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Posts Tagged ‘personal’

Big Trubs, by Allyson Mitchell.

[Woman] can give suffrage or the ballot no new quality, nor can she receive anything from it that will enhance her own quality. Her development, her freedom, her independence must come from and through herself. First, by asserting herself as a personality, and not as a sex commodity. Second, by refusing the right of anyone over her body; by refusing to bear children, unless she wants them, by refusing to be a servant to God, the State, society, the husband, the family, etc., by making her life simpler, but deeper and richer. That is, by trying to learn the meaning and substance of life in all its complexities; by freeing herself from the fear of opinion and public condemnation.”
– Emma Goldman, “Woman Suffrage,” from Anarchism and Other Essays (read here). Found in “Raise Some Hell: A Feminist Childrearing Zine for Everyone,” @ zinelibrary.info.

We used to talk a lot about whether cisgendered feminist women can dress and act the ways that mainstream society expects of us—how our gender presentation and sexuality relate to our feminism. Does normalizing second-wave-style feminist response to social expectations—e.g. refusing to shave and wear bras or makeup—violate individual women’s freedom of choice? Do third-wave-style responses, or “choice feminism”—wearing makeup, wearing typically feminine clothes, etc.—devalue women in society? Personally? Both?

Any monolithic standard of behavior fucks with people’s freedom of choice—no matter how integral choice is supposed to be to the standard. Second-wave feminism (and its offshoots) can make you feel like a traitor to the movement, complicit in your own oppression and others’, for having a femme-y gender presentation. Third-wave feminism makes you feel like an irrelevant troublemaker if your “choices” don’t cooperate with some version of the status quo. I believe that superfemme presentation and noncooperation can be equally liberating for different people, and I think we create false extremes that divide us. From now on, I’m going to try and trust and support you if you want to wear lipstick. But you have to trust and support me in my choice not to.

I’ve recently made very classic dirty feminist-looking choices about my body and my appearance—I don’t shave my legs or pits, wear makeup or sexy clothes, or have pretty hair. In a post-third wave world, this constellation is judged variously as: uninformed, outdated, regressive, gross, pointless, and, frequently, oppressive. I feel like we’ve talked here as well about whether it is oppressive. I’d like to submit: on the contrary! The very, very contrary. And I’d also like to say that I think everyone should think seriously about making second-wave-y choices.

When you think about it, pretty much every physical expectation of women in our society requires us to participate in constructing ourselves as sex objects. Shaving, wearing make-up, having long, pretty hair, attractive clothes, etc… First off, what the fuck. And second, for this post, I will refer to these processes as “sexualization,” but I really mean “mundane sexualization”—in other words, those sexualizing processes that have become part of our standard definition of femininity. Purposeful sexualization for the purposes of turning people on is another topic for another post, to me, anyway. (Also, I’m only going to talk about some very obvious banners of femininity here, rather than deal with newer expectations like surgery, tanning, etc.)

So, the question at the heart of our neverending debate is, should women sexualize themselves in society? Can making yourself look hot or normal be a tool for general empowerment? The societally approved third wave wants us to feel like accepting and performing our own sexualization is an aspect of our liberation. And here’s where Emma Goldman comes in—I think you can exchange “suffrage or the ballot” for “razors or make-up” quite neatly. There is nothing they can do for us that we can’t do better ourselves, and we can never change how they essentially function.

The communities I grew up in, like the communities most people grew up in, were dominated and created by men and other people who value, judge, and commodify women based solely on our appearances. For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I’ve shaved, made myself pretty, showed off my body, etc. because I wanted to be judged positively and seen as valuable by my communities. And that is such bullshit, to drag women into caring about all that crap because it’s the only value they have in some communities. For some time after becoming dimly aware of feminism, I tried to actively choose to do all that stuff, but it just felt like artificial intelligence—like being a dumb robot with the curse of reason, thinking about why it should follow its programming when in fact it has no choice.

Sexualization by choice and sexualization by default are no different. Society wants women to be sex commodities, and because society expects women to sexualize themselves, it will never bother respecting their reasons. That’s just its due. Daily life in the United States is like a giant Miss America pageant. Thinking critically about society’s requirements and continuing to accept them just traps you in the contest. No judge is going to ask or care why you shaved your legs. They just expect it. It doesn’t occur to them that it might be a choice, and I think we need to ask ourselves whether it even is one before we try to go there in society at large. (I do want to leave sexual relationships out in this post. However, let it be said: your partner should want to talk to you about why you do things to your body and respect your decisions, as part of a practice of consent. I think there’s some kind of magic about a healthy, communicative intimate relationship that allows people to critically examine their own expectations much more readily than in society at large. So in other words, I’m not saying it’s a fool’s errand to even make people think about why women are doing things. Your boyfriend should be able to respect your choice to shave your legs as a choice, and if he doesn’t, dump him.)

On the other hand, if you don’t meet the requirements, you’re not even worthy of their attention—and it rules. It seems like most people don’t even want to judge my worth based on how well I’m sexualizing myself, cause I’m so weird and unfeminine, so I don’t have to deal with them expressing their opinions. What’s more, I don’t have to constantly worry about whether they find me acceptable. Hairy armpits disqualify you. You can get off the stage and find some peace and quiet. Free from “the fear of opinion and public condemnation,” you are FINALLY able to actually devote a reasonable amount of attention to the “meaning and substance of life in all its complexities.”

I’m not really going to touch on the other oppressive categories Goldman mentions—the all-powerful State, reproductive expectations, husband/family, but basically, the same holds true—I believe in ignoring what any particular construction (of work, government, age/status in life, family, etc.) demands from you and trying to see things objectively. Most social constructions were created and/or cemented arbitrarily, and whoever did it probably didn’t have you or anyone like you in mind. Following along with them for whatever reason will never do you any good; it only feeds the apparatus that continues to oppress you (whether the agent of the apparatus means to or not). (Following the system can be and is sometimes neutral, and sometimes you need to do it just to get by, though. I also want to add that I’m lucky enough to fly under the radar in many other ways—I’m white, young, cis, pretty, financially subsisting, able-bodied, etc., and I don’t mean to malign the choices anyone makes to survive.)

I just feel so, fucking, FREE. I feel like a person. There is no, “I’m supposed to look…” or “I should worry about…”. I don’t sweat it when I forget deodorant (HA), I don’t shower every day, and I don’t get worried about my mascara smudging, or my hair unstraightening, or my leg hair growing. I never realized how much brainpower those thoughts drain, and it’s a LOT. Sure, there are new expectations of me, but I have more power over them because I’ve purposely bought into these constructions of what a woman can be.

Life is “simpler, but deeper and richer.” There’s so much stuff I don’t have to worry about any more, and so much more time to think and be happy.

I can buy blush, heels, razors, and haircuts, but I sure as shit could not have bought that.

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Sexist Lionso today i went on a walk. i was dressed in a long flowy patterned skirt, a black tank top, flip flops, a long necklace made of shells, two rings, and a bracelet, with my hair in a long braid. FYI my skin is brown and my hair is black and people say that i look “indian” whatever that means. im 5’4″. and i have a long-term boyfriend (which is relevant to this story) and i love him and he is super nice and devoted to me and he is a feminist and he is like one of the few men in the world im comfortable being around.

so on my way home from my walk, i was sweating up a storm because it was hot and humid outside. but i must have looked approachable despite my eclectic appearance, for this 40-something man comes up to me, 15 feet near my house (i hope he didn’t know that that was my house), and says, “hi, i saw you in tarrytown, and its nervous to talk to someone you dont know. and i just think you are really pretty, and you must be a nice person.”

at this point i was still flattered. i had seen this guy walking out of town as i walked into town. i dont remember if i smiled at him or just ignored him. i have this huge problem when i walk in populated places. i dont know where my eyes should go. first of all, im nearsighted, so its awkward to sqiunt at someone who might be someone i know. i dont remember though, if i had this problem since before i became nearsighted a few years ago. so i walk and walk, and there are plenty of people, walking around, or sitting around, or talking to each other. i dont know if it would be aggressive to look at them, and my natural impulse is to look at the ground a few feet ahead of me. it feels safer, since i dont know what people me to do with my eyes, atleast i wont have to watch them be awkward around my own awkwardness. but then, i feel like im being passive and submissive. so i try to look ahead of me at eye level, sometimes smiling at people with babies and pets, but usually not smiling because many people tend to look straight ahead of them and not smile back, and then i feel sheepish for having made the effort of smiling at them. also i worry, what if someone saw me smile at them and them not smiling back, and thought i was a fool?

damn, it sucks to be me? idk.

so i dont remember if this 40-something man, who has a mustache and beard, mostly black, peppered with some white, and misaligned teeth (not too bad, many people have misaligned teeth and they are not altogether unappealing to look at), maybe 5’7″, wearing a faded teal t-shirt and probably jeans and i think dark sneakers…was someone i smiled at the first time he saw me. probably i tried to look at him to send him the message that i wasnt afraid of him (even though i kinda was, im afraid of mainstream looking white people, as well as white men with a weird/cautious gait, which he had). but i tried and looked at the faces of many people i met, so that i wouldnt seem/feel scared of them.

so here i am, on my way back home, pretty much there already. the guy is walking towards me, as though he were on his own walk out of town and then was walking back into town. i looked at his face again and then diverted my eyes to look straight ahead in front of me as soon as i saw that he was nervously meeting my eye. do not want to get into a conversation with this stranger. he says, “hi, i saw you in tarrytown, and i just think you are really pretty, and you must be a nice person.” so i feel like he’s just being a nice person, like my friend alene, who says nice things like that randomly to people, and then is offended when theyre weirded out. i dont want to offend people who are random kind strangers. so i take off my headphones and i say, “oh thanks,” chuckling appreciatively. oh lord. i wish i hadnt. then he says, “if sometime, youre free, i would like to talk to you,” and im like oh shit i shouldnt have let my guard down, but im still optimistic that he means he wants to hang out as friends. im like maybe he just wants to meet someone to be friends with because maybe he is hopelessly depressed and suicidal and maybe a kind word from me would detract him (this reminds me of lucie’s stand-up comedy piece about a similar, though probably fictional situation). but theres a lot of weird tension and i think he is looking at my chest. so i go, “well that would be good, but i already kind of have a boyfriend, if that’s what you mean,” and he’s like “yeah, youre probably too young for me anyway,” and im like “yeah” (i wish really badly that i had said, “youre probably too old for me” dammit. i want to be more assertive and less “sure id totally fuck you, and ofc you can be on top obviously, if only it werent for my pesky boyfriend!” ew ew ew ew this is really grossing me out but thats how i feel, like i might as well have said that instead.)

and then he’s like “how old are you, twenties?” and im like “mhm,” cuz all this is happening too fast for me to formulate how im going to tell him to go fuck off, and he’s like “youre from india, right?” and im like “yeah” and he’s like “and your parents are from india?” and im like “yeah” and i feel really mad that i was so conciliatory and let him get away with asking me personal questions. he’s like “so are you religious in any way?” and im like “that’s a complicated question” and he’s like “yeah, i feel a real affinity with indian culture something blabla spiritual” and im like “mhm,” and he’s like “what’s your name” and this is what im most mad about, that i didnt say “ramona” which is my fake name for creepers who might be stalkers, and tell him what my real name is. and he goes “im jim” and he hands me his hand and i shake it and i ingratiatingly say “nice to meet you” because at this point the choice is between telling him off and potentially getting stalked/killed, or being nice to him and hoping he doesnt bother me anymore due to the nice impression i left on him, at least in my mind anyway. im afraid of this guy and i hope he lets me leave this conversation soon. and then he’s like “have a nice day” and im like “you have a nice day too and thanks for saying those nice things about me, im sure youre a nice person too” and then he walks off in the direction he came from. and im like did he walk all the way back from his walk towards the other direction, to say this to me???? so instead of walking straight to my house i kinda make a little detour and then walk to my house, looking behind me in case he wants to know where i live, and he’s not there so i go home.

well, fuck. was this guy a total creeper? ofc he embodies everything i hate about male-dominated rape culture, he intrudes into my life, probably because he feels (rightly) that i wont tell him to fuck off because im this passive indian woman who is wearing flowy south-asian inspired clothes and jewelry, and he thinks he has the right to comment on what i look like and what kind of person i must be (“a nice person”) and then he asks me out even though that is inappropriate because he is more than twice my age.

so how much should one be scared of a person like this? in general, im scared of most males, even if they dont do anything wrong to me, because i always feel like if things came to a certain climax, they would be mean to me and do something wrong to me. and this is not paranoia, because this is the pattern that has led to much of my alienation with males to begin with, even my little brother, who is not so little anymore. and plus so many of my female friends have to deal with patriarchal bullshit but feel like they cant say anything and then they continue to be kind, though maybe the slightest bit more distant, with these male friends who have hurt them. because women are taught to be graceful about being insulted or intruded upon or used or abused.

fuck this shit. i want to scream through a loudspeaker. i dont want to be graceful or elegant like i was with this man, sad and weird though he might have been. even someone so meek-looking and non-mainstream like him has the ability to make me worried about what he is going to do to me. not to mention his abhorrent rudeness and assumptions about my culture, life, family, religion, and personality. he thinks he has me figured out. he tricks me into shaking his hand. he leaves me unsettled about whether he knows where i live and whether he is going to follow me in the future or if he has already followed me to the point where we talked today. he tricks me into being nice to him when im actually afraid and want to back out of this conversation. im glad though that he turned around and left, instead of waiting for me to leave. though i dont think he understood to extent to which he had been making me uncomfortable. and even though he was somewhat courteous about it, nothing like “you have a hot body” or anything so overt as “i love indian women, they are so exotic, like you!”, everything he said amounts to the expression of a feeling of entitlement to talk to me, to know about me, to ask me out.

ew. im home safe and i took a shower. now im wearing men’s clothes. i feel better about this relatively small event. but i remain worried about the bigger implications of all this. and i worry that he lives in this town and i worry that my rejection made him feel bad and i worry that he may be suicidal and i worry that he will look up my name and follow me around and possibly kill me, like that man who killed the wesleyan student who had rejected his advances.

damn.

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