Why I Decided to Stop Being a “Tough Girl” and Just Be Me

I used to cry a lot as a kid. A lot. I had all the feels and I didn’t know what to do with them. 

I was also a pretty uncoordinated kid. I mean, nothing spectacular (I only broke a couple bones), but enough to make me suck at the only thing that mattered in elementary school: winning stuff. Being stuck as “it” for hours at a time in grounders or tag really gets the spirit low, so, as you might expect, I spent a lot of recesses crying.

My mom loves to tell this one story from back when she worked at my school. She had been helping a friend of mine with her homework one day and when this friend became frustrated she had reminded her that “Some people are good at spelling, some people are good at sports, etc. Everyone has something that they are good at, and everybody has something we need to work on.”

Later that day, I came dead last in a race (my mom likes to emphasize this part when she tells the story, often repeating herself with “and I mean dead last“). Anyways, after coming dead last in this race I retreated to a distance to cry my eyes out. This same friend of mine came over and put her arm around me. Then she started to tell me “You know Katherine, some people are good at spelling, some people are good at sports…”

You get the gist of it. I used to cry a lot. Then, one day on the playground, a kid called me a “cry-baby”. I don’t remember who it was, but I remember clenching my fists and swearing to myself “I will never cry again!”

Just gonna rescue my prince, nbd.

Cause I’m an independent woman.

I’m not sure how often I actually managed to keep this promise, but I do remember doing everything in my power to keep from crying many times in my childhood and adolescence. I also did my best to channel my inner Danielle Debarbarac in all my interactions with boys.

Often, I acted as if being tough meant being like a guy. I squished spiders for my girlfriends, intentionally avoided make-up to prove I didn’t care about my looks, but most of all, I tried to pretend that I couldn’t be hurt.

I’m not sure where I picked up my idea of what it meant to be strong, but I think it may have had something to do with what I saw on TV. Female characters in movies seem to be divided into two categories: the ones who are waiting around to get saved, and the tough, cold heroine who goes out and gets stuff done.

Obviously, I wanted to be like the latter.

I know that pretending not to feel is a messed-up norm that we impose on men, but it took me a long time to realize it was also messed-up to impose upon myself.

Over the last couple years I started going by the dreaded “F” word: feminist. For me, being a feminist has meant allowing myself to value the parts of me that are generally considered “girly”, rather than treating them like they are something that makes me weak. For example, I’m starting to come to terms with being a really sensitive person. Maybe I’m even going too far the other direction, since I will now empathy-cry pretty well anytime I see someone else cry (on film or in real life). I still hate when people see me cry, but I’m trying really hard to stop punching my husband any time he catches me with tears streaming down my face.

With my evolving view on “the feminine”, I’m always excited to see female characters popping up on TV and in movies who represent an alternative to the damsel/bad-ass dichotomy. With this in mind, I will leave you with a quote from one of the most well-known girly-girl feminists out there!


16 responses to “Why I Decided to Stop Being a “Tough Girl” and Just Be Me

  1. I have a lot to say about this (so hang on!), largely because I went through something similar myself. As a child, I wanted to be a boy for a long time because they were strong and tough and girls weren’t supposed to be. And I hated the parts of me that liked girly things because I associated them with weakness and stupidity. It’s easy to have a lot of internalized misogyny, especially when you’re raised in conservative Christian communities. I remember the first time I heard the term “warrior princess” on some TV show and how it changed my world. I could be a warrior AND a princess? PERFECT. Accepting that it was okay to have a bunch of different likes, characteristics, and qualities – that I didn’t have to fit a type, and that they could be contradictory – was a big deal.

    That probably was what lead (much later) to me presenting a paper at a conference on Strong Female Protagonists later in my university days. I talked about Sarah Conner, Ellen Ripley, Xena, and most importantly Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Starship Voyager among others. What it boiled down to was that sometimes when we clamour for more Strong Female characters in media, or cast a feminist eye on things, we do exactly what you’re talking about. We have a checklist of what “Being Strong” entails and if they miss a box, DISQUALIFIED. Or if they have one trait that doesn’t fit, DISQUALIFIED. And it kind of re-objectifies women: they aren’t allowed faults or complexity because we need them to be a certain way (often a “manly” way) in order to have value.

    So here’s a quote of my own:

    “Screw writing “strong” women. Write interesting women. Write well-rounded women. Write complicated women. Write a woman who kicks ass, write a woman who cowers in a corner. Write a woman who’s desperate for a husband. Write a woman who doesn’t need a man. Write women who cry, women who rant, women who are shy, women who don’t take no shit, women who need validation and women who don’t care what anybody thinks. THEY ARE ALL OKAY, and all those things could exist in THE SAME WOMAN. Women shouldn’t be valued because we are strong, or kick-ass, but because we are people. So don’t focus on writing characters who are strong. Write characters who are people.”
    (from this great post: http://madlori.tumblr.com/post/51723411550/rebloggable-by-request-well-first-of-all)

    • “Internalized misogyny”. That is exactly it. I was trying to explain to John last night how it is this inexplicable feeling that I have to battle. Like when he tried to “compliment” me for being sensitive. Everything in me wants to take it as an insult, but he really, really does mean it as a good thing. It’s just hard to accept.
      Also, fantastic quote. Thanks for including it.

  2. Great article Kat! You left out my favourite crying story though 🙂

    You are an all around amazing woman. xo

  3. Great article Katherine, thanks for sharing a little more about yourself. Just wanted to let you know that you aren’t the only one who punches your husband for noticing when you cry. It may be something that runs in your family 😉

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  9. hey Kat! I know this discussion is a million years old (in internet years), but I saw this awesome Anita Sarkeesian video and thought of you (it’s a short one!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MbiP3wxImAY

    • Exactly! I really like the way she agrees that Mattie is an interesting character, and totally bad-ass, but how she doesn’t actually challenge our cultural values (i.e. violence, stoicism, etc as superior to empathy, cooperation, etc). Thanks for sharing!

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