It's time I officially come out.. as a feminist.
If that surprises you, I'm a little disappointed. Sometimes when people hear the word feminist, they get
a little nervous; like I'm going to suddenly burn all my bras, declare hatred for all men, wear pants to church, and whatever the image they have built. Thankfully, most people are more rational than to assume that. I believe that women are so incredibly powerful. Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. It's a pity that even the word feminist is enough to put a bitter taste in the mouth of many. That is something I have always been disappointed in. Feminism should be celebrated. Feminism advocates that we ARE worthy of love, of respect, and the power to think. I believe that empowered women are vital to the health of a society. And yet as a woman, I have often felt a little powerless against the external world. For instance, I feel unequipped to even be writing this post.
I've noticed that the more empowered and ambitious I feel, the more resistance I feel from my cultural upbringings. Before I move any further, let me just repeat a mantra that my friend Monika has: “Don't tell me how to feminize!” So let me just be clear, I am not suggesting that I know the right answers, or any answers for that matter. I'm not telling you how to feminize. I'm not pretending to have a vast knowledge of past or current feminist movements. I'm simply sharing personal insights and observations that have been eating at me for some time now.
A little background first: for those new to this blog, I am a Mormon. I grew up in a family who were all members of the LDS church. If you're not familiar with the church, for the purposes of this post let me sum it up by just saying I had a very traditional upbringing. Our faith is centered on family, especially the nuclear family as the ideal. Men are encouraged to provide for their families and women taught that we have an intrinsic ability for nurturing children. My mother stayed at home to raise us four kids, while my father went to work every day. We are taught to keep our bodies pure of adverse substances (like drugs and such) and to be abstinent until marriage. We're taught our virtue is of utmost importance. As women we are taught to keep our bodies covered by dressing modestly, out of respect of our divine identity as a child of God. Modesty was also stressed as to not illicit inappropriate thoughts from men. There are a lot of things in there that I don’t 100% agree with, many of those expectations have confused the way I relate to people, or understand myself (particularly how modesty was taught). But that’s not what I want to get into right now. At this point, this is simply an overview of the first half of my paradigm.
Part two of my perspective comes from the culture of our world where we are taught that our self-worth is directly correlated with the way we look. From a young age we see images, videos, and messages which we are to interpret as standards of beauty. We are taught that every blemish or every extra pound is our fault and that it makes us less desirable. Women are over-sexualized and taught our strongest power comes from our outward appearance. We are taught that we need to compete against other women, that the attention of men is our greatest outlet for influence. When women are "empowered" in media, they are usually still empowered through their good looks, or their control over men through their ability to seduce. Popular culture perpetuates this concept that sex sells. We're taught that if we can be beautiful, we can gain the attention of men and that the attention is equivalent to success.
I know that personally this cultural norm has been the primary contributor to the amount of time I've wasted comparing myself to other women. I cannot tell you how many times I've been on facebook, or observing another girl in person and put myself down for not being able to control my diet/have better bone structure/be as charming/ or be as dateable. I honestly didn't even realize until the last few months how much effort I have put into making myself feel like total shit for not being perfect. That’s not something unique to me either, most--if not all--women feel a pressure to be perfect. Because we are but mere mortals, we inevitably fall short and are left with a gaping sense of failure and self-loathing.
So here I am, a product of two cultures. I have the culture of the world oversexualizing women, where I’m taught that if I want to be successful, I have to LOOK successful. That if I’m lucky enough to win a genetic lottery, my life will be easier. More men will be attracted to me and that is equal to success. Then I have the culture of my church telling me to proactively guard my sexuality, but to be attractive enough to find a husband. That the only safety is in the home. It's a pull between two diametrically opposed value systems. That creates some uncomfortable tension when trying to understand where I stand as a human.
It took me a while to get out of this tug-of-war; this is the first honest attempt I've really had at it. So it feels a little rocky. If you take the mindset of the world, where our looks/ability to please men are constantly forced into our brains, and combine it with this cultural pressure of those of my faith to find a spouse and start a perfect little family, being single is practically a recipe for low self-esteem. You can imagine how easy it is to fixate on what I might be doing wrong. I wasn't able to really remove myself from it until I found a passion that had nothing to do with pleasing others, but rather pursuing talents that I found pleased me. Sure, call me selfish. But I doubt you will.
Once I really dove into graphic design, I started recognizing the power I had in my brain to create. I begun to more fully appreciate my worth that extends beyond my sexual appeal, and even beyond my "virtue" (aka, a fancy word for not having sex before marriage). Most importantly I noticed that neither of these paradigms of myself as a woman pushes me to have a career. How much of a bummer is it that I feel like I'm swimming a bit against the current by wanting to pursue my talents in the workforce, at least for a time? I see in front of me so much potential--potential opportunities, growth as a designer, and potential influence for good. I see these talents and I feel God has given me them for a purpose. Above all I remember the personal revelations I have felt to pursue this path. It's silly that I want to be a woman that has power to communicate to the world through design, and yet I feel a lurking sense of guilt. As if to say, who do I think I am to deserve that kind of path? Who would bother listening to me? I shouldn't have to justify this passion I have for using my brain to find success, and yet I do - all the time.
I want to explore this passion of mine as far as I can. I also want to someday be a mother. I want to raise children the way my own mother did. I want them to feel confident, loved, empowered. At the end of the day I truly believe that family is the most important thing in the world. I also believe that the things I’m pursuing in my life will help me personally to be more prepared to take on the role of a mother. I wholeheartedly do not believe that these two things are mutually exclusive. I think too often our minds are so fixated on lust, or love, or pleasing men that we as women fail to recognize how well-equipped we are for the pursuing of higher causes. That turning our attention to those causes will inherently help us become better people.
I guess over all what I’m getting at is that my journey into feminism has been to regulate what I let influence me. I don't have all the answers, in fact I don't really have any answers. But I can tell you that once you start to recognize the amount of value we put in our collective standard of beauty you may not be able to unsee it. It’s tough, but it helps me to understand my motivation behind everything I do. I consider myself an artist. I find beauty in a lot of things. I find personal fashion to be such an incredible outlet for creativity, I worry that by including fashion on my blog I may contribute to self-loathing, competition, or giving superficial things a higher priority. I hope that I don’t. I hope you realized that in the grand scheme of things how I look really shouldn’t affect anyone’s worth, including my own.
I try to let go of any guilt I may feel for being more focused on my future career than the dates I don’t have lined up this weekend. Sure I’m not perfect at either of these. I naturally worry that maybe if I don’t compete against all the other beautiful women out there I’ll be forgotten. But you know what? I have this feeling that it’s all going to be okay. That despite the fact that I will no longer try to “play the game” if I can help it, it’s going to work out. I have an inkling that my passions, my ambitions and my incessant curiosity will end up being far more attractive than how I do my hair, or how big my boobs are. I like to think I’ll stumble upon a mate that values my ambition over my sexuality. Call me an optimist, call me a feminist. At this point, I’m both, and I’m happy.