The other day I wrote about things I do of which I am ashamed.
This shame is based in my personal, and particular, experience with patriarchy and my understanding of feminism, and it’s real, but it’s dawned on me in the meantime that it might have been useful to note that I don’t exactly live my life soaked in shame or guilt. I have moments. The third and fourth things on the list plague me to a greater or lesser degree fairly regularly, but I don’t walk around in a morass of self-loathing. Mostly, on most days, I’m pretty ok with myself.
But if I think about it, expressing shame or guilt — while honest and I think even important (we can’t deal with something until we admit to ourselves that it’s a problem. Hello, daughter of the 12 Step Programs here!) — is hardly revolutionary. In fact, it’s kind of part-and-parcel of the Judeo-Christian (I cannot believe I just used that term) worldview, and — even more problematically — part-and-parcel of Western social norms and mores for women. We talk about what we’re doing wrong all the time, frankly.
What would be revolutionary, perhaps, would be to talk about what we do right.
This came to me yesterday after wandering around at Eat The Damn Cake, through the posts of ETDC blogger Kate & her guest blogger, Anna. Kate has a regular feature at the end of each post that she calls an “Unroast”; in each one, she expresses love for some part of her body or appearance. Recently this has included “Today I love the way I look in baggy shirts” and “Today I love my ankles. They’re an almost exact combination of my parents’ ankles,” both examples indicating a certain looseness and creativity to the idea which I love.
The attitude behind the Unroast (and, frankly, the attitude behind the blog’s name) leads me to visit Eat The Damn Cake frequently. I have even written in response to Kate’s work in the past, but yesterday, it was guest blogger Anna’s posts that really grabbed me.
Anna was veryvery pregnant as she wrote the posts in question, grappling with the reality of moving as a veryvery pregnant person through the world, and these are the two bits that made we want to go out in search of her to ask her to be my lawful wedded wife. The first is from We are already normal (a very pregnant post), the second from We owe it to little girls (emphasis Anna’s):
Women’s bodies. Want to know what normal is? Look around you. Working women. Mothers. Students. Friends. Teenagers. Grandmothers. We are normal already.
Our attitudes influence more than just ourselves. If we’re going to change our body culture, we have to change our habits. Even those that are socially reinforced, even those that can be pleasant and bonding, as negative body talk so often can be.
And finally, we get to my point (which I swear, I have):
If I’m going to speak publicly about my feelings of shame, I should also choose to take the rather more revolutionary step of tooting my own horn. And thus, hereunder you will find a list of things about me in which I find pleasure, and even, occasionally, pride.
1. I have genuinely taken on-board the notion that if an article of clothing doesn’t work on my body, the problem is not my body, but the article of clothing. This seems small at first glance, but I think it’s actually kind of big. That moment, that moment when you stand in front of a mirror trying to take some piece of clothing (that you have been assured is gorgeous and all-the-rage) and make it look “right” on your own body and it’s.just.not.working — that moment is a moment of such deep intimacy with ourselves, a moment in which it is perilously easy to further swallow the lie that all bodies must look like one kind of body in order to be worthy, a moment in which it is so easy to get angry with our very flesh — it took me more than 40 years, but I have finally reached the point that when I start to hear those voices, I tell them to shut the fuck up, and I mean it. And I’m proud of myself, because it wasn’t easy.
2. I regularly contribute to the social dialogue about women’s rights, women’s bodies, and the fact that — given that we make up half the world — these are not “women’s issues” but human issues. In fact, there are days when I act like this is a job. I’m not particularly aggressive in my approach (often leading with versions of “I see why you’re saying that, but…”), but I am dogged. I write, I tweet, I confront, I question. I am part of the process by which society is undoing its assumptions about rape, women’s autonomy, our reproductive rights, and the essential human right of all people to make their own choices and live their lives precisely as who they are.
3. I am raising my children to be aware, thinking feminists. Our family talks all the time — at the dinner table, in the car, while watching TV — about how the world treats people, what society’s expectations are, and whether or not those expectations are fair or just or even reflective of the reality that we see around us — and the husband and I see the fruits of this labor all the time.
For instance #1: The girl recently complained that a very cool construction toy she’d gotten for her 8th birthday had no pictures of girls on the box, and when she found one on the instructions, she noted, with sarcasm positively dripping from her voice, that the model had built a princess crown “because all girls ever do are princess things.” For instance #2: The boy prepared this speech in honor of Martin Luther King last year for school (when he was all of 11), writing: “I have a dream that one day no one in this world will be able to push you down, regardless of any stereotypes. I have a dream that in all 50 states Muslim Boys and Muslim Girls and homosexual boys and homosexual girls and rich boys and rich girls and poor boys and poor girls and all of the boys and girls of America will join together and nothing in the world will be able to stop them.”
It matters that our girls and boys grow up to be feminist adults, but it also matters that they be feminist children. We need only look at schoolyard bullies to see the impact that children can have on people’s lives — loving, caring, egalitarian-minded children can help heal the world. And of course as their parents, it matters very deeply to us that the boy and the girl gain the tools they’ll need to shake off the world’s damaging messages. I am proud of the way that I am raising my children.
4. And finally, in the spirit of the Unroast: I love my hair. It’s long, of a vaguely once-was-blonde-now-is-brown color, streaked with bits of silver here and there and now that I’ve stopped using shampoos with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate has returned to the kind of softness and luster it had for almost all my life. It feels like a crown on my head, particularly when I wear it loose, and I love the way that makes me feel.