Friday, January 29, 2010

Born a girl

From A Softer World

Sometimes I wish I was born a girl.  I'd like makeup and pretty clothes instead of just having this vagina

I often love the way they poke fun at certain social conventions, or highlight our implicit shared cultural beliefs. But this is one of their best yet. I used this as one of our "state the implicit claims" exercises in my critical thinking course, and here are some of the interesting claims that emerged:

  1. having a vagina makes you a girl
  2. having a vagina doesn't make you a girl
  3. all (proper) girls like makeup and pretty clothes
  4. liking makeup and pretty clothes makes you a girl
  5. liking makeup and pretty clothes just is what it means to be a girl*

First, it's interesting how this exercise highlights the seemingly contradictory beliefs that coexist in our cultural views of gender. Roughly half the class identified #1 as the implicit claim (which they saw this comic as rejecting) while the other half identified claim #2. The class was also about evenly split on #3 and #4. It seems like the causal relationship can go either way here: being a girl makes you like makeup and pretty clothes, and liking makeup and pretty clothes makes you a girl. And nobody really seems to instinctively object to either of these statements. But, of course, this breaks down when you start talking about transgressive (to our gender system) identities. Because, after all, if liking makeup and pretty clothes makes you a girl, then anyone who likes makeup and pretty clothes can legitimately claim to be a girl, right? And where does that leave trans women who don't particularly like makeup and pretty clothes? How do they defend their girlness without this essential element? I think this also tangentially touches on the common belief in our culture that when a trans or genderqueer individual claims a feminine identity this just amounts to them liking makeup and pretty clothes as well.

In other words, this comic does a really nice job of hitting on the tangled mess of (rather incoherent) beliefs and attitudes that characterizes our cultural approach to gender. Your thoughts?

* I would say it this way: liking makeup and pretty clothes is constitutive of girlness, with the added fine print that this only applies if you also have a vagina.


  1. "liking makeup and pretty clothes is constitutive of girlness" then, you're not a girl, but I am. Ha! Take that. :-)

  2. The "claiming a feminine identity just amounts to liking makeup and pretty clothes" belief is really disturbing to me. It reflects a basic inability to listen when the speaker is saying something foreign to your experience. I'm cis, but I can imagine how frustrating it would be if I was saying "I feel like I'm not really the gender I was assigned to at birth" and all people heard was "I wish I could wear pretty clothes and makeup." It's a kind of willful not getting it.

  3. I love that you use A Softer World in your courses! I would have killed to sit in on that discussion.

  4. Anonymous1/29/2010


    and that willful not getting it is just another function of privelige

  5. Wow, there's a lot to think about here.

  6. Ah yes. I'm one of those trans women who isn't particularly interested in makeup and pretty clothes. I find makeup to be more of a pain than it's worth. I dress more for comfort than anything else and I find dresses to be terribly uncomfortable—especially in colder months. In fact, I'm having a hard time remembering the last time I wore either makeup or a dress.

    Then there's the my odd habit of fancying men's boots.

    I suppose I've totally disqualified myself from being a woman, girl, or anything remotely connected with being female.


    That unfortunate thing is I grew up being trained into the belief that one had to do these things to be (properly) female. I spent years beating up on myself because I didn't particularly like pretty cloths and makeup.

    Even though the logical part of my mind knew that being a woman shouldn't equate with fitting into society's f*cked up template of femininity, on some level, I still worried that I was a deluded impostor.

    Then I met my ex and had the opportunity to watched her daughter struggle with not fitting into stereotypical femininity as she left girlhood and entered womanhood. It was an eye opening experience to watch a cis girl struggle with some of the same crap I was struggling with.

    I also started to hang out more with women simply weren't into makeup and cloths.

    Thankfully, I now I feel much more sane and rounded about these matters.

    Anyway, I think it's terribly shitty that in 2010, there is still a rigid litmus test that people have to pass to feel/be "properly" one sex or another. It hurts people—children, adults, everyone.