Why do some women still refer to themselves as girls?
I am not a fan of Michelle Obama. It is not personal. How can it be? I have never met her nor am I likely to. I simply dislike what she represents: the deification of a person based purely on the elevated position they hold. Add to that the great American PR machinery and all perceptions about Mrs Obama are skewed in her favour. Lets examine the stylish tag she so comfortably wears. Sure,she gets dressed well enough she has every resource available to her but she doesnt really wear her clothes well. Can we compare her to fashion icons like Jackie O,or more recently,Carla Bruni? I dont think so. Not even when a news magazine over-praised her for daring to wear clothes off the rack. It showed,trust me.
But I can still forgive her for fashioning herself as a style icon. She is the First Lady of the USA,and we know the cultural hegemony that allows her. What disturbs me,though,is how casually she takes the influence she has on women around the world. I mean this is a woman who makes it to the TIME magazine 100 most influential list for 2013. Heck! She is even asked to write for this very important issue. And who does she pick? Beyonce. Yes,Beyonce aka Mrs Carter. Yes,she is talented,she sings well,sells a gazillion copies of her records. She even has a baby called Blue Ivy (!),but is that enough reason for the FLOTUS to select her as a role model? This is a singer who insists on appearing on stage in her underpants because she thinks it signifies fierce feminism. To me,she is a bit like an eccentric lady who forgot to wear her skirt over her panties. The best criticism of her stand came in the form of an open letter by Rakhi Kumar,writer,producer and director at Akasha Associates and founder and chief editor of The Modern Girls Guide to Spirituality. Carried in The Huffington Posts blog and shared extensively,she succinctly stated her objection: Im writing because everything you do is admired and emulated by so many; but when you endorse a recording artist like Beyonce,I see the most misogynistic aspects of the music industry (that prefers girls to be no more complex than dolls) interpret your comments as a seal of approval for the thoughtless cultural currency that they flood the youth market with. Im writing because I think its time to stop suggesting to very young girls that ultimate feminine success in the music industry or anywhere else comes with the need,or the expectation for them to undress. The letter gets more scathing (Google it if you missed it) but its logic is hard to take down.
Mrs Obama is clearly no feminist. How can she be when she refers to herself as a girl? I am sure everyone remembers the hue and cry about her bangs. I was with Karl Lagerfeld when he said he hated them. I always suspected she did that to hide the wrinkles on her forehead but when she called herself a girl,I knew I was right. When questioned about her hair a national obsession since the US of A has no other pressing problems she rather cutely replied,Its fun but you know,Im like a girl,whats next? Just in case you didnt know,the bangs were cut for her 49th birthday.
Alas,Michelle is not alone in her coquettishness. Most women like to refer to themselves as girls. Technically,a woman stops being a girl once she becomes a teenager. And in her 20s,she can,with great pride,call herself a woman. So,why do so many smart/independent women refer to themselves as girls? Why do we diminish ourselves? Take away our power wilfully? Is it that we are so obsessed with youth and looking young that we want to appear helpless? The word girl sounds pubescent as compared to the power contained in declaring,I am a woman. Which is why I have played the blame game with Michelle Obama. Unlike Beyonce,she does impact young women. All eyes are on her. If she says or does something,it gives the act legitimacy. At a time when there is so much flux/rage/confusion about a womans place in society,we should be standing up for ourselves. Instead,what do we do? We simper. Like little girls. And frankly,being silly in public is passé. You dont need a lesson in etiquette to tell you that.
Kalra is former editor-in-chief,Elle,and is currently working
on a project with Godrej Consumer Products Limited.
She still insists everyone minds their Ps and Qs