Okay this is a very half-formed thought and I’m not sure where I’m going with it yet, but the fact that the teen girls we’re meant to root for in so many Teen Girl Stories are the ones who are bad at or uncomfortable with performing femininity probably isn’t a coincidence.
And it’s mostly not because the people who create media about teen girls want to shatter gender roles; it’s more likely because even though femininity is the prescribed way for female-identified people to behave it’s also seen as something largely unpleasant.

Um. I’m going somewhere with this, maybe after I finish my homework. But I want to hang onto this thought.

ex: the proof of Regina George’s redemption is giving up her hyper-femininity in favor of aggressive, masculine-coded sports

ex 2: in High School Musical Gabriella and Taylor have a bonding moment over their nail beds being “history”, contrasting themselves with the more conventionally feminine cheerleaders. Gabriella is hardly butch but her femininity is portrayed in a more soft, natural way to contrast with Sharpay’s louder, more eye-catching and implicitly unpleasant outfits. Sharpay is not the bad guy because she’s girly, but she’s maybe more girly because she’s the bad guy.

Because caring about your appearance is BAD, that’s a character trait that we associate with Bad Characters, and most especially Bad Women Characters. Sharpay and Regina care so much about their looks because they’re shallow, and that means they’ve unpleasant.

All teenage girls are told, one way or another, that they should care about their looks and put effort into being attractive. But in the stories about teen girls, the only ones visibly caring about their looks are the bitches.

If a Nice Girl ™ wants to make an effort to look good she better have an excuse, like prom or a date or finding out she’s a princess.

Princess Diaries makes such a good point about this, actually. Mia is supposed to be attractive, because she’s the protagonist, but she also can’t do it herself, because that will make her look like just another Vapid Teen Girl. So she gets a makeover handed to her. Pretty is something that Just Happens to nice girls, because if you work at it you’re a bitch.

(Not to mention pretty isn’t compatible with frizzy hair or glasses.)

God, fucking Harry Potter isn’t exempt from this. Hermione gets contrasted with Lavender and it’s so obvious that Lavender is Wrong, because she’s goofy and sentimental and clingy and girly girly girly, in sharp contrast with Hermione “I only do my hair for the Yule Ball, I’ve got shit to do” Granger over here. And that’s not shitting on Hermione! It’s just clear that there’s a very particular sort of teenage girl we’re supposed to like in HP and she doesn’t care about Girl Things.

Even Sky High, the greatest teen movie of all time, falls into this. The women on the good guys’ side are Layla – soft femme, a little tomboyish, has strong opinions – and Magenta – vaguely punkish, v snarky – neither of whom do feminity “right”.

On the bad side there’s Penny, who’s a LITERAL evil cheerleader hivemind, and Gwen, who’s both the most popular girl in school and the actual super villain behind everything. These things are not coincidences.

Tbh as a parent I didn’t realise the baggage about this I carried until my kid got into MLP and I watched it with them and encountered the character of Rarity

She’s a character who is extremely feminine but her positive character trait is generosity she wants everyone she encounters to look as good as they can because she knows looking your best can make you feel good and she wants to share it

And for the first time I saw fashion and make up and all that stuff as self expression and artistry and something that, like almost all things, can be good or bad depending on the person

and I was and am really fucking ashamed that it took a fucking children’s cartoon about magical ponies to help me recognise that

This trope needs to die.

Give me more characters who are stereotypically girly and kind and generous and soft and strong and REAL

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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