Stop belittling teenage girls

The archetype is clear.

The teenage girl, who loves One Direction and going to the mall, who is sending an endless stream of texts and drinking a frappuccino. She is everywhere––your school, movies, the media––and she is hated.

If it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why, that’s because there isn’t a precise reason. This girl is unashamedly “feminine,” she is exactly what teenage girls are “supposed” to be, she likes what they are expected to like. And yet, a feeling of annoyance and disdain emanates from those who surround her.

Of course, plenty of girls, boys, and nonbinary people like things that are not associated with or defy the gender norm, but unfortunately there exists a sort of ostracization connected to this as well.

What tends to happen is this: girls are excluded from the realm of stereotypically “masculine” things like sports, and are often assumed to not even know what they are talking about, anyway. Girls are shot questions about obscure parts of the subject, as if they need to pass a test in order to prove their credibility. They cannot simply like football, they have to know who the middle linebacker was for the Steelers five years ago.

Boys––or anyone who doesn’t identify as a girl––are ridiculed for liking things typically associated with femininity, like clothing or musical theater. This is because of gender roles and expectations that coincide with assigned genders, but that’s not what I want to focus on here. I want to discuss why the interests of teenage girls are belittled and criticized, and who is perpetuating these archaic conventions.

See, the problem, it seems, with a boy enjoying Broadway music or going to the mall is not that they happen to like those particular things, but that they like the things that girls like––and God forbid anyone actually like the same things as a teenage girl.

Girls have to defend their sports credibility with boys because boys don’t want to believe they share something in common with a girl––boys are supposed to be strong and tough, and common ground with a girl threatens their masculinity.

So, why are the interests of teenage girls so undesirable?

It begins with a deeply rooted association of girls and femininity with weakness. From this stems the desire for girls to be different, to be “not like other girls,” which perpetuates the phenomenon of the manic pixie dream girl, who flouts conventions of femininity and “typical” girl interests in exchange for being “cool.” They feel they have to shed their femininity in order to reach a status of respect, since they have observed (consciously or not) that girls don’t receive respect for being who they are. Girls feel they have to do anything to avoid being vilified as “basic.”

Girls are conditioned to feel inadequate for liking what they like. Shopping is trivial, ergo girls who enjoy shopping are innately trivial as well. Boybands are dumb, ergo girls who like boybands are also dumb. I can’t even say I like Starbucks without someone rolling their eyes.

This mindset has created a society in which girls feel as if they have to hide their interests in order to avoid the condemnation that may be associated with them or to maintain their supposed image. But, paradoxically, when girls express genuine excitement for something and defy the social pressure to be “cool,” their reactions are immediately ridiculed.

It is completely and utterly normal for people to have visceral reactions to events. The problem is that there is an innate difference in the way these reactions are received, and this difference is directly related to gender.

Crying girls are seen as insane and emotional; this is not a new topic. When they gather for a concert for their favorite band, faces tear-stained and throats sore, they are branded as crazy. But the perception of boys who get mad when their team is winning is vastly different. They are not crazy, they are not emotional, they are not even over-reacting: they are dedicated.

Girls can’t get excited about something without being told that they need to calm down. They are told that they are being silly, and their interests are immediately belittled. Anyone who likes what teenage girls like is mocked, because of this disregard and disrespect for teenage girls and their interests.

I was trying to think of an archetype for teenage boys earlier, and a few thoughts crossed my mind before I realized that there wasn’t one––the fleeting images of the jock and the art student weren’t stereotypes, but characterizations. And the reason for that is simple: boys are allowed to like what they want, without any retribution.

But it really doesn’t matter who you are or what you like. Your interests should be respected regardless of age, gender, or stereotypical association. It is completely okay to be a girl (or otherwise!) who likes One Direction and shopping. Your interests and passions are valid. The fact of the matter is, 50-year old male music critics were not the ones going to Beatles concerts or listening to Nirvana: it was teenage girls.