On “Girl Power” and the Power of the Feminine
When I write, I do research. It doesn’t matter if that writing is a screed on the latest failures of the current administration or a flight of fancy about a trans girl becoming an Avatar on a colonized planet 500 years from now.
I research everything, and often that research is stuff I’ve done in the past — this is usually the case for stuff relating to the way oppression works and most of the pages here.
Research takes time, effort, energy, and above all a willingness to learn, think, and accept new ideas. It means asking the right questions, or letting what you find direct you to the right questions.
The Riot Grrl punk scene of the late 1980’s and 1990’s was a watershed moment for modern feminist thought and growth, and gave us this idea of Girl Power. As much as we can — and rightfully so — make fun of the Spice Girls, who commercialized it and fed it to a mass audience, they did succeed in getting the idea out there to a degree that now it is fairly accepted and barely even thought about.
Unless, of course, you are me, and you are writing something that specifically makes use of the Power of the Feminine. Then you have to be able to break it down into something that you can not only put your finger on, but that you can use, and elaborate on, and embrace, and identify.
You have to quantify it.
Think about that for a bit. What is Girl Power? What does it mean to use Girl Power?
How does one quantify that concept without relating it to Boy Power, or the power of the Masculine. Women are not the opposite of men. We are fully complete beings who are not defined by what we are the opposite of, and, if we are so opposite of men, what the hell are we thinking when we sit there and recognize as a fundamental aspect of feminism that women are equal to and just as good as men when, flat out, to be the opposite of them would mean being either better or worse (and the current paradigm under patriarchy is that we are the opposite, as well, and, well, fuck the patriarchy).
So I got busy. When I research, I do not just use “approved” sources. I use everything I find — including stuff from the other side of the tracks or stuff that is kinda wishy washy and in the middle.
I make notes, I make lists, I scribble in margins, I print things out and highlight them, I doodle aimlessly while staring at my pups and letting it percolate, and I connect everything to what I do know — I incorporate it, and I study it, and if it fails then I discard it and start again.
Trial, error, arguing, inspiration, versioning, tossing it away, and so forth, and then, one moment, I finally look at it and realize I have what I was looking for.
A lot of the stuff I did find talked about how it wasn’t about how we dress or if we wear make up. We can do that if we want, and we don’t even really need to examine how tht is part of th bargain we make with patriarachy.
Indeed, if we are going to really look at what Girl Power is, it should be soemthing tht isn’t limited by our careful dance around patriarchy, but still recognizes some aspect of the cultural norms that we do cherish.
And we have always done that — from the feminine mystique and the idea of a univrsal womanhood to the intersectional recognition of Sisterhood, we have always incorporated some aspects of the cultural knowledge of womanhood, despite the often patriarchal derivation of it.
Which is not a bad thing — we take from that which is good to build that which is better, even when the thing we are taking from is pretty freaking lousy. Excrement makes good fertilizer. What can I say.
My first draft of the real list of qualities had 15 of them. It wasn’t quite enough, though, and so I had to really get into the ideas of what a woman is about and where the strength and resilience of women comes from.
I ended up with 35 qualities. Grouped, and fairly easily understood, but enough that just the conversation about them is going to make us look into deeper places than we might commonly go.
These are not Liberal or Conservative things. That’s politics, and we can overlay any political or socioeconomic value system on top of them and they still hold true — and this is important to remember, because that is what we do, constantly in our daily lives; we layer one value system on top of another, one set of Seven Sins and another set of Seven Virtues and we stack them in our minds on top of the stuff we have learned our whole lives and it is that complicated nest of ideas that informs our individual system of values.
We layer the value systems we are given by racism on top of those we are given by classism on top of those we are given by patriarchy on top of those we are given by homophobia and transphobia and on top of that we put in our fatphobia and our, well, you get the idea.
Its not like onions, though.
Beneath a lot of that are the things we learn about being a woman, or being a girl, and those things we learn about that inform the rest as they are piled on top of it.
That’s the level I wanted to get down into, and look at, and see what it was that makes a woman feminine in a way that didn’t reference patriarchal ideas and oppositionals.
This is what I ended up with.
Now, some might balk at a few of these, so I figure I’ll take a whack at them.
This isn’t the “smile all the time because women should smile” bullshit. This doesnt mean we shouldn’t have the chance or time or whatever to be sad or angry or spiteful or whatever. It means we are generally more cheerful. We enjoy lifting the spirits of others around us, of bringing not joy, not happiness, but cheer. Its a fairly common thing among women — and not merely because of the expectations of patriarchy. It is just one of the key things that lets us survive despite patriarchy.
This one we don’t have to work hard at because guys do it for us. We all have something about us that seems inscrutable, hidden, unrevealed, and we do. Sometimes that very mystery is why there is no mystery about us.
We are people that others want to get to know, and it is that quality that affects our ability to relate and be related to. Even if we often fail to see it ourselves, which is another possible mystery about us.
When I speak about all of us, I am, of course, speaking in general. This is a cultural thing, not a biological thing, for one, and as a result is never going to be truly universal.
Which might be part of that mystery.
The “Nice Girl” stuff
Not all women are loving, affectionate, cuddly little things. We are tough, we are not going to take your crap, and we have an attitude. I would be among these women in general.
Like Cheerfulness, none of these things preclude any of that. We are not all freaking puppy dogs and butterflies running naked in a field of flowers.
Again, that’s not what this is saying. We can, and do, fight, and when we fight we fight hard and using whatever weapons we have, and rarely are we nice about it.
But when we aren’t busy giving the world the finger for being full of dickbags, we tend to shift. Because, again, women draw a large chunk of their power from sisterhood, and we gin sisterhood through our recognition of shred experiences and our, well, nice girl stuff.
Patriarchy tends to use what it can, and in this case it has labeled and described these things and qualities as lesser, as not powerful, as weakness and flaws.
But, in reality, they aren’t. The most vulnerable people are often the strongest — and that strength comes from that vulnerability. Because they are open to being vulnerable instead of trying to build a wall to keep the hurt out, and deal with the hurt as it comes and so are more capable of moving on.
Compassion is power. Charitability is power. They give us greater Agency in our own lives, and so its no wonder that patriarchy first declares these things of no value, and then assigns them to the things it sees as having little or no value.
These aren’t things that just women should be about, but they re things that most women already are about, to some degree. Even someone like DeVos has these underlying qualities in her approach to dismantling and destroying the education system in this country.
This isn’t about motherhood. This is about sisterhood, and the simple reality is that women draw strength and power from other women. From that connection, and that connection can only be formed through the tools that we all have.
The segment under Individuality is one that a lot of people will find themselves drawn to studying, because at first glance it is pretty much everything our social roles mark us out as not needing to be or often pushing us away from.
Which is true. There are way too many young women and far too many older women who still think, deep down, that smart girls aren’t desirable. Yet intelligence is essential to women’s power — no matter what the subject area. The notion that we re supposed to be silent, silly, childlike beings is horrific, because our Agency as people is predicated on that whole list of things.
Worse, the reality of life means that while the crap we learn as kids tells us all of those are wrong, when it comes to surviving as an adult, those of us who are not gifted with those things are often the ones least likely to find that “man” we are supposed to be with, because part of what makes us attractive as people is our confidence, which comes from those things.
Its a no win situation often, because we are also told of all the stories about how the confident woman is never able to find a man since she intimidates them — but once more, actual life shows otherwise.
A woman who has her shit together and knows it usually trails men. Just not in our cultural role ideations.
The last column many folks will say are masculine traits and think of them in martial terms. Soldiers and the like.
Yet what does it mean to be a bestie? To “Stand by your man”? To be told, to be warned, and to persist?
Aren’t those qualities all ones we, as women, have already? They are thought of as marital qualities because we have been told that those are men’s things, and we should leave them alone, and think about it.
Think about how many of us who work in non profits or juggle work and home life or who persist that engage in these things already.
Don’t even forget the number of us who have been driving the Resistance. Or BLM.
No. Those are all part of girl power.
The real point of doing this, though, is to start a discussion about what it is. Every single time I went out and dug, no one ever really had a way to describe what the power of the feminine was other than to say “smile more” “be nice” and, of course, “Look pretty”.
The value of a woman is not in her appearance. It is not in who she marries or the size of her house or the number and usefulness of her children.
The value of a woman lies in her ability to be a center, a hub, of a network, of a social world, of a society, that values others for who they are as people.
At least, that’s my take on it.
And I’m sticking to it.