Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
The culture doesn’t provide for much in the way of girliness these days. Have you noticed? I guess I should define what I mean by girliness, but I’m not sure I can whittle it down to a list of qualities, and I’m not sure I want to. Nor do I think it’s necessary that I spell everything out for you. I think you all know what I’m talking about anyway: you’re familiar with the butt-kicking babe character that’s so common in the movies, and you probably live near at least one lantern-jawed teen who competes on the women’s lacrosse squad at your local high school. Maybe she’s even kicked sand in your face and swiped your girlfriend. These are the predominant female archetypes of our culture, for better or for worse. Why have women begun to strenuously emulate traditional male models? It’s an interesting question, one that I don’t have an answer to. Maybe it’s something in the water that nudges ‘em down that path. Or maybe it’s like Halloween for them — a chance to play dress-up and assume a role. Or maybe they’re just falling in line with what they see on television. It occurs to me that perhaps the biggest driver of female behavior in recent memory, “Sex and the City,” featured a troupe of women who acted not like girls but like gay men. And though gay men are a lot of wonderful things, they’re not exactly girly.
This seemed to me to be part of what filmmaker Whit Stillman was trying to get at in his recent “Damsels in Distress.” The movie features a group of college girls who’ve devoted themselves to promoting culture and beauty among their classmates, and Stillman treats them as both an anachronism and an ideal. As is usually the case where Stillman is concerned, I didn’t love the movie. I did, however, sympathize with the director’s point of view — he’s longing for a world in which women still view themselves as the guardians of culture, of taste, of refined things. Isn’t that partly what we scratchy, stink-prone dudes have always looked to women for? If men have traditionally provided the hardwood carpentry of culture, it’s the gals who’ve often provided the filigree, the latticework, the doilies — all those appealing interface elements that make culture more than just a series of boring posts and lintels.
Anyway, I’ve found the internet to be a much better repository of girliness than either television or the movies. YouTube especially provides a great forum for viewing girls in their natural element, free from the influence of Hollywood writers, Women’s Studies courses, and Jezebel-style screechiness. Here are a few of my favorites.
Garfunkel and Oates
I guess this “comedy-folk” duo is known for more than just its YouTube videos; Wikipedia reveals that they do live shows and have even flirted with television. But then I don’t get out much. YouTube is basically how I experience the world, and that’s where I first saw Garfunkel and Oates (their real names are Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci). My favorite video of theirs is “29/31.” It’s a very sharp send-up of female antsyness regarding encroaching spinsterhood, the anger kept barely in check by the duo’s sweety-pie cuteness. The way the performance seesaws between optimistic empowerment-and-independence babble and howling rage over forced obsolence is hilarious, and it jibes with my experience of gals who are struggling to reconcile cultural propaganda with their instinctive grasp of biological reality. I suspect more than a few guys have had similar arguments with themselves upon first encountering “Game” blogs like the one run by Roissy/Heartiste. Pretty lies die hard, after all. But at least Garfunkel and Oates make the argument cute and endearing and funny. Their looks help with that: physically, they’re a perfect comedy team — one small, dark, and mousey; the other tall, light, and kind of actressy. I think they’re both pretty adorable, and I bet they’re more fun to hang out with than Sarah Silverman.
Here’s another performance that gave me a chuckle:
This one deals with hipster lesbianism and female body issues. Like “29/31,” it uses an internal argument to skewer PC notions of how women are supposed to view themselves.
Here’s a recent interview:
Their official website can be found here.
I’m not sure why I find this “Recreational Mathemusician” to be girly. Maybe it’s all the effort she puts into making complicated mathematical stuff seem fun and, well, decorative. (If Stillman’s Damsels had a geometry subcommittee, she’d make a good chairwoman.) She’s a talented filmmaker, too. The videos are perfectly pitched between nudginess and lyricism, with her rapid narration used to both impart information and overwhelm your mental circuitry (her stuff can induce a pleasant, discombobulating buzz). Okay, sometimes she gets a little monotonous. But I think she compensates through her instinctive feel for how movies can put us in touch with the greasy-grindy gears of our mental processes. Her videos force you to think along with them, and the blinky, stop-motiony effects and furiously cumulative scribbling have some of the boredom-morphing-into-daydream vibe one enjoys in the work of Jan Skvankmajer. It’s also fun to see a gal embrace her nerdiness in such a driven and outgoing way. Nerdiness has a tendency to be male-dominated and rather inward-looking, but Vi treats it expansively — she takes her nerdiness to the masses.
Here’s a long, meandering piece of on frequency and pitch:
Here’s one of her early “doodling in math class” videos:
Here’s a “making of” video. It provides a nice look at her filming and editing methods:
Her blog can be found here.
The Sorry Girls
I first discovered the Sorry Girls when co-blogger Paleo Retiree alerted me to their video about their hedgehog Harley. It’s a charming video, but it’s also something of an outlier. Most of their pieces are focused on DIY projects, like making Halloween costumes, cooking, and smearing each other with gooey pumpkin innards (a YouTube commenter describes the last as “pumpkin porn”). That lack of topical rigidity is part of what I like about them. Their work seems to follow their whims, to flow from their girltalk about things like fashion, boys, and creative social planning. And they appear to get genuine enjoyment out of making things pretty, a girl trait if ever there was one. Watching their videos I’m reminded of the scene in the Cukor “Little Women” when the March girls stage a play, complete with costumes, cardboard sets, and blustery entrances and exits. Girls are good at that sort of thing, aren’t they? No free-form, cross-country games of cowboys and Indians for them. They’re more interested in defined characters, costumes, and emotional-narrative formulae — and bless them for that. The names of the individual Sorry Girls are Kelsey and Becky, and like Garfunkel and Oates their paring provides for a pleasing visual contrast. Hey, why hasn’t some adventurous kids’ programmer put them on television?
Here’s a super cute video focusing on Halloween costume ideas:
Their Tumblr is here.
Everytime I see one of those mannish, jerky-tanned Valkyries involved in the Petraeus scandal, I think of hula hoop girl Katie Sunshine and I feel a whole lot better — about women, about America, about life in general. Apparently, her real name is Katie Keck-Wilson, she’s from Arkansas, and she’s a gradeschool art teacher. I’m sure she’s inspired her male students to a whole new appreciation of finger painting. Heck, she’s inspired me, and I haven’t finger painted for a couple of years now. When Katie isn’t hooping, she probably seems like a normal sort of young woman. But absorbed in the act of gyrating, her body seemingly inhabited by some benevolent elemental force, she seems to belong to another realm — a realm of muses and flowery poetic metaphors. It’s crazy how effortlessly a girl can pull that off. I guess it helps if you look as good in yoga pants as Katie does.
Here is one of Katie’s greatest videos:
Another pretty good one:
An interview with radio shock jocks Opie and Anthony:
So, who are your favorite contemporary avatars of girliness? List ‘em in the comments! Hey, it occurs to me as I wrap this up that our very own Question Lady is a pretty good exemplar of girliness, albeit of a very sophisticated and erudite kind.