The Two Sides of the 2D Woman

Elaine Wen, Metro Editor

Women exist as archetypes. Not chosen, but assigned. The Madonna or the whore. The girly girl or the tomboy. The corporate “girl boss” or the housewife. Modern interpretations peg women into rigid boxes, pitting them against one another. But this isn’t a new concept; women have always been made to compete against each other for the prize of male validation. It has become the fuel needed to drive the engine of female success in our society. Misogynistic culture feeds off the exploitation of watching women compete for the title of the “ultimate woman.”

Competition is conceived because women are confined to opposite sides of the female spectrum, in order to be taken seriously and achieve their goals. They can never be in between, they can never be both, but most importantly, they can never be anything outside of their archetype.

Competition is conceived because women are confined to opposite sides of the female spectrum…

Women in corporate settings are pushed to hone in on what’s perceived as their “traditional femininity” and become sexualized objects. They’re expected to look put together, with makeup, a flowery top, pencil skirt, and submissive attitude towards their male counterparts. The alternative becomes a hyper masculine version of the “girl boss”: One who is aggressive, cutthroat, with no love life; while dressed in dress pants, a blazer, and a high ponytail. She’s the grown up version of the girl who “isn’t like other girls.” Trying to juggle power dynamics pushes women to pick an extreme. You can either bat your eyelashes for an extra tip at your coffee shop, or you need to lower your voice and speak harshly to earn respect in a classroom debate. Attempting to be both or in between doesn’t yield the intended results. This diminishes the mass of women into 2D, trying desperately to color inside the lines men have drawn for them. 

Hostility is derived from the chasm between these two sides. Does a woman abide by the standards the patriarchy places on her, or is she responsible to subvert them at the risk of not getting what she wants? Maybe men want a woman who is going to stick to tradition. Maybe they want a woman who’s going to fight them. But at the end of the day, that problematic “choice” places the responsibility and thus the consequences on the woman, not the misogynistic culture that surrounds them. This creates a Catch-22, because neither archetype can win. Why did she choose to sexualize herself? Why did she choose to reject her femininity? She doesn’t have a choice. Both will always be wrong, for as long as the patriarchy is right.

Women start to exist as clay to be molded to entertain the patriarchy. Women don’t become real people, just figures on a screen to watch passively as they run for your approval. Until it is integrated into our culture that any woman is as able as any man to climb up the societal ladder, women will feel they need to become polarized ends of the spectrum and push other women off the rungs as the men watch from the top.

This article also appears in our March 2023 print edition.