Until last winter, I could see no relationship between the struggles talked of by feminists and my own life. No man has ever stopped me doing what I wanted and I couldn’t see western societies’ stereotyping gender roles hindering me. First I read “Lies, Secrets and Silence” by Adrienne Rich [see book review]. This collection of essays, although written in the 1970s mostly, gave me a perspective on life I had never had before. I now consider myself a feminist and I am not afraid to use that label even though I am hesitant to use any label for myself, in fear of misrepresentation by the group.
Appearances and attraction have always interested me scientifically and socially. The accepted attitude is that vanity and superficiality should be hidden and denied. However, women in particular are targeted by marketing companies to be conscious of their appearances and of the image desired by men, who are assumed to be an essential requirement of a happy life. Rarely is a life without reliance on a man portrayed as a positive choice for a woman. Men are trained along the way to desire a woman of that certain ‘perfect’ image, and the appearance of femininity and womanlyness is distorted from nature by society, not men. For this reason, it should be society in general that is attacked by feminism, not men in general. It is however men, not women, who control society. Masculinity is damaged by the distortion of gender roles also, and I consider this issue to be an important part of feminism. For example, women naturally have hair on their legs and armpits, yet are expected in most western cultures to remove this in order to appear more ‘feminine’. Women naturally have a layer of fat on their tummies, to protect the developing foetus, yet are expected to diet to lose it, but not so much that they lose their breasts. An woman is only seen as a success on attaining a husband and attractiveness as denoted by society is the only way to get one. Men are expected to behave in a certain manner, less sensitive and emotional etc., but I believe their appearance is less under scrutiny and control. An ugly man may have a life accepted as successful with or without a partner as his career is seen as his priority, even today. His paternal needs are talked of rarely and longing for a partner considered a weakness and a threat to his masculinity.
In this way, I see intelligent, beautiful women around me constrantly dissatisfied with themselves and their lives as they strive to attain that which society has told them will make them successful. Although not so many admit it, most women feel uncomfortable without a boyfriend as a symbol of their success. Most women want to change their bodies to become something that nature did not intend. To have a successful life and be happy should not revolve around attaining these superficialities. It should not be fashionable to put yourself down. It is an uncomfortable fact that girls and women of all ages, when gathered together, seem to often resort to describing their physical dissatisfactions in turn, like a competition to put yourself down. Any acceptance or even pride in self appearance is seen as terrible vanity and not self confidance. If a person accepts their self and their appearance as one and the same, it is demeaning to brainwash yourself into hating your appearance and in turn hating your self. Feminism has awakened a self pride in myself which inspires me to encourage every woman to love herself (if there are things you don’t like about yourself, change them, if you can’t change them, accept them) and her body. If a woman has an unconventional look, she should not worry about not finding her man (or woman). This is a small detail in the scale of things in life. It doesn’t stop her having fun, being creative, doing whatever she wants to do with her life. If that happens to involve a partner then rest assured that if she’s happy with herself, that will shine through and others will see that beauty. It is true that many will be blinded by society and she will have less choice of partners than a traditionally attractive woman, but who would want to be with such shallow men anyway? Only a person who can see beauty in many forms is worth loving. One role of feminism is about revealing the beauty of all kinds of women to everyone.