The Girl Code

Slam Poetry has the unique ability to get a point across without holding anything back, while also being entertaining to the ears. In “Girl Code 101”, Blythe Baird accomplishes both aspects of slam poetry. She begins by describing actions some of us may have seen, girls and women using their looks, their bodies, their gestures to get things or get out of doing other things (such as the mile in gym class). These actions are often described in negative connotations, yet Baird suggests these actions are calculated acts for survival. She suggests these acts of survival come out of years of being told we are not good enough for academics or sports, from years of our looks being commented on by anyone who wants to, from years of being made to feel less worthy. These years of being put down lead to an acceptance that this is the way, the only way, for women and girls to survive in this world. Our feminine behaviors are drilled into us out of fear and years of being told we are lesser. Baird claims that femininity is act taught to girls by the society we live in. Baird goes on to call out for female role models known for more than just their body and ability to have a child, role models that will teach women and girls to stand up for themselves and their worth instead of getting by on their looks and politeness as females are often guided into doing.

Baird’s ideas fall right in line with sociology’s perspective on sexuality. Sociologists suggest that sexuality is not inborn, but that it is a product of society. This idea of social constructivism of sexuality applies to gendered behavior as well. Based on our biological sex society expects us to act certain ways, and trains these behaviors into us as early as possible. Whether this entails giving young girls Barbie dolls and young boys trucks or teaching young girls to be polite while expecting boys to “be boys” through aggressive behavior, the lessons of our youth stick. Barbie dolls teach us that girls wear dresses and skirts, girls are taught to be polite to a point that often makes them timid women. The Barbies and Polly Pockets given to young girls teach them that looks, beauty, and being a size 0 are what will get you far in life. Females are influenced by what is shown to them as the “proper” way to behave, and this creates a socially constructed idea of the female character. When talking about this I am always reminded of a scene in Huckleberry Finn, in which Huck dresses up and acts as a girl in attempt to avoid being found. Huck meets many people, but the only person who realizes his ruse is an older woman. While it may not be explicitly stated, it is obvious through Twain’s description why it was only a female who could tell that Huck was not a female. As females, even more so in that time period, we are trained to act feminine in such a precise way that leaves males oblivious to the act, so that no male could identify Huck as they had never experienced the training to behave as a woman.

While it is true that in our current time period there are many female role models who defy these conventional images of femininity, these women are often beaten down and told (very publicly) that they are lesser women because of their refusal to fit gender stereotypes. Women and young girls may also grow to believe that they need to fit accent aspects of their gender (such as their body) in order to get ahead in positions dominated by males. On my high school debate team, the other girls on my team and I were well aware of the disadvantage we were at simply due to our gender. Studies have shown that those who are taller, those who have deeper voices, those who are male are believed to be smarter and have their opinions given more attention just from these factors. We were well aware of these studies, we knew we’d be given less attention because of our gender. We also knew that there were ways to make people look at us, and hopefully hear us. This led many girls, especially the more inexperienced debaters, to intentionally dress in shorter skirts and more revealing tops in attempts to gain favor with the judges (other high school students). We were told, by scientific studies and the world around us, that females are noted for their physical appearance and not their brains. And at times, we allowed ourselves to believe that this was accurate and play into the stereotypes and act the part of the polite, only valued for appearance female.

Gender stereotypes follow us wherever we go. Both males and females have socially constructed stereotypes they are expected to follow, but tackling the issues caused by both stereotypes would take more than one post. How have you seen these stereotypes follow you throughout your lifetime? Are there any particular incidents you can think of in which gender stereotypes were taught to you, whether directly or indirectly?


Sexy versus Sexual

In the poem above, the four young women tackle issues of sexism, adolescent sexuality, and gender expectations. Instead of talking of lofty ideologies that can be difficult to connect to, they have chosen to focus on one outlet in which these issues intersect. The poets attack head on the idea that costumes for women and girls can either be innocent or sexy without an in between. Instead, the poets suggest that a woman’s representation of her body should be whatever that individual woman wants it to be, proclaiming “A woman dressing, acting, or being should be her choice”. As the poem is spoken word it is easy to connect to, with strong, powerful statements that hit the viewer in short, fast blasts. Much of the power of this piece comes from it’s ability to draw on most stereotypes about women, and destruct their power. The piece excels in its ability to combine multiple perspectives on feminism in easily accessible words, avoiding scholarly language making it relatable to the average person. While it does explain the issues and the way a woman’s dress should be viewed, it lacks when it doesn’t give a way of changing the perceptions for the better and just says it should be better.

The poem discusses the difficult double standards surrounding female sexuality, calling out the stereotypes surrounding female dress saying “but when you get older the costumes tend to get smaller, finessing curves into eye candy instead of masterpiece”. This emphasizes Tolman’s statement in her piece on the sexuality of adolescent girls’ sexuality in which she states “to be popular, with girls and with boys, girls are told to wear less to be more and more sexy, but girls who dress in skimpy clothes look like prostitutes”. Both Tolman and the four young women speaking their poetry are stating the common contradiction that young women and girls face everyday; we are told to dress promiscuously to be attractive, but when we do so we are shamed for being “sluts” and “whores”. We are told that to be the “masterpiece” we must flaunt our bodies, but then are viewed solely for our bodies, the eye candy, or “slut-shamed” for our choice of clothing.

This contradiction between the way women are told to gain attention (typically from males) and the way women are treated when they go through with this is found on Halloween and beyond. While the women reciting the slam poetry acknowledge issue as it relates to costumes on Halloween, the movie Mean Girls asserts that this actually the only day where girls are allowed to dress as they wish, free of all judgment. Cady claims that Halloween is the one night a year where girls can dress as they wish and avoid the judgment of their peers, specifically that of other females. This puts forth the somewhat terrifying idea that while sexuality, and more specifically promiscuous dress, is encouraged (and almost enforced) on Halloween, the rest of the year women are being judged by their clothing choices and told what they can and cannot where by voices other than their own. This is something I have definitely seen since I’ve been at college, with friends planning their Halloween costumes since before they arrived on campus because they “can be as slutty as they want” and know they can “make anything slutty”. Because society puts such high expectations on a woman’s modesty the rest of the year, subduing each woman into a state of sexual propriety, this one day of release is taken advantage of to such an extreme because of how stifled women feel the rest of the year. For indeed, it isn’t that on one day each women all of the sudden feel the need to dress in more provocative clothing but far more likely it is a sign that during the rest of the year women long for the chance to break free from the constraints put on their body and their outward sexuality. 

Women live life on a precariously narrow bridge, navigating the lines between appropriate sexuality and sexual deviancy. According to Tolman, girls are taught to be “sexy rather than sexual” an idea which involves a tough negotiation between what each word means and how to behave in the “right” way.  Each morning when a woman wakes up, she must dress in full intentionality of how she intends to portray herself. Each outfit has the potential to encourage and allow for judgment by her peers. With something as simple as clothing creating such a potential for peer isolation and judgment, it is no wonder women struggle to create a healthy sexual identity that meets their expectations and the expectations of those around them. Judgments and slurs directed at those who do not meet the expectations of sexy versus sexual are often intended more as ways of maintaining power over another person. Often times, according to Purity and Pollution written by Fischer, a study by Leora Tanenbaum found that “calling someone a slut had little to do with a girl’s actual sexual behavior… but the label was used as a weapon in social conflicts between girls.” This matches up precisely with Cady’s realization in Mean Girls, the clothing we wear gives other girls and women just one more way to judge and belittle each other. Why do so many women work so hard to disempower each other and what can we do to little this? Personally, I am working to eradicate the words “slut” and “whore” my vocabulary. But if these specifically negative words are removed, will other words spring up in their place? Are we destined to forever judge one another in attempts to better ourselves?