New Project: Kick Ass Women

Ever since reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a girl. The 6th grade girl I tutor tells me frequently that “girly things are stupid”, an attitude I remember espousing with just as much vigor when I was her age. It was impossible to see myself in most girl characters in movies and books, and, no matter how much I wanted to fit in with my more socially adept peers, I couldn’t bring myself to care enough about fashion or boys, the only two things “cool” middle school girls cared to talk about.

I was 13 and I knew that I was not pretty, that I would never be pretty. It’s the kind of thing you know with an awful, resigned certainty at 13. Whether or not I was right is irrelevant, because I knew that I would never be like the beautiful actresses I saw in movies or the beautiful heroines I read about in books. Though I couldn’t have told you at the time why I felt such an instant aversion to these characters, I know now that it’s because they were all almost always defined by their looks. Or a man. Usually both.

Instead, I was obsessed with wizard characters. It was 7th grade and I was obsessed with Belgarath the Sorcerer and the countless, repetitive David Eddings series about him. I got my mom to make me a wizard robe and hat which I wore for at least two Halloweens in a row, plus just any time I felt like it in my room. It’s not that I wasn’t also really into springy butterfly hair clips, boy bands, and other, more normal 7th-grade-obsessions, because I was, but all of these trends were more fleeting, and even when I first adopted them I realized that they were silly and not really for me. Each time I wore my springy butterfly hair clip to school, I felt like I was wearing a ridiculous disguise that everyone could see through. I didn’t really care about fashion or hair or glitter–at least not as much as everyone around me seemed to, not as much as seemed to be required to earn a place in the ranks of Girl. What I really cared about was wizards. Usually old guy wizards with long beards and cantankerous personalities. Why? Because they were usually the only characters who were smart. Just smart. That was enough for them to get by, and usually have an awesome part in the story besides.

Middle School Patricia recognized that smart was pretty much the only thing she had going for her, but there was no girl-equivalent of the wizard in most stories, no smart female character that always knows the answer to the stupid hero’s problems (Middle School Patricia did not have a very high opinion of heroes). Granted, there is a vaguely female equivalent to Belgarath the Sorcerer in David Eddings’ books: his daughter, Polgara. She’s intelligent, powerful, and knows how to boss people around, but the first words used to introduce her whenever she shows up, the first thing other characters notice about her, are always about her drop-dead-gorgeous looks. Plus, she’s annoyingly condescending to everyone and tries to be everyone’s mother. At 13, I knew I did not want to be anyone’s mother, and certainly didn’t want to have to lean on my looks (such as they were) to get where I wanted. Polgara seemed just as silly and annoying as any princess in a fairytale (of course, by the end of the saga she discovers what she actually wanted to do all those years was have babies). So I settled for a bunch of magical old guys. Which is pretty sad.

In an effort to cheer myself up, I’ve decided to devote my next few posts to talking about some of the kick ass ladies who were a good influence on Middle School Patricia. Ladies who, whatever they look like, refused to be defined by their beauty or lack of it, ladies who are strong, confident, and who care about way more than boys and fashion. I think girls need more such examples or, like 7th grade Patricia and the girl I tutor now, they’ll begin to hate their own gender, to scorn all things “girl” as stupid, frivolous, and petty. Being a girl is so not about that, 7th grade Patricia! Check back in the next few days for some awesome examples of why.

4 responses to “New Project: Kick Ass Women”

  1. Uncle Bill says:

    Dear Pladd,

    Makeup merely masks true inner beauty. Many “made-up” women use the stuff to hide an inner ugliness, imho. Consider the former speaker of the house – no amount of makeup could hide the fact (from cognizant observers) that she is a craven fool and an intellectual lightweight.

    Smart IS beautiful, and it enjoys the considerable advantage of durability.

    As Marilyn Monroe once said, “”Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius and it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

  2. […] continue my current project of praising some kick ass women that helped influence Middle School Patricia for the better, here is a list of kick ass women […]

  3. […] (1998) (mini-series) Remember a few weeks ago when I claimed that, rather than wanting to be a princess, middle school Patricia was obsessed with the magical […]

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