I have a vivid memory of an early summer night not long ago, driving down the West Side Highway in my friend’s mother’s Mercedes Benz. I was wedged in the backseat, the fourth rider in a three person backseat perched dutifully in my friend James’ lap as the smallest person, and incidentally the only girl, riding illegally toward another night of imagined debauchery and probable monotony at the usual bars on the Lower East Side.
The boys I was riding with were inherited friends, a bunch of childhood buddies who had grown up in Bay Ridge together, and who I had fell in with after a long, hot summer spent living in a Brooklyn attic a few years ago. Our friend George, who was simultaneously the handsomest and yet most repulsive among us, was regaling the car with his favorite pick-up line to use on girls in bars.
I watched as sweat pooled in his shirt, and he spoke too loudly as he stated that he loved, when meeting girls out, to use a particular line when asking them to go home with them. He thought it was amusing to say to a girl after inviting her back to his place, that it was “just to cuddle though, no funny business. I’m not that kind of girl, you know.” According to him, this usually elicited laughter and an acceptance of his invitation. Job well done. “Not that kind of girl” is a trope all girls are familiar with.
Hearing it used as a pick-up line, meant to make you laugh and ultimately charm you into hooking up sounds ridiculous, but it doesn’t erase its meaning. His success rate with that line is a testament to how pervasive it is, to how many girls understand the joke because they know that this is a thing girls say, that this might even be something that they’ve said or thought. The need to differentiate yourself from “that kind of girl.”
It’s understood quietly amongst women as the kind of girl with the qualities society, and particularly males, punishes them for. The kind of girl we as women punish each other for being. The kind of girl we definitely are not. It wasn’t until recently that I began to realize that, in fact, I have become “that kind of girl”.
I am the kind of girl that women have uttered about in hushed tones, masking disdain with imagined pity.
I am the kind of girl that men have indulged in, and later laughed at. I have slept with more people I than society allows me to be proud of, some who I have loved, and more who I have not. I often eschew formal relationships, preferring instead the grey, undefined arrangement that so many other women are frustrated by when they find themselves entangled in one.
I at times have drank too much, at too inappropriate of times.
I have three tattoos, two which I got on impulse, and one which has a really meaningful back story that I made up to hide the fact that I got it on an impulse. I have too many male friends, and I haven’t taken enough care to define my relationship to them, so rumors have been started to define them for me. I am even more than the deviant, obvious qualities that other women rush to differentiate themselves from when they utter the phrase in question. I also have ended stable relationships, and I have openly rejected financially secure career paths that I had previously invested time in pursuing. I am too vocal about my struggles with mental illness. I am too loud, too brash, and too proud for what I have accomplished, and not ashamed enough of what I have not.
I am the kind of girl no one is supposed to want to be.
I should not want to be this kind of girl myself. However, I didn’t always have the privilege of allowing myself to be this kind of girl. I was in a serious relationship for most of my college life, a happy, fruitful relationship with a partner who I still love and respect for the support he gave me during that time. I terminated our shared life together for unsurprising reasons. We were too young, too serious, too soon.
I had realized that I was not growing, at no fault of his, but because I didn’t need to and it was easy not to. I stopped asking questions, I stopped looking, I stopped seeking. My pursuits were erected only as they could accommodate the greater life I was mapping out as someone’s future wife, someone’s future mother of their children. I clipped my own wings because it didn’t feel like I would need to fly. I sent the hungry, passionate, unapologetic parts of myself into hibernation as I settled contently into my life as a willing participant, a driver who had put the car in neutral. It wasn’t until before the end of my relationship that I discovered I had been living as my eighteen year old self, the person I was when we fell in love, for far too long.
Although I grew in age, knowledge, and love, my dreams, my hopes, my experiences shrunk, existing only in the possibility afforded to them by the life I had already planned out with someone, doing some particular things. Once I realized how long I had stayed who I’d been, it became impossible to ignore what I could have been. What I could still be, do, and choose. After I ended my relationship right before my senior year of college began, it became a shared belief amongst those I counted as friends and others that I did not that I broke things off with my boyfriend because I wanted to sleep with other people.
I was accused by others of being that kind of girl before I even got a chance to be.
But I wasn’t hurt, hearing the motivation for the painful ending of a serious part of my life reduced to the carnal desire of an obviously troubled woman. I found beauty in these assertions. Their existence meant that I had the privilege, the choice, to be that kind of girl now. I could chase sex now, if I wanted to. I am young, and still fascinated by how easily my body bends. I could learn how it breaks. How it begins again. But being that kind of girl also meant that I could indulge in all of the other privileges of being single that those who labeled me conveniently forgot to mention as possible motivation for my decision.
I was untethered, unbound, free in a way that I could truly understand and needed to be during such a formative time in my life. I would feel new things, experience new things, taste, touch, love, and be hurt by all the newness of the world that had escaped a grasp I could not exercise before.
I deserve to be “that kind of girl” and I will not apologize for it.
I deserve to pig out at life’s buffet, to relish in every chance I have to make a decision, to own my consequences, to learn difficult lessons, and to grow. I deserve to make every mistake I need to, to learn every possible lessons I can, and to evolve in every way that life will allow. This is so often what “that kind of girl” is doing, and what we are punishing her for. But being reduced to “that kind of girl”, to a trope that so many women compare themselves favorably against and inversely put down others for, one that men ridicule for behaviors glorified amongst their own gender, is no longer acceptable to me, and it is no longer acceptable for the fellow members of my gender saddled with this label as well.
I deserve more than to be a stereotype, a collective of morals and actions to be labeled indistinctly with, a blind eye turned to my own personal experiences and beliefs.
And all girls who are reduced to any kind of female stereotype, to any “kind of girl” who is labeled and used as a cautionary tale, a foil for a story, or an extreme to comparatively downplay your own negative qualities, deserves more than that too. We as women have to stop letting the rest of society divide us into “types” that are bound by preconceptions about who we are, what we do, and ultimately how we should be valued.
And ending the division of women into different categories with different societal worth begins with ending the creation of those divisions amongst ourselves. We aren’t kinds of girls. We aren’t so simple. We are individual, complex beings, with the freedom to make choices with reckless abandon when we need to, and to indulge in and maintain stability when we do not. We must be allowed to move fluidly between the pursuit of comfort or chaos in different areas of our lives as we please, without criticism for partaking in either, neither, or both at the same time.
And most importantly, we must allow each other to do so without judgement. No one should be reduced to comparative material for another woman to pit herself against in an attempt to glorify her own behavior. We must invest our energy in glorifying each other. We must celebrate our simultaneous ability to be connected by the experience of being female, and yet made vibrantly different by the choices that shape our own experiences of it, all valuable, all beautiful. We must all get, and give each other, the chance to be every kind of girl.