Pop Culture

The Subtle Misogyny in Anti-Goth Makeovers

From goth to gorgeous has some problems.
From goth to gorgeous has some problems. Screengrab from Transformed: Season 1, Episode 3

Last month Transformed explored my least-favorite trope in makeover shows: the “goth to normal” look. Or, as they call it this time, Goth to Gorgeous. Pardon me while I throw up a bit.

Nicole Guilbault, a self-described Victorian goth, decided to change up her look after prompting from her godbrother, who apparently had been after her to do so for an upcoming family reunion. Back when the wife and I were watching a lot of these types of shows, every one of them eventually found some spooky chick they could gleefully turn into a Katy soccer mom. There’s something that Guilbault said in her interview, though, that finally made me realize why I found this trope so obnoxious. It starts about the 1:13 mark in the link above.

“I’m surprising my godbrother Ben and his boyfriend, today. He gives me so much support with everything I do, but he’s expressed this many times that he wanted to see me girlier or sweeter or more innocent.”

First thing’s first, there is nothing on Earth girlier than a Victorian goth. Guilbault is literally wearing a corset in the first part of the video. I’ve spent a lot of nights out at Numbers and at goth concerts over the years. Anyone who has trouble telling the girls from the boys should get their eyes checked. Whether it’s Victorian or traditional or the ever-popular-in-hot-ass-Houston “Oops, I forgot my clothes” look, overt femininity is not in short supply in any goth scene I’VE ever been to.

The more troubling words are “sweeter” and “innocent.” Here’s where I think we start diving into some dark places.

Hatred for goth, punk and other alternative looks is endemic to the various Men’s Rights, incel and other new misogyny movements. I’m going to go with links from We Hunted the Mammoth because I try to avoid driving traffic to these sexist hate sites. For instance, Corey Savage over at Return of Kings accused modern women of having no standards because “thousands of feminism-infected women go about with their lives, describing fat, short-haired, tattooed girls who look deranged as ‘beautiful.’

Manosphere blogger Dicipres is keen for people to know, “feminism is a morbidly obese, sexually promiscuous, short-haired, tattooed, cussing beast whom no man can ever love or trust.” Another Return of Kings contributor, Max Roscoe, laments every time he sees a “young woman who has pierced and mutilated her body with graffiti and shrapnel,” because these women are the ones ruining all those sweet, Asian ladies immigrating to America and becoming feminist.

I could go on, but the gist of it all is very simple. Beauty and feminine aesthetics that fall outside a very narrow range are often treated as abhorrent or threatening, especially to the sort of men and women that gravitate to these movements. I’m not saying Guilbault, her godbrother or their family are moving in MRA circles. I am saying these ideas spill out, and I think they find toeholds in people who might not understand or examine why a look like Victorian goth makes them yearn for something less unconventional.

Sarah Gailey wrote one of my favorite articles of all time at Tor, “In Defense of Villainesses.” The Evil Queen, Maleficent, Ursula, Cruella de Vil, even Lady Tremaine to some extent, are Disney villainesses that have a certain goth feel about them. They are powerful, they have minions, and to quote Gailey, “her eyebrows are the boss of you.” These women, clad in formal wear and black, are everything the typical princess isn’t when it comes to looks, but they are also possessed of more agency than the average girl singing about waiting for her prince to come.

Agency, a style that doesn’t care what you think, power, the ability to command others… these traits have been bad from the birth of cinema, at least in women. It’s no wonder so many people see your average goth and try to shove her back into the box as hard as possible. As Guilbault herself says in the video, “we want to be your friends. Ask us any questions you want. Just don’t be rude.”

I’m sure a lot of makeover shows like the “challenge” of taking a goth and making her into something more non-descript, but there’s rarely a move in the other direction that I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason for that. Goth is often empowering to women. The faces of the music are largely men, but the core of any scene is the women. They’re the ones filling the clubs, arranging the events, making the clothes and setting the tone. Goth women get things done, and done their way.

Which is why I am always leery of anyone that wants to take off their war paint.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner