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I enjoy being a girl. No you don’t. Yes I do. No you don’t. Yes I do.

March 5, 2011

First they tell you one thing...

Like Dorothy in Kansas, when I was a child, a whirlwind hit my life. This particular whirlwind involved feminism, which indirectly was about wicked witches, I suppose, so maybe Dorothy and I do have something in common. Anyway, if you were born in the ’50s, but were raised in the ’60s and ’70s, like I was, I would challenge you to explain what happened to girls. The messages we received were massively screwed up, it seems to me. But I’m not even really all that angry about it anymore, ever since I reclaimed my inner girl.

Reclaiming my inner girl was a long, slow, painful process, but it involved having to undo many of the conflicting messages we were forced to listen to. In the early ’60s, it was still okay to be a girl. My aunts put little bows in my hair, which was all right. I accepted almost all girly stuff up until my family, made up of shrieking harpy expat Europeans raised in the old school (read: Victorian-era values), tried to get me to wear stiff embroidered crinoline-type stuff, which was going too far. That I rebelled against. However, I was an odd duck. I liked wearing the little white gloves and dresses of the ’50s as a child. If you look around nowadays, any girl who dolled up like that would be called a freak, and I think that’s sad, because I used to enjoy being a girl, until that was taken away from me sometime in the ’70s by powers beyond my control.

I remember the era very well, and how politics, and then fashion, changed. Now, not to leap around too much in telling this story, there was a time, in the 1930s, when pants for women were first introduced. Pants were considered somewhat shocking for women to wear—there went gender stereotypes, was the wisdom of the day, and social scientists predicted the downfall of society. Women had been wearing dresses up till that point, and taking pants off of men was one of the transitions made in society after women won the vote and started thinking about taking over other areas of life as well. All hell was about to break loose, but it would have to wait a generation or two, while the world adjusted to the shockwave of pants on women.

...the same message everywhere you look...

So, it was not until the 1960s and ’70s that pants became the major political statement they were capable of, inspiring fear and loathing in conservative minds everywhere. I remember the time like it was yesterday.

It was not a subtle transition. What happened was: one year (approximately 1968) it was still okay to be a girly girl. The next I looked (approximately 1971), it was verboten to ever admit you had any wish to dress up, wear skirts or perfume, or in any way express the need for pink. Hence, it is my opinion that the desire for pink was repressed, but that it pops out from time to time in the collective, sighing to come out into the light of day.

Like Rapunzel locked away in the tower, non-threatening, non-sexually dominating shades of pink are discouraged from escaping. I am fairly certain that after being locked in a tower for a long time, you’d be pretty resentful at the wicked old witch who locked you in there, though, and I think that’s part of where the anti-feminism backlash came from.

I think this is always the danger whenever society decides it’s time to repress energy that otherwise requires some form of expression—you then see that energy popping up in strange places, in potentially unpleasant ways.

So the 60s and 70s were a time when it became increasingly not-okay to be a girl, not as girls had been known up till that time. That meant the creation of a New Girl, although I am sure no one knew what that meant at the time, not with Ms. magazine telling me, the adolescent girl, that I was now a “young woman,” even though I felt anything but womanly. In other words, I lost the right to be a girl. That was taken away from me and everyone my age, and all of a sudden, those of us in that awkward place in adolescence were left standing there, holding the bag, no longer allowed to go to a high school prom, attend a dance, have a debutante ball, wear dresses, dress up at all, in fact. All of that was frowned on, which is kind of sad, actually, for those who like dressing up but have lost all opportunity to do so. My Barbies had been able to dress up to the nines; my mother had dressed extravagantly; but now, I was not permitted the same rite of passage.

Okay. What did that leave us with, precisely?

Well, not much, in my opinion, since it became the norm to dress down. Everything was jeans and cutoffs, not exactly an elegant look, and certainly not in any way feminine at the time, since women didn’t even have their own sizes; we wore men’s jeans, which nowadays makes no sense at all, but that’s where ‘fashion’ was at the time, strung between fantasy and reality. The fantasy was, that all women were now ‘equal’ to men. The reality was, we were so ‘equal,’ we literally had to wear their pants, since we had none of our own.

All of a sudden, all attention on girls was focused, like laser-beams, on our brains and our potential to go out into the world and Do Great Things with our lives. To reinforce the import of the great changes we were all forced to endure (against my will, it must be said) fate supplied my mother, who was president of the International Feminist League while we lived in Hong Kong. She hosted monthly meetings of cacophonous, angry women, all of whom were busy raising their consciousnesses. They played Helen Reddy singing “I am Woman,” a lot. It was inspiring, if somewhat blood-thirsty. To be fair to them, they were reacting against both perceived, and very real injustices toward women; but come on, most of the women they were concerned about were white and over-privileged, so even now I don’t have a lot of sympathy for their plight, mostly cause I had to listen to a lot of drunken whining about their bad marriages.

Anyway, one night I was pushed up against the wall by a particularly angry (and drunk) woman who adamantly insisted that I had been in chains my entire life (I was 12), and feminism was the way out of the tower, Rapunzel.

(As a side-note, never lecture an adolescent unless your motives are squeaky-clean; they are looking for the cracks, fissures and hypocrisy in your assertion.)

The '70s: No pink to be found here, that's for sure

I replied that I had no idea what she was talking about; I had never been enslaved or in chains. In my head, I was comparing her vision with mine, which was that as we spoke, there were boat people living in the harbour on less than 50 cents a day, and if you wanted to see real injustice, all you had to do was walk amongst them for awhile.

Do these women look liberated to you?

The Chinese were not fond of their female children, and were known to ignore one falling off the family boat to her death. That was uppermost in my mind when the IFL complained about rights for women. They meant rights for themselves, not rights for women, it seemed to me, as divorce after divorce claimed marriage after marriage, and kids growing up at the time tried to withstand the emotional onslaught brought on by a generation of angry people, all hurling daggers at one another.

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