One of the very first in-depth conversations I ever had with my college roommate was about Legally Blonde. We’d both seen the movie before, so when it came up when we were flipping through channels, it was something we were both willing to procrastinate our homework over. Elle went to Harvard and won her case, and at the end of it all I turned to my roommate and said, “I always hated that Elle won her case because of some hair care thing.”
“Really?” she said back. “I always liked it because of that—I liked that she didn’t have to entirely change who she was in order to succeed.”
Fast forward many years, and I’ve come around to my roommate’s way of thinking. We often think of badass ladies as ladies who succeed, in some way, in a masculine field—the only woman in the cast of an action movie, or the only female scientist, or so on and so forth. These ladies succeed because they’ve proven themselves the best, or at least competent, in a field that is held in high esteem by men. When a woman succeeds because of her gender or gender expression, it’s more a form of weaponized sexuality—a woman is able to seduce a man or confound him in some way with flirtatious behavior.
However, it’s rarer that we ever see a woman succeed because of her life experience as a woman. Though all genders can use products marketed to women, it’s often women or people assigned female at birth who grow up with the societal obligation to not only use things like cosmetics or hair care products, but also to become excellent at using them as a form of gender expression. In other words, using these products proves that one is truly “a woman”. Women are constantly told that they should aim to be the “after” photo in the makeover story, but are constantly shamed for their knowledge—women who use lots of makeup are deemed “high-maintenance” or “spoiled”. Yet women who don’t use makeup are seen as not caring about their appearances. It’s basically a lose-lose situation.
So that gets us into something that we usually don’t see in media—weaponized femininity. This differs from weaponized sexuality—a woman is not confounding her enemy with sensuality, but rather, is using the tools of her societal-prescribed gender expression—cosmetics and the like—to win battles.