Maddie Gruder: on Femininity, the Social Media Charade, and the Hell of Being Catcalled

On her career: I am getting certified in a Leave No Trace Program, which is ecotourism - sustainable, ethical, and observing without making a negative impact and saving the rainforest and the preservation of land. I also went to culinary school, because I didn’t have a specific interest in liberal arts. It taught me a lot, (besides knowing how to cook), like what I don’t want to do, so I’m moving off of that.

On relationships: I haven’t been in a relationship for a while now. I didn’t break up with him because I didn’t love him. Just time, and distance, and life-changes. I was a different person when I was with him. I studied abroad in Berlin and I went a little crazy and desensitized myself to sex. It became something selfish that I needed to fulfill. After that it took me a long time to be with someone.

On femininity: I think of the 1950s when I think about by-the-book femininity. Women were really in the shadow of the men, and submissive. I was watching a 50s commercial with my dad recently, about some cleaning product, and it was pitting women against each other because the prettier woman is using the brand they wanted you to buy. It made women feel like they had to fit into a small hole where they would have babies and they would cater to their husbands. I feel like some of that still carries over today. I have one friend who is especially insecure about herself, and she goes to a school where all they do is give in to those kind of pressures. I think self confidence has a lot to do with femininity. For example, I love my body and I feel very confident in it, despite what some other people may think of as flaws. It’s who I am. 

On feminism: It’s the making equal of men and women. That’s the broad stroke. To me, feminism is when I walk down the street and I get cat-called, I acknowledge him, I go up to him, and I make him realize what he’s actually doing. I know that makes me seem like an “angry feminist”, but honestly, it’s just disgusting to simply not be able to walk down the street sometimes and go unnoticed. The acknowledgement of what the man is doing is, for me, a way of fighting back, because ignoring it really won’t change anything. 

On undermining: In culinary school, there’s definitely a widespread feeling that the women are the underdogs. Especially in the food scene, it takes so much more to get credibility as a woman. There’s always the “Do you need help with that? Oh I’ll get it! I’ll do it!” No, I don’t need your help, I can do it myself. There’s really a lot of undermining you go through as a woman. I feel like women hold a lot more on their backs for their entire lives. I feel like that strength is very rarely acknowledged because it’s such a fact of life. And men get to live their lives without experiencing that pain. 

On the perfect woman: The perfect woman is someone who is effortlessly sure of herself. And giving and honest and finds beauty and light where many people can’t. And someone who brings people together and an anchor for other women. In society, she is obviously someone who is beautiful, lanky, thin, fit, funny, can get along with the boys, belches more than the guys, but is wearing lingerie under that Rolling Stones tee - and you  know she’s gonna give it to you later. I hate it. 

On pressure: Walking down the street when you’re sixteen and being told you’re beautiful by a stranger on the street makes you think, for a moment, that maybe, just maybe you are doing something right and that this male attention is good and is something that you want to keep happening. Coming out of that state is hard, but necessary. 

On social media: I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Mostly hate. I feel like some women aren’t representing themselves for themselves, but for other people. Or they’re trying to trick people into thinking they’re a certain kind of person, but then you hang out with them, and its all so fake. I think it’s unfair for women to feel like there is any reason to do that in the first place. Obviously, the way women are portrayed in the wider media is an ongoing struggle. 

On catcalling: I was with my best friend and I was walking down my own street up to the bus just like any other night. We kept getting these little honks from guys in this one car. We get up to the bus stop - there’s a parking lot and a cemetery and it’s really sketchy. This guy has the nerve to drive up next to us, stop his car, roll down the window, and start telling us all these gross things that he’s thinking about us - well, they’re gross to me, but sexy to him, I guess. I took out my phone and threatened to call the police, and he was not leaving. And I thought - this guy has so much power over me right now. He’s not leaving, he’s saying all these disgusting comments to my face, and I have no say in this. And this was just one. This happens so often. If a guy could only understand, if he could only feel that feeling of helplessness and disgust and embarrassment and questioning yourself...and wanting to almost rip your body apart just so it’s not that way that they can look at it. You’re almost willing to sacrifice your beauty and the things that make you confident and feminine and beautiful, because you feel like your identity is being taken away from you, and taken into his hands. You’re no longer yourself for those moments. And it's so not fair that they get to take that from you. And it started early, when I was in middle school. I didn’t know how to process the attention like that before. I was intrigued in a sick way, but I definitely knew it was really gross. I think it’s a pivotal moment where you can go and feed off of that for self-confidence and reassurance or you can look within. 

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Instagram: @maddiegrudes