(image swiped from Popsugar)
Femmephobia is a trouble that I look on with no small amount of sympathy. In this lovely article from No Seriously, What AboutTeh Menz? Ozy Frantz discusses how, when zie was in high school, zie was a “Cool Chick.” Zie mocked other girls for their stereotypically feminine presentation and behavior and “adopt[ed] male gender norms wholesale.” Zie also puts forward this lovely definition of femmephobia: “Femmephobia is the devaluation, fear and hatred of the feminine: of softness, nurturance, dependence, emotions, passivity, sensitivity, grace, innocence and the color pink.”
Frantz’s article strikes a nerve with me. I remember being that girl. I remember exactly being that girl. I remember looking at other girls in junior high and thinking about how stupid, vapid, and shallow they were. I remember considering their interests useless and their pursuits unworthy of praise or attention.
I know women who are still like this to some extent or another. I’ve known women to say things like “Ew, I’m being such a girl,” or “Yeah, prom was weird for me because I looked like such a girl.” I’m a big nerd and most of my female friends are big nerds. I didn’t end up growing up to be high femme or to like Sex in the City. I did grow up to like “boy” things like Magic: The Gathering and Brian K. Vaughn comics. And I became a feminist.
So, I understand that femmephobia is unacceptable. But I do understand my old disdain, my phobia, since I’m a person who remains mostly uninterested in stereotypically femme stuff.
But I digress. This article isn’t about me, it’s actually about Pink. Femmephobia is different from regular anti-lady sexism and misogyny in that it’s “hatred and fear of things related to women” rather than hatred and fear of women themselves (source). While I’d never argue that plain old femmephobia doesn’t matter, I also think that sometimes it backslides into the plain old hatred and shaming of women that we all know and love (Ed. Note: Almost no one loves this). Take Stupid Girls. I know I’m about six years late on this, but I saw this video and couldn’t really stop thinking about it. It’s perfect.
Look at that fucking title. These are not “stupid things that girls do.” These are “stupid girls.” And they’re stupid, allegedly, because of the choices they make and the kind of girls they are, but the insult is still directed at the women themselves.
Things that this video shames women for include, but are not limited to: certain kinds of dress, preferences for tiny dogs, wearing clothing that shows cleavage, bouncing around in said clothing, being a dancer in a music video, being a porn star, getting plastic surgery, being in a sex tape (though this might just be a Paris Hilton dig), spray tanning, having larger breasts than Pink while working out, having eating disorders, and texting while driving (and doing other things besides).
You’re an astute reader, so you’ll notice that only one of these is actually something that is, probably always, a really very bad, very stupid idea. (If you’re less astute, let me say this: there is nothing unfeminist or problematic about thinking that it’s dumb to text while driving.) Some of what Pink talks down about, most notably the eating disorders and an older, blonde, wrinkled and worn-looking woman clearly still trying to be sexy, are potentially tragedies. Stupid Girls is partially a song about women adhering to societal gender norms, particularly standards of beauty. To add to the sadness, there’s even this line from the chorus: “maybe if I act like that, that guy will call me back.” These women are doing these things because they’re hoping it will get boys to like them.
And Pink still shames them.
This is where the piece makes its great mistake. Instead of pointing out any of these behaviors as problematic (and I’d argue that very few of them actually are in a vacuum), Pink labels the people problematic. And that’s not even a little bit okay at all. Not to even fucking mention that eating disorders are mental illnesses and it’s flatly horrible to shame someone for that. But, whatever. This video is actually too problematic for me to tackle it all in less than, like, ten pages, so I’m going to skate on through.
Contrasted with these “stupid girls” are “outcasts and girls with ambition.” Women who play football. Women who run for president, or wear suits. Girls with smaller breasts. Now, I’m all for women of all of these kinds. It’s the notion that pretty much any of these things are superior to, or even mutually exclusive with, literally any of the traits marked as “stupid” that I take issue with.
In the last moment of the video, a young girl is tempted by a shoulder devil (a long-haired woman? In a halter top, maybe?) and counseled by her shoulder angel (Pink, rocking a white space-turtleneck). She makes her final decision. Will it be the girl pile, containing two (2) Barbie-like dolls, a dollhouse, a stuffed animal and a pink horse; or the other pile, containing a football, a microscope, a stethoscope, a book, and a piano keyboard? Thankfully for us all, she chooses door number two! The good pile! The worthwhile pile! The empowerment pile! The masculine pile! The… oh. Right. Awkward.
Stupid Girls might actually be the most sexist music video I have ever seen. Its pointed shaming of women for their choices really makes it stand out for me. Particularly given the admission that many of these negative or potentially negative choices are likely societally coerced. I would rather see women objectified, sexualized, and discounted without thought than actively and deliberately shamed for falling into the traps that society sets for us. I would rather see tragedy than tragedy mocked. Pink’s attempt at progression, at leading girls into the light, is a step and a half back. It’s misogyny. Period. Though her heart may be in the right place, there is nothing about Pink’s actions here that I respect. This video is a perfect artifact for discussion of femmephobia.
It also raises an interesting question that feminism in general has trouble with. How do we talk about, engage with, and critique traditional femininity and the choices of women? How do we interface with social coercion and with people following societal scripts? How do we talk about choices when choices seem uninformed and flatly wrong? We have to tread carefully through some strange terrain here, and I’m not sure if we always do a great job of it. I wanna talk more about this later. Until then, though, I’ll sign off with Pink’s timeless refrain: “Where, oh where, have the smart people gone?”
This is a battle fought with fucking spears in the Genderfight Privilege Mansion (the crowning jewel of our ancestral Privilege Plantation): “Can we enjoy [this piece of media] despite our identity-political engagements? Can we please, just this once, shut ourselves up for a moment?”