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Tie it With a Bow

By Lily Howland

“You will be bored of him in two years and we will be interesting forever,” Jo March tells her sister Meg in the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Meg responds, “Just because my dreams are different than yours doesn't mean they're unimportant.”
The two sisters share this conversation on Meg’s wedding day as Jo tries to convince Meg that there is more to life than hopeless romanticism and marriage. Meg ensures that her marriage to John is the life she wants.
I think about this scene often as a college student navigating who I am meant to be in this world when I do not have particularly high or perfectionist-oriented goals as my younger self once did.
Growing up, I liked to reject the classic hallmarks of girlhood at times, always designating my favorite color as blue or green, and straying away from pastel hues of pink and purple.
Hearing the phrase, “You run like a girl” would have shattered me in grade school. I always wanted to be the fastest and the strongest. I wanted to be athletic. I wanted to be the loudest voice in the room, to lead, to command attention.
As a child, I was praised for my demeanor. In school, I would lead groups, lead teams, and speak up, always wanting to be the best.
In a way, I value this about my younger self because I grew up in an environment that allowed little boys and girls to play together, lead together, and compete together. I always felt that I was just as strong, smart, and capable as my male counterparts, and not all girls around the world are fortunate enough to feel this privilege.
However, there is a discussion to be had here about little girls in our society feeling they must act boyish to be taken seriously. Why is it that young girls who excel in classically male sports are praised so heavily for being tough, while those who paint or dance are not viewed in the same light? Why did I feel the need to reject the frilly glittery lacy nature of growing up as a girl that many of my friends embraced?
The truth is that competition is valued in our society, with power being allotted to individuals who have made the choice of putting others beneath themselves to climb the corporate and social ladder. Politicians today are businessmen, those who are the most cut-throat, those who hustle the hardest. I think I recognized this at a young age and I think I thought appearing too feminine would make me appear weak.
A recent interview by Variety with actress Rachel Zegler demonstrates this idea when she describes the upcoming Disney live-action remake of the 1937 movie ‘Snow White’ and the revamped princess she plays. Zegler reveals, "She's not going to be saved by the prince. And she's not going to be dreaming about true love. She's dreaming about becoming the leader she knows she can be, and the leader that her late father told her that she could be if she was fearless, fair, brave, and true.”
While it is true that women should be able to be leaders, is there anything inferior about an individual who does not dream to lead?
This idea is embedded in the ways women view empowerment and the ongoing fight for human equality. It is as though feminism means women should be able to behave like strong, commanding, and leading men when really women should be able to work toward their goals and present themselves as they wish while receiving the same level of respect and recognition, whether that is leading or not.
There is a lot of pressure that occurs when trying to deduce what brings value to society. Within every individual, there is an internal struggle when balancing who society expects them to be with who they desire to be.
As actress America Ferrera says in her monologue in the 2023 film Barbie, “It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful and so smart, and it kills me that you don't think you're good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we're always doing it wrong.”
She continues, “It's too hard! It's too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.” This speech hit home for many viewers, including myself, who felt it embodied the complex experience that is being a woman today.
Through my teen years, I fell victim to this societal pressure, crumbling under the standards that society lays out for expectations of women’s appearances and actions. Abandoning my boyish tendencies, I fell into myself, wanting to be as small as I could. Instead of valuing my ability to be large in my voice and my impact, I worked to appear physically ‘perfect’ and socially palatable as the media told me a woman should be.
This caused me to lose my spark, falling into bad habits and poor health I thought taking up the least amount of space possible would help me find my place in the puzzle, help me fall into a void where I didn’t have to choose a way to be, instead I would just cease to be noticed.
Upon lifting myself from this place, I have come to realize that all of a person’s identity is a balancing act and the way one chooses to act, appear, and aspire to be does not have to fit into a box.
With the recent hyper-feminine style trending once more, it feels good to know that embracing feminine style and feminine traits does not make me, or any other woman or man weak.
To adorn myself with ribbons in my hair and nails polished red this winter, my feminine appearance does not diminish my worth, it shows how I am unique as an individual.
“Femininity is not just lipstick, stylish hairdos, and trendy clothes. It is the divine adornment of humanity. It finds expression in your qualities of your capacity to love, your spirituality, delicacy, radiance, sensitivity, creativity, charm, graciousness, gentleness, dignity, and quiet strength,” lawyer and politician James Faust summarized. Truly, femininity has its place in society to be valued just as masculinity is.
Furthermore, just because an individual identifies and displays themself one way, does not mean all their traits must align similarly. To aim to be a leader or to aim to be a mother, the value is equal and as we progress through life wondering who we truly are, the main goal should be self-fulfillment.
In a strong closing summary, as stated by actress and writer Isla Fisher, “Women should not have to adopt masculine traits in order to succeed. You should be able to stay as a woman, and in tune with your femininity, and still be equal. To me, the definition of true masculinity - and femininity, too - is being able to lay in your own skin comfortably.”
I think the younger me would be proud to know that I have found a place where I do not bend myself to meet the expectations of others and where I “lay in my own skin comfortably.” I have found a place where I know I can hold positions of power if I wish to but that my worth does not decrease if I aim alternatively to be a trustworthy confidant in my circle of friends.
I can be concise, and definitive, and state what I want while also valuing my relationships and allowing myself to be emotional. In any sense, I am still a woman, with the same heart and the same intentions, and with whatever I choose to accomplish, I will put my best work forward and be sure to tie it with a bow.

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