Today’s culture has traditionally assigned a judgment to masculine and feminine traits. This judgment hasn’t just affected men who are sensitive or physically weaker but has also affected women in a deeper and even more toxic way. Even when women are encouraged to take on feminine roles, there’s generally a consensus that such roles are less important or somehow inferior to more masculine ones. Hence why young girls who are “tomboys” are more socially accepted than young boys who want to play with Barbie dolls, and why in adulthood a woman at work is more acceptable than a man at home.
Being girly, it seems, is not only an insult to young boys but also to young girls. So many women spend their childhoods trying to be “not like other girls” because social norms and attitudes ingrained into them the idea that being like other girls — or even being a girl at all —is bad. Because of this, many girls have tried to be “one of the guys.”
Girls assert that they aren’t like other girls because they like to read books, play video games or play and watch sports. They’re not like other girls because they have hobbies and interests, because they’re multidimensional people who have thoughts and don’t constantly focus their attention on being physically appealing to men. “I’m not like other girls,” every young girl says, unaware of how adamantly other girls assert the same thing. She thinks she’s a rarity because she’s smart or spunky or sporty, and she has been taught that “other girls” are not. This is a lie, and millennial women, unlike those in earlier generations, have seen through this lie and are in the process of destroying it.
By internalizing misogynistic stereotypes that associate femininity with weak and inferior traits, women have in the past perpetuated the idea that they’re less worthy of respect, and those who have demanded respect have demanded it on the grounds that they’re the exception. Now, young women are demanding respect as the rule. Not only have skills and accomplishments like athleticism, intellect and financial success recently been incorporated into many young women’s ideas of traits that a woman can embody, but it’s also now understood that such a woman can still be feminine and that her excellence is not isolated from her gender, but a part of it.
So many young women who loathed the color pink when they were children — not because they disliked the hue, but because it was a “girly” color — have now started proudly sporting rosy shades with such frequency that people use the term “millennial pink” colloquially to describe the various shades of light pink which have become immensely popular with younger generations.
The distaste so many young girls felt for pink, nice dresses or butterfly hair clips wasn’t due to the things themselves, but due to the negative stereotypes the girls had been exposed to regarding anything girly. Many young girls quickly noticed that these visual traits were associated, however falsely, with weakness, frivolity and stupidity, so they shunned all things girly in an effort to not appear weak, frivolous or stupid. Now, the way people perceive these visual traits is changing, so women can embrace their femininity and still be taken seriously.
Those same little girls have grown into young women who proudly embrace feminine visual traits because they no longer elicit negative associations in their minds. Being sensitive to other people’s emotions is no longer seen as weakness, but rather as empathy – something many young women were afraid to show but now embrace. Being well-dressed no longer means a woman is trying to please a man, but rather it’s something she does simply to make herself feel good, professional, confident or authentic. Being feminine — being a woman — is no longer seen as being part of the “weaker sex,” and instead is seen as being part of one half of humanity, equally as capable as the other half and equally vital to the future.
Young women have started to radically change their own perception of themselves. They’re no longer internalizing the harmful messages of the past and assuming that their feminine traits are deficiencies. Instead, they’re embracing themselves and empowering other women to be everything that they already are. They’re not hindering themselves and limiting themselves by repeating the age-old lie that femininity is an ailment which makes them less capable of greatness, but rather they’re forming a belief that their unique perspectives, traits and skills as young women can help them achieve great things.
In short, millennial women are killing the internalized misogyny within themselves. They’re tired of pretending like being gentle or empathetic are inherently bad, tired of pretending like being assertive and “manly” is superior to being pragmatic and willing to compromise, tired of pretending as though these traits are strictly reserved for either men or women and tired of the idea that sensitive men or assertive women aren’t normal. Young women are embracing their traditionally feminine traits as strengths, but they’re also not limiting themselves to only traditionally feminine traits and roles. Young women now proudly embody traditionally “masculine” traits like ambition, confidence and strength alongside traits like empathy and cooperativeness, and they’re not giving up millennial pink and glittery eyeshadow as they move into the professional word. They’re asserting that women can be both tough and gentle, and most importantly, they’re proving that they don’t need to forfeit their femininity to do so.
Sophia Cabana is a senior history and independent scholars double major. You can contact Sophia at firstname.lastname@example.org.