How Jules Helped Me Redefine My Femininity
April 19, 2022 / Ellen Daly
Between Euphoria seasons, I chopped my hair to a short bob, and Hunter Schafer followed suit. A year later, Season 2 helped me realize why.
Part I: The IllusionIt’s August 2019, and I’m sobbing on a bus from Dallas to Austin. That summer, my parents had sold my childhood home, the only home I’d ever known, to relocate to Austin for my dad’s work. I spent my summer friendless and trapped in what I considered to be a dystopian downtown apartment built for millennial tech bros, not for my Gen X parents and their teenage daughters. Right before I started college, they let me take a bus down to Dallas to tell my friends final goodbyes before we all dispersed to begin our new lives.
At some point on the bus ride, I decided to quit indulging in my own misery and distract myself with the new TV show I kept hearing about on Twitter. “I was once happy, content, sloshing around in my own private, primordial pool,” Zendaya narrated. Like a lullaby to a fussy baby, Euphoria stopped my crying. Immediately, I was hooked, and I spent that moment until the moment I moved into my dorm watching and re-watching Season 1.
I loved Jules. Admittedly, I totally had a crush on Hunter Schafer, but Jules herself was equally alluring. I was in this transitory period of my life, and I had a deep admiration for how remorselessly herself Jules was after being picked up from the comfortable familiarity of her city life and plopped into a foreign suburban hellscape. She was unafraid to be colorful, to take up space, to open herself up to possibility, adventure, and love. That, I thought, is how I should tackle college.
And that I did! Weeks after moving in, I had new friends, a new fling, and a new zebra-print mini skirt. I committed myself very seriously to this feminine-but-edgy party girl aesthetic I’d created for myself. It was easy to play the part: I even had long blonde hair like Jules. When I was told by a stranger in the bathroom line at a co-op party that I was “like, a real-life Jules,” I completely swooned — I’d won a prize I didn’t even know I was competing for.
I’d never given much thought to my gender presentation before. I grew up in an environment (Catholic school) that was completely void of opportunities to express your gender through dress (uniforms) or discuss gender and sexuality much at all (homophobia and transphobia). I knew I wasn’t straight, but I didn’t know much beyond that and wasn’t even willing to admit that much. I’d never gotten attention from men and felt empowered by the results of my new way of dress (boys liked me?!), so I clung to this hyperfemininity.
Months passed, COVID hit, and I found myself day after day dressing in short, flowery dresses. I wore them to work, to buy groceries, to go on walks, and to clean my apartment. It wasn’t merely for aesthetic pleasure — I loved playing the role of the feminine girl. I’d never felt like one before! As long as I could remember, I’d had this wavering feeling of imposter syndrome in my girlhood. I was always the tallest girl in the class, and even when another girl stood beside me in the yearbook photo, she was daintier, skinnier, gigglier, cuter. I was unemotional with a big head, deep voice, and strong jaw. I grew up quiet and insecure, and boys never liked me. I never felt quite like what I imagined a girl to be, but when I finally did, it felt good.
For once in my life, I was soft, dainty, thinner than I’d ever been. I wasn’t just a girl but a pretty one, and prettiness, in my narrow perception of womanhood, was a prerequisite for femininity. I felt like I had finally earned the alleged perks of my once-limiting biological sex: smiles from men, doors held open, free drinks, invites to parites, help with car troubles, compliments from popular girls who never used to notice me. It wasn’t some revelatory, gender-affirming series of encounters — I was winning a game of vanity.
Unfortunately, my cisgender euphoria fueled an infatuation with male validation. I didn’t experience great romantic or even sexual interest in them — I just wanted their approval. I was diligent about acting disgusted and offended when older men smiled at or flirted with me, but I secretly reveled in these victories. I was a woman! An object of desire! I was wanted, craved, coveted. I still struggle to resist celebrating my own objectification, to remind myself that physical validation is futile. They don’t like you, I remind myself. They like your body. You are not your body.
Logic is limited in its ability to alter the psyche. Emotional affairs reign supreme, and there’s no 12-step plan for addictions to approval.
Part II: Searching for GodMy sophomore year was largely void of Euphoria and dysphoria. I was still comfortable in my performative femininity. I got really into country music and became sort of obsessed with the suave affiliated with the cowboy identity. I wore little skirts and boots, teased and curled my blonde hair, caked my face with blush and lengthened my lashes with dark mascara, and, yeah, looked hot, but it was mere performance. I was neurotic, judgemental, competitive, emotionally unavailable, and power hungry; I wasn’t a sweet-talking southern lady — I was a cowboy.
At the same time, I was taken over by this urge towards spirituality. It’d been years since I’d considered myself a practicing Catholic, due to, you know, homophobiatransphobiaabortionschildabuse and a million other things. I found during COVID, though, this emptiness within that ached for a God. I’d found, yes, the “God-shaped hole” that religion teachers throughout my life had told me existed within my heart. I never quite believed them, until I did.
Through this return to faith that characterized my sophomore year, I developed both a spiritual and philosophical disbelief in the concept of gender. My spiritual studies introduced me to the idea of duality, that each thing has an opposite, and that nothing exists independently — everything is one. That knowledge led me to the conclusion that everyone has masculine and feminine energy within; though many have higher concentrations of one than the other. In school, I studied philosophy, which included gender theory and discussions and eventually term papers about how gender is a social construct and isn’t “real.”
Part III: Jules’s Special Episode“Basically, I feel like I’ve framed my entire womanhood around men,” Jules explained. “When, like, in reality, I’m no longer interested in men. Like, philosophically, what men want... What men want is so boring and simple and not creative, and I look at myself and I think, How the fuck did I spend my entire life building this, like my body and my personality and my soul, around what I think men desire? Just like, it’s embarrassing. I feel like a fraud.”
Part IV: If I Tally Up the Genders of the Voices in My Head Does the One with More Tallies WinI discovered in writing this essay an uncomfortable truth: a panel of men live in my brain. They collectively contain the traits I envy in men that I admire: primarily confidence, demonstrated by an ability to make decisions quickly and without question. I let them make decisions for me. When I am uncertain of something, I ask them what they would do, and they tell me. Usually, by the time I consult them, it’s too late. Those men would’ve already done the thing and moved on to the next by now; they certainly wouldn’t be consulting an imaginary panel of judges. They’re quick-witted, quick-tempered, and, more than anything, sure. Of themselves and of everything that they do. They believe above all that they are correct.
The version of me that looks to these men for approval is not sure. She doesn’t believe she’s correct, because if she did, she wouldn’t need these faceless men to tell her yes and no. But if I am her, then I am also the men. These imaginary male experts on All Things aren’t real men who literally tell me what to do — they’re manifestations of my own psyche.
I don’t know why I have never identified with them. It’s possible I’ve lived my life in such a desperate attempt to pass as feminine that I’ve denied myself the strength of my inner masculinity. I’ve suppressed any behavioral urges that strike me as “boyish” (generally those which involve being loud and decisive) because I’ve tried so hard to align myself with the gender that matches my biological sex.
Nowadays, when I get dressed, it isn’t an approval-seeking girl picking out the outfits, and it isn’t the panel of men dressing her either. The entity that dresses me every day is nothing short of divinity. They craft looks based on an innate sense of style and hyper-awareness of the importance of energetic balance. Each day’s outfit is an expression of some buried truth, which often manifests itself over the course of the day. It is through dress that this spirit speaks, temporarily silencing the noise of the gendered panel.
Part V: Euphoria“You know, I have a lot of they/them, and, like, she/they coworkers,” my roommate explained to me the other day, “and sometimes I almost refer to you that way. I don’t know why — I just get this impulse.” She looked slightly uncertain, as if she wasn’t sure how the comment would land. Initially, I wasn’t sure either, but my uncertainty quickly vanished, being replaced by a wave of inner calm. I looked at her with gratitude for acknowledging the internal struggle I’d been dancing around admitting to for months.
I smiled. “I wouldn’t not respond.”
Part VI: VictoryIn Season 2, Jules wasn’t conquered by femininity. Her gender expression is an afterthought, one she refuses to let dictate her self-presentation. She spends much of the season in T-shirts and dark colors, which starkly contrast the bubblegum pink and miniskirts she rocked in Season 1. Her narrative sits backseat to Rue’s, but isn’t entirely abandoned. She closes the season soft but strong, declaring her love to Rue in a delicately balanced hot pink sweater with sharp black eyeliner. She’s no longer fighting femininity, but using it as a source of vulnerability and strength.
Like Jules, I’ve learned to rock a pink sweater. ■
by: Ellen Daly
videographer: Maddie Abdalla
model: Ellen Daly
HMUA: Varsha Vasu
stylist: Nikki Shah
videographer: Maddie Abdalla
model: Ellen Daly
HMUA: Varsha Vasu
stylist: Nikki Shah