Girls who are super, but never quite great

Unlike Victorian ladies, who were supposed to be charming, and unlike feminists of a few decades ago, who were supposed to be powerful, girls today are supposed to have it all. Just look around and you’ll see that the Super Girls of our generation are pretty, healthy, charming, smart, savvy and powerful. Hell, they’re pretty much perfect.

Today’s 20-something females can do anything, and their excellence isn’t surprising but expected. They know how to look good. They are slim, coifed, well-dressed. They apply makeup daily, get spa treatments, and keep their fingernails neat and clean. Their hair is always in order, even if it’s rainy or they’ve been wearing a hat. If it’s naturally frizzy, they tame it; if it’s limp, they puff it up. They’re not anorexic, either; Super Girls actually like to eat healthily and exercise regularly.

You might assume that Super Girls are so pretty because they do nothing important with their minds — not so! Behind their strong, skinny bodies and inside their pretty little heads, the Super Girls have brains. They run the roost in their high schools and they move on to top colleges and competitive workplaces with the same competent fervor. To their naturally able minds they add a little taste of finery, bringing to their society an elegance cultivated by travel and an at least amateur interest in the arts.

To top it all off, the Super Girl can be very charming and approachable. She skillfully calls upon her mental store of literature and current events to enter into polite conversation, but when thrust into a less formal environment — a concert, a nightclub — she can forget that she is interested in anything besides the person with whom she is talking. She is reserved when she wants to be but eloquent when necessary.

These are no Stepford Wives. Super Girls don’t have to sacrifice brains for beauty; in fact, the two usually go hand in hand. The same brains and organizational skills that got them into college help them to realize that a little morning jog here and a little mascara there can get them that much farther among peers and superiors.

What is crucial to understanding the Super Girl is this: She deserves nothing short of admiration. Females tend to be tough on their own sex, but most just can’t help but look up to Super Girls. They are the favorites among us all — kind, smart and interesting members of different social sets. They’re far from awkward wallflowers, but they are equally unlike the stereotypical Mean Girls vilified over centuries. In fact, I cannot help but add that, by the end of “Mean Girls” the movie, the Dumb and Pretty clique has disbanded and Lindsay Lohan has herself become a Super Girl, with the admiration of a cute boy, an excellent mathematical mind, the peer-bestowed title of Prom Queen and an interest in African music.

For the record, there really is no male counterpart to the Super Girl. The closest thing is the so-called metrosexual, or attractive, successful and well-groomed man; but that’s just one of many types of well turned-out male. Simply put, men can be artsy, or they can be metrosexuals, or they can be athletic, or they can be endearingly nerdy. Sure, some guys can’t get away with their quirks, but most of them can, and no one type dominates the others in terms of success.

I do not stoop so low as to begrudge men this freedom, but it must be said that women are different, and cannot get away with as much. The most successful girls — the most popular, the best — are always Super Girls. They have distinct personalities and styles but always fit the intelligent and charming Super Girl mold.

The problem is that, for all her excellence, the Super Girl does not call upon herself to be creative, or even very clever. Creativity is left to the men. Although there are, of course, women of great genius in our midst, descriptions of them often resort to a list of quirks or masculine features. For the sake of nonpartisanship, I will cite Hillary Clinton and Margaret Thatcher as examples of women with ambition beyond the ambition of the Super Girl, women whose greatness came at the cost of feminine beauty and charm.

We girls train ourselves to be coifed, rational and responsible, but greatness is not at the top of the list. Thanks to the feminist activists of the past, the Super Girl is a viable competitor in the contemporary educational, social and professional arenas. What she has yet to achieve is a good chance at a powerful legacy. Here at Yale, I see hundreds of Super Girls — girls who can do anything. But they are not usually the ones who will change the world. They will keep the world going, doing very good work in respectable careers, raising smart kids, understanding the value of their rights and independence, but usually choosing comfort instead of the more masculine pursuit of greatness.

If to stop short of greatness is the desire of the Super Girl, then so be it. But if she is abandoning dreams of historical legacy for the sake of being appropriate, then she must reconsider her goals, adjust them accordingly, and add an ambition toward greatness to her impressive list of personality traits.



Helen Vera is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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