There seems to be the mistaken belief among some women that feminism is defined as being about women’s choices. While I agree with the basic principle of this, free choice is a basic human right, but it’s not feminism. Feminism is about advocacy for the equality between men and women. So if men do it, women should be able to do it, too. And vice versa.
To me it means questioning our choices and seeking understanding about what is driving our choices.
It bothers me no end when women excuse their internalised misogyny and say, I’m a feminist therefore I can do what I like. I can change my name to my husband’s, I will groom my body so that it looks like a prepubescent girl’s, I will base my clothing choices on what makes me look “good”. Good for whom? Why do you have to look good? Why can’t you just dress to be comfortable, the way men do? And since when does looking “good” meant wearing skimpy clothes? Do you really feel comfortable in that short short skirt that you have to pull down every five minutes to hide your knickers? Do you really feel comfortable in those hot pants that ride up your bum crack? I see school girls walking to and from school, constantly pulling down their shortened dresses to make sure they were covered. Why do they feel the need to shorten them in the first place? Why do they believe that showing more of their legs is somehow preferable to having them covered? And don’t tell me it’s about the weather. Summer here in Ballarat means maybe two or three weeks of really sweltering temperatures, in between pretty ordinary days and certainly doesn’t mean that a girl’s comfort would be affected by the length of her dress. I certainly don’t remember complaining about how hot I was, because my dress was its original length.
I ponder the differing clothing standards for men and women when it comes to the workplace. Why is it OK for women to wear sleeveless tops, plunging necklines and short skirts in summer? I have never ever seen a man in a sleeveless top at work and only one that ever dared to wear shorts to the office. Why is it the standard for women to expose more skin in their clothing, than men? Why are girls’ clothes smaller and use less fabric than boys’ clothes?
I’ll tell you why. It’s called objectification of women and girls, no matter their age. And women go along with this and even claim that they love it, because they feel sexy and feminine. Why do women find it so necessary to feel sexy? Do boys and men worry about feeling sexy? Why are women’s bodies so readily associated with sex? Why do we put up with and encourage it, by claiming that feminism gives us the power to choose. I don’t think it’s at all feminist to wear a short skirt to the office. If we’re talking equality, let’s either stop objectifying women and girls or start objectifying men and boys. How would mothers feel about buying hot pants for their 10 year old boy?
Why is feeling sexy even a thing? It’s only a thing for me if I want to attract a mate, or am with my mate. It is not a thing for me when I’m out and about running errands, cooking dinner and going to work. My whole life does not revolve around feeling sexy, so why is this such a huge issue in women’s choices? Why are we lauding women for using their sexuality as a way of empowering themselves? Do men do that? Why should women’s power be all about sex and our bodies?
I’ll tell you why. Because that’s our society’s construct of the feminine. Women are taught that our value lies in our bodies, in how we look, in whether we can attract a mate.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to this. Except that I can see this at work in my head. I can see how my singlehood makes me feel like a failure, rather than seeing it as a sign of power, the power to be self-sufficient and independent. Able to leap over life’s hurdles on my own, or with the support of my community, rather than waiting to be rescued by a mate.
I can see how my weight makes me feel – unattractive and less worthy of a mate than someone who is thin. Yes, even in my head these things revolve around my attractiveness to a potential mate. But I don’t let it determine how I live. I will not change who I am for the sake of being seen as more attractive. I will make choices based on how I want to feel – healthy, fit and energetic.
My sexuality is not for general consumption. It is mine and it is private. If I choose to go out mate hunting, then I will worry about whether I feel or look sexy, but it will not bring my sexiness to every day life. At least not until men start doing that, too. The biggest inequality is how men and women view their bodies and how society views their bodies. Women’s bodies are all about sex, while men’s are about strength, if they are judged at all. I see so many women who worry about how they look, who exercise and eat well, but who are married to men who are overweight and unhealthy. Why is there pressure for women to look good, but not for men? Or maybe the question should be – why are women so concerned with their health and men aren’t?
I read a lot about toxic masculinity, but I would also like to read more about our society’s construct of femininity, because it too is unhealthy, or at least imbalanced.
I know I am not alone in my views. I read a lot by Clementine Ford and Catherine Deveny and I mostly agree with what they have to say. I recently read this article by Mayim Bialik and was appalled to see that it was seen as victim blaming by most women. I believe she was trying to challenge society’s construct of “woman”, not say that dressing skimpily brings on sexual harassment or assault.
Finally, I don’t care what you do, how you dress, how you groom your body, as long as you are conscious of why you do it. As long as you start questioning the construct of femininity in our culture. Be aware. Be brave. Start questioning the status quo. The patriarchy defines every aspect of our lives, even those we are not aware of, even those we have not talked about, even those we have not thought about. Yet. The world won’t change until men and women become aware of the insidious nature of patriarchy. Of its abuse of women and its definition of femininity.
I don’t want to be defined by how pretty I am, or how thin I am, or how good my clothes look and I don’t want you to either. Just think about it.
Also published on Medium.