By Sola Corrado
That’s the word that kept floating around my mind after watching the Barbie movie this summer, the word that seemed to hide between the lines of What Was I Made For by Billie Eilish. I’d never really thought about the concept of girlhood until I watched the movie, but afterward, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. What even is girlhood, and what does it mean to women? What does it mean to me?
Girlhood is technically defined as the childhood of a girl, so maybe girlhood is the collective memory we have of the innocence of growing up. Whispering crushes to each other on playgrounds, giggling as they walk past. Making rainbow loom bracelets and friendship bracelets with BFF written on them. Designing fashion shows, wearing our mom's clothes and heels and makeup.
But when I think about girlhood, this can’t be all that it is. Girlhood isn’t just one thing or one time of our lives. Maybe it’s the process of growing up, the transition of innocence to maturity, the growing pains of going from girl to woman.
What is girlhood, if not learning about and living the common female experience?
We were all once girls, and now we are women. Somewhere between then and now, we began to discover what it means to be a woman, what our place is, and what we have to think about. What is more girlhood than the day we learned to carry pepper spray in our purses, to always cover our drinks, to ask the Uber driver our name instead of telling them, just in case. What is more girlhood than knowing not to go to bed until everyone has texted that they’re home safe, to take four right turns to see if someone is following us, to ignore the catcalling because fighting back will only make it worse. What is more girlhood than wishing we didn’t need to learn these things, but knowing we have to.
Maybe girlhood bleeds into womanhood and we can never quite tell when one has ended and the other has begun. After our first periods, we realize that nobody wants to hear about our cramps, and soon we internalize that women’s pain is not men’s problem so long as they can stay ignorant of it. We are taught that their bliss is more important than our comfort and safety, and soon we have so much practice biting our tongue it has a permanent scar that never quite has the chance to heal. What is more womanhood than the taste of blood behind your smile?
But recently, there’s been a shift in womanhood. We have stopped saying nothing’s wrong and started saying me too, stopped tolerating being talked over and started saying I’m speaking. Womanhood has shifted from tasting blood to spitting it out, stepping on the doormat of society’s ignorance and inviting our problems into its home, channeling female rage into a voice it cannot shut out anymore. We have stood politely at the door long enough to learn they were never going to let us in on their own.
Where this change came from, I don’t exactly know. All I know is that this cultural shift has gained a momentum so powerful it can’t be reversed, a support so strong womanhood itself has begun to be redefined.
Womanhood has become loving ourselves as an act of defiance against a society that profits off of our insecurities, to be girl’s girls in a world that loves to pit women against each other. Womanhood is celebrating girlhood not only to show those younger than us the beauty of being a woman but also to heal our younger selves who grew up believing the opposite.
What is more girlhood than wanting to feel pretty and what is more womanhood than actually feeling that way? What is more girlhood than being taught to bite your tongue and what is more womanhood than to fill the room with your voice? What is more girlhood than being told to outgrow Barbies and what is more womanhood than to make a billion dollars off of it?
Womanhood has the possibility to hold space for girlhood in our lives. A girlhood that never really left us, because don’t we still giggle to our friends about our love lives? We may not be on playgrounds anymore but we still ask for relationship advice in the women’s bathroom. We may not have our rainbow loom sets anymore but we still share jewelry and make friendship bracelets before concerts. We still dress up, only now it’s our own clothes, not our mom’s, and what is more girlhood than getting ready for a night out with your friends? Girlhood still exists in pockets of our lives, in the spaces we’ve fought to make for it.
Womanhood is realizing that there is nothing wrong with girlhood, seeing it not as a sign of immaturity but as a testament to the love, power, and courage we can hold despite the challenges of the common female experience. Womanhood encapsulates the paradox of loving and hating being a woman. How can you want it, but how can you want anything else? My answer is girlhood. The good, the bad, and the ugly. But also the beautiful.
So many times in my life, I have hated being a woman. Hated being a girl. Hated all of the things I had to go through, hated that it was normal. Hated that it was only because I was a woman. But I take comfort in my girlhood, in knowing that the female experience is not one of solitude.
I hope I never forget the connection I share by default with every other woman, the common denominator of our lives that is our girlhood. It makes the good parts feel like a well-kept secret and makes the bad parts feel less lonely.
Girlhood. What a beautiful thing.