|Photo-credit goes to my lovely brother Ben, who snapped me messing around in the woods|
Being a woman comes with a world of expectations. There are things that we do, day in, day out, not because we enjoy them or even because they are necessary, but because they are expected, and much as we may deny it, we are scared of the reactions it would cause if we were to stop. It has always bothered me when women (both self-proclaimed feminists and those who are weary of the term) announce that they ‘enjoy being a woman’, when what they are really trying to say is that they enjoy using make-up, or going shopping, or waxing their genitals. As if those things are the marks of a woman, and inherently feminine, rather than cultural. There is obviously nothing wrong with enjoying any of that, and no need for anyone to defend themselves for doing so – but they are choices we make as consumers, not the signs of femininity.
The term ‘girly-girl’ is batted around a lot in life. That phrase frustrates me, because again, it implies that when we are in touch with our feminine nature, we would gravitate towards activities and interests that serve only to make us more attractive. If someone wants to call themselves a girly-girl, then that’s awesome. What I don’t like, is society using that term to describe a category of women. I love glitter and cosmetics and clothes. But I’m uneasy with the idea that those things define my essential femaleness. I would like my own physicality, thoughts, and sexuality to define my femaleness, if it must be defined. I don’t want to feel ‘pride’ for these girly things, as if they say something about me. They don’t. I wonder why they are considered girly in the first place, rather than, say…reading? Or hiking? If a woman doesn’t enjoy shopping, then I would never think she was less feminine than me. Her skeleton is just as female as mine. But the world would have us believe that femininity does not go that deep, but is something we have to buy for ourselves. A commodity. They show us ways we can ‘get back in touch’ with this femininity, as if it is something we have lost. All they are really offering is body lotion, or cheap jeans.
It takes so much work just to live up to the standardised image of a female – let alone a beautiful female. Because of this, so many of the young women I know say that they simply ‘do not feel like a woman’, and that it makes them deeply miserable. I, personally, do feel feminine now. I haven’t always, which is absurd when you think about it. That is not to say I feel beautiful, or smart, or talented, most of the time. But when I get horrible mood swings, or bad skin, or gain weight, it all takes place within a feminine body. Those things might make me unpleasant to be around, but they don’t make me any less of a woman. The standards we have set ourselves, with regards to our own bodies and gender, are twisted. Some people would say they are too high - that they are unrealistic. But that implies that those standards are still aspirational, only not, sadly *cough* within reach of us mere mortals. What I would choose to call them, is twisted. I don’t want to resemble most of the images I see in the media, because I know what it takes to do so. I’ve been sample-size, and it was wretched. I don’t want a body that can’t keep itself warm, or that won’t even let me sleep on my front, because my hipbones stick out so far it feels like they could tear through my skin. And yet if we say that out loud, we are hardly ever believed. We are told that deep down, we must be jealous or insecure, and that is why we complain when every model in a magazine is the same size, or when a female actor is contracted to do a nude scene, even though it has nothing to do with the plot, and her male co-stars can keep their pants on. But don’t worry, they say, all you have to do is buy this new thing, and then you can look like her too, and then you won’t mind so much.
Nothing external can ever make us feel like a real woman, if we don’t feel that way already. No lover can make us feel that way, and neither can our make-up, or what we wear. Fashion can do a lot of amazing things - it is a true art form. But we give it too much power when we judge ourselves by our involvement with it. Our femininity is our gift to the world, not its gift to us. It would be easier, it’s true, if we could simply spend money, and buy our true selves. But we can’t. And that is a very hard thing to accept, because, let’s face it, we’re all lazy. I know I haven’t accepted it as deeply as I want to yet. But I am starting to observe myself, and what it is that really makes me want a certain dress or pair of shoes. Because sometimes, I know I’m being sold a concept, an idea of what it means to be a beautiful woman, that will always be just out of reach.