American society seems to be more divided than ever these days, and one of those divisions is between women seeking to be respected and macho “meninist” backlash. The whole society is steeped in two seemingly opposing, but similarly traditional influences upon women; one is religious pressure on women to be compliant and traditionally feminine; the other are ever-present mass-media models of girly and sexy behavior. Lately I notice those models are slowly changing, which is a good sign.
Yet it often surprises me how women in American-made videos, even those made by anonymous Youtube users, seem focused on their appearance, from over-the-top makeup to high-pitched or throaty voices that often sound childish or simply unnatural. Also their non-verbal language too often seems focused on how they look or how much sex-appeal they project, rather than the meaning of what they are saying, or projecting their own personality. The whole impression makes it sometimes difficult to look beyond the facade and see an actual individual.
When I watch American Youtube clips or TV interviews, men in those videos are generally more likely to act and talk more naturally and seem to relax much more into their individuality rather than trying to play a certain role or project a certain image. Of course, there is some role playing among men too, such as ubiquitous projecting confidence, but I must risk anger of some of the readers by saying that they are less likely to appear fake or without individuality. It saddens me to see that, as I’m very much into equality and encouraging women’s potential – but that’s what I see.
While I read a lot of American news, articles and books, I still don’t know enough subtleties of the culture to be sure where such a difference comes from. USA in average appears to be similarly conservative as Eastern Europe, and even more religious – but still in Eastern Europe women seem much more genuine and natural when they appear on TV or online videos.
What is toxic femininity?
Just like boys and men often “buy into” models of toxic masculinity, girls and women often “buy into” models of toxic femininity. This might feel natural for people who grew up surrounded with such models, but for those who grew up in a more moderate environment, it all seems very fake and lacking personality. I dare say it would influence subconsciously even people who are used to this.
In most of Europe, it’s normal for adult women to talk in voices about an octave lower than American women, and to project much less sexy and much more “utilitarian” behavior. (Lately, there are plenty of young girls imitating American female models from mass media, complete with “voice burn”, but they usually grow out of it by age of 25 or so.) I’m not saying this by itself is enough to eradicate patriarchate, but it certainly encourages a more balanced relationship between genders.
Realistically, how easy is it to take seriously someone who sounds like they are 12 or even 5 years old, especially if they seem overly focused on their looks on top of that? I would like to believe it’s only common on television and in movies, but those few times I visited America it seemed that most women were following such role models. It was quite common to hear a 50+ ys old woman sounding more like a 5 ys old, at least from the perspective of a different culture.
Toxic femininity is not so often talked about compared to toxic masculinity, probably because it’s less threatening and less likely to have harmful consequences for others. Yet it has subtler but pervasive consequences for the women who follow that model (and, by extension, women in general).
I’m sure that some people will find fault with this article, claiming that people should respect you and see you as a person no matter how you dress and sound. In theory, that’s correct (even if how you dress and sound does say something about your attitude and beliefs). In reality, “should” is far from “will”, and people will form instinctive biases based on your looks and behavior. If you seem focused on a shallow self-image, people will form a shallow perspective of you, too. We aren’t rational robots, we are creatures of instincts and habits. Yes, we can change that somewhat through culture, but not as much or as fast as we’d like.
How to be more authentic
So my advice for women is: sure, use some makeup, but not so much that it makes you look like a plastic doll. When you talk, project your personality and your message into your speech, not the desire to be attractive (or even the need to appear overly confident, which can also come across as fake). Focus on the essence of what you are saying, rather than how you look while saying it.
Try to develop a deeper voice pitch, it instantly makes you sound more adult and more genuine. Michelle Obama is a good example, and she is widely respected and perceived as a complete person (at least among everybody who doesn’t harbor visceral hatred towards what she represents). To take an example from mass media, compare the voice and behavior of Catniss Everdeen in “Hunger Games” movies to the voices of Capitol women. Who is more likely to be perceived as a genuine person? Or, can you imagine how female characters in “Game of Thrones” would appear if they used high-pitched voices and voice burn?
Focus on projecting who you are. Let go of the image you think society expects from you. If you are deeply steeped into such a role, you might first work on connecting to your real self, discovering who you truly are. This can make your life happier and more balanced on many levels.