The trend seems to have started a few years ago: a tendency among adult women to adopt apparel, activities and accessories reminiscent of childhood, and little-girlhood specifically. Grown women sign their emails with Xs and Os, blog about nail art and froyo and kittens and bffs, watch old episodes of 90210 on continuous loop and host "Troop Beverly Hills" viewing parties (guilty as charged). And media has seized on what TV writer Deborah Schoeneman calls the "woman-child" and both made her a character and catered to her tastes. We see it in the personas of Zooey Deschanel and Katy Perry but also on womens' sites that publish those blog posts on froyo and bffs.
I didn't realize how fully girly an adult I am until I started working at my current job, a site for adult women where we produce our fair share of girly content. I've also noticed that while that content is far from the most important we do, it's the content we have the best time creating together. Among the most fun pieces we've worked on since we launched the site were this Ryan Gosling meme ... and this one and this one. The whole staff gets into them. We laugh a lot. We're filling no need, except perhaps for communal enjoyment of a few shared, distinctly feminine, somewhat juvenile tastes.
After a few months in the job, I found myself unleashing my girliness outside the office, too. I became a little less ashamed of liking cheesy romantic songs with extremely flawed logic that should have no place in any real relationship. I am with Dr. Mindy that a party playlist without Rihanna is no playlist at all. A little part of me still occasionally yearns to live in The Olden Days, and Anne of Green Gables is still one of my idols. I loved the musical "Wicked," and not just because of the absolutely lesbian subtext.
But as an editor and an adult woman and a generally anxious person, I worried about this. I worried that I was producing content that could cause women to be taken less seriously. I worried that I wasn't worth taking seriously because of my tastes.
It turns out that I'm a late critic of this sensibility and behavior. When the women's sites XOJane and Hello Giggles launched in May 2011, shortly before HuffPost Women was born, a backlash also began. Comedian and blogger Julie Klausner called out girlish women, "Read something written before you were born. Stand up straight. Make sure you own one piece of jewelry that you did not purchase on Etsy." Responding to the launch of the two women's sites, Tricia Romano at the Daily Beast wrote, "If two new women's sites are to be believed, women want to read about boys, cute animals, their periods, and they want to read it in a Valley Girl accent." And when it came to TV, Heather Havrilesky wrote in 2012 that in the comedies "New Girl," which stars Zooey Deschanel, and "Two Broke Girls," "adult women are transformed into something lighter, perkier, less frightening."
So does girly content give women a bad name? And for that matter, do girly women?
Sunday we explored this idea at our panel at South By Southwest Interactive in Austin. Our panelists included Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel.com; Rebecca Fernandez, Editor at Large for HelloGiggles.com; and Deb Schoeneman, author of the afore-linked Kindle single "Woman-Child" who also wrote for seasons one and two of "Girls." (Read more about our amazing panelists here.)
Here are a few of the questions we tried to address:
-Is the "woman child" real? How many of them do we actually know?
-Have we reached the point where women have enough educational, professional and financial success that they don't need to be serious in order to be taken seriously?
-Is acting childishly girly a way women attempt to make themselves look less threatening?
-Is making yourself less threatening still necessary to succeeding professionally?
-Is adult girliness about attracting men -- or having parts of your life that men don't have access to?
-To what degree is promoting adult girliness about getting women to buy even more stuff?
-Is it up to media outlets -- websites, TV, film -- to portray women seriously?
-Is the "woman-child" exclusively white?
-Was the post-Oscar backlash against Anne Hathaway about her adult girliness, as the New Yorker's Sasha Weiss suggested?
-Is adult girliness an attempt to escape the stress of being an adult woman now?
And a few we didn't get to:
-Does adult girliness promote the idea that women should be nice to each other all the time?
-Is the backlash against girliness in media about a resistence to women's stories, or a certain kind of woman's story?
-Is it evidence of a nostalgia for the way you feel as a female child before all of the shit happens to you -- the fear of fat, the perfectionism, the message that in order to be good enough in this world, someone else has to want you -- and that's just me?
-Is a product of more 20-somethings living at home in their childhood bedrooms or just a general striving for youthfulness? Millennial women especially grew up with the therapized prescription to always be "in touch with your inner child."
We're interested in hearing your responses to any or all of these questions in the comments below!
LOOK: Twitter reactions to the #womangirl phenomenon