Society teaches girls to conform to behaviors and interests that suit feminine ideals. When I made a conscious effort to observe how these gender roles influence me, I discovered many unspoken ways in which we are all categorized by gender that I had not acknowledged completely. As the Boylorn article explains, “autoethnographers look in (at themselves) and out (at the world) connecting the personal to the cultural.” Upon this reflection, I saw that I was being interpellated into feminine ideology more than I originally thought – sometimes through my own engrained habits. In order to correctly perform femininity, girls are expected to use makeup products, have similar styles of dress, thin body types, and be the passive object of male attention.
The Morning Makeup Routine
I can’t even remember a time in my life in which makeup was not at least a small part of it. Growing up, I would watch my mother apply foundation and eyeshadow in the mirror before she left for work. I was so excited to do the same one day. This past week, I surveyed my makeup in the bathroom while getting ready. Not only did I begin to question how much of it I actually used each day, but also why I was putting it on in the first place.
Although I have become increasingly sparing with my use of makeup when going to class, I noticed I still felt embarrassed if I ran into someone I knew on the street and hadn’t put on any cover-up before I left my room that morning. Sometimes applying makeup can be fun, but I am usually in such a rush on school days that it is more of a nuisance. I thought about how the guys I saw walking to class – no matter how noticeable the dark circles under their eyes from lack of sleep or the pimples on their face were – didn’t appear to think twice about being in public with no makeup on.
The Social Media Check-In and The Outfit
There are also online spaces specifically designated for “feminine” interests. The “Tweet Like A Girl” account on Twitter is filled with baby animals, yoga pants, Starbucks, and The Bachelor references. One tweet that I came across parodied the way college girls dress. While it was refreshing to leave the years of high school dress codes behind when I arrived on campus last year, I observed a new set of rules here. As I walked around campus this week, I noticed that most girls were dressed alike. I had entered into an environment of unspoken style norms established by society that dictated the proper attire for every occasion. I am not immune to the influence of various trends that appear on campus. Looking in my closet, I found several items of clothing that I purchased in the last year that adhere to the “typical college girl” dress code.
The Coffee Order
Coffee became an integral part of feminine culture around me, and I developed a taste for caffeinated drinks overtime (although I never sought to try plain black coffee). When I saw other girls order drinks, it was always something sugary like a frappe or latte with extra shots of flavoring. The infamous pumpkin spice latte was the topic of so many girls’ conversations that I finally relented and tried it. I was not only underwhelmed by this drink, but I also found that it was assumed that I would enjoy it regardless. There was no accounting for personal taste, but rather a dominating idea that girls enjoyed such sugary drinks and would not want to purchase the stronger (“masculine”) options on the menu.
The MACS Major
As a Media and Cinema Studies major, I have often thought about my career goals in film and how I fit into the industry as a female. The assumptions about girls’ entertainment interests begin at an early age, as shown by the features of the Barbie camcorder mentioned in the “Pink Technology” reading. The discourses that “girls don’t make media, they consume it” and “femininity is incompatible with technological competence” are played out in the camcorder’s difficult instructions and microphone attachment. The microphone implies that girls will want to perform in front of the camera, as objects (Kearney).
As I attended my film classes each day, I thought about who is given the right to control gaze and why. The technical aspects of film – cinematography, editing, etc. – were areas I had not felt confident in pursuing before. As young girls, we are encouraged to identify with products that are feminine (Kearney) and that has the power to shape the interests we develop later in life. I have also felt excluded watching movies from male-centric genres – such as superhero franchises. The female characters in these films are, as Laura Mulvey points out, produced by Hollywood to give viewers scopophilia (or “the sexual pleasure of looking at beautiful things”). Mulvey’s argument that the Hollywood camera looks with a male gaze is one of the reasons I am passionate about my major in school, and the male-dominated field to which it relates.
The Gym Guidelines
While working out at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on campus, I noticed that most of the women were using an elliptical or other cardio machine, while the men were exercising with large weights. The heavier equipment is located in the lower level of the ARC, a place that I rarely enter. I left the comfort and familiarity of my elliptical and decided to explore downstairs. I was one of three women, and quickly felt out of place. I have never had an interest in using those bulky machines at the gym, and maybe that originates from the idea that – in order to be “feminine” – women should not gain excessive muscle mass. Since being slim is seen as a desirable female characteristic in society, cardio workouts are more desirable.
Mark Neumann says that “autoethnography reminds us that forms of cultural representation … matters deeply in the lives of others who find themselves portrayed in texts not of their own making” (Boylorn). By viewing my own life as a subject of gendered ideology, I was able to notice how I perform several feminine ideals every day without consciously making a choice to do so. Society constructs the way in which women interact with their environment – there are even feminine ideals linked to seemingly innocent situations (such as going to the gym, getting dressed, and ordering coffee). I am a part of these constructs of femininity – in more ways than I knew before.
Boylorn, R. M. (2008). As seen on TV: An autoethnographic reflection on race and reality television. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 25(4), 413-433.
Kearney, Mary Celeste. (2010). Pink Technology: Mediamaking Gear for Girls. Camera Obscura 74.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism : Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44.