When I was sixteen, I only wanted one thing: to be fucking sexy. I did not achieve this. It was 2013, and I was just a suburban teen, wearing a Forever 21 mini-dress and knock-off six-inch Litas. I was not serving sex.

I know I distinctly wanted something from femininity, though what it was exactly seems slightly diffuse now, difficult to grasp. But back then I thought that if I could squeeze my hand tightly enough around it, femininity would produce something amazing: love, friends, money. These things did not materialize, or they did not materialize in the way that I wanted them. Perhaps what I really wanted was to feel less lonely, to be liked. 


It was around this time I was sent to take a calculus class at the local university. At sixteen, I maxed out of my small high school's math program, so they had me begin to take college classes.

I showed up to the university looking insane. I pushed my B-cup boobs up to my neck and applied permanent-marker thick eyeliner a kind of crooked homage to Taylor Momsen. I sat in the class full of mostly men several years older than me who seemed to have just rolled out of their dorm room in old Grateful Dead T-shirts and flip flops.

I hardly talked to the men in the class. But at the end of the semester, a boy who often sat next me stopped me as I was leaving to say, "You must be smart, because you're in the class, but you really don't look it." He was some twenty-year-old frat guy. It made me furious.

Even now, I feel the urge to defend myself against his comments, to buy into the binary to take part in the feminine pain of insisting you can do more than one thing, be more than one thing. I did well in calculus, received an A! And there was a particularly sadistic element to the class, where we would frequently take turns solving problems on the white board in front of everyone. The boy had seen me all semester, standing up in front of the class and finding the correct answer. He knew I could do the problems.

But, of course, it wasn't about that.  He did note, accurately, that I looked out of place. I was totally bimbofied in that calc class. I stuck out. I'm sure that if a photo of that class existed, it would look comical, me sitting there. I'd laugh, even, and wonder what I was thinking, being there. 


That comment impressed itself upon me. It became one of those insults that I have been left to think about once a week, even now, ten years later at twenty-seven. I've never found true success in femininity even though I've occupied it my whole life. I always look slightly out of place in my clothes, or worse, out of place in my body. Femininity is a performance and I am perpetually auditioning for the role. Femininity, it seems, is always trying to outrun me. This boy's insult stuck with me all these years because sometimes I worry that he hit on something essential about me, a larger, lurching sense of displacement.


When I was a teenager, I'd often complain about this loneliness, or self-diagnosed otherness, to my mom. There was one day, where I was lamenting my circumstances as she drove me to school. She replied, "It's a painful thing for a woman to be smart." It was a sort of Daisy Buchanan beautiful fool comment: "I hope she'll be a fool that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."1

It's easy to dismiss this genre of comment as corny now. But my mom meant it. She was smart and it made her feel very far away from everyone, I think. She was often bored, and boredom can make us feel so sick. Boredom often sits so close to those other feelings: isolation, depression. I think about Zelda Fitzgerald, bored, forced to stop writing by her husband, left to burn to death in the asylum she languished in for her final years. F. Scott stole that Daisy Buchanan line from Zelda, who supposedly said it from a hospital bed, about her newborn daughter. I think she thought being stupid could save girls from some important piece of suffering. To be aware is to allow the hurting to expand.


Even now, when people think I'm an idiot, sometimes the first thing I notice is a wave of relief. Stupidity is where expectations dissolve. Even though it's unflattering to say, part of me believes I can escape something when people think I'm dumb. They will ask nothing from me and therefore I won't have to give anything away. Sometimes being a girl means doing constant work, just to cling onto yourself.

Femininity and intelligence are similar in that they are both perpetual performances. It is endless work to prove that you are smart, having to produce a never-ending series of thoughtful takes and insightful perspectives. One dumb comment can reveal you as a fraud, an idiot masquerading this whole time. Stupidity, on the other hand, is a single damning sentence. Sometimes it feels better to just be settleda certain sense of safety in being a bimbo.


In a TikTok with over a million views, a blonde person in a crop top and short blonde and pink hair appears on the screen. Emphatically they say, "Yes, I'm a bimbo! And, yes! I'm a mechanical engineer at the number one university in the country! People can do two things!"2 This is a sentiment I often see now, in the 2020s, when people outwardly identify as bimbos. "Yes, I'm a bimbo! Yes, I have a Master's degree!" I think it allows you to introduce your intelligence at a kind of safe ironic distance. What would have been a straightforward brag becomes a kind of lopsided comment about how you are smart but still so, so sexy. If the original video had just been the second half, "yes! I'm a mechanical engineer at the number one university in the country!" it couldn't exist, or at least not in the same way. That would just be a sort of nothing, self-congratulatory comment. Instead, it becomes a reach for a kind of subversive femininity. Or a kind of self-protection.


When I was younger, I wanted my femininity to be radical. I came out as bisexual as a young teen, and realized I was just gay in my early twenties. I wanted to believe that I was doing something important through my exaggerated expressions of girliness bent in on itself, specifically in relation to my queerness. I grew up reading a lot of misinterpreted riot grrrl-inspired manifestos on Tumblr. As a teen, I read stuff that seems obviously corny now. "I wear my makeup like war-paint!" "My cat-eye eyeliner is a battle cry!" There was an urgency, a militancy to these posts, filled with the self-righteousness of youth. 

But even now, I sometimes find myself wanting to believe that I was arriving somewhere new as a result of my queer femininity. And this is an idea that I see grasped for frequently online: queerness could save us by sending us to a novel place, another plane, accessible by embracing femininity, perhaps at a slant. Holding it so tight that we break it, bend it into something new. 

There is a difference between a cis-het person performing an extreme, archetypal femininity and a queer person doing so. But when we lean harder into what's expected of us, can we make the leap across the horseshoe? Is history arcing towards subversion or simply repeating itself? There can be something radical, I think, about expressions of femininity that exist totally outside of the male gaze. But then again, sometimes I'm just a white girl wearing too much blush to my office job.


Someone I see walking all of these fine lines is Chrissy Chlapecka. Balancing queer femininity, the desire to be radical, and bimboism, Chrissy manages to remain something elusive to so many of us aspiring online girls. She is cute, queer. She often shows up on my phone in a beautiful full face of makeup, pink hair, pink mini-skirt, pink crop top. Chrissy describes being a bimbo as being "a radical leftist." In a somewhat flawed but thoughtful video, TikTok user LIKA PWR says: "Chrissy actively participates in consumerist culture, which is not to say she's not a feminist . . . in the current day and age it is very very difficult to not participate in consumerist culture."3 But admitting that Chrissy is trapped in a structural problem doesn't absolve her of complicity, in this TikToker's view. Her manipulation of the machine she's found herself in is still revving it up, in turn tainting her supposed politics: "Chrissy is an influencer first and leftist second." Though there is often feminist or leftist messaging in her videos, it does seem that the core of her content is the way she looks, her physical image. It's about the clothes, the makeup. Though it's true that it is a feminist project to allow people to dress however they want, I don't know if we can curate ourselves out of oppression.


I worry there isn't a way to express femininity that isn't fallible. This is why I always feel embarrassed when I critique another woman. Is there a way to discuss wearing a dress that does not feel deeply and immovably wrong? Is there a way to be a girl that we wouldn't find a way to mock or poison?

There is no male word for bimbo. "Himbo" is just an appropriation of an insult for girls, and it's usually applied applaudingly, adoringly. When men are stupid, we embrace it or ignore it.


Over the summer, I was in bed with a girl who asked me, "How do you feel about your femininity?" She was masc and seemed to want to spend a lot of time discussing our gender differences you look like this, while I look like that.

I replied to her, "I think femininity is the site of pain." It was a sort of misplaced and melancholy thing to say, given our level of familiarity with each other. But it still, in some ways, felt like the only possible answer.

But what I meant was, sometimes it's hard not to see femininity as a door opening onto suffering. What is this based on? Nothing and everything. Maybe it's just that when I see a beautiful woman on a movie screen I feel instinctively prepared to watch her be humiliated. In a 2006 essay on Chris Kraus, Eileen Myles wrote: "I just knew in a quiet way I was ruined. If I agreed to be female. There was so much evidence on screen and in books . . . I just hated reading work by or about women because it always ended up the same. Loss of self, endless self abnegation."4

Femininity seems like a fun thing to puncture. Satisfying, almost, like popping a pimple. We like to see girls ruined, embarrassed. Sometimes when I see myself standing in the mirror in my stupid dress, it's hard to not think that I look like someone primed to be hurt.


In her 2012 book Heroines, Kate Zambreno writes: "Perhaps there is something to this feminine dread of happiness."5 I know what she means. When I picture them in my head, femininity and misery are holding hands.


The girl I was sleeping with misunderstood what I was saying. She thought I said: "Femininity is the sight of pain.

Nora Rose Tomas (@dr_sappho on Instagram and @drsappho on Twitter) is a queer interdisciplinary writer based in Brooklyn. She received her MFA from Columbia University. 


  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (Scribner's Sons, 1925), 17.[]
  2. @griffinmaxwellbrooks, "For those of u in school, what do you wanna major in !" TikTok, May 1, 2021[]
  3. @likapwrreal, "#stich with miffy," TikTok, November 21, 2023. []
  4. Eileen Myles, foreword to Chris Kraus, I Love Dick (Semiotext(e), 2006), 13.[]
  5. Kate Zambreno, Heroines (Semiotext(e), 2012), 170.[]