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.