Tuesday, 7 May 2013

V bakes cakes, paints nails, feels conflicted.

Sometimes I get concerned about weird things. I get paranoid that I'm too girly. I get worried that I'm not girly enough. I get anxious over the fact I am a walking feeling fumbling contradiction.

For example, I like baking. And baking is such an intrinsically female hobby, right? It's one of those things which is a key building block of modern-day "quirky" girls, those of us who (willingly or otherwise) follow in the footsteps laid by Zooey Dechanel's characters: we bake. It's what Kristen Wiig did in Bridesmaids and 20-something writers the world over seem to either revel in or lament their lack of talent in. It's kind of retro and kitsch, and we can recognise its cliched nature, but it doesn't stop us from whipping up a tray of brownies every weekend and acting like it's no big deal.

While considering why exactly baking is such a girly thing, I suppose it comes back to the old idea that a woman's natural place is in the kitchen, and furthermore that women have a sweeter tooth. (Actually, that comes up a lot - how many times do you see a male character on telly curled up with a tub of Ben & Jerry's, sobbing into the slowly-melting mess on his spoon?) Producing food is a nurturing thing, and sharing it is displaying maternal virtues of generosity and kindness. It is a girl's job to prepare food, and bring it forward as an offering to appease and please others... but I like giving people cake. I like making people happy, because it gives me an ego boost. (But having an ego isn't feminine! We're supposed to be meek and mild and gracious! We can't actually REVEL in the fact we're good at something!)

Cupcakes in particular are the "in thing" right now to an almost revolting extent. Cupcakes are child-like and whimsical and cute, qualities we associate with women, but also with kids. And kids like to bake. Does a love of baking therefore infantilise women, somehow reduce their status? I can recall reading various feminist blog posts arguing as much... but it upsets me, because I am a really good baker. And it makes me worry that I shouldn't be. Like anything traditionally feminine is instantly bad - which, of course, is bullshit.

On the other hand, I never strike anyone as the sort to bake. People are surprised by it, even - especially - classmates who have known me since I was 12. I'm brash and opinionated and pugnacious. I will argue with anyone. One of my proudest moments was being 17 and in the House of Commons, talking to Conservative MP Damian Collins. I was in a room with maybe a hundred other Politics students, and watching him glibly wriggle out of question after question about tuition fees and foreign policy. I stuck my hand up, and asked him why exactly the Conservative party's MPs were so homogenous and socially unrepresentative - and he opened and shut his mouth and couldn't answer. My teacher high-fived me.

This leads me to come across as aggressive, and I'm aware of how this quality is perceived differently in men and women. It's praised in guys, a laudable trait, but not so much in girls. Apparently, having opinions and voicing them leads to me being... a bitch.

But what am I actually good at except baking and arguing? Recently, I've started painting my nails in increasingly intricate ways, which demonstrates creativity and an endless capacity for procrastination - but it's even more typically feminine than baking. Am I really girly enough to spend hours slaving over my nails once a week, trying to paint the perfect tuxedo or penguin, when I can't be bothered with any of the other demands that society places on me? I don't wear make-up or even shave very often, and yet I delight in decorating my fingers with twee patterns and pictures.

I will also admit to being arrogant. I know I am academically very intelligent; I do well in exams, probably undeservedly. I generally consider myself good at most things I put my mind to. I'd think of myself fairly attractive (though I'm probably the only one who would). Like everyone else, I've grown up being told that I'm special - but I'm stubborn and deluded enough to believe it, that I am the one in a million, that everyone else might fail but I will be that one makes it.

But this is where I get all self-contradicting. I am also full of self-depreciation, and it's as genuine as the bragging. Take everything I just said in that above paragraph. I've qualified all of it. I recognise both that I ace exams, and that I don't deserve to. I might think I'm good looking, but that means nothing if I'm the only one who thinks that. I think I'm special, but I also think I'm probably mistaken. And I will never compliment my own writing.

It is the thing I love above almost anything else, but I refuse to think I'm good at it, and I shake my head whenever anyone says I am. I will say I'm an amazing baker, but a good writer? Hell no. Self-doubt is an innate part of being a human being, but being vocal and public about it? Yet another feminine trait, though I'd argue this is deeper rooted than my love of baking.

It feels like my artifices are traditionally feminine - the baking, the nail varnish, the hair dye - whereas my personality leans on the more masculine. But even that isn't true. I play video games. I get edgy on dates when I eat more than the other person. I'd rather have a tuxedo than a ballgown. I fetishise high heels, even though I know it's stupid and I'll never be able to walk in them. I'd rather be behind-the-scenes than on stage. I love being the centre of attention.

I feel guilty for not pursuing a field in science, where there is an appalling gender inbalance. Men are still responsible for more artistic creations than women are. Even in a typically feminine academic field like English, the highest fliers are still men. That pisses me off.

This is what people are like. We are the sum total of all the bits that don't fit together properly. It's less our constituent facets that make us interesting and unique, but how they all intersect. I have to reconcile conflicting elements of my personality, just like we all do. None of us are perfect - we're not hypocrites for recognising that we have internal disagreements. We're just prototypes.

So I might still feel a twinge of guilt for baking or painting my nails - like all I'm doing are confirming outdated stereotypes about women - but I'll mainly put it aside. Because I'm pretty damn awesome at both of them.

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