Tag Archives: girls

Shaving Your Legs Is Not Feminist (But You Can Still Be A Feminist And Shave)

14 May

969389_540986612676573_2588641270520256902_n

I posted this picture (by Natalya Lobanova) on my Facebook page yesterday and received a bunch of varying responses to it. Some people loved it. A bunch of people shared it. But some also found it insulting and judgmental, and took it as a criticism of women who shave their body hair. A few took exception to the word “mutilating,” which, though modified by “slightly,” they thought was going too far. As with anything that sparks a discussion, I was interested in how people were reacting and why. The truth is that I really liked this image, and was surprised that people took offence to it. I think that talking about the fucked up things we do in order to be beautiful is super important, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Full disclosure, you guys: I shave my legs. I also shave my underarms, my bikini line, and this weird trail of dark had that goes from my belly button all the way down to my pubic hair. I had my ears pierced when I was eight years old because I was dying to wear for-real earrings. I wear makeup pretty much whenever I leave the house. And you know what? I like doing all of these things, because they make me feel pretty and more comfortable in my skin. But I also acknowledge that I grew up in a culture that taught me from day one to associate all of these arbitrary little changes that I make to myself with the concept of prettiness.

I’ve heard a few people say that the point of feminism is choice, and that the whole idea is that women should be able to make choices about their lives. For the record, I totally agree with that sentiment. But I also think it’s important to talk about the fact that choices don’t happen in a vacuum, and also that some choices aren’t feminist. Shaving your legs, for example, is not a particularly feminist choice. And I’m not saying that you can’t shave your legs and still be a feminist, but I do think we need to talk about stuff like this without immediately jumping to, “well, feminism is about choice and I made my choice and that’s that.”

For one thing, I’m not sure that a lot of women do actually feel like they have a choice about removing body hair. I mean, yes, technically, they do get to choose what happens to their body, but it’s pretty hard to feel like you’re actually making a fair, unbiased “choice” when your options are a) removing your body hair and enjoying the approval of our society or b) not removing your body hair and being on the receiving end of stupid jokes, insults and even harassment because of this. It’s pretty hard to frame it as a “choice” when society overwhelmingly approves of one option and punishes the other. So let’s not pretend that we’re not playing with loaded dice here.

The truth is that I play into patriarchal beauty standards every day. I wear cute dresses and I smear goop on my face to highlight my “features” and make my skin tone look more “even.” I wear shoes with heels on them because they make me taller and make my legs look longer. I push thin metal rods through holes that have been punched in my earlobes because I think that decorating my ears looks good. I carefully remove any body hair that might be visible when I’m wearing a bra and panties. And all of that is fine and none of it makes me not a feminist, but also those are all objectively anti-feminist choices. Because those choices don’t happen in a vacuum. They don’t happen because I woke up one day and thought, “hmmm, I’d really like to take a razor and remove the hair from some of the most sensitive skin on my body and endure painful, itchy razor burn for the next few days because that sounds like fun.” They don’t happen because just happened to be experimenting with painting interesting colours on my lips and decided that red and pink were my favourites. They happen because I grew up in a toxic culture that taught me that in order to be beautiful I had to alter my body, and every time I play into those ideas of beauty, I am reinforcing and validating that toxic culture. Every time I wear a cute skirt and heels, I am making it harder for women who want to break out of this fucked up ideal we’re forced into. And as much as I don’t want to, I need to own that fact.

It is fucked up that women are expected to change their natural appearance in order to be considered beautiful, or even just acceptable. We have body hair – growing it is a thing that naturally happens during puberty. Literally everyone has it. So why is it considered to be disgusting? Why are mannequins in underwear or bathing suits just fine, but these American Apparel models are thought to be hilariously obscene?

BeMrtR0IQAAuoIO

Like, that is literally what I look like when I don’t shave. Possibly I am even hairier than that. This is what my body looks like. Why is that so gross to so many people?

We all make choices about our appearance, and none of those choices are going to make the feminist police come take our feminist cards away. But sometimes those choices reinforce the status quo and therefore contribute to the difficulty other women experience when their appearance varies from the strict norms that society dictates. And that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever wear dresses or makeup or jewellery, but rather that we need to talk about why we do these things. And we need to stop pretending that such-and-such is a feminist choice because feminism is about choice and if I’m a feminist then everything I do is automatically feminist. No. That’s not how it works.

Wear dresses if you want to. Wear cute shoes and earrings and bright red lipstick. Shave off every hair on your body if that’s what feels right. But please recognize that you don’t do any of those things because you just happen to like doing them. Please acknowledge that you made a choice that was heavily informed by the fucked up misogynistic culture we live in. Accept that sometimes your choices are anti-feminist, not because you’re a bad feminist but because that’s the world we live in right now. And once you’ve done all that, let’s try to figure out a way to change things so that girls no longer have to feel like their bodies aren’t good enough just the way they are.

 

 

Advertisements

To All Of The Girls Accused Of Just Wanting Attention

6 May

TW for talk of suicide

Also a note to mention that I recognize that it’s not only women who are accused of being attention-seeking – however, it does seem to be a highly gendered thing

The first thing I need you to know is that there is nothing wrong with wanting attention. Asking people to notice you does not make you needy or pathetic or anything of the other things people have called you when you’ve somehow been too honest about your want. Wanting attention is human nature – we’re social creatures, and it’s perfectly natural to want some kind of social regard from other people.

The second thing that I need you to know is that your feelings – whatever they might be – are valid. If you want attention because you are lonely or sad or scared, you shouldn’t be ashamed of that fact. Those are very good reasons to ask for attention. Try not to let people discredit your feelings because your emotions make them uncomfortable. That is their issue, not yours.

There are so many good reasons for wanting attention. You might want to be complimented, or comforted, or distracted. You might need reassurance that the people around you love you and value your presence in their lives. You might just need that little boost to get you through the rest of the day. There is no wrong reason to want attention. Attention is not a bad thing. In fact, attention is necessary to our survival – we need attention in order to grow and thrive and develop as people. As mammals, we need other members of our species to love and care for us from the moment we’re born. That’s what sets us apart from other animals.

The third thing that I need you to know is that the best way to get what you want is to ask for it. You’ve been taught your whole life not to ask for things, to sit passively and sweetly until they come to you, but try to fight that urge. Be as clear as possible about what kind of support you want – it’s unfair to expect people to guess. If you want a compliment, then say so. If you want cute pictures of animals or funny gifs, then ask for those. If you want a shoulder to cry on or space to vent, then be honest about it. It’s hard for people to give you what you need if all they have to go on are vague suggestions.

The fourth thing that I need you to know is that you have been socialized from a very young age to compete for attention. You’ve been taught that other women are the enemy and men are the prize. You’ve been told in a thousand subtle ways that what’s most important is that you are pretty, charming, and sweet. You’ve learned to cut other girls down in order to make yourself look better. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I need you to know that you can ask for attention in a way that is not at another girl’s expense.

I also need you to know that accusing another girl of just wanting for attention is another way of cutting them down.

The fifth thing that I need you to know is that you are worth so much more than how you look. There’s nothing wrong with wanting compliments on your appearance, but you should know that your value does not depend on how pretty you are. I know that you’ve been taught since day one that beauty trumps everything else, but please, please try your hardest to unlearn that lesson. You are a smart and talented and creative and interesting creature. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough: you are so much more than your looks.

The sixth thing that I need you to know is that not all attention is created equal, and what might feel affirming in the moment might create damaging patterns in the long term. If you cannot feel pretty without having other people confirm your prettiness, asking over and over for that validation will not change your self-perception. And maybe that’s not your goal – maybe you don’t want to change. You’re allowed to not want to change. But you should know that it is dangerous to base any part of your self-esteem on the opinion of other people.

Finally, for anyone who might roll their eyes at someone who just wants attention, I need you to know that sometimes that attention – even if it’s just a hug or a phone call or a quick text message – can make an enormous difference. Sometimes it can even mean the difference between life and death. Studies show that suicide is an impulsive act, and, contrary to popular belief, if someone intervenes most often the survivor will not immediately go find some other way of killing themselves. Your text could be that intervention – you have no way of knowing what type of mental state anyone else is in, and if you sense that they need some kind of help, you should offer them whatever you can.

girl-tumblr-indie-girl-tumblr-we-heart-it-mt9cqewb

I Am Not Your Wife, Sister or Daughter

18 Mar

I don’t have to tell you that Steubenville is all over the news.

I don’t have to tell you that it’s a fucking joke that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the two teenagers convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, were only sentenced to a combined three years in juvenile prison. Each will serve a year for the rape itself; Mays will serve an additional year for “illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material.”

I probably don’t even have to tell you that the media treatment of this trial has been a perfect, if utterly sickening, example of rape culture, with its focus on how difficult and painful this event has been for the rapists who raped a sixteen year old girl then bragged about it on social media.

And I almost certainly don’t have to tell you that the world is full of seemingly nice, normal people who want to go to bat for the convicted rapists. I’m quite sure that you already know about the victim-blaming that’s been happening since this case first came to light. You know about the fact that people have actually come out and said that the real lesson to be learned here is that we need to be more careful with social media (i.e. go ahead and rape but make sure you don’t get caught). You already know that people seem to think that being a sports star and having a good academic record should somehow make up for the fact that you are a rapist.

I don’t have to tell you any of that because it’s all par for the course.

What I do want to tell you is that you need to stop using the “wives, sisters, daughters” argument when you are talking to people defending the Steubenville rapists. Or any rapists. Or anyone who commits any kind of crime, violent or otherwise, against a woman.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this line of rhetoric, it’s the one that goes like this:

You should stop defending the rapists and start caring about the victim. Imagine if she was your sister, or your daughter, or your wife. Imagine how badly you would feel if this happened to a woman that you cared about.

Framing the issue this way for rape apologists can seem useful. I totally get that. It feels like you’re humanizing the victim and making the event more relatable, more sympathetic to the person you’re arguing with.

You know what, though? Saying these things is not helpful; in fact, it’s not even helping to humanize the victim. What you are actually doing is perpetuating rape culture by advancing the idea that a woman is only valuable in so much as she is loved or valued by a man.

The Steubenville rape victim was certainly someone’s daughter. She may have been someone’s sister. Someday she might even be someone’s wife. But these are not the reasons why raping her was wrong. This rape, and any rape, was wrong because women are people. Women are people, rape is wrong, and no one should ever be raped. End of story.

The “wives, sisters, daughters” line of argument comes up all the fucking time. President Obama even used it in his State of the Union address this year, saying,

“We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace, and free from the fear of domestic violence.”

This device, which Obama has used on more than one occasion, is reductive as hell. It defines women by their relationships to other people, rather than as people themselves. It says that women are only important when they are married to, have given birth to, or have been fathered by other people. It says that women are only important because of who they belong to.

Women are not possessions.

Women are people.

I seriously cannot believe that I have to say this in 2013.

On top of all of this, I want you to think of a few other implications this rhetorical device has. For one thing, what does it say about the women who aren’t anyone’s wife, mother or daughter? What does it say about the kids who are stuck in the foster system, the kids who are shuffled from one set of foster parents to another or else living in a group home? What does it say about the little girls whose mothers surrender them, willingly or not, to the state? What does it say about the people who turn their back on their biological families for one reason or another?

That they deserve to be raped? That they are not worthy of protection? That they are not deserving of sympathy, empathy or love?

And when we frame all women as being someone’s wife, mother or daughter, what are we teaching young girls?

We are teaching them that in order to have the law on their side, they need to be loved by men. That they need to make themselves attractive and appealing to men in order to be worthy of protection. That their lives and their bodily integrity are valueless except for how they relate to the men they know.

The truth is that I am someone’s wife. I am also someone’s mother. I am someone’s daughter, and someone’s sister. But those are not the things that define me, or make me valuable in this world. Those are not the reasons that I should be able to live a life free from rape, sexual assault or any kind of violent crime.

I have value because I am a person. Full stop. End of argument. This isn’t even a discussion that we should be having.

So please, let’s start teaching that fact to the young women in our lives. Teach them that you love, honour and value them because of who they are. Teach them that they should expect to be treated with integrity because it’s a basic human right. Teach them that they do not deserve to be raped because no one ever, ever, ever deserves to be raped.

Above all, teach them that they are people, too.

449850811_o