Can I just say that I love Amanda Marcotte as a writer and feminist, and normally I agree with just about everything she says? But I am really strongly against her attitude here: this attitude that women have to affect a certain dignity and decorum and avoid projecting childishness in any way.
The above Twitter exchange grew out of an article Marcotte wrote. She tweeted the link alongside the comment “Grown women disliking it when women play at being little girls is just fine by me.” The article itself is an analysis of Anne Hathaway hatred – which is apparently a thing on these Interwebs of ours – and of a New Yorker piece suggesting that people hate Anne Hathaway’s little-girl persona, with its bubbly cheer and unsophisticated exuberance. Marcotte isn’t so sure that’s a bad thing. She notes dismissively that “grown women don’t carry puppy dog purses”, bemoans “the sexual fantasy of the infantilized and therefore submissive woman”, and characterizes the Hathaway-hate described as “an entirely understandable reaction from grown women who have every right to expect women to be regarded as adults.”
It all strikes me as a bit too harshly judgmental. There’s more than one right way to be a grown woman.
First of all, there’s a few unfair conflations going on here, which I think is the entire point of the above Twitter exchange. Lay off the puppy-dog purse, please! A woman who carries a puppy-dog purse isn’t necessarily sexually infantilized. Nor is she necessarily humourless, un-self-aware, or lacking in calm and dignity. For that matter, a woman can be self-aware, calm, humour-filled, and sexually infantilized or submissive . . . whether or not she owns a puppy-dog purse. So let’s treat these things as separate categories, please.
I agree that pretending to be a wide-eyed little girl sucking a lolly for the sexy factor (outside the context of someone’s sexy role-play fantasy, where pretty much anything goes if those involved are on board) is somewhat obnoxious, particularly when it’s used to sell something, because it’s just so heavy-handed – what Marcotte called in her tweet “the ‘I’m a sexy baby’ thing” . And I certainly don’t like living in a society where women who are strong and self-aware are castigated because we’re expected to be empty-headed little girls. And if you’re playing an empty-headed role when you’re a smart, self-aware woman, you’re wasting your talents and gifts. I agree with all of that.
But what I don’t agree with is the idea that puppy-dog purses and candy-pink dresses and glittery shoes are the mark of an infantile woman who should be dismissed because she doesn’t know how to act like a grown-up. Nor do I think those things should be seen as automatically sexual in that I’m-a-sexy-baby way. I just don’t believe that there’s only one right way to be a grown woman.
Here’s the thing: being thirty years old in reality doesn’t look a damn thing like I thought it would when I was fifteen. At fifteen I imagined it looking a lot like Marcotte seems to see it. I pictured dignified, ladylike clothing – lots of dress pants and blouses, with subtle and sedate-looking jewelry and smooth-coiffed hair. I pictured a very neat, tidy home with elegant knicknacks and a neat, tidy car. I pictured balanced meals and a nine-to-five job writing or teaching young children or something vaguely like that. I pictured very intelligent-sounding non-fiction books with hardcovers, which I slipped into a neutral-coloured leather purse that matched my neutral-coloured shoes and jacket.
That’s not exactly how it turned out. Now my winter coat is neon purple, there are funky stuffed animals on my guest bed ,I seldom wear black socks, and young children teach me.
I work from home right now, trying to make some kind of mark as a writer, because it’s the one activity in life I love too much to live without. Reading is a close second, but I mix my intelligent-sounding non-fiction hardcovers with historical fiction, cheap horror thrillers, and teen lit – and for my money, young adult literature is the absolute best thing I learned in library school, with the most resonant and exciting storylines (though I steer clear of the “I fell in love with a supernatural monster” trend spawned by Twilight). My house mostly looks like a tornado hit it because there’s always something going on and sometimes there’s not much time for cleaning, and I never outgrew my habit of writing or reading deep into the night ’til I’m so tired I just collapse without putting away my papers. I was supposed to organize my paperwork on Friday, but instead I went for a hike with my boyfriend because he had the day off and the paperwork could wait, but enjoying my life matters.
My current wardrobe has at least eight times the colour of the wardrobe I had in high school because I’m not as depressed now as I was then. I have some sedate, ladylike pieces. I have some funky ethnic pieces (can’t get enough of silk skirts). I have some fun and colourful things that just make me feel happy. But the thing I wear most often is my skull-print hoodie. I have a bit of a gothic side. I collect colourful jewelry, and I love wearing sparkly barrettes and fabric flowers in my hair. I don’t have a puppy purse, but I do have a plush-frog hot-water-bottle cover, and I really, really, really love kitties.
I am not a sexy baby, but I’m not so dignified, either.
What I am is happy. I’m happier and more comfortable in my skin than I’ve ever been before in my life. My young self tried to dress more grown-up than she was so she could be taken seriously (and hide her body flaws); today I care more about how I feel in what I wear than about what someone else thinks. My young self was scolded all the time to curb her enthusiasm, and she was ashamed of it; now I know I get carried away, but I’m mostly okay with it, and I’m offended that anyone would try to stomp on the excitement, joy, and creativity of anybody, male or female, young or old.
I agree that Anne Hathaway is not the first person I’d think of as an out-of-control grown-up-turned-little-girl. But even if she were, that’s a horrible reason to hate her. Marcotte finds her cloying; okay, fine. It’s a matter of personal taste, perhaps. But to say a woman should look down on any other female her age who doesn’t “do it right” . . . well, that’s horribly stifling, isn’t it?
Here’s the thing: forcing your expectations on others is a great way to keep them in their place. I just had a long discussion on Twitter with some jerk who said he wasn’t homophobic, except that it wasn’t okay for men to act like women. I couldn’t even begin to explain to him all that was wrong with his attitude. What’s “acting like a woman”? What’s “acting like a man”? Who gets to decide? Who’s going to enforce it? What’s the consequence of violating his rules? Why are those rules even necessary? What’s it to him if somebody won’t “act like a man” – how is he harmed by it?
It’s the same here, more or less. Marcotte has every right to live out being a woman in whatever way she chooses. And, no matter what she says, the people around me – self included – have the right to be women our way. I guess I just expected someone as conscious and enlightened as Marcotte to show a little bit more support for women who don’t think we should have to temper our enthusiasm, modulate our voices, and put on some mask of social acceptability we never chose that makes us feel depressed and inauthentic.
I’m thirty years old. I am not a little girl. But I am playful, exuberant, occasionally unselfconscious, enthusiastic, creative, and colourful. I have waited my whole life to feel this free. And I have put a lot of effort into educating myself to the level where I can, freely and without apology, choose to push aside certain conventions that serve me poorly – the one that requires me to be virginal, to be submissive, to be self-effacing. And yes, the convention that requires me to be aloof and unenthusiastic when I want to embrace this life, perhaps the only one I’ll ever have.
Life’s too damn short to not wear fabric flowers in my hair.