Do It Like a Dude: The Futile Quest For Male Approval

I’m shuffling past my living room on a Monday morning as I get ready for my day, running late as usual, frantically searching for my purse.

An interview with supermodel Brooklyn Decker on E! Entertainment is in my peripheral hearing. I catch words to the tune of “I’m not really a girly girl, I’m more of a tomboy” and immediately pause to grimace. I’ve heard this before; as a matter of fact, interviews with famously attractive women often apply the very same trope: “I am feminine and desirable but not your average woman. I like to rough it up like/with the boys”.

I do not doubt that Brooklyn Decker really does prefer wearing jeans and sneakers over ball gowns or playing sport to doing her hair and nails; my gripe is with, among other things, the tired gender roles which employ men as the adventurous, sporty ones and women as sheltered and fussy. Moreover, the fact that women constantly have to state and/or prove that they do not fit the ever so reviled “typical woman” mould in order to get some sort of male approval is exasperating.

It’s easy to see how much disdain for femininity exists in our world today. For example, a common and effective way for men to insult other men is by calling them women, or saying they exhibit woman characteristics. I can empathise with how a woman would want to protect herself from the ire that her womanhood invokes in men by trying to exist as a deviation from it. The truth is it’s a losing battle; the more you try to prove you’re a tomboy, one of the boys, or whichever identifier you choose, the further they tend to shift the goalpost of approval.

It’s not enough to just love football like your guy friends. As a woman, you’ll constantly be expected to prove that your love for football isn’t a front by knowing every bit of football trivia since the sport came to existence. If you’re a fan of old school hip hop, your fandom isn’t valid until you can tell us which studio Raekwon recorded Only Built 4 Cuban Linx in and how many bathroom breaks he took in between recordings; because that is exactly how fickle and irrational male approval is.

That’s hardly even the beginning of it. To REALLY get into the boy’s club you have to take part in or co-sign the denigration of other women. Common grand statements to gain entry include “I only have guy friends because it is way less drama” and similar thoughtless platitudes from the bible of men’s lazy opinions of women. Women tend to share several lived experiences that many heterosexual men cannot relate to.

As a matter of fact, these lived experiences are often a direct result of daily interactions with heterosexual men. Most of your guy friends are not likely to know much about street harassment or the constant policing of women’s bodies and agency that you explicitly and implicitly experience on a daily basis. As a result, they might not know how to adequately comfort you. Solidarity with women, friendship with women, happens to be a fulfilling and life saving privilege.

Frankly, the quest for a sense of belonging among a group of people at the expense of other women is a betrayal of self. A proximity to masculinity offers less protection from the abuse misogynists serve to women than you would think. Patriarchy thrives on viewing women as a monolith, denying their individuality and the spectrum of interests and personalities that they have. Try as you might to be one of them, you will undoubtedly always still be a woman to them. I happen to be a huge Formula 1 fan, and have often found myself taking part in discussions about Formula 1 championships with primarily men. The sequence of events is the same; I am told that I am different from the “other” girls, expected to agree and take part in some wearisome lament on how other women are vacuous and/or superficial. Then I am gifted with the revelation that my Formula 1 interest has now made me more attractive or tolerable to them. It’s generally a more cringe-worthy route to a place most interactions with these types of men take you to: judgement and condescension.

Your time would be better spent working to dismantle the false binaries that give men certain roles while women are thrust into opposite, often more submissive and contemptible roles. You are a multifaceted wonder of a human being. You are allowed to enjoy spending ninety minutes of your morning getting dolled up as much as you enjoy dirt biking. Even if you solely prefer activities that are associated with men, there is nothing insufferable about women who don’t. You do not have to abhor women who aren’t like you, nor vocalise this abhorrence around men for social currency. Be better than one of the boys. Be yourself.