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:
- having a vagina makes you a girl
- having a vagina doesn't make you a girl
- all (proper) girls like makeup and pretty clothes
- liking makeup and pretty clothes makes you a girl
- 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.