Should you be ashamed of being girly?

"There’s trouble on the feminist front. And it’s fuelled by cupcakes, tea cosies and handmade tapestries."

"There’s trouble on the feminist front. And it’s fuelled by cupcakes, tea cosies and handmade tapestries."

There’s trouble on the feminist front. And it’s fuelled by cupcakes, tea cosies and handmade tapestries. 

At least that’s what can be deduced from Herald writer Elizabeth Farrelly’s column yesterday, where the word ‘girly’ was used repeatedly as a baleful warning against any pursuits deemed twee or unworthy in the author’s eyes.

As a fan of Farrelly’s, I was both saddened and surprised by the harshness with which women were described in the piece.  As the story progresses, I imagine walking down a tunnel through the author’s subconscious and joining a queue of women to be graded by score cards. Points are deducted for being in the ‘sewing circle’, ‘self-obsessing’ (EG. having a fondness for women’s websites and zines) or for “whingeing about work-life balance” in a distinctly girl-like way.

But what exactly sparked Farrelly’s complaint?  For starters, it’s prompted by her disenchantment with the state of feminism today.  “Feminism always had a strategic choice,” she writes, “either to escape the sewing circle or to make it legitimate … Most of what passes for feminism these days, however, just legitimises girliness.”

This is presumably bad news because ‘girliness’ is somehow equated with ‘weakness’. What’s more, Farrelly sees a tepidness not only in domestic arts, but also in most books written by women, stating: “I don't usually read women authors but not because they're women. Because they're boring.”

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At this point, it may be worth mentioning that Farrelly prefaced her column by saying she’s NOT, in fact, a misogynist. How can she be? She’s a woman after all! And just because she’s a feminist doesn’t mean she can’t (or shouldn’t) disagree with other women … Right?

Indeed, in the book How to be a Woman, author Caitlin Moran points out that feminists shouldn’t feel the pressure to be ‘nice’: “Why on earth have I, because I’m a woman, got to be nice to everyone? And why have women – on top of everything else – got to be particularly careful to be ‘lovely’ and ‘supportive’ to each other at all times?”

What’s more, Moran argues there is no real reason to factor in a “20 percent Genital Similarity Regard-Bonus” in our opinion simply because the other party happens to be wearing a bra.

But just because there is no need to play nice, don’t we still owe it to each other to play fair? As an established female author herself, one can’t help but to be disappointed at Farrelly’s sweeping critique of her gender. It’s one thing to be critical of individual writers, but quite another to say, “I like writing with a higher IQ and lower pH than most women can manage.” To say so is to dismiss great female writers like Geraldine Brooks, Anna Funder and young talents like memoirist Alice Pung and author and essayist Anna Krien – and that’s just in Australia alone.  

By blaming the female condition on the ‘widespread girlification’, Farrelly is unwittingly reinforcing the gender binary in our society. Time was that feminism was all about “closing ranks to battle blatant sexism, get an education and go to work”, but as as journalist Katrin Bennhold points out in a New York Times article, the challenge faced by modern women is now far more complex than breaking out of the ‘domestic/ feminine mould’.

“[Nowadays] women earn more doctorates, but less money. They are overtaking men in the work force, but still do most housework. They make the consumer decisions but run only 3 percent of Fortune 500 companies.” In other words, full equality can’t simply be achieved by shaming women into giving up their ‘girliness’. Rather, as modern feminists, we need to keep questioning and dismantling the rigidness of the roles we see for both sexes – rather than attacking each other’s choices.

If true liberation means the freedom to forge our own paths, then surely, feminists can and should enjoy sewing, baking and other ‘girly pursuits’ without fearing they might be berated? In the end, criticising or poking fun of women with a different ideology may not be ‘misogynistic’, but it isn’t enriching the feminist discourse either. As Caitlin Moran reminds us, “The purpose of feminism isn’t to make a particular type of woman. The idea that there are inherently wrong and inherently right ‘types’ of women is what’s screwed feminism for so long.”