I was moved to start this blog, after failing to really get into the whole web-presence thing, because I look around me and I don’t see anyone who I feel truly represents me in the broader culture.
So many decades of feminism, yet powerful women are still masculinized. Everything from power suits’ shoulder pads to the boxy outline of a shift dress is designed to minimize the fact that our hips are as broad as our shoulders, our torsos as long as our legs. Maternitude is still seen as such an all-encompassing state that Hillary Clinton was asked if she would still have time for politics because her daughter had a baby. She and any other female politician walks a thin line between becoming too manly and letting – *gasp*! – her feminine side show.
In pop culture there are plenty of feminine beauties to be found, but here slimmer hips and bigger breasts are the norm. Slimming the ideal woman’s hips both mascuilinizes and weakens her. Many people seem to struggle with the idea that our thick bottoms are both our strongest sex characteristic and our greatest physical strength; A woman with heavy thighs is intimidating for various reasons. And breasts are great but, as anyone who has any can tell you, they tend to get in the way and big ones can weigh you down. But men sure do like them, they look pretty and have other deep, positive associations. (The male gaze is a topic for another time.) And, I don’t like bringing race into things, but darker-skinned women have long gotten away with being curvier, largely due to already being relegated firmly in the category of ‘other’, they may as well at least be hot. Us paler ladies are held to a slimmer standard which, thanks to my celtic background, I will never, ever achieve. Even at a size 4, my butt was by far the biggest thing about me.
So I was pleasantly surprised to find out Meghan Trainor was a white girl who looks a good deal like I do. I hadn’t realized how left out I’d felt, somehow chunky thighs just looked better with a tan, until I was tearing up watching her. And I was caught off-guard again a few days later when Melissa Harris-Perry, to whom I regularly turn for commentary on race and gender issues, made an off-hand comment indicating she was disappointed to find out Meghan was white. As if, again, only girls of color had claim on booty. Her throwaway statement stung, like being reminded I wasn’t quite a full-fledged member of her club.
Which is fine, I suppose, though it’d be easier to stomach if I had someplace to call home. But the examples of strong womanhood I see are either ethnic, and therefor already ‘other’, or defeminized. Feminine hair, curves and jewelry are cues that cause people to assume you don’t have serious thoughts in your head. I recently began reading The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir in an attempt to get back to feminist basics, as it were, and was struck again repeatedly with the idea that, in order to be considered serious people, women need to eschew women’s things, up to and including motherhood. Sure, we seem to have said, all that girly stuff really is silly, now let’s go to the office, okay?
A lot of De Beauvoir’s anger seems to stem from lack of choice – Before chemical contraception, sexuality was dangerous for women as it might easily derail any plans they had. These days we ostensibly have more choices, yet for some reason, we’re supposed to try them all at once, “Have It All.” The ideal woman is more complicated than she once was, but she’s just as thin and just as narrow. If a working woman doesn’t want a family, she’s advised that she’ll change her mind when she gets older. The stay at home mother endures suggestions of how she might Pursue Her Career during naptimes. We’re all constantly reminded about that weight we want to lose.
I have had enough! Let’s assert our choice! I enjoy my life at home as much as I do because I chose it myself. I support those women who choose otherwise, but I see plenty of chatter about the childless and proud. I am tired of being embarrassed about my urge to bake or sew, my interest in aesthetics and relationships. I see some talk about domesticity, usually through a culturally conservative lens which conflicts with the idea of choice. I want to represent a group (I hope I’m not the only one!) who seems to have no representation in the broader culture, no flashpoint in the zeitgeist.
I’m going to be girly and seriously political, tender and disgusting, emotional and deliberate. I want to reclaim femininity. So long as a woman in pants is a leader and a man in a dress is a joke, this work is not done. It’s time for a woman’s voice to speak out about all the silly and serious issues that she deals with, and demonstrate that they can all coexist. Let us have a feminine voice with all the complexity that so many men have achieved, a voice that deals with lady stuff but isn’t confined to it. I hope to respectfully borrow a page from the LGBT playbook and go for exposure being the cure to bias.
Obviously, this is all a work in progress, I’m always learning and reconstructing ideas, so have patience and feel free to comment!