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Every Time You Speak to Me You Tell Me What to Do

About a week and a half ago, The Huffington Post featured a post in its culture section by Peg Aloi entitled “Tough Gals: Do They Still Exist?” This article was pointed out to me last night by one of my friends. Where was I on August 11th? How did this particular article escape me for 9 days? I know I worked that day, and I’m guessing I had rehearsal that night, because that’s pretty much been my life for the past month or so. I do remember seeing mentions on Twitter over the past week, women saying that they were cupcake-baking, knitting, kick-ass women, but I didn’t know it related to anything in particular. I just thought they were giving their own personal credo, or something. And they are kick-ass women, so I approved of that message.

Although I’d like to not give Ms. Aloi any additional traffic, I do encourage you to click above and read the article. If you’d rather not, for one reason or another, here’s a brief summary:

Women who blog about cupcakes, Hello Kitty, gardening, knitting, and cats are girly. Not that there’s anything wrong with the blogs…but there’s something wrong with being girly. Because we’re women! And we shouldn’t be girly! We should be badass! Feminists who came before us fought hard for that right, and we’re throwing it away with these girly pursuits! We’ve “lost sight of what it means to be a badass, tough, strong woman”! Women aren’t having fun – instead, we like cooking, Jane Austen, and heirloom tomatoes! We’ve “become complacent”! “We’re not tough anymore; we’re soft”!

Oh, for the love of Sanrio.

Listen. LISTEN. We’ve talked about this, here, on my blog, in the past. Women telling us what to do and what to feel and who to be because the author knows the right way to do these things, under the guide of feminism. Because the author is the arbiter of womanhood. Because there’s a mold, and women should fit that mold, and if they don’t, they’re lesser – lesser human beings, lesser women, lesser examples of shining femaleness than the author herself.

I AM SO GODDAMN TIRED OF BEING TOLD WHO TO BE.

Men, sorry to leave you out, here, and I’m sure you face societal pressure up the wazoo as well, but as I am not in possession of a Y chromosome, I don’t know what those are, exactly. This is not meant to slight you. I’d be interested, actually, in reading a post about the type of societal pressures a young man faces; if someone wants to point me in the direction of a good one, it would be appreciated.

Women, from a young age, are told how to act in order to fit society’s norms. There are exceptions, but overall, even in this day and age, there are toddlers in frilly dresses and bows scotch-taped onto the bald heads of baby girls for photo day and the moniker “tomboy” (usually said either with a sneer or a knowing nod.) As we get older, more expectations. Makeup. What to wear. How to act. At what age to start dating. What’s appropriate and what’s weird. The list goes on; I’m sure the women reading this can think of a million examples in their own life where they wanted to be doing one thing but were gently (or not-so-gently) nudged in another direction because it wasn’t “cool” enough or “girly” enough or whatever enough to fit in the very strict lines that were drawn by whoever draws these things.

But as we grow up, we realize things, like being who we are is more fulfilling than making other people like us, and that there’s nothing at all wrong with, say, watching Vh1 Celebreality all day rather than shopping or getting a mani-pedi or whatever it is the “cool” kids are doing. We’re not here to please anyone but ourselves, when we get older. And that’s a nice feeling, you know? It’s a feeling I’d like to be able to go back and bestow upon the teenage me, who was always scrambling to keep up with what was expected of her and failing miserably and very unhappy in the bargain.

But then you get women like Julie Klausner telling us that we’re too infantilized if we like Converse sneakers, cupcakes, Etsy jewelry, or birds, and Peg Aloi telling us that we’re not tough if we like knitting, gardening, Hello Kitty, or, again, cupcakes. (Why so much cupcake hate? Do these women equally hate sheet cakes? Who hates cake? I feel like hating cake = hating America, honestly.)

These women are just grown-up versions of the bitches in high school who set the trends. The Plastics, really. The Wednesdays-We-Wear-Pink girls. The girls who arbitrarily decide “on this side of the line is what’s cool, and on this side of the line is what’s not, and I’ll tell you how high you have to jump and how hard you have to beg to be on the right side of the line.” And do you know how to tell they’re bitches? Because they’re telling you you’re not good enough. They’re making you feel less-than. They’re telling you, “Listen, if you like this, this, and this? You don’t measure up.”

I don’t want to be in your Special People Club.

It doesn’t make you less tough if you knit, bake, or garden. The article actually contradicts itself all over the place – Aloi will make a blanket statement like “Tough girls don’t knit because that’s what our foremothers did!” and then couch it with “But man our foremothers, right? Whoo! They were certainly tough, you know, in their own way!” Why are the two mutually exclusive? Why can’t you be a badass tough-as-nails mofo AND make a mean cupcake?

Because Aloi SAYS SO.

There are currently 326 comments under her article. I didn’t read them all – I actually do have a life, sorry to disappoint! – but have read a large number of them, and the themes running through them are:

  • Screw you, Peg Aloi, you judgmental hag.
  • Why can’t you kick-ass and knit?
  • What the hell?
  • This isn’t the 1800’s. We aren’t *required* to knit now. It’s a *choice* we make.
  • I kind of want to stab you with my knitting needles.
  • You know what’s awesome? Feminist women telling others how to behave.

And do you know what’s missing? Ms. Aloi. She hasn’t made a PEEP. She is GONE. Just like Julie Klausner, who, to the best of my knowledge, dropped that load-of-shit article on us back in June and never commented on the fury it ignited, Ms. Aloi hasn’t responded in the least.

Now, I’m not saying she has to. She has the right to her own opinion. It would be hypocritical of me to say I can’t stand women telling me how to behave and then turn around and tell Ms. Aloi how to do so.  On some level, I almost, almost, think I get, in a tiny way, what she might have been trying to say. Because listen, girly-girl giggly shit sets my teeth on edge, too. Feigned helplessness. Doe-eyed false childishness. But that’s never mentioned, so I assume that’s not what she’s referring to, and what I take objection to in these behaviors is that the women using them are pretending to be something they’re not because they think that’s how they have to act in order to get what they want – a man, a promotion, taken care of, etc. (And yes, I realize I’m being a little hypocritical – I tell people they’re doing douchey things on here all the time, and even in judging these type of women, that’s doing something I’m calling her out for. Thing is, I have a blog that doesn’t have a fraction of the readership that The Huffington Post does, and I’d like to think that I wouldn’t make a blanket statement like “knitters= weak women so go out and learn to shoot a gun instead” at all without my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. And “pretending you’re helpless to ‘catch’ a man” is very different than “baking cupcakes = weak”, no?) 

Here’s what it all boils down to, for me. First, being tough is not measured by your leisure activities. Toughness is a state of mind and is reflected in how you react to situations, I think. Am I alone in this? Second, being a bully does not make you tough. Being a bully is actually one of the biggest signs of weakness a person can show. And what Ms. Aloi is doing in this article is bullying. She’s bullying women into thinking they are not good enough, that their pasttimes are an affront to womanhood, that they are weak and small and unimportant and childlike because they like traditionally domestic activities.

Personally? I bake a mean cupcake (although my cookies are to die for – seriously, if you’ve had my Double Dark Chocolate Chunk Espresso Cookies, you know, I am the queen of cookies), I’m wearing a Hello Kitty band-aid RIGHT NOW (honestly, it’s because there was this kickass sale a while back and I got a ton of boxes of kiddie band-aids for free so that’s all there is in the house at the moment), I can’t garden, I hate tomatoes (both heirloom and regular), I love my cats, I can cook enough to keep myself fed, I like Jane Austen but am not in love with her, and I can’t knit. But I can crochet. Like a madwoman. And I’m a badass crocheter. I mean, I can make CLOTHES. I’ve made WHOLE BLANKETS. I’m very, very good at it.

I’m also tough. And no one telling me I’m not, based on my habits and activities, is able to take that away from me. I’m secure in the knowledge of my strength. Bigger bullies than you, Ms. Aloi, have worked me over, sorry to say. You’re small-time.

If you’re not secure in your own inner strength, Ms. Aloi, don’t try to pass that off onto the rest of us. That’s not very tough of you. And as for women who aren’t having enough “fun” – well, I’m glad you’re the fun police? What a nice title to have! But please let me be the judge of what’s enjoyable in my own life.

Women – if you take anything away from this, please let it be this. You are good enough. You are amazing. You are just who you are meant to be; you love what you are meant to love; and anyone who tells you that you are not good enough, and that you don’t measure up, and that your behaviors and the things you enjoy are not acceptable? IS AN ASSHOLE AND A BULLY. People like this should not be in your life. They are emotional vampires. They will take away your inner strength and use it to prop themselves up because they don’t have any of their own. You are the only person who can stop this behavior; you are the only person who can say, “No, you know what? I don’t accept this treatment, I deserve better than this” and get gone, either by removing them or removing yourself. 

I’m not telling you how to act; I’m not bullying you; I’m just saying your personal net worth is immeasurable, and you can’t even imagine the weight that’s lifted the moment you realize that.

(Side note – research on Peg Aloi tells me that she teaches at a college here in the town where I live. So, that’s fun. And maybe when I’m buying groceries I’m rubbing elbows with her! Good gracious I hope I’m not buying heirloom tomatoes OH THE HUMANITY. Don’t worry, I’m not. I hate tomatoes.)

(Title’s from a Cranberries song – “A Fast One.”)

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

11 responses to “Every Time You Speak to Me You Tell Me What to Do

  • Little Oracle

    omg. frikkin' awesome post. thank you for writing this so i didn't have to!

    more on topic, though, i think what 'feminists' in the stereotypical sense seem to fail to notice is that men and women ARE different. we don't have to be like a man to be tough. we don't have to do 'boy' things to be tough. and we don't have to be 'tough' at all, if we don't want to.

    equality between the genders, the races, the whatever is not about all being the same. it's about being DIVERSE and free to do what we want, and that means room for everyone, no matter how much we like to shoot guns or make cupcakes. and you know what makes that 'tough' to swallow? it means having to accept it when people do things you don't like. like knitting.

    and i, for one, think it is completely badass and hard core to spend months and months and months making something that will keep your family warm out of a single thread of yarn. but maybe that kind of dedication just isn't 'tough' enough for some people.

    Like

  • Roz

    I remember making this same argument in a Sociology class in the fall of 1981.

    I know you don't like tomatoes, but nothing (other than the law) is stopping you from tossing a rotten one at her. ;)

    Like

  • Julie Klausner

    Hi! Julie Klausner here. I did respond to the backlash on my podcast–I didn't write a follow-up to my essay after my friend Natasha Vargas Cooper advised me not to respond to people who didn't seem to pose arguments that were particularly compelling, or from writers who weren't making points that were worthy of addressing. I don't read blog comments, nor do I respond to commenters–they are trolls you can't feed! And nobody in the blogosphrere seemed to say anything thought-provoking besides “FU, I love cupcakes!” (So do I. Now what.) I talked about it on my show, and I've since learned a lot about third-wave feminism and how you can't criticize women's tastes these days, because it can be more sacred than religion. But that's all I'll write about it (for free at least!) I didn't disappear. I'm still here, baby.

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  • Amy

    Julie, thank you for commenting – I appreciate hearing your side, and that's why I qualified it with “to the best of my knowledge” as I wasn't aware that you'd responded. I'll have to find your podcast as I'm interested in what your response was. I do have to say that I read quite a few blogs with responses to your article more articulate than you indicate, but I'm sure we see them from different perspectives.

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  • Michelle

    Julie that seems rather harsh to call commenter's trolls. Especially since what they are saying is rather important. Sometimes the debate or conversation continues in the comment section. Its a shame you don't read what your audience has to say. I love what Amy has to say.

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  • Freelance Laura

    I knit. I crochet and tat, AND bake cupcakes. I can also rebuild a carburetor, re-roof a house, or install an automatic sprinkler system.

    I think Hello Kitty is adorable, and I have a collection of stuffed animals. I survived widowhood at age 30, and had to look my 5 year old daughter in the eye and tell her she would never see her Daddy again. I have raised her on my own. She is graduating high school this year, and we're now working on her college apps.

    I have led a life that would probably crush the smug, self-righteous daylights right out of the likes of Ms. Aloi, and these “girly” things are my trophies. Yes, I can step up and do anything a man can do. I can be (I am) the bread winner, kill my own spiders, buy (and fix) my own computer, but i refuse to let life's responsibilities and traumas turn me into an empty old shell. I am well-rounded and capable, and I choose to keep in touch with the part of me who enjoys the feel of fuzzy yarn, who can smile at a silly toy, and who can take pleasure in watching people enjoying the cupcakes I baked for them.

    I think people who insist that feminism needs to be done a certain way have missed the point. I completely agree with Amy; if you're trying to tell me I'm doing it wrong, you're just as much an oppressor as the man who says I should stay home barefoot and pregnant.

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  • Cara Elizabeth

    I think the bottom line is we let the internet get the best of us. Who cares what people think- it's what you do and make it count. Be fucking happy. I don't give a flying fuck if some “popular” blogger thinks that cupcakes and kittens are too girly… I don't care if I don't fall under some lone wank jobs idea of badass… because I KNOW for a fact that I am. I sew (poorly) I make crafty shit and I happen to know every fucking line in the movie Aliens. So the last thing I'm going to do is let some blogger take a dump on who I am.

    Don't get me wrong… I get irritated with some girly blogs out there- they are some self centered, idiotic morons who like to just post photos of themselves… but I can deduce that in one second and NEVER look at that blog again. They don't even come close to “defining” women… it's just another phase in a series of phases that life goes through. It's infuriating that they seem to make money and dupe others into it… but be confident in knowing you WON'T be duped.

    I am fine living in a mix of being a powerful woman who has a career… who also would make dinner for her husband and let him do the bills. Because I'm happy with myself.

    I think Peg's main problem is that she's a narrow minded twit who is only seeing a very small picture… if she honestly believes that the bra-burners, free love artists, corporate queen bees, supermoms and women-who-wanted-and-got-it all are gone then she's a true idiot… because I assure you… just because we have a vagina doesn't mean we are “sitting on our asses, knitting and eating cupcakes in our Hello Kitty jammies.” And if we were… WHO GIVES A SHIT?!?!?! HOLY HELL IS ON THE HORIZON BECAUSE WE ARE EATING CUPCAKES!!!! RRRRUUUUUNNNNN!!!!!

    Why are there so many idiots in the world?

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  • Anonymous

    I want to give you an internet standing ovation.

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  • Karen

    Thank you for this. I blogged about it myself. The author appears to have a very narrow, immature, uninformed view of what feminism is, shaped mostly by unrealistic women portrayed in movies, television shows, and rock concerts. She's forgetting that the real feminists, the real women who did and continue to do real things, encompass a much wider range of personalities, tastes, and body types. Jane Goodall is working hard to save the Gombe as chimpanzee habitat, but she does it without having to swing through the trees in a leather catsuit (not that she wouldn't look fabulous doing so). Eleanor Roosevelt worked hard for social justice, and never once had to hotwire a car or “manipulate” her way into a bomb shelter. Women in London in WWII and women in Israel today know all about getting into bomb shelters (which involves opening the door, not “manipulating”) and can tell you there's not much about it that's badass or heroic. And Ms. Aloi, modern cars can't even BE hotwired. If the “revolution” Ms. Aloi speaks of does actually come, I'll take my garden, my spinning wheel, my knitting, and my plant foraging skills over her imagined skills (“I'm tough because I watch tough women on television!”) any day.

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  • blogginglily

    This is not a gender specific piece. You’ve alluded to that, but simultaneously apologized to men for it. Men face similar societal pressures to conform to this paradigm or that paradigm and I agree with what you’ve written about women and suggest that it’s a message equally suited to men.

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