TRIGGER WARNING: Disordered eating.
This is one of the custom blogs I do for my Facebook friends. I asked
“I kind of want to blog about some event from my life (sexual firsts, most embarrassing, near death, drug experiences, feminist ah-ha moments, etc) but I’m having trouble picking. Facebook friends, which ones would you like?”
Monica, Jena and Sarah wanted “feminist ah-ha moments.”
This part 2 of a 2 part blog. Click here to read about the lead up to my feminist turning point.
Okay, so now we’re at the beginning of my becoming a feminist. And the first feminist thing I do is I start feeding myself again. Honestly, that seems like regular old common sense, but so much of feminism is common sense to me.
As a result of the sudden increase of calories to my brain, I start to realize that the way I view the opposite sex is pretty destructive. I have been so obsessed with wondering what boys would like about me that I hadn’t once considered what kind of things I liked about boys. I make a concerted effort to turn the male gaze back on the male gender. I began to observe boys and men with a new air of objectivity. I actively rate them on the very same scale I had been rating myself while trying to determine what they would think about me. I no longer care what they think of me.
Now when men yell at me from cars, or try to pick me up at the bus stop, I yell. “I’m 13, are you a pedophile?” “I didn’t ask you,” or plain old “FUCK OFF.” I no longer worry about being polite, nor do “I appreciate the compliment,” like I am told so many times I should do.
Meanwhile, I have started to gain weight rapidly as my body recovers from the absolute starvation diet I was on. I decide that as part of my recovery, I will see what happens when I eat as much as I want of whatever I want. It turns out that, after a few months, I seem to automatically gravitate towards sensible portions since I’m no longer locked in the cycle of starvation and shame that I was before, and I actually drop down to a more or less healthy weight within the first year.
I also decide to shave my head. Partially out of punk rock rebellion, but mostly as a way to beat the summer heat in my new inland hell of Glendora, California (more about that here).
My mother is appalled. She thought I was a little bit chubby at 100 pounds. Now, at 180 and later at 140, I am hideous. On top of that, I have no hair. One day she tells me “I think I have a way to fix this.” Her solution was dangley earrings. As I am currently on a kick where I pierce my ears with a safety pins in first period, I am not amused.
The majority of people that meet me assume I’m a lesbian. Sometimes I even confirm that I am a lesbian because I can tell that it is the exact last thing they would want me to be. Then I threaten to have sex with their mothers.
Basically, I do everything in my power to be unattractive. To everyone.
Conclusion: I am the owner of my sexual expression, and I am not here for your comfort.
I am one who leaves the table like a man, without putting back the chair or picking up the plate.
Incident: Although I have read Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street multiple times, the quote about getting up from the table like a man starts to resonate with me. My one-woman war of attrition on the male gaze has not lead to the kind of massive outpouring of respect I was hoping for. Men are obviously the winners in this little game we’re playing, because what happens when I am no longer a sexual object is that I tend to disappear.
Rather than go back to courting token acknowledgement with the use of my breasts, I decide to start communicating with men on their level. In a way, I am trying to get back all the male friends I lost in third grade by refusing to wear girl clothes, sit cross-legged, or be helpful. I out-teen boy all my teenage boy friends. I take my power back through misogynistic, swear filled tirades.
Conclusion: If being a woman is wrong, then I don’t want to be one.
And this is basically my feminist theory for many years: If I refuse to play by the patriarchy’s rules, I don’t ever have to suffer the consequences of my femaleness. Consequences up to and including the all-too-familiar abuse at the hands of male intimates.
What ends up bridging the gap between this juvenile bullshit, and my current belief that all people are deserving of respect and equitable treatment regardless of gender, and that the arbitrary distinctions between men’s roles and women’s roles have been detrimental to every individual in this culture, is gay men. Specifically effeminate gay men. Between the men I know personally, and the increasingly gay bent to my media consumption, I see a side of femininity I’ve never seen before. It’s a weird mix of old fashioned disenfranchisement with a level of pride and patient self-assurance that I certainly never had the courage to associate with my own femaleness.
And yes, I see the implications of saying that it took men to teach me that women could be strong, that we could be vulnerable without being losers, that we could even be victorious and be vulnerable. Basically that softness didn’t mean weakness. But the truth of the matter is that my own misogyny ran so deep, only men could have taught me this. I had written off my own gender since the first moment it was explained to me that you had to let grandpa hit you if you wanted ballet lessons. Thanks to gay men, I was introduced to space where femininity wasn’t a conceit to the male gaze; it was frequently a performance, but it was also an honest, daring act of self-expression. One I had neglected and shamed for too long.
It was also through gay men, straight men, and transgender friends of all flavors that I saw how the patriarchy crushed us all. Straight men I knew who had been sexually assaulted but were told that their emotional response to rape was inappropriate due to their gender. Transwomen and transmen who, having successfully transitioned, faced the new cruelty of being subtly and not so subtly pushed into the arbitrary performance of their gender. Transwomen who had men telling them about their own breasts in public. Transmen who were subjected to efforts to toughen them up, who suddenly found women acting fearful towards them on the basis of gender alone. All these ways that the roles associate’s with our gender are harming us, putting expectations on us that we can not possibly meet in good conscience. It’s bullshit that we teach our daughters to be caretakers and that we teach our sons to be stoics, completely devoid of emotional depth. It’s bullshit that there are boys on chemistry sets and girls on babysitting videogames. It’s bullshit that a competent man will be less likely to get custody of his child than a similarly competent woman.
So, in the end, I knew that feminism had to be for everyone. However they got there. The anger I carried at being betrayed by my own family members needed to be separate from my principals. Because we weren’t in a man vs. woman fight. We were and continue to be in the middle of a paradigm shift.