Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Who's Afraid of a Feminist?

Gender, like religion and politics, is a subject that I try to avoid in the workplace. Because you can't choose your workmates. If I can't avoid it I try to tread as gently and inoffensively as possible and I'm tempted to do that here. But you can choose the blogs you read. I rather like the attitude that this is my blog and I'm gonna say what I think; if you disagree, start your own blog. Comment if you must but please do it respectfully.

I have already hinted on this blog where I lean with regard to feminism and with the label feminist. Like HBM, I have had times when I didn't want to identify myself as a feminist. But generally, I think those were times of ignorance. When I went to university, I learned that there are all kinds of feminisms, not just the combative, yelling, man-hating, ball-breaking, bra-burning, women must have high-powered careers or otherwise prescriptive type. But the perception remains Out There. Maybe that type has never existed except in the imaginations of people in favour of the status quo or threatened by change. I suppose I could even move towards a conspiracy theory of the origins of feminist as ball breaker. But I won't. Oh wait - I did meet one or two of that type of feminist at university. But I met so many others too.

Last night I asked Sugar Daddy if he would call himself a feminist.

SD: "Well, that depends on how you define feminism."

Me: "Well, how do you define it?"

SD: [after some thought] "Believing that women have equal rights, should have equal opportunities, and be judged by equal standards. So yes, I would call myself a feminist. Because if you're not a feminist, what are you?" (And he didn't even read any of the blogs I did or Gloria Steinem's quote at HBM.)

I find it interesting that neither HBM or Mad Hatter mention the issue of body image in their discussions of feminism and raising daughters. Maybe they haven't struggled with their body images. But if I have a daughter, this will be a hot topic for me.

When I was 16, one of my best friends was severely anorexic. When I went to bed at night, I would wonder if her heart would stop that night, if she might not wake up. Every night. Her eyes sunk deeper in her sockets and her skeleton emerged more clearly through her skin, her hair fell out of her scalp in clumps and downy hair spread across her arms and cheeks. One girl in my chemistry class once confided in me that she wished she could be as thin as my anorexic friend. I told her, “No you don't.” She insisted she did. And I told her that my friend was very sick and could pretty much die any day because she refused to be hospitalized.

Another friend of mine secretly purged, and we all cut ourselves, or burnt ourselves, some of us more than others. We all wanted to make some of our emotional pain physical and therefore easier to deal with. None of us felt pretty enough or thin enough or, as a result, good enough. The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf started to help me heal. Years later, Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann helped too. And when I was around 20 or so, I started to make a conscious effort to be ok with my body as it was. To focus less on changing my body and more on changing my mind. To remind myself, when I caught myself saying things like, “You're a whale,” that I was ok. I was just fine as I was. It took a lot of effort and time but I became ok with my body; now I can enjoy what my body can feel and do (like sex, belly dancing, walking in the woods, grow and nourish another life), more than what it looks like. It still takes conscious effort from time to time though.

I learned how to hate my body from my mother. I don't mean to sound like I blame her. I don't. We all fall prey to unrealistic images of female beauty. She spent most of my childhood and adolescence on one diet or another, and I know she always felt too fat. I think we all would have been better off to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors than thinking about calories, or grams of fat or sugar. So if I have a daughter, that's what I would like to teach her. That there are many ways to be a woman, many ways to be a mother, many ways to be a feminist, and many ways to be beautiful. That beauty comes in many shapes and sizes and colours, and the beauty is in our differences.

The posts I have read in the last few days have really got me thinking and remembering things that I related to being a woman or feminist, or learning how to be those things. But too many to put in one post. So I think I will start a Flashback Friday: Feminist Edition to get these observations and anecdotes out there. I hope Sunshine Scribe doesn't mind me stealing her flashback Friday thing but these are stories I want to tell.


jen said...

go sugar daddy, go.

Anonymous said...

You've hit the nail on the head. I had an eating disorder in my late teens and early twenties and I am keenly aware of the pressures girls and women are subjected to with regards to body imagine. I have two daughters so I worry a lot about how they will cope with these pressures. I'm doing my best to raise them to know that what matters is what is INSIDE... but it isn't easy when the whole world is working against you.

mad_hatter said...

Your discussion of body image is one that needs to be addressed. I too had an eating disorder as a teen and have spent many years/tears learning to accept who I am as a physical being. My post touched briefly on fears for my daughter's self esteem but as you say didn't really address the issue head-on. It needs to be addressed and I am glad you have done so, eloquently, here.

In my post, I really wasn't trying to tackle the issue of feminism so much as I was trying to deal with a horrific news item that left me reeling with the reality of violence against women. Dealing with that terrible moment and having the blog debate about feminism in the back of my mind simply brought home to me the strength of my feminist convictions. Know what I mean?

Sorry, I know I don't need to explain myself in this forum or to you. I guess I'm still working out the impact that my post had on others.

cinnamon gurl said...

MH, thanks for the additional explanation. I think that's why your post spoke to me so much. Because you weren't writing about feminist theory or feminism in an academic vaccuum. You were talking about the real, scary world and how you will raise your real, amazing daughter in it.

sunshine scribe said...

I think you are right that the discussion of feminism is not complete without addressing body image issues. This was an excellent post.

And would I mind if you did some Flashback Fridays? I think that would be wonderful and I look forward to reading them. A few of my other bloggy friends do the same :)

Dorez said...

Oh boy, thank you so much for writing this message about body image and feminism. I finally learned to love myself in my 40's. It wasn't easy, after all those years of being given subliminal messages about needing to lose weight and all the 'you have such a pretty face' comments. And, like your mother,my mom (in her own subtle way) made it clear that she wished I would lose weight. I have a daughter now and she's a 'full-figured' woman. I love her unconditionally and always have. We're very close. She's a fashion designer - creating very cute clothes for plus-size women. I'm proud of her and glad that I've broken the cycle in our family... the subliminal message that you're more beautiful and acceptable if you're slim.

I have some thoughts about feminism too. But I'll save those for one of your flashback articles. (smile)
- Dorez (