoccupied with their appearance as women are.

        Commenter
        AT
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        July 02, 2013, 10:09AM
      • It's not so much that we should do away with stereotyped behaviour, but that we should do away with the stereotypes themselves. You've swallowed the 'girls are frivolous and banal' line hook, line and sinker. And you've immediately associated anything 'girly' with shallowness, lack of intellect, and being unimportant. My glitter manicure says nothing more about me than I like shiny things; it does not in any way say that I am a shallow person, that I have no interest in anything of import, or that I spend all my time doing 'crap'. Rather than berate girls for being 'girly', your time would be better spent getting over the negative connotations you attach to things you deem feminine and beneath you.

        Commenter
        pb
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        July 02, 2013, 10:25AM
      • Melinda most men feel much the same pressure as women do to look attractive. Most of us nowadays have to use hair gel, moisturiser and although we are lucky enough to miss out on makeup we do have shave every day. Plus instead of simply having to be skinny to be thought attractive the generic image of an attractive male seems to be one with a six pack, muscular chest and arms etc which means that we not only have to worry about our weight but have to try and put muscle on as well. In much the same way as some women want to look like a Cosmo cover model a lot of guys want to look like they could be on Mens Health cover. I'm not saying it's easy being a girl but please don't kid yourself that males have it a whole lot better.

        Commenter
        Hurrow
        Date and time
        July 02, 2013, 10:35AM

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