Hello Korio
15. 10. 2015

This is something I’ve talked about before, which makes it a simple post to write, because everything I want to say will come easily to me, and I’ll be really impressed with how freely all of my ideas are coming out just the way I want them to, conveniently completely ignoring that fact that I have expressed these exact thoughts in this exact way several times now. If originality was required on the Internet, most of us would have to pack it up and go home, and I have no intention of doing that, so reruns it is.

From the title I think it’s pretty clear what this is going to be about. You’ve definitely heard someone say they’re “bad at being a girl” before. I get that it’s supposed to sound self-deprecating, and I suppose some people really do think they’re being self-deprecating, but it doesn’t always come across that way and maybe you – if you’re one of the people who says it regularly – should stop it right now. It rarely comes from someone who feels genuinely bad about their own femininity or lack thereof, you know?

Obviously I talk a lot about makeup, because it’s a thing I like to do. I like to buy it and own it. I like to use it. I like to arrange and rearrange the collection I have. I like to know about new releases and limited edition products. I read articles about makeup. I watch videos about makeup. It’s a hobby. I do all the same things with makeup that anyone else does with their own hobby. I spend time on it, I enjoy it, and what I lack in skill, I make up for in enthusiasm. Like anyone at all does with something they really like doing.

There’s this thing, though, about talking about something so distinctly feminine publicly. Like on Twitter or something – it’s always Twitter – when you get 450 responses deep into a discussion about various holiday season makeup set releases. IT’S THE BUSIEST SEASON. You will end up with someone who joins the conversation to let you know that she doesn’t understand anything you’re talking about, and the specific reason she doesn’t understand is because she’s “bad at being a girl.”

No, the reason you don’t know anything about makeup isn’t because you’re bad at being a girl. You don’t know anything about makeup for the same reason I don’t know how to knit. I don’t care to. I tried a couple of times and wasn’t good at it. I didn’t enjoy it enough to keep working at it to get good at it. I’m not good at knitting because I’m not interested in knitting. It has nothing at all to do with my vagina or my gender.

There are a lot of stereotypically feminine things that I’m not good at, not interested in, or both. I don’t wear jewelry because I don’t actually know how and have never cared enough about my inability to wear jewelry to do something about it. My house isn’t decorated because I don’t really have a knack for it and have never felt any particular need to figure out what I liked and how to make it work in my home. I don’t dress very well – I know it’s possible, but I know it requires effort I prefer to focus elsewhere. I’m not a very good cook. I was a terrible cook, but I kept at it til I got to a point that I wasn’t throwing multiple dinners a week into the trash, and that feels like a good spot for me.

You’d think this would be kind of like a pep talk – hey, you, sad lady! Even if you don’t like makeup, you’re still plenty girly! And maybe it would be, if girly (and stereotypically feminine interests) didn’t still carry such a negative connotation. Especially something like makeup, that’s not only usually a female habit but also a frivolous one. It seems like very few people who say they’re “bad at being a girl” are truly lamenting their inability to properly function as a female person, but are instead separating themselves from a “girly” stereotype.

It usually sounds like this: “Wow, you spent how much? I think I only own mascara and it cost $3! I guess I’m bad at being a girl.” Or like this: “I’ve never taken more than 5 minutes to get ready, because I’m bad at being a girl.” Or something like this: “I wish I had time to sit around and play with makeup, but I’m too busy. Just bad a being a girl!”

It’s not everyone, it’s not all the time, and it’s subtle, but it’s there. It’s a devaluing of the way someone else spends her time and money specifically because the way she spends her time and money is feminine and frivolous. I feel like this doesn’t happen with other hobbies as much. I mean, I don’t understand at all why someone would spend $40 on a functionless shelf decor doodad. It makes zero sense to me. I would never do it, because decorating with doodads is neither something I enjoy nor a priority in my life. I have a set amount of time and money and it’s hard for me to imagine dedicating any part of either of those to something that has no meaning to me. I imagine many other people are the same way about decorating, but you rarely see someone conflate their lack of interest or skill with home decor to being bad at being a girl.

When you think about it, how many ways do adult women spend their time that you’d classify as “girly” pursuits? Not feminine, but specifically girly. That word. Is knitting girly? Is cooking girly? Is decorating your home girly? Maybe, but would you ever really use that specific word to describe it? No. Because there’s being a girl, like with a vagina or otherwise female gender identifying, and then there’s being girly. One is just a thing, and one is a negative thing. You know as well as I do that when a woman takes the time to point out that she is not that girly, it’s not as self-deprecating as it’s meant to sound, because most of us still pretty much don’t see girly as a positive trait.

There are probably people who really do wish they were better at doing makeup, but spending the time and money required isn’t a priority. There probably is some place that time and money does go, though, and if the situation was reversed, it would probably seem strange to have someone into a different hobby say, “You know, I wish I could ride a bike, but I’m just terrible at it. Guess I’m bad at being a girl.” Because, what? No. That has nothing to do with being a girl. But it’s just as ridiculous as saying the same thing about makeup. Or hair. Or clothing.

“I guess I’m bad a being a girl. Not like you. You’re clearly very good at being girly, what with the way you spend your time and money on this girly thing.” This is what it comes down to for me. This is what it sounds like. I’m sure there are a few people who still, as adult women, fall back on that little conversational crutch of “oh, just bad at being a girl,” and I know that it really is intended as self-deprecating. And I know there’s an even greater number who know full well they are not being self-deprecating when they say such a thing, and will defend saying it til they’re blue in the face, and I don’t know who they’re trying to fool, me or themselves, because you all know and I know why people say that line and it’s not. cool.

It really all comes down to the bigger problem of why feminine or girly pursuits are considered “less than,” even to the point that women themselves feel the need to vocally separate themselves from being considered girly. That’s getting into deeper thoughts than I’m really capable of. Maybe some of you are. For now, though, I can say, no matter your intentions when you say, “I guess I’m bad at being a girl,” it’s not a cool thing to say. At best, it perpetuates the “girly as lesser” trope. At worst, you’re deliberately being kind of a dick.

20 responses to “Bad at being a girl.”

  1. I am guilty of using this phrasing. Not so much with makeup, but definitely with hair and clothes because I felt like those were things we (as girls) were *supposed* to learn and because they weren’t of interest, or because of limited funds, or because of giving up in frustration, they never were. For most of my 20s I felt that I had missed out on some right of passage where every other female learned to do these things and I failed. I remember 2 years ago being inspired by you (because I think makeup IS fun even though I don’t have a daily routine with it because I value sleep more) and wanting to learn how to use eyeliner so I went out and bought a bunch of different kinds and worked at it. It was really fun (also I wish there was youtube when I was 15 to have access to demos!) I do struggle with issues regarding being a put together person as society deems fit, but it was never a better than/lesser than consideration for me.

  2. Dr. Maureen says:

    The money you spend on makeup falls under “startling expense” (TM Swistle) to me. Here’s what I wish could happen with makeup: On the rare occasion I want to wear makeup, I would like to magically have a huge collection and the knowledge of how to use all of the product. But I do not want to invest the time or money into acquiring these things, because I am just not that interested in it. It’s like knitting for you, or whatever. I’m sure I *could* learn how to do a smokey eye that doesn’t look like someone punched me, but I don’t want to spend the time learning and practicing. And I don’t understand why you do want to, because I don’t enjoy it. Why do you enjoy things that are clearly not enjoyable?

    But I feel the same way about golf. Or the long story kinds of video games where you have to build up fight points and skill points or whatever. Or weight lifting. A lot of things really! Because it turns out it takes all kinds of people and so forth!

    But I think it was you and Swistle who made me realize that startling expenses and hobbies are personal and just because *I* don’t want to spend time or money on it doesn’t mean it’s a total wast of time and money.

  3. Gabzoots says:

    This is such an interesting topic for me, because I know I have said that I’m bad at being a girl, but I truly meant it as a lament, not an accusation, if that makes sense. Like Badger Reader before me, I truly feel as though I missed out on learning about femininity by not having the funds, examples, or access to traditionally(stereotypically) feminine things like clothes, hair styling/products, makeup, etc. I’ve tried to step up my game as I’ve gotten older, but I really do feel, realistic or not, like I’m working from a disadvantage not having had that foundation laid early on.

    My feelings on this go so far as causing me to worry when I had my daughter that I wouldn’t be able to provide these traits to her, that I would instead have to farm these tasks out to my more traditionally feminine sisters-in-law.

    For me, saying/feeling not girly is truly a longing. As for the people who say it mockingly? Well, they’re just jerks.

    • korio says:

      This is the thing, though – I also didn’t grow up girly. No interest in clothes, makeup, hair, etc. Zero. My mother did not wear makeup or style her hair, so no example for me, either. I got interested when I got older. My point is that everyone has a limited amount of time, money, and energy, and we all make a choice where we put what we’ve got leftover after work, kids, house, etc. I put it into makeup. That is a choice that is open to everyone else. I wasn’t born more girly than anyone else. I was stupidly surprised when I realized I could do all those makeup things people do if I was going to take the time to sit down and learn it – which means time away from something else I might have liked to do. And I can own all those products if I wanted to spend my extra money on them – but that means I couldn’t have something else. It is DEFINITELY not everyone’s priority and it makes sense that it isn’t. But you have little extra bits of time, money, and energy, too, and you’re putting them someplace that matters to you. All of these things are open to everyone. The barrier to entry – girliness – doesn’t really exist. What it comes down to is a choice, and the choice to do something else – ANYTHING ELSE AT ALL – is equally as valid as the choice to screw around with makeup or anything else. It’s just that – whether YOU intend it or not – there IS a negative connotation associated with more “girly” pursuits, you know? And when someone says, “I am not girly like you,” it can come off in a way that you might not have intended. I think, obviously, as mothers of girls, it’s especially important that we try to do away with this kind of thing. My daughter CAN’T be bad at being a girl. She IS a girl. All you have to do to be good at being a girl is to be one, whether physically or mentally. I think the whole “I am not good at a girly thing so I am not good at being a girl” is something that’s got to go. I don’t mean this rant directly AT you as much as I thought of more things to say after I hit publish. But I do hope that maybe you can kind of reframe the whole “not girly” thing in your mind to something more positive.

    • Cherie says:

      This. I tried to write it out, but she said it all here so, yeah. This.

  4. Sharon says:

    I really like reading your makeup posts on your blog and twitter (hello, longtime lurker here, since the John-Green-proposal days). I have often said (in my head or in other situations, not to you, because lurker) that I’m bad at girl stuff.

    Thing is I *do* feel bad about it. I feel like I somehow missed a memo about how to make my eyes look pretty but not look like a raccoon and what clothes would look right on my somewhat dumpy frame and how to find shoes that are cute and yet won’t make me cry with pain when I wear them and … I don’t like not knowing. I have tried and failed and I don’t have money to keep trying new stuff. So I mostly lurk and read things and wish I knew how to do stuff.

    When I say I’m bad at girl stuff, it’s usually because I’m insecure about how I don’t look “right” for the situation I’m in. I want someone to tell me that I’m okay. I don’t feel like my femininity is lacking, but I do feel like nobody can tell I like being feminine, because I never learned how to show it. I definitely do *NOT* intend to be casting aspersions on spending money for “girl” things you like. I’ve probably spent more than many people on makeup etc — it’s just that nothing I buy ever seems to work for me. So I’m not feeling judgy at all, just… jealous? when I say it.

    Anyway. I definitely get where you’re coming from this post, but wanted to throw a counterpoint about other ways people could mean the “bad at girl stuff”.

    • korio says:

      I appreciate that there are at times legit feelings behind the statement, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still think it’s a pretty uncool thing to say. Maybe I’m exposed to it more dealing with a lot of makeup stuff, but you’re always going to have the people who use the snide tone – “I’m not girly,” implying that you ARE, and girly is not as favored as not-girly. Whether that’s how you mean it or not, the overarching idea that women need to be more like men to be cool/successful/etc exists. On top of that, there’s the idea that to BE a girl, you must know how to do X, Y, and Z competently. You’ve got those who would really like to be able to do X, Y, and Z – specifically feminine things – and you’ve got those who are going to scoff at people engaging in specifically feminine things. Makeup is one specifically feminine thing. It is a feminine thing I spend time on (note that I don’t say I’m any good at it, but I enjoy it). So that makes me an acceptable level of girly? What about the fact that I can’t dress myself, do my hair, decorate, choose lovely thank you notes, arrange flowers, and more? How many points have I lost? Does makeup put me enough into girly that I can afford to lose all those points?

      I don’t think anyone who feels this way – insecure about femininity as compared to other women who seem (SEEM) to have come by it naturally – is going to be able to wink that feeling out of existence overnight. However, I DO think it’s important to try to shake this line of thinking if possible, and to consciously avoid putting yourself on a scale of female-ness as compared to other women. If you identify as female, you are, and that’s that. The idea that some parts of womanhood as so specifically female as to be somehow lesser is harmful. I get feeling jealous – I have friends who dress better, who look more put together, hell, have their LIVES together, and I am jealous. But it has nothing to do with whether or not I’m a good level of girl or not. I am a girl, so I am. Things that are stereotypically male – like, I don’t know, lumberjacking or some shit – no one is going to think ill of a man because he’s into lumberjacking. Activities and interests that are stereotypically male are generally positive or neutral or whatever, and things that are stereotypically female are lesser. No one will say, “Oh, you like football? That’s so man-y” like they would about something like makeup, because it’s specifically things that are feminine that are negative.

      It’s fine (well, not FINE) to lament a skill you lack. It’s when it crosses over into the girly/not girly identity-type stuff and the negative connotations that just EXIST in that realm that it gets a little less clear. There isn’t a way you can be bad at being a girl if you are a girl. Not in reality. Obviously it’s something that some people feel pretty strongly about, but I would hope we would see that change in the future.

  5. Swistle says:

    I dislike the entire category of pretending to be ashamed of something, while actually feeling self-satisfied about it and trying to make the other person feel kind of bad about it.

    That’s kind of a specific category, I realize. But it feels quite PREVALENT to me.

    • korio says:

      So you let me flounder around in the comments trying to explain more clearly for HOURS only to show up and sum it up neatly? WHERE WERE YOU AN HOUR AGO SWISTLE.

      • Matti says:

        I spent 45 minutes trying to explain my side of an issue to my husband yesterday. Eventually I just went online and read the relevant blog post by Swistle to him instead. I feel like I need a Swistle app or something.

  6. I hope I’ve never used that wording myself, but I’ve seen it just as a viewer of the makeup conversations on Twitter. I think (hope?) any time I’ve lamented my lack of skill in a certain area that it’s just lamenting and not calling something girly. I do wish I could magically have some form of skill with makeup/decorating/knitting/dressing/jewelry without investing actual effort and time, but alas that does not work. But I’m working on a really cool Star Wars cross stitch, so hey, I have some skills too. 😉

  7. Swistle says:

    I thought of another place I’ve noticed this. Someone will say they’re “Bad at being a blogger” because they don’t do [one or more super-annoying things SOME bloggers do]. Which makes it seem like they’re saying all bloggers do these super-annoying things. OR ELSE that they’re saying that because I don’t do those things either, I’m ALSO a bad blogger. I dislike.

    • Melissa says:

      OOooo this is an interesting one. I say this all the time. I consider myself a terrible blogger, because I have a blog, but I post like once every six months if I can remember. I hadn’t thought that I was implying that anyone else that blogs as non-regularly as me is also ‘bad’. Hmmm, thanks Swistle. I shall reconsider my words.

  8. Jess says:

    OK, this is a great post and it gets at something really important and I totally agree and I love that you wrote it… BUT…

    What do you MEAN you don’t dress well? Are you wearing stripes right now Y/N. Case closed.

  9. Amy says:

    I rarely mention that my personal splurge hobby is perfume because of the weird reactions I get. It’s a stereotypically feminine interest, but not as popular as makeup, jewelry, shoes, purses, etc. so it’s apparently even MORE frivolous than the usual “girly” stuff. I’m not sure what makes it different from any other non-necessity that one buys, but women feel free to tell me how they only own one bottle of perfume, how they could never spend so much on something like THAT, how half the perfume out there smells like old ladies (my least favorite description ever), and all sorts of other judgmental nonsense.

    Sorry, I went off on my own thing there, but I nodded my head through your entire post. And your makeup looks fantastic even though I don’t care about makeup. Life would be boring if we all had the same amount of interest in the exact same pursuits.

    • korio says:

      That’s a good example along the same lines. It’s that weird feeling of “I don’t really know if you really wish you had perfume or if you’re kind of making fun of me in your head” sort of thing that I am apparently not able to explain well, but you know when they’re doing it!

  10. Erin says:

    I dabble in makeup but my main passion along these lines is nail polish. I own… a lot of nail polish. So, I get you. I think a lot of people feel threatened by the fact that you know about this/know how to do it. So they lash out by belittling. I get a lot of comments implying that I must have a lot of free time to do my nails. I tell them about quick dry top coat.

  11. Donna says:

    On the flip side (but still connected to the main idea), I grind my teeth when I hear someone wax ecstatic over a small male child playing with trucks or climbing or digging in the dirt: “He’s all boy!” This is said with a mixture of enormous price and ‘so-there’-ness. Stop it, people. Just stop. As Kelly said, he’s a boy because he is.

  12. H says:

    A twist on the hobby/interest aspect of this. I have a specific interest and have had this interest all my life, but everyone (family, most friends, acquaintances have said things that make me feel ashamed and stupid for having this particular interest. I finally joined an organization related to this interest and am enjoying myself like I never have before, and I’m still being mocked. I’m older and I’m getting better at not giving a hoot, but why do people do this? Why do they care? Why is this “hobby” weird and theirs isn’t? I’m thinking of taking a vacation focused on this hobby and I know the reaction I’m going to get. Yet, if my brother, who loves golf, takes a vacation to Scotland to play golf on whatever that course is over there, why is that impressive and not weird?

    Now, insert that my hobby/interest is working with a dog rescue. Yes, maybe it is not a common interest – or at least not as common as golf. Why am I the crazy dog lady and my brother is not the crazy golf guy?

    Can you tell this is irritating me?! To each his own, I say.

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