A few months ago I wrote about a common practice in our culture to encourage women to smile and be cheery. I also criticized the "baby voice" that many grown women use, and how these practices denigrate women. We are not supposed to be emotionally intelligent, nuanced people. Rather, we need to be pretty, entertaining, light-hearted objects for men.
I've noticed that an intelligent woman I know, who graduated from a prestigious university, often "plays dumb." I know this woman is smart. However, when she is in conversation with men, she reverts to this "ditzy," silly, valley-girl persona.
It irks me, because I know she is a sharp person. Sometimes I feel like a Debbie Downer because I don't understand why an otherwise mature, intelligent person would behave this way. Why should it bother me? Women who act "girly" like this make people (read: men) laugh, and it's just some light-hearted entertainment. What's the problem?
I suspect I'm bothered by women who act this way because I know they can do better. Such behavior is dehumanizing. Smart women--or any woman--who act this way reinforce the idea that femininity = dumb, ditzy, giggly behavior.
I recently discovered an excellent blog, What Tami Said. Tami has criticized the sitcom, New Girl, which stars Zooey Deschanel, as well as the childlike, "cutesy" quirkiness of Deschanel herself. Deschanel frames these critiques as an attack on "girliness," and thus an attack on femininity.
But as Tami rightly observes, Deschanel's defense exposes the "the confusion of femininity with childishness. We are wondering at what it means for grown women to adopt perpetually pixie-like personas."
Tami notes that extreme masculinity means that a man is still very much a man, but extreme femininity tends to paint women as girly and childlike. Wouldn't it be odd to see hyper-masculinity as "boyish"? Why then is "girliness" for grown women acceptable?
If we portray femininity as a "womanly" endeavor, then stereotypically "masculine" features start to appear, such as strength, authority, and wisdom. Oh no, that doesn't fit our culture's stereotype as a giggly, dainty girl!
I suppose I do have beef with "girliness," not because of the implied femininity, but the implied submissiveness and dependence; because of how long it took for some women to prove that they are not children in need of care and for some other women, like me, to remind that we do need care as all human beings do. Perhaps I do reject a femininity that turns on being more "girl" than "woman," in part because "girliness" is accepted and abetted by a sexist society in a way that womanliness is not.
I recommend Tami's other post about Deschanel, because she has a great analysis of a racialized aspect of the persona Deschanel has created.
That said, in spite of the critique of Deschanel, I have a couple of She & Him albums and enjoy them. I'll just stick with her music for now...