Monday, July 11, 2011

"feminist" guilt: how demonizing sexist expression is an intellectual no-carb diet

I begin this post with a qualifier: there is no single type of "feminism" or "feminist ideology". For the purposes of my discussion, I am referring to a particular feminist narrative that has drastically shaped and continues to shape my life, and in no way seek to cast feminism as one-size-fits-all. Further, my analysis does not speak to all--but to young girls and women who may identify with my lifestyle and experiences.

Back to the point.

The feminist narrative I speak of has certainly changed and developed over time, but in the aggregate, it is crudely summarized as follows: (1) because I am a woman, I am viewed as a sexual object; (2) because I have been raised a woman with a feminine gender performance, I have internalized sexist norms, intertwined them with my own concept of self-esteem, and have become my own oppressor; (3) because I have been raised a woman with a feminine gender performance, I have been indoctrinated with aspirations of reproducing in a nuclear-family setting; and (4) because I have been raised a woman with a feminine gender performance, all expressions of sexuality and aging devalue me.

You can imagine the impact these new-found beliefs had on a former cheerleader who enjoyed all-pink ensembles and celebrity gossip--my world turned upside down.

Disgusted with myself and the material possessions I idolized, I embarked on a new journey during my college years. With a shaved head and unshaven legs, I was determined to transcend the misogynist and oppressive cultural norms that had me constantly vying for hetero male attention as a vehicle for self-worth. I'm a smart, ambitious girl; how did I ever fall for such an anti-intellectual and de-humanizng arrangement?

I can't recall the exact order of what happened next, but as my hair began to grow out, and my reclusive obsession with self-discovery faded into my return and re-claiming of the party scene, I had to come to grips with an undeniable reality: I love high heals, short dresses, and dancing.

Now, feel free to psychoanalyze that all you want; trust me, I do it all of the time. But the bottom line is, however arguably "sexist" or "degrading" these behaviors are, one way or the other, they have become a part of my expression; whether I am a willing participant or simply brainwashed, I love me some top 40 and a good dance floor.

Throughout the past few years of feminist guilt weighing in the back of my mind as I picked out stilettos, LBDs, and crop tops, I found justification with the fact that as long as I am thinking about and questioning my own desires and their implications, I can be intellectually comfortable with crossing the boundary between intelligent feminist and unrestrained fun-seeker. Although I have struggled with whether I am serving as a true role model to younger girls, I have taken comfort in encouraging ambition, confidence, self-discovery, higher education, career-orientation, and open communication.

All of this being said, lately, I have been thinking a lot about this "guilt" and what it means. And then it occurred to me. How can a feminist voice reach young girls when that voice, while motivated by ideals of liberty and humanism, effectively demonizes most forms of expression with which (many) heteronormative girls identify? As a general matter, you are simply asking girls to fail and hate (a part of) themselves. This method is as flawed as a no-carb diet.

In most cases, people on no-carb diets demonize "bad foods", typically cheat, punish themselves, rinse, and repeat. If you are self-regulating and self-destructive enough to stick to life of restriction, I suspect you will not fully experience or enjoy your life. I think the same applies with demonizing all forms of expression that (my) feminist narrative considers oppressive.

As with food, a relationship with any type of feminism should be mindful, nourishing, and fulfilling. If it isn't--something isn't working for you. Not to say you should give up without a fight, but I cannot ask young girls to jump on a bandwagon that may (in some cases) have them feeling unreasonably left out for not participating in subject activity, or "cheating" and feeling "guilty". That's not my brand of feminism. (note: sometimes it's better to be left

Throughout the past 6 years of my self-discovery, my world view has developed, changed, become un-complicated, and become more complicated in lots of really interesting, challenging, and exciting ways. The more I grow, the more I identify with one of my favorite quotes from Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins: "there are no group solutions."

Where I am right now in my ever-evolving journey works for me--and I no longer feel guilty about it. Not that I am so old, or so wise, or so accomplished, but my message to young girls is to challenge, but also to love, all parts of you.

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