Where is 'la femme' in Feminism?
I find myself grappling with my innate desire to be feminine versus my want to be feminist - a good feminist. I feel torn between the two as though they are mutually exclusive. Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Or is it in fact wholly un-feminist to devalue the feminine? Is it innate - my want to be feminine - or is that in fact conditioning? If it is conditioning, if I were emancipated from our westernised society would I perhaps not have such a visceral pull toward wanting to present myself as feminine? Does it really matter, or am I fighting the wrong fight, a white feminist fight?
When I say feminine, I don’t mean just looking like a woman, in a very basic sense, I mean overtly presenting myself as the feminine ideal; makeup, heels, dangly earrings, styled hair, perfume - whatever makes you feel invincible on a Friday night, or Tuesday afternoon for that matter. Is there something intrinsically weak about that? Sometimes I feel like makeup gives me a power, an edge - like a shield or costume - other times it makes me feel; self-conscious, vapid and as though I’m wasting energy on a futile venture. Sometimes I think I should be ashamed that I care so much about how I look, whilst simultaneously being hyper-aware of how much power beauty can afford you (if you can afford it #privilege). Of course, from a young age, like every one else my age, I was indoctrinated to understand that how I look is something I should care about very very very much - and so undoubtedly, I agree that we need to dismantle the narrative that teaches little girls that beauty is of a paramount importance - above-all-else. However, perhaps selfishly, I don’t know that I want to relinquish my femininity, or my desire to be beautiful (in our westernised society) as an act of feminism. I also don’t know if the reason I don’t want to relinquish my femininity, is because I am not quite ready to let go of my desire to be desired - and by extension - a subconscious desire to oppressed (by the patriarchy). To expand a little, as an example of oppression; I am not saying I want to have no other option but to stay in the kitchen making; sandwiches for, love to, and babies with, a man- but - I also want to do those things if and when I want to - and I can’t help but start a chicken-or-the-egg debate about whether me, myself and I formed that want, or the patriarchy.
Everyday I am learning and unlearning. Sometimes I am unlearning subconscious conditioning from 20 years ago and sometimes it’s from 5 minutes ago. Each and every day my understanding of what it is to be feminist deepens and broadens - as Florence Given said to me today over coffee ‘Once you take the goggles off, you can’t put them back on’, (@florencegiven). Every time I become comfortable in my understanding of myself, my beliefs, and my purpose, it’s not long before I discover another way that my behaviour is; problematic, symptomatic of internalised misogyny or afforded to me by my privilege. This sounds a lot like a confession - and that’s because it kind of is. You guys know I am a GINORMOUS fan of ‘The Guilty Feminist’ podcast, and it’s not until recently that I realised how poignant the title of the show really is; not only are the panellists literally, and/or parodically, #guilty of committing some unfeminist act, but the very nature of being a feminist means that you constantly carry an element of guilt - as with feminism comes empathy, and an irreversible insight into the power structures that cement both our luck, and our misfortune. I realise that ‘luck’ and ‘misfortune’ paint the image of random happenings - grossly we’ve learnt that luck is in fact structurally-placed privilege and misfortune is the lack- thereof.
When we, as people who identify as women, relinquish our femininity, or perhaps even try to adopt masculinity, I actually think we relinquish some of our power. As it is stands we live in a world that ascribes gender to sex, and whilst that is definitely changing, it is changing at a glacial pace. Despite this, I will not let the argument that posits women as the weaker sex, make me have to give up parts of my expressed, physical-self that I enjoy - I feel like I sometimes, quite literally, cut of my nose (take of my eyelashes) to spite my face. I feel like at this moment in time, if we chastise little girls for wanting to be princesses and reward them for wanting to be astronauts - because these gender-identities are still SO binary and irrefutable in wider society - we are still, ultimately, saying that the masculine choice is the better choice, and by virtue, boys/men are better than girls/women. My issue, my eternal guilt, is that I am a white, slim, able-bodied, blonde and blue eyed woman. Just by turning up I feel as though give validity to the narrow paradigms of beauty. And this here is my fatal flaw. Carrying guilt for what I am does not help anyone, it is self-indulgent and self-aggrandising. Instead of worrying about whether or not I am going to wear foundation to the gym, I should be worrying about how many BAME women’s voices I am platforming or listening to. I should be concerning myself with whether or not I am curating a safe space for all women - disabled, fat, transgender or other marginalised group - whilst not centering myself as a (white) saviour. I must, as a white woman, stop conflating the issues of my own conditioning (which of course will be widely shared) as a concern for too much thought. If we worry about whether or not wearing make-up is feminist, we are wasting just as much time thinking about it - if not more - as we would be just putting it on in the morning and getting on with our day. I am not saying expressing femininity is either feminist or unfeminist, I am saying worrying about it is a waste of time - time we could be using to dismantle the very forces that taught us to be so concerned with our faces in the first place - and we can do the job just as well in our glad rags, if we want to.
Thank you Florence inspiring this blog - you are a force to be reckoned with.
Love you guys