Growing up, I never really felt like I was “good enough” at being a woman. I was a late bloomer, and when you combine that with the fact that I was one of the youngest people in my class, then you’ll get an idea of the weird, short, flat-chested, unhygienic kid I used to be.
Even now, I don’t feel like much of a woman. I still don’t wear makeup, and it’s hard for me to muster up the energy to care. (Yes, even when people tell me I’d look “pretty” with makeup.) I hardly ever shave my legs, and when I do, I miss so many spots that you can’t even tell that I even tried. And unlike a lot of my girlfriends, I don’t like dancing or going out to clubs. I prefer my bars to play music at a level I can easily talk over. Is that so much to ask?
Luckily, now that I’m a full-fledged grown-up with bills and a cat to take care of, I’m not interested in fitting into the societal idea of being a woman. Especially since I’ve found out that the whole idea is a bunch of baloney. Being a woman, or a girl, is simply that. There are so many valid experiences, and not all of them include makeup, or periods, or clubbing. Sometimes they include a girl who buys fingernail polish only because she likes the way it looks in the bottle, and not because she ever wants to wear it. Instead, she uses it to paint eyepatches and mustaches on movie posters with her best friend, and then accidentally gets high on the fumes and ends up tossing nail polish into the street to create beautiful splatters. (That was me, if you were wondering.)
When I began writing, I wanted to write about the girls who didn’t quite fit the societal mold of “girl.” That mold is outdated, anyway. And no, it’s not a bad thing to want to fit the mold. It is a bad thing that there are so many people who can’t, though, and who are punished for it.
I mean, it’s hard enough being a girl. Girls are still told that they aren’t good enough – it’s just in more subtle ways. “Being a girl” is still an insult, while “taking it like a man” is supposed to be a compliment. Most media is still dominated by men, as if women are a second thought at best. Double standards abound – boys will be boys, but when do we ever say that girls will – or even can – be girls?
Not nearly enough.
As a writer, I want to combat that. And here’s what I tell myself in order to do that:
- There are no rules for girls. (There are also no rules for boys!) A girl is a girl if I say she’s a girl, not if she wears a sparkling necklace or obsesses about boy bands. I do not judge a girl by her actions. However I write a girl character, there’s bound to be a girl like her somewhere in the world.
- There are no roles that aren’t for girls. When I write, I often ask myself if this role could be a girl. I learned this from watching movies, actually – from seeing background characters who were predominantly male. Why can’t the mad scientist character be a girl? Why can’t her minions be girls? Why can’t the seedy landlord be a girl? No reason at all.
- There is no single “girl experience.” Being a girl isn’t about getting a period and developing breasts, though for some girls it is. When I write, I ask myself: what is this girl’s experience? How will it shape her as she becomes a woman? Sometimes the answer doesn’t fit into the societal girl mold, and that’s okay! Sometimes the answer is more universal, and maybe resonates more with boys, and that’s okay, too!
- Girls are complicated because people are complicated. Girls are multi-faceted and contradictory. I hate my body and I think I’m pretty. Sometimes I have both feelings at once. It’s contradictory, but I still feel that way.
- Girls aren’t perfect. Girls are flawed, whether they know it or not. All my characters are flawed, and if they don’t know it, that says something about them. If they don’t know it, that says something else, doesn’t it?
- One girl is never more important than another girl. If all girls’ experiences are valid, how can you value one experience more than the other? A girl who puts down other girls – because they’re “vapid,” maybe, or “slutty,” or maybe just “feminine” – isn’t being forward-thinking, she’s being a jerk.
(I think these could work for other genders as well, with some word swappage.)
Writing really isn’t that hard, but writing convincingly is. To all the girls in the world, I hope you find a bit of yourselves not only in my stories, but in all stories. And if you don’t, I hope you become writers and share your experiences with the world.
Robin Herrera is an aspiring cat lady living in Portland, OR. She has a BA in English from Mills College as well as an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut novel, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL, comes out March 11th from Amulet Books. While no longer flat-chested, she is definitely weird, short, and unhygienic. Find her online at www.robinherrera.com or on Twitter @herreracus.