It’s August in Florence, 2015, and it’s hot as balls. I’m sitting in a cocktail bar, eying this tourist’s berry mojito with naked lust. I watch condensation slide down the icy side of the glass, the way sweat is currently rolling down the middle of my back. And then I swallow and order a Godfather from the hot bartender, because I think the Scotch cocktail will make me look cooler than some girly mojito like the one clutched in the tourist’s manicured hands.
Like most people in Western society, I’d had it drilled into me from a young age that the girls who loved things like flowers and manicures were useless, stupid, and weak. They were the airheads and the Valley Girls of the world, and in high school I had exactly zero time for them. I was too busy rocking my band t-shirts and Converse, and the same three pieces of silver jewelry every day. I scorned romance novels in favor of fantasy and sci-fi. And pink? Pink was the devil. Pink was Public Enemy Number 1. I was utterly convinced that I needed to avoid all of these traditionally feminine things if I wanted the world to think I was smart and tough and capable. Keep your bubblegum pop and sticky-sweet sentiments; I had salty, sarcastic goodness. I had substance.
I had pretty deep social conditioning, is what I had, and it has taken me a long time to undo the damage. The question I’ve had to ask myself so many times during the last few years of self-discovery is the same one that I have for people who ridicule men and boys for wearing makeup and skirts. Women who drink beer and enjoy sports are considered cool, but when these angry little cretins see a guy rocking winged eyeliner, the only criticism they can offer is, “He looks like a girl!”
And? What’s wrong with looking like a girl?
Seriously, I would like an answer to that. I want to see them type out the words, “Because I think girls are inferior.” Because that’s what they’re inferring; that pursuing traditionally masculine interests is just fine, but typically feminine interests and aesthetics make a person perceptibly worth less. If you let media portrayals influence your way of thinking, you might believe that the same goes for those “girly” women I mentioned before. That they are worth less. But you know what? One of the smartest women I know looks like a damn Barbie doll. She’ll kick your ass in an academic debate or take you down in a game of trivia without blinking an eye, and she’ll do it all in pink, six inch heels.
Because they’ve been lying to us all this time.
There will be people who decry traditional gender roles and their correlating interests, and trust me, normally I’m with them. But I think that shaming people for what they enjoy is just as bad as forcing interests on them. With a few notable exceptions, such as cannibalism, genuine interest in a subject should not only be allowed; it should be encouraged.
That night at the bar marked a moment of serious self-realization, but that doesn’t mean my journey’s over. I’m still discovering things that I actually do enjoy, like flowers and certain shades of pink, and I’m still struggling with the way I view other things. For example, when I tell Italians that I’m a writer, 4 out of 5 will assume that I write romance novels. While it definitely irks me that this deeply patriarchal society can’t imagine that I’d have any other interests, I also have to struggle to control my own instinctual reaction, which is along the lines of, “Jesus Christ, no.” Because I still hold scorn for romance novels in my heart, and it’s not buried that deep down.
So here I sit in a different bar two years later, in a pink floral dress, trying to pen an apology both to my younger self and to all the women and girls I used to look down on. My mojito sits beside me, gently sweating in the August heat.
And good goddamn, it tastes delicious.