I have a confession to make: I’m a stupid girl. I may have a well-above-average IQ and a decent academic record but I’m as stupid as they come. Truth is, most girls are. Not always; publicly we seem self-confident, ambitious and deep. But then there is this niggling tendency to regress into a worse version of ourselves; a tendency borne of narcissism, insecurity and rivalry which we all share to some extent; a tendency which prevents us from being the best people we can be.
Our sins as ‘stupid girls’, a term that I stole from a past-it Pink song, are multitude:
1. We Chase ‘Bad Men’
It’s not the fault of our childhoods. Many of us were weaned on a diet of Disney movies and bedtime stories which made us dream of knights in shining armour on a two-seater steed. How is it that we learn to fixate, in some sadomasochistic way, on a man who won’t text back, cheats or- best of all- has a criminal record?
One of the few perks of having my extensive dating history is that it might provide invaluable material for a series of comedy sketches one day…mostly at my expense. Maybe there’s a element of the thrill of the chase in there, but I still think that the desperation to pursue someone who is clearly ‘just not that into you’ can only really be rooted in a deep sense of insecurity; one that is, ironically, reinforced rather than assuaged by allowing yourself to be treated badly.
Yet, I don’t think it’s as black and white as ‘good guy/bad guy’, which seems something of a Mizz-magazine-style simplification. The real battle that girls find difficult is to gain the self-respect to assert how they would like to be treated in a relationship, whilst being able to deal with the consequence this may have for a relationship.
This is a hard thing to do when your favourite Rn’B superstar publicly professes her undying love for a physically-abusive boyfriend. It’s difficult to act ruthlessly when a misbehaving boyfriend is forgiven in every other episode of Made in Chelsea, or (to get a little retro) Sex and the City. And it seems impossible to take this leap of faith when you are a 13 year old girl and the prospect of being dumped by your boyfriend seems like the worst fate conceivable. But it’s a learning curve, and an important one.
Because the real issue is not that girls are stupid, but that they are taught from a young age to be unselfish, forgiving and devoted. In every boyfriend that we meet, or every Spencer Matthews that crosses our television screen, automatically we are looking for the knight in shining armour without realising that a relationship is more about our own sense of self-worth than the sense of value that someone else can give to us.
- We Don’t Support Each Other
I’ve noticed a phenomenon whilst observing groups of men and groups of women. The male group will boost each other up in conversation, sometimes hilariously inventing whole different identities for each other in a nightclub context (‘meet my friend John, the brain surgeon’, for instance. They take great pleasure in acting as ‘wingmen’ for each other, helping to facilitate each other’s antics as a double act.
Effectively, female groups are unable to do this with much zeal. My theory as to why is as follows: it is generally understood that in a nightclub context, men feature as the ‘active’ predators, whereas women serve as the ‘passive’ prey. However anti-feminist this might sound, it is a truth self-evident from Mahiki Mondays to Space Saturdays. Because of this unsaid truth, women feel as if they are being selected, rather than autonomously choosing whether or not they wish to seek a romantic liaison with someone. So, even if a girl ‘wingmans’ a female friend, successfully grabbing the attention of the opposite sex, she will subconsciously wonder why the male target didn’t show any interest whatsoever in her. Subsequently, this will be taken as a reflection on her attractiveness.
Girls are constantly set up against one another. For instance, it is a well-known secret that nightclubs ensure they have a majority of girls, in order to prevent any ‘where dem girls at’ existentialist crises and, assumedly, to make men feel as if they have entered a well-stocked brothel. Even on dating sites, there are commonly many more women than men; the girl-girl competition never ends. Men complain that women are naturally more jealous creatures, but I would argue that it is society, rather than genetics, that makes them that way.
3. We Lack Role Models
Featured on the front of Grazia at the moment:
- Cressida Bonas, a fellow University of Leeds alumni famous for having dated (and recently broken up with) Prince Harry.
- Kim Kardashian, the former porn star whose financial and bodily assets make her a constant fixture on the front page, not to mention her forthcoming wedding with Kanye West.
- Jennifer Aniston, a successful actress in her own right who is nevertheless constantly in the media limelight for less flattering associations, such as her ‘desperate’ love life and, in this instance, her plans to undergo 4am surgery on her ‘batwings’ (loose upper-arm skin, for those unfamiliar with tabloid colloquialisms).
What I worry about is that the media is full of women who- whilst, almost unfailingly, beautiful beyond belief- will never serve as adequate role models for the young girls who grow up idolising them (unless, of course, their greatest aspiration in life is to simulate sex on a motorbike like Kim Kardashian, in which case, I must apologise for my narrow-mindedness). Nor does the media celebrate female success, even if they are worthy of admiration. This recent study by the Vagenda team says it all:
Constantly bombarded by headlines which both trivialise women and suggest that their entire value lies in their attractiveness, how are young girls supposed to grow up with a strong sense of ambition?
The Richard Bransons, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerbergs of this world are household names, celebrated for their power to succeed rather than their sex tapes or the new Louboutins they have sported on the red carpet. Whereas, if you take a list of successful women like this one, the only household names are the women brought to fame by association with their even more successful husbands.
4. We’re Punished For Our Success
The truth is, successful women fight a harder battle than successful men. In order to explain this idea, I want to refer to a Simone de Beauvoir quote which has always stuck with me:
‘For men, there is no hiatus between public and private life: the more he asserts his grasp on the world through action and work, the more virile he looks; human and vital characteristics are merged in him; but women’s own successes are in contradiction with her femininity’.-Beauvoir, The Second Sex
Men are celebrated constantly for their success. Defined not by their thinning hair but by their six-figure salaries, they can pick up women with a business card and seal the deal with those three magic letters: C.E.O. Even in social situations they are obliged to wear a suit almost identical to workwear, whilst women are expected to pour themselves into restrictive clothing and impossible standards.
‘Career women’, on the other hand, are often demonised for their choice to be successful because it deters from more traditional ‘feminine’ duties like motherhood. Terms like ‘bad mother’ and ‘negligent wife’ are thrown about all too often, yet when a man works hard, his actions are justified as the ‘head of the household. Even the term ‘career woman’ has some sneeringly implicit connotations of selfish single-mindedness, whereas a man with a career is just that: a man with a career. The norm.
It is just as unacceptable that successful women are discriminated against for the way they look: take Mary Beard, for instance, whose grey hair should in no way be considered relevant to her OBE and series of literary achievements. Even the late Margaret Thatcher has been constantly caricatured for her appearance, whilst it is rare that someone makes an aesthetic judgement on the most recent line-up of all-male prime ministers (none of whom, I might add, have exactly been oil paintings). Beauvoir wrote her seminal text, ‘The Second Sex’, in 1949, and it is saddening to see how much her values still hold up today.
Ultimately, women are not ‘stupid’, nor should such labels be attached to them. But the world still has a long way to come in terms of gender equality, and it will take a lot of willpower for men and women alike to help girls grow up in a world where they can aspire to be more than how they look and more than what they mean to the opposite sex. Women need to learn to support each other, despite the numerous ways that society sets us up in opposition against each other. Most of all, women need to learn (to paraphrase Beauvoir) to make their success a vital part of their femininity, rather than a challenge to it. Because who wants to be a stupid girl?