Growing up, I wanted to be a tomboy. I looked down upon the stereotype of the “girly” girl — you know, the overly emotional, irrational, shallow types who freaked out when they broke a nail and didn’t ever want to get dirty. Boys talked about these types of girls in a scoffing, superior tone, and I knew I didn’t want to be talked about that way. I wanted people to think of me as smart and self-possessed, and not overly concerned with my appearance.
Sometimes this made me pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Often, actually.
At summer camp, I remember a number of organized games like tug-of-war (in the mud), watermelon-eating contests, and other such dirty-some activities. I was a pretty allergic kid, so both of those things made me itch. But I gallantly feigned excitement, later hiding my hives so people wouldn’t judge me for being “high maintenance.”
I loved action-packed TV shows and movies, like “The Highlander,” or “The X-Files,” or anything with a superhero theme. I did enjoy the main plot lines very much… but secretly, I was always most intrigued by the romance. (Even now I feel a sort of guilty pleasure for reading YA novels that center on relationships, rather than on some sort of impending global disaster.)
Once, a group of friends went sledding on Mount Lemmon, and I found a gentle little slope that I thought was fun. But the boys thought it was boring, and they went and found one with a 10 foot drop-off at the end. Determined to seem tough and adventurous, I braved the steeper run against my better judgment… and fractured my second lumbar vertebra.
I used to think my calling was to be a missionary doctor in Latin America, but I didn’t speak Spanish yet. So I moved to Mexico for a summer, and went out to the very remotest of remote villages. Before I got on the plane, though, I had to get vaccinated against the local illnesses, and started taking malaria pills several days in advance. As a result, my rather fragile gut revolted against me before I even got on the plane, and I was sick for three months straight. I was so disappointed in myself for not being heartier. What am I, I thought in disgust, a spoiled little American princess?
When I was in college I used to pretend I hated the color pink, because I associated it with ditzy sorority girls. (About three years after I graduated, I finally admitted that hot pink was my favorite color. And I kind of regret not joining a sorority, I’m not gonna lie.)
So really… what’s so bad about being girly?
I think what it really came down to, at least in my mind, was this association of girly-ness and irrationality. I was afraid that if I was high maintenance, I’d be seen as shallow, which would in turn make me seem frivolous, emotionally-driven, and incapable of deep or logical thought.
Eventually I realized that line of thought is, itself, irrational.
What enabled me to finally make peace with this issue was a book called “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen. She makes the point that each gender operates socially from different motives. Women, she argues, most desire connection and relationship in their interpersonal interactions, both with each other and with men. Men, meanwhile, inherently perceive a hierarchical social order, in which he is always one-up or one-down. Neither is right or wrong, but this fundamentally different worldview makes each gender equally opaque to the other. To women, stereotypical “male” behavior is just as mystifying as we can be to them.
Also, both of these world views are fundamentally emotionally motivated.
I’m in my early thirties now, and I’ve only just begun to accept that in most cases, I don’t particularly like getting dirty. (I still enjoy camping, but I think two days without a shower is my limit.) I *can* backpack across Scotland for a week with only what I can hold in my Jansport, using my dirty clothes from the day before as a towel… but I’d prefer to pack an entire suitcase for a weekend.
So you know what? Maybe I am high maintenance. Also, I like pink. And I’m okay with that.