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OPINION: Great moments in revolutionary culture: Femininity and the human experience

Illustration by Sophia Swengel

There is an art to eyeliner. The perfect curve, the streak of white on the waterline. It’s a ritual I partake in every morning before attending my biweekly lecture on the Vietnam War — or maybe it’s my seminar on comparative fascism.

Dense articles on post-war crises and soul-searching freewriting exercises fill my day to the brim, yet I still slap on the makeup. A day would simply not feel complete without the exercise for me, regardless of whatever academic exertion would follow. When you think of an academic, you may not think of someone who carefully nicks thin rays under her eyes daily to pretend she’s Twiggy, one whose mind occasionally and unfortunately wanders into hopeless romanticism over a cheesy song or film from the seventies, one who — gasp! — wears skirts sometimes.

I contemplate this femininity of mine regularly. I would think it is distinct from the manner in which American youths are trained to portray it — at least, I would hope to think that, in the name of stubborn individualism. In today’s world, the presentation of gender is considered a group — or at least public — process, it is associated with dense notions of detail, psychology and intention. Its conflicting narratives gnaw away at everybody’s gray matter (regardless of genitalia or identity) as we’re bombarded with everything from advertisements to quick glimpses as we pass by tables in the dining hall — did those eyes just judge me? For better? For worse? For wearing pants?

As comfortable as I am as a woman, I find myself troubled by these pressures, which are increasingly inescapable, and the stereotypes they seek to enforce. Whether we (and I mean all of us, not just the girls) dedicate our mornings to dolling ourselves up or just slap on sweats after sleeping in late, somebody’s out to help us fine-tune our presentation — and self-preservation — regardless of our consent. Being glamorous has leverage, but the opposite can lend the same amount of social capital in the name of looking “cool.”

Appealing to the angsty, heartbroken teenage girl that lingers in us all, no matter how she manifests, likely hasn’t been this profitable since Beatlemania — can you believe “The Ed Sullivan Show” was sixty years ago now? Since then, we’ve learned much in the field of manufacturing girlhood and innocence, which is ironically one of the most natural and inescapable forces in the world. The primal experience of being a young person, brain brimming with hormones and frenzy, is one that cannot be denied, but society has put forth a dedicated mission to trim and neuter these expressions of uncertainty and unbridled passion. Would the Beatles be able to ascend in the modern world, where we expunge thousands from our minimum wage bank accounts to pretend that Taylor Swift is our best friend for a night? Is there a living wage space for the literate daydreamer? Is name recognition capable of sheer ambition without bending to the will of those in power? If Billie Eilish can thank Mattel, a multi-million dollar company, for her win at the Golden Globes, can a passionate young woman only gain success if she is willing to sell herself for middle-class doll parts?

When I examine the modern woman, regardless of how she presents herself, I see a tampered-down being. She sacrifices her inner idiosyncrasies for public gratification, crawling into the skintight box of her choice to be easily consumable for a lowest common denominator crowd. This is clearly not representative of the true experience of being a girl or woman — or boy or man for that matter — which is an experience that thrives off of leaps of faith and unpredictability. We as humans often act irrationally in principle. We don’t, or at least shouldn’t, take from closets closely curated by sway-for-hire zombies, who promote cowardice and repression. It is incompatible with our nature and individuality as humans of any persuasion. We must reject these attitudes of repetition and predestination if we want to keep the human spirit alive.

But doing that takes work, and in today’s age it’s cool to be effortless, to be clueless. It’s cool to form your identity from pre-approved checkboxes. But some of us would love to find our soulmate while still marching diligently towards an honors degree. Some of us embrace new modes of expression deemed vulgar by others. And some of us recognize that to be human is to be irrational, that so-called sense can be dangerous and that entropy can be beautiful.

Sophia Swengel is an opinion writer. Contact her at [email protected].

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    CFeb 16, 2024 at 5:43 pm

    Great take on femininity and the expression of such in the modern world!