My friend Jordyn, of Ten Cent Notes did a piece awhile back that was printed in Red: Teenage Girls in America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today and was afterwards interviewed by Bitch Magazine, which you can read here. I have yet to read Jordyn's piece (no worries, I soon will), but the interview struck a chord with me.
This part especially:
On the biggest misconceptions about teenage girls in America: The idea of "pretty or smart." Many girls are both, but everyone gets lumped into one category or the other in spite of it, and sometimes that holds girls back. A lot of times it's hard to step out of the box others put you in, even if you want to, and I think it's especially difficult for girls, because the lines are firmly drawn.
I spoke briefly with Jordyn after she posted that, telling her how I liked that bit and we had this little interchange over twitter:
Jordyn: I've had guys tell me that I "look smart". I kind of figured that was code for "boring". lol
Me: I've gotten both, but never at the same time. I'm either smart & boring/nothing special, or I'm pretty with nothing to offer. And I really hate that. I want someone to think I'm pretty (even when I don't) and to tell me I'm special (even when I'm not).
And, honestly guys? I don't think that's too far off from what most girls want. This is also something that I believe most girls have dealt with in life, too, and not just in high school. From the time we are young we, as girls and boys, are taught a duality for how women are to be perceived. It's something women have fought against for a long time, but has become so engrained in our lifestyles and in the media that it's hard to break free from it. There are the pretty girls, and there are the smart girls. But do we ever look at a pretty girl, say, the homecoming queen, and think "wow she's so intelligent"? Or look at a really smart girl, the bookworm in your calculus class with the glasses, and talk about how gorgeous she is? I don't see a lot of that happening around here, to be honest.
As I mentioned in the quote above, I've been perceived as both pretty and smart, but never can I think of an instance where it has happened at the same time. I have had guys come up to me and hit on me without ever having spoken to me, because they think I'm pretty (and for the record, I hate that). I'm more than my looks, and I want people to see that. Or sometimes I write something really great, or give a good speech, and someone tells me how smart I am. Like Jordyn, I feel that the word "smart" can sometimes mean "boring." Smart girls aren't exactly known for having fun or being fun, and in the media especially, they are rarely portrayed as pretty.
So we get put into boxes, like Jordyn says, and we feel like we're stuck there. Sometimes, we are--but that's only because the girl accepts her fate to remain there. A "smart" girl gives up on her looks, why should she bother if no one is going to notice? A "pretty" girl gives up on her studies. Why does it matter when everyone tells her she can get by without them? It's a cycle spurred on by those very same girls who are trapped within it.
I'm not saying we can start a revolution here, because that can't happen overnight. What we can do though, is start with one girl. Maybe it's a guy telling the bookworm she's pretty, maybe it's telling the model that something she said had depth and meaning. There are girls like that out there, most girls are not one or the other, despite which box she's been thrown into. All a girl wants is to be accepted for all that she is, not for one quality or the other, and we should be able to see that in them. Not only that, but we should tell them, because sometimes they've been in one box too long to see that they can break free. The pretty girls don't always think they are pretty, and the smart girls don't always feel so smart. Sometimes, all a person needs is someone else to remind them of how great they are. That's not such a hard thing to do. It's a start, anyway.
Thoughts on the subject? Experience with it? Share them in the comments please!