x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A feminist reclaims the fun of womanhood

My Life: I am woman, hear me roar - a lifelong tomboy who finds her image softening acknowledges that being girlie can be just fine, too.

"You, a tomboy? No way."

A conversation with a new friend led to our reminiscing about how we dressed in our early teens.

"Baggy pants that could dress a family of five, loose T-shirts and a pair of chucks."

"I would have never guessed," she said, still unbelieving.

I found myself early on trying to deflect the notion that I was at all "girlie". I've become more accepting of the idea of being feminine the older I've become, but the thought of being girlie sat badly with me back then. At a young age I had decided that because I didn't want to dress in pink and play with dolls, those who did were dumb.

I feel that the older I've become these little factors with which we identify ourselves have become blurred. Whereas before I wore my "ungirliness" as a badge of honour, I now commend girls who can be beautiful as well as smart.

I sometimes think feminism gave femininity a bad name. It turned dressing up and make-up into negative choices. If you spend time on your appearance you are perceived as a bit of an airhead preoccupied with unimportant things and buying into male-dominated popular culture. In my late teens I fought against the idea of appearing conventionally beautiful. I dressed a bit like a punk and used that to declare how strong and smart I was.

After all, who in her right mind would subject herself to the pain and agony of six-inch heels?

"Why do girls spend hours getting dressed up and then get irritated when guys try to talk to them?" another friend made the mistake of asking the other day.

I sat back in amusement as my smart and beautiful best friend responded to this question, which as young women subjected to frequent harassment we both found offensive. It's not being talked to that bothers me, it's the presumptuousness with which men approach women that drives me crazy.

Little-known fact: most times when women dress up they do it for each other and for themselves. Men tend not to notice things such as a new bag or shoes or how we've done our eyeliner that night. While it might seem unbelievable to some that we do anything without the aim of impressing the male constituency, it's true, boys.

More importantly, if we look good and we're out with our girlfriends, talking to us is a privilege, not a right. Many times, socialising with a group of girlfriends, whether in New York or in Abu Dhabi, we've had to deal with a pack of boys who think our sole reason for being out is to attract their attention - not to be drinking the coffee at hand and enjoying the pleasure of each other's company.

Yes, I've started to spend time on make-up, but that doesn't mean I'm high-maintenance. I can out-talk most guys I know when it comes to football stats and transfer news. We don't all fit into the standard boxes. And I've come to appreciate women who are girlie, who care about things that I used to deem unimportant because I was inadvertently trying to be more like the guys.

And I want to apologise to all of you I had overlooked or judged based on your appearance. Girls have a bad reputation for being gossipy and picking each other apart, and I think it's about time we turn to praise and support instead.

If you have a job, are living your life and look good in those killer heels, more power to you.

Fatima al Shamsi is an Emirati living in New York.