In Defense of the “Woman-Child”

photo via Flickr

I (Lo here) consider myself a pretty hardcore feminist. And I love Jezebel.com. So I expected their “Woman-Child” article today to be just my kind of internet candy. My best guess about its focus? The media’s obsession with infantalizing women to make them seem cuter, softer, more likeable. But it actually turned out to be one writer’s poop parade on grown, successful women choosing to have fun, be lighthearted, dress up, and not take things so seriously. (I know by choosing the phrase “poop parade” I may only be proving her point, but I’m sticking with it.)

The article talks about the female counterpart to the man-child: grown women who increasingly don’t act their age. Now, far be it from me to get in the way of someone going to town on Katy Perry’s lollipop-licking, Candyland-prancing, cherry-nippled persona — hey, go to town! But in the process, the piece totally dismisses the benefits of being young at heart, of maintaining a childlike wonder about the world, of always learning and exploring, of making time for play and fun and laughter. Why should kids get to have all the fun?

There’s nothing wrong with an adult wanting to read an engaging, plot-driven story that’s entertaining and takes you back (hello, Twilight) — especially when you’re too overworked or stressed out from a job and/or kids to finally finish David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” right now even though you will eventually some day. Having older and wiser personalities contribute to a magazine for teens like Rookie just makes sense. And board games are a hoot — especially when you’re old enough to add alcohol to them!

So is dressing up. Now, I’m not defending the extremes the fashion and beauty industries go to in order to make a billion — namely shaming women into spending way too much time, money and effort on this season’s sanctioned “ideal” look; what I am defending is the right women have to wear whatever the hell they want without ridicule, especially if it’s cost effective, creative, nostalgic or empowering for them. Sarah Silverman wearing comfortable t-shirts and sneakers and refusing to put her sex on display or to buy into the High Fashion Industrial Complex is radical and refreshing and bold, especially for a celebrity — it’s not adolescent. And I would call Zooey Deschanel’s style retro, not infantile. Perhaps the writer, at least with these examples, is confusing a lack of cleavage with childishness.

And I hate to break the news, but wacky nail polish color has been around for a long time. I remember writing a bit for The Boston Phoenix on the “crazy” new nail polish colors by, for example, Nars, that were new on the scene…twenty years ago. It just might seem like a big, new deal right now because, during a recession, nail polish is a cheap and easy and therefore popular way to make a bold fashion statement.

There’s nothing worse than chatting with fellow moms or career women — especially younger ones — who take themselves too seriously, as if having a sense of humor or a good time might get their membership in the Adult Club revoked. These types always seem to me like they are playing grown up, making mountains out of molehills — when they should be making mud pies with their kids. After all, being able to tap into your inner child — which includes the incredibly healthy quality of not being afraid to make an ass out of yourself — makes you a better parent (and probably a better innovator and a better improviser and a better artist and a better friend…).

And I’m sorry, but pizza and cupcakes taste good. Not to mention the fact that they are economical and require minimal prep and clean up — great for busy adults who want to get together with friends but don’t have the time, the money and/or the inclination to concoct five course meals with linens and good silver. Her underlying argument seems to be one in favor of high status over low, rather than adulthood over immaturity. I mean, are you really going to suggest that shopping at Banana Republic, where sweaters cost $100, is plebeian?

The author says women these days might just be afraid of growing up. I will concede that there is great prejudice in our society against women who dare to age (I mean, if I hear one more joke about Madonna being elderly I’m going to hurl — the woman could literally kick most Americans’ butts! She’s a machine! Have you seen her guns?!?!). And this kind of shaming that happens to women and not men (who only get more distinguished and experienced and dashingly silver-tipped as they age) results in horrifying Joan Rivers’ masks and Botox at 20.  And so, yes, many women are afraid to get old. Can you blame them when such a sky-scraper high, almost moral value is placed on how women look in our society?

But are they afraid of growing up? Nuh uh. Women want to be successful, competent, and powerful — at whatever endeavors they choose. They stay single longer because they’ve got a lot of living to do and they want to grow their careers and their bank accounts and their experiences before they get married and have kids (if they get married and have kids) — which is a much more grown-up approach to life than trying to live the fairy-tale fantasy of finding prince-charming at 18 to take care of you for the rest of your life.

Maturity and fun are not mutually exclusive. Women can — and do — discuss feminist articles in The Atlantic or the dearth of female directors in Hollywood while they are out on the town with their girlfriends, getting a relaxing mani-pedi, having a delicious cocktail, cracking jokes and cracking up, taking pictures along the way to preserve the memory of a great night out with friends. (Then they post those right along side their “age-appropriate” pics of their kid’s first day of kindergarten.) Sit-down dinners inspired by the Times Magazine‘s food column and during which important geo-political issues are debated can be — and are — followed by epic rounds of charades.

Maybe I’m getting young in my old age, but if I have to choose between Ralph-Lauren-wearning Gwenyth Paltrow and blue-wigged Nicki Minaj, I’ll take Nicki any day. After all, girls just want to have fun…and so do boys, and women, and men — at least the ones who want to enjoy this one-time ride do.


  1. I’m not saying Twilight is well written by any stretch — it’s not. I do admit that my use of the term “plot-driven” was imprecise — I was trying to convey the idea of a page-turning story. The plot has gaping holes, certainly, but we all know countless smart adults who, while they rolled their eyes reading it and had moments of wanting to throw the book across the room, still ultimately couldn’t put the series down. And I’m suggesting that as long as you, as an adult, read the paper/ponder philosophical debates/appreciate good art at least occasionally, then there’s nothing wrong with consuming a guilty pleasure like Twilight every now and then without that much guilt.

    I will, however, draw the line at having a photo of Robert Pattenson in your possession if you are an adult — that kind of thing should stay squarely in the realm of pre-teens.

    Check out this editor’s ideas on what makes a Y.A. book a success — I think she nails it regarding the popularity of Twilight:


  2. I agree with your statements for the most part, but have you READ twilight? I read it when I was 15/16 and I thought it was crappy writing. Admittedly I am an English professors daughter.

  3. Oh THANK GOD! I thought I was the only one… I, too, am a Jez-fan and very much looked forward to the article, only to have my face all twisted afterwards. If you’re going to dig into Katy Perry for her eroticized infantilism, then do it. Go ahead and talk about how dangerous it is for our society to pretend that sex is bad whilst predominantly depicting sex in child-like features (hello no pubic hair). But what the hell is wrong with women dressing however the fuck they want, enjoying good, clean fun, or painting their own nails? Are women criminals for falling into the mother-hood/married category or for being single and living in their parent’s houses to save money?? I wanted to scream “Make up your mind already by and stop rubbing your own delusional identity crisis in our faces as readers!”
    I have to say I am disappointed in Jezebel for publishing this sort of trash that is usually reserved for women magazines directing them how to live their lives.

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