Somewhere between girlhood and womanhood there is a shift, which involves leaving behind a girl and embracing all that being a woman entails. Here begins a slippery slope. In some circumstances, it is essential for a woman to carry on her “girly” qualities, yet in others, this practice is unequivocally prohibited. Eve Ensler’s latest book, I Am an Emotional Creature, explores the relation between girl and woman, suggesting that being a girl is far more powerful than previous assertions, made by feminists and misogynists alike, have suggested.
By Caty DiDonato Anderson
There is a negative connotation applied to the word “girl,” further emphasized by our society’s notion of a “girly girl.” In order to be taken seriously many women distance themselves from their “girly” selves, taking on an alpha female, tough-as-nails persona in order to succeed. Read any low-brow criticisms of Hillary Clinton and it’s clear that many disparage her more for lack of femininity than for political beliefs; yet, many believe that without these qualities, Secretary Clinton would not be where she is. The idea that weeding out the “girly-girl” is essential in order to have respect and success prevails quite often, but Ensler suggests the contrary in her exploration of what it means to be a girl, how being a girl affects being a woman, and how the relation between the two is a critical piece to empowering women worldwide.
Ensler compiles various answers into one monologue in What Do You Like About Being a Girl: “Girls are kind / We get to be glamorous / You can wear makeup / Girls are human / Girls are close to their fathers / Girls don’t force boys to do stuff / Girls can wear pretty clothes / Girls can create a new life / Girls are shy / Girls are tender.” These voices embody different experiences, but each one takes pride in being a girl. Certainly not every girl takes pride in wearing makeup or being glamorous, but girls have options.
The option to be girly is an asset to being a girl or a woman, yet is it really a choice? Do women wear makeup and dress up when they want to or when it’s expected? What about girls? It’s a safe assumption that girls are seen making girly choices that are deemed inappropriate far more than women: wearing flip flops to school in the middle of a New England winter, wearing black lipstick, purple eyeliner, scandalously low cut tops. The beauty of being a girl is that the relentless awareness of what is appropriate and how other people look at you and judge you often hasn’t yet prevailed, and so girls are free to be girls in a way that women are not. In My Short Skirt, Ensler reminds us of this freedom and innocent rebellion of a teenage girly girl, “My short skirt, believe it or not, / has nothing to do with you…My short skirt is not proof / that I am stupid / or undecided / or a malleable little girl…But mainly my short skirt / and everything under it / is mine, mine, mine.” Ensler reminds us about what is both endearing and empowering about being a girl, and shows us that there is nothing to be afraid of.
To empower our notion of a girl, it is perhaps essential to also redefine it. After all, the picture painted of Hillary Clinton (outspoken, unapologetic, unafraid of criticism) might remind us more of ourselves as girls than as women. Perhaps being girly isn’t just about makeup and pretty clothes. Perhaps being girly is being a woman before. Before she’s been told too many times that she’s irrational. Before the media has really had time to ingrain itself. Before her power has been challenged enough to make her question herself. While it may be impossible to recapture this innocence, it is critical to reclaim this time when an unfettered existence allowed for the audacity to be who we are.
Ensler says that Emotional Creature is “a call to question rather than to please.” She juxtaposes difficult predicaments – parents who physically force their daughter to get a nose job, a young girl persuaded to become a suicide bomber, a victim of sexual abuse, a girl who is cast out of her social circle because she can’t afford purple Uggs – all containing their own suggestions about a girl’s place in society, as well as the remarkable, yet completely characteristic, resiliency of a girl. Still there is something holding girls back. Ensler says to girls, “We have become accustomed to muting you, judging you, discounting you, asking you – sometimes even forcing you – to betray what you see and know and feel. You scare us. You remind us of what we have been forced to shut down or abandon in ourselves in order to fit in…Sometimes I think we tell you we are protecting you when really we are protecting ourselves from our own feelings of self-betrayal and loss.” Ensler’s latest collection of monologues attempts to bridge this gap between women and girls and between women and their inner girl, but most successfully, it empowers girls in all their girly-ness, redefining the term and reconsidering its place among us.
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