While reading my tumblr dashboard last week, I came across a quote from Jessica Simpson that left me trapped in a cycle of *headdesk* and *facepalm.* In a recent issue of Elle, she announced she was having a baby girl, and then she went on to elaborate:
“I swear, I will croak if she asks me for a pair of Nikes instead of Christian Louboutins!” the Fashion Star mentor, 31, says of the baby she’s expecting this spring with fiancé Eric Johnson.
“Eric is so athletic — we’re gonna have this athletic girl and I won’t even be able to take her shopping, ’cause all she’s gonna want is sports bras and Nikes!”
Oh no! The horror of a girl who wants athletic shoes instead of $700 designer heels! How will she ever survive the trauma?
I know, I know – it’s Jessica Simpson, a woman whose career was almost single-handedly launched into the stratosphere by the fact that she didn’t realize that Chicken of the Sea was actually tuna fish. I am aware that we are not exactly dealing with a Rhodes scholar here. But at the same time, I thought that maybe at some point in her life she had developed a kind of critical awareness about these things, based on the fact that she was behind The Price of Beauty, which was all about looking at different ideas of beauty around the world.
Truthfully, I’m not really in the habit of dissecting dumb things celebrities say – after all, if I was being interviewed all the time, I’m sure I’d rack up my share of dumb quotes in no time flat – but the thing that stuck out here was that she’s basically summarized the anxiety much of our culture feels around women who use their bodies in strong, energetic and powerful ways. She’s horrified at the idea that her daughter might grow up to be like her husband, because that means that the little girl won’t be feminine in the same ways she is, and hence that means they won’t be able to bond over the things she likes.
Putting aside the ridiculousness of deciding your child’s personality while still in utero, can we talk about how tired I am of hearing people talk about the unfeminine nature of athletic women, as if the mere act of throwing a ball means we will all grow mullets and wear flannel shirts and ask that we be called “Moe”?* It’s not only reductive but it reeks of homophobia.
And really, when I hear shit like that, all I can wonder is if I hallucinated the 1990s, when it seemed like every young feminist was proudly proclaiming that she could be a feminist and wear lip gloss, too! And have I totally managed to miss all of the female athletes over the past couple of decades who have made it pointedly clear that they love to wear make-up and heels and dresses when they aren’t on the field? I’m pretty sure that Olympian Jennie Finch wrote an entire book on the subject. This is not exactly new territory we are covering here.
Can we all agree that, yes, you can still be “feminine” and be an athlete already? Can we move beyond this boring, tired conversation? Because you know what I’m more interested in? I’m much more interested in that aforementioned anxiety people experience when confronted by someone who does not perform gender correctly. I mean, it really freaks people out! Almost like it destroys their sense of the universe as an orderly place!
I want to know why people find it so unsettling when they encounter a boy who wants to dress up like a princess or a girl who wants to cut her hair short and wear baggy pants. I want to understand why people are so horrified by trans* people and gender-queerdos. I want people to explain why they react so negatively to anyone whose gender expression fails to align with the expected markers. Can we talk about that? Can we talk about how a society that prides itself on freedom can come down so hard on the people who choose to actually exercise that freedom?
So not only would I like to ask that people stop acting as though athletic women are single-handedly perverting the natural order of things, but I’d also like to request that people stop it already with the obsessive gender policing. How about instead of focusing on whether or not people are good at being “men” or being “women,” we care more about whether they are good at being a decent human being? Can you imagine what this world would look like if people took half of the effort they put into caring whether they and others are performing gender according to the arbitrary standards of our culture, and instead put that into being ethical, compassionate, and caring? My god, I’d think we’d have something close to paradise on earth if that were to happen.
*Edited to make it absolutely clear that I have no problem with women who wear mullets and flannel shirts and call themselves Moe. Viva la difference, I say. Rather, it was a clumsy attempt at humor, as I was trying to make fun of the kind of people who think that women playing sports automatically equals butch lesbian. Next time I’ll try to keep the jokes to a minimum while dosed up on Nyquil.