“Poof! You are wearing the most beautiful beautiful dress.”
I stopped spinning ’round and opened my eyes to catch the little girl I was watching lowering her gold sparkled, star topped magic wand until it rested against the silver-blue Cinderella gown she wore. She’d been waving it at me with such earnestness that for a moment I felt like my faded, frayed jeans and baggy t-shirt were really a beautiful dress.
For a moment I wished they were. Squinching my eyes together for a second more made the fantasy feel real. Just for a second more.
Sometimes she gave me wings to fly with. Scooping her up I’d take her on a flight around the world. Our gauzy dresses fluttering around us. We’d land back in her driveway giggling foolishly.
For a moment I wished it could really happen.
She’d always be the grantor of wishes — as long as my wish involved beautiful dresses and other such girly garb. Typically dressed in one or another of her many ball gowns she had no need to make herself wear anything else. When it was her turn to be princess, she’d always ask to be saved.
“Help me, help! Save me!” she’d fake cry from atop her playscape. I was required to scale the plastic stone wall to be her prince. Immediately after some other calamity would strike causing her to again be in need of rescuing. I, again, would be her prince.
Her future concerned me. How could a girl unwilling to save herself and all her frills ever become the confident woman she’d need to be?
Years later she’d more likely grant fanciful wishes with an artist’s pencil than gold wand. She’d dress herself in faded jeans and baggy shirts and she’d dress her female characters in skimpy costumes.
Manga, Anime and all the rest of that genre (oh, how she’d cringe to read that last bit) had led her to drawings where the female characters were implausibly stick like and so hardly needed a scrap of cloth to cover themselves with. That cloth was often shaped like a cat waitress or similar.
I’d look over her shoulder and say “very nice, except you better put some clothes on them. And would you please start drawing them with real shapes.” She’d laugh — giggling had disappeared along with her dresses — and I’d never know if she listened or not.
I was very concerned for her future. How could she respect herself and all women if she created these characters destined to be ditzes?
My pleas were inspired in part by own self. I’d become girly. Girlier.
My own wardrobe also happened to be receiving a makeover led by heels and tailored pants. “Promise me you’ll wear those out,” a woman at the thrift store once said as she nodded to the figure-fitting dresses I’d handed the cashier. Giggling, I promised this stranger I would. Jeans still ruled the closet; the baggy shirts couldn’t be outgrown. I could be everything. I’d fly with wings, twirl in a beautiful dress, ignore the mud on a pair of sneakers, rule the world and eat scones with tea while doing it. Because tea and scones really sounds like the ultimate of femininity. The new everything mentality felt empowering.
Until I heard a friend with the kind of naturally flawless rosy cheeked skin every girl sighs over say that she started wearing makeup because she was job searching and had read that women who wear makeup are more likely to get hired. Coincidentally, she got hired.
Coincidentally, her looks became a topic of conversation and discord with the male and female colleagues and she lost her job.
I started to ponder, coincidentally. I wondered just why women were encouraged to wear skirts on interviews. As long as we were talking interviews why were so many men getting chosen for promotions and special projects when more women had applied? When we broke into groups why did only men present though outnumbered by women in these same companies? Then I started reading the articles showing that a woman’s salary peaks at a younger age than a man’s salary, that being an attractive male is the best bet for being considered seriously.
Why am I called sweetie in professional environments while my male friends are called sir?
As these realizations took hold I found myself yelling in order to be believed above the prejudices.
This ages old topic had never become personal until I started to feel empowered by being feminine. In all those years of worrying about the young girl making it in the world it never occurred to me that she was just fine. Everyday I saw a strong confidence in her as she followed all her passions. It was everyone else I needed to worry about. People who believe that women are less than still exist. People who don’t think about it at all, but are still guided by these ideas act on them unconsciously.
It’s not the princesses or the rescuing that makes a girl weak. It’s not the clothes they do or don’t wear. It’s the girl at the park who gets a speck of dirt on a shoe and has to turn back, who must then cling to her boyfriend’s arm as if she hasn’t legs of her own. It’s the boy who thinks a girl is irrational, who laughs at her strong mind, who insults and placates her supposedly silly ideas. It’s the idea that an action, a job, a food, a color is manly or feminine — is strong or weak.
It’s in all the little ways we say a man is ahead of a woman. It’s in all the little ways we look down at being female.
I was never a feminist. No one needed to tell me I was equal to, with all the rights of, a man. I didn’t need to convince anyone of my equality. There wasn’t a question of it.
The world made me a feminist.
These days I love flats, jeans, flowing blouses and cardigans. I revel in knowing that when it’s hot I get to wear pencil skirts and flowing dresses. I enjoy playing with makeup. On the days when my long hair flows in waves down my shoulders my steps skip. I like worrying about domestic cares — spending an evening making giant blackberry vanilla scones, silently supporting sustainable local farms with trips to the market, pondering where fashion will be 50 years from now. Really, fashion past and future fascinates me. I like my strength. I like the confidence in knowing that I support myself and my fur-family. I open every jar…with the help of a rubberband.
I’m a feminist because all of that is just as powerful as the most masculine of tasks.
The teenage girl whom I used to babysit is really a young lady in faded jeans and baggy t-shirts with bobbed blonde hair. She creates artistic works of art where all the characters are dressed in effortless fashion whether they be pixies, vampires, I’m not even sure what, or teenagers.
She still has that solid confidence. I don’t worry so much about her — not in the same way at least. I just hope that the world listens to the girls like her. For her, her sister (who certainly deserves a post all her own) and all the rest like them I will continue to yell and scream, but I’ll also bring homemade scones to the company meetings.