Remember those days when you got to share yourself publicly online and not fear backlash from random people? Yeah, me neither.
I learned the severity of this issue summer to my senior year of high school, after posting a picture of me next to my computer gaming setup online — only to get hundreds of hateful comments and private messages in return. Lord of the Rings length novels calling me whoreish and attention seeking greeted my Reddit mailbox, despite the fact that the image was…literally just me in shorts and a sweater sitting next to my computer.
A bulk of the messages and comments that weren’t necessarily bashful tended to be more critical, regarding me as an “egirl”, despite my outfit and hair following none of those under that fashion style. There’s nothing wrong with the egirl/eboy aesthetic, but it simply did not even remotely represent my appearance. However, the apalling number of messages that mentioned that term peaked my curiousity — why was I being defined as something I didn’t even come close to being?
Women and young girls are constantly getting lumped into niche groups — such as “egirl”, “vsco girl”, “alt girl”, etc, that deny them access to feeling unique and empowered. If a woman wears black clothes and pigtails, she’ll be regarded as “goth” or “alt” (even though that outfit doesn’t constitute either term, it’s just a girl wearing black clothes with pigtails), or if a teen girl prefers scrunchies and crop tops, she might be nicknamed a “vsco girl”, representing girls who wear typically trendy and “basic” clothing.
It’d be a stretch to imply that these labels are oppressive, rather they are the aftermath of a formerly oppressive issue that has haunted women for generations.
In the 50’s and 60’s, American women were finally beginning to see themselves in positions of growing importance. Although businesswomen like Ruth Handler (co-founder of Mattel) paved the way for the many women who have later become business powerhouses, they faced harsh recoil for their efforts. Originally, many clients rejected Handler’s Barbie doll, feeling that a creation from a woman would struggle to reach success, despite her pivotal role in the production of generation-cementing toys such as Hot Wheels.
Women in the mid 20th century were consistently regarded as either passive housewives who would be controlled by their husbands, or so called nagging, demanding women who had their husbands on a leash. Stereotypes like these were even reinforced by women themselves, as many housewives viewed women who deviated from their oppressive norm to be outlandish.
Labels that demean women cultivate the idea that they must remain at lower, subordinate positions, an ideal that I believe hasn’t left our culture at all.
Even though women in the U.S. are seen as equals according to law and given the opportunities to start companies, supervise male employees, and even become Vice President, one cannot turn a blind eye to the societal inequalities that still dominate women and girls’ lives. We have an unconscious habit of grouping women into stereotypes, even when they don’t resemble them at all, simply because we fear women who shatter expectations. Without keeping women in boxes, they’re likely to continue to become more and more empowered, something we’ve been engrained to shut down.
My computer setup definitely didn’t revolutionize society, and I won’t even pretend that it did, but seeing other girls post their setups on the same subreddit, regardless of the critiques they were bound to receive, stating they were inspired by my photo gave me hope, even though it was from something so small. Change doesn’t happen all at once, remember: a large puzzle can only come together with the help of hundreds of little pieces.