Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The wedding not dreamed of since one was a little girl

On today's Savage Lovecast, Dan advises a mother (who's anonymous - this is not a post about parental-overshare) who thinks her 11-year-old daughter might be a lesbian. In the course of their conversation, Dan decides that the girl is a lesbian, and there's this neat aha moment where the expert convinces the parent of the truth right before her eyes. And... while I'm totally on board with Dan's advice on how to raise children who might or might not be gay (i.e. all children) to feel as though either is great, I'm not at all convinced that this girl is gay. For one thing, there's no mention whatsoever of the girl being interested in other girls, which, if there were, would be something of a giveaway. Why, then, do we think she's gay?

-She has announced she doesn't want to marry or have kids.
-She's closer with her father.
-She's bullied for something (unclear what precisely), but is the "queen" of the mostly-male alternative crowd.
-She's sarcastic.

She is, in other words, a Daria. A Liz Lemon. A brain rather than a princess. What I'm getting at is, when a boy shuns conventional masculinity, this might tell us more about his burgeoning identity than when a girl shuns conventional femininity, because much of conventional femininity is kind of unappealing to anyone with half a brain. She might turn out to be a lesbian, and it's great that her mother wants to be prepared should that be the case, but the odds are against.

As the owner of exactly half a brain, this has, at any rate, been my experience. Frilly clothes, squealing enthusiastically or being passive, 'just a salad for me', who needs all that? And I say this as someone who was never a tomboy. Just not a girly-girl. I mean, I'm not not sarcastic (heh), and boots like these (and not those dreadful Louboutins) are at the tippy-top of my curent wanty list, but... yeah.

(You can read more of my musings on male beauty here or here - how's that for discreetly-segued self-promotion?)

But back to this eleven-year-old. She doesn't want to marry or have kids - this is Exhibit A? In our culture, there is this huge pressure on girls to dream of adult female "desire" (i.e. for a husband, kids, a well-decorated home), to act out wedding scenarios, so that as adults, they can go on "Say Yes to the Dress" and talk about the wedding they've dreamed of since they were a little girl, and how if this one dress has an empire waist but not a sweetheart neckline, the dream shall never come true. Well, not all women who grow up and happily marry a man were the kind of girls who dreamed of weddings.

Indeed, the trappings and scripts of conventional female heterosexuality can be repellent not just to women who like women, but also to women who do quite straightforwardly like men, who will be expected to want not a man, but My Big Day. (This totally came up on the Lena Dunham "Fresh Air" interview that I listened to on the previous poodle outing.) It can all seem like a mockery of what one is experiencing, thus - as I've said approximately 10,000 times on WWPD, why many straight women claim, half-joking, to be gay men trapped in women's bodies.

Or, the short version: there are so many reasons a girl of eleven might find womanhood and what it seems to entail off-putting that have nothing to do with being on the LGBTQ spectrum that this seems a bit of a leap, in a way that it might not if the parent of an eleven-year-old boy came to the equivalent conclusion.


Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I don't remember when I decided (or realized) that I didn't want children. Possibly not as young as 11. Certainly by 14. I am so not a lesbian, but definitely was Daria (and I love that you made that connection; and do I still get to be Daria at my advanced age?). So, yeah. It only takes about half a brain to work out that conventional womanhood is not all that it's cracked up to be.

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating post. It seems more likely that this girl has done just what you suspect: seen how unappealing conventional femininity is and said, no thanks.

I too am one of these: smart, sarcastic Daria (who still really likes sex with a man). I've known plenty of women like this, too, but god, the stereotypes. I'd have thought the Wedding Day fantasy would have died by now.

Phoebe said...

Glad this post resonated!

What I found so strange, though, was that if anything, girls are allowed far more leeway than boys when it comes to gender identity. As in, if a girl isn't very girly, there doesn't need to be a conversation about her emerging sexuality - neither from homophobic parents who'd lose it if she did turn out to be gay, nor from super-duper-progressive ones who'd be delighted.

What I think happened here was, Dan Savage has done such great work in raising awareness of gay kids being bullied that there's now this wider sense that bullied kid=gay, which the caller picked up on, leading her to wonder about her daughter's sexuality. And both Savage and the caller are presumably used to the narrative of a not-so-macho boy turning out to be gay, after having been prematurely declared so by his peers. But this chain of events isn't really gender-neutral. A gender-non-conforming girl, unless she's saying things like, 'I consider myself a boy,' is likely just put off by conventional girliness, and especially by the 'woman' role it leads up to.

caryatis said...

"Much of conventional femininity is kind of unappealing to anyone with half a brain"

Agreed. And 11 is only the beginning of puberty--it's normal to be relatively uninterested in sex/romance at that age.

Phoebe said...


11 is young, but many kids know their sexual orientation by that age. Which is different from being interested in actually having relationships, let alone sex. But what you say does explain why an 11-year-old would express a lack of interest in the grown-up manifestations of sexual orientation, i.e. starting a family. This struck me as more 'I don't want to grow up' than 'When I grow up, I want a wife.'

Annie said...

At 11 I was a full-blown tomboy. I refused to wear bikini tops with my surfer shorts in the summer(I still, at 26, don't really have much in the way of boobs so it wasn't very scandalous), I hated pink and loved nothing more than beating boys at things like climbing trees and walls. I also told my parents I wanted to be a "cleaning lady" when I grew up. Who the hell knows what my parents thought of me at that age, but I am pretty sure they weren't too worried. Today, I very much like sex with men, as well as beating them in sporting activities.

Phoebe said...


Add one more data point, then!

I guess the overall conclusion here is that conventional femininity is not so appealing, and so is rejected by many girls who are/turn out to be straight. Whereas gender-non-conformity is much less tolerated in boys (b/c of homophobia, but also perhaps because there's a sense that conventional masculinity is something everyone should find the easier way to go through life), so that when a boy doesn't conform, his parents/classmates do take note.

Miss Self-Important said...

If there are so few "conventionally feminine" girls out there that no one will admit to being one, then how can that brand of apparently rare femininity still be called "conventional"? Isn't that contradiction?

Phoebe said...


It's not that there are so few, or that no one will confess to having been one. (This thread, I suppose, does not represent the experience of all of womankind.) Think of it like this: let's say 4% (maybe it's higher, maybe lower) of all women are lesbians, and 0.4% of all girls announce they consider themselves boys, and of that subset, a disproportionate amount turn out to be lesbians, but some transgender, some straight women. Maybe 20-30% of girls don't go in for "princess" stuff, don't dream about their weddings, are perhaps cynical and sarcastic, etc. That still makes conventional conventional, but leaves a lot of leeway. My point wasn't that the majority of women found wedding-fantasy alienating as girls (which doesn't mean they will as women), but that rejection of the conventional doesn't line up with a minority sexual identity.

Miss Self-Important said...

Isn't rebelling against convention also an adolescent convention? I understand your math and agree that there's no reason to jump to the conclusion that this particular girl is a lesbian (though I haven't listened to the podcast), but not with the indignant antipathy to "conventional femininity" that it seems to inspire. I was never a girly girl! All the other girls were, but I was against all that. Well, everyone thinks that about themselves. Every girl I've ever met who's seen the show identified with Daria, not necessarily b/c they were themselves really like Daria, but b/c the show was written in such a way as to make Daria seem sympathetic and all the conventional people into completely horrible bimbos. But if 90% of women believe about themselves that they were unconventional girls, then according to math, that must be an edifying self-delusion in most cases.

Why not then, rather than encouraging the self-righteous self-delusion of "I was never a girly-girl!" by saying that "conventional femininity is kind of unappealing to anyone with half a brain" (b/c, again, statistical problem: the majority of women have at least half a brain, but the majority are also by definition conventional), instead promote self-knowledge by pointing out that conventional girlhood is neither so abysmal nor so constraining as all that "pink princesses" nonsense, that most of the supposedly unconventional is wholly conventional. And it's ok. It's like wearing make-up when you're not born with "natural eyeliner" - people need to get by in the world, and very few can be happy as outcasts from it.

Phoebe said...


Point taken re: adolescent rebellion. It did seem as though this girl understood just how uncomfortable it made her mother that she wasn't announcing, at eleven, a deep desire to marry and have kids one day. (There was a bit of protest-too-much to her insistence that she'd be OK no matter who her daughter turned out to be.) And also point taken re: everyone identifying as having been marginalized or somehow different in high school, even though few of us were.

Re: "conventional femininity," though, there may be a better way to phrase it, but I think we're using it in different ways. If you're defining it to mean how the bulk of female-identified individuals are, then yes, it would be absurd to say this isn't actually how they are, or that it is but it's utter torture.

But if we're defining it as expectations, then it's not so strange to consider that these might not match up with realities. The "half a brain" bit refers not to how dreadfully unappealing any of "femininity" must be to a girl (as I said, I myself wasn't a tomboy), but to how certain aspects of it really can be, and not just to some handful of true outliers. Boys are told that they get to have adventures and to like/chase girls when they're older, whereas girls are told that they will get to start a family one day. While at one point in their lives, most women (and most men?) will want that, it's the kind of thing that can sound awfully unappealing in the abstract. It's like Simone de Beauvoir wrote re: not being born, but rather becoming, a woman. To bristle at certain expectations, isn't necessarily self-righteous and snowflake-y. Or, it can be a mix of that and sincere fears of what adult womanhood is all about.