Month: October 2012

Survival of the Most Confident

Virginia Woolf knew it. Maria from The Sound of Music knew it.

Confidence is everything.

Confidence is how one succeeds. Confidence is what fuels persistence and determination. Confidence is that little voice in your head that tells you that you are good enough, that you are worthy, that you will be safe, that you will survive.

It’s assurance, whether of the self or otherwise. It’s trust, whether of the self or otherwise. It is to a certain extent, in my humble opinion, one of the most indispensable tools for social survival.

Virgina Woolf once stated the following:

Life for both sexes- and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement- is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority– it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney-for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination- over other people. (A Room of One’s Own, bold added for emphasis)

According to Woolf, confidence was essential to succeeding in life, but this leads me to ask: What is confidence? What does confidence mean?

Does it mean expressing an inner essence through one’s demeanor? Or performing a certain set of actions? Is it intangible? Or is it physically recognizable? Is it secured through inner strength, yoga, plastic surgery, meditation, speech classes, a haircut? Is it still attainable for those who have gone through traumatic instances of rape and domestic violence? Or rather, what is its importance to young girls and women who must “shoulder their way along the pavement” in a world rife with sexism?

I suppose my inquiry is this:

In today’s pervasively sexist and uber-misogynistic environment, what is confidence to a young girl or woman? What does it mean in this context? Especially when, as both Woolf and I suggest, it is imperative to survival…

After all, young girls and women are barraged on a daily basis with sexism- in popular music, television, magazines, advertising, and elsewhere. Domestic violence, rape, and other forms of abuse are overwhelmingly directed at women at girls; and females young and old must deal with the consequences of sexism and sexual trauma (both direct and indirect, i.e. that which is socially accepted and therefore normalized) more often than not. This is demonstrated in statistics regarding rape as well as the high incidences of depression and eating disorders found among women.

According to 2008 CDC statistics, “20-25% of women in college reported experiencing an attempted or a completed rape in college.”

A 2010 New York Times article reported that, “40% of girls in first through fifth grades surveyed in 2003 reported they were trying to lose weight.”

And twice as many women than men experience depression (approximately one in four women).

Due to unrealistic and homogeneous representations of feminine beauty in films, fashion, and advertising, women and girls turn to anorexia, bulimia, and other methods to achieve the “ideal.” And who knows why rape occurs, especially with the frequency that it does. Perhaps a lack of respectful representations of females and female sexuality in the dominant media? Perhaps due to a subtle, yet powerfully pervasive misogynist ideology within our male/masculine culture? I cannot claim to know the real cause of this problem, but I do know that my first impulse for a solution would be to educate people-  about respecting one another as human beings, respecting one another as sexual actors, respecting multiple gender identities (*to assuage sexual violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people), and making sure that everyone knows no one ever “asks for it.”

With such an environment, I cannot help but think that it is probably hard for a lot of women and girls to find confidence. Actually, I know for a fact that it is.

That is not to say that every man is born with an intrinsic sense of confidence, but suffice it to say that in a world where women are constantly portrayed as inferior, as the helpmate, as the sexual object, as something to be won, taken, or possessed, it is much easier for men to be the confident ones, or at least to gain confidence, than it is for women. (Perhaps it should be here noted that men are just as much a part of this power structure as well- in that they, too, are subject to upholding notions of masculinity and a male ideal- only their role in this power structure is of a dominant nature, as opposed to the female’s “submissive object” role)

I suppose my point is really just to shine a light on how very vital confidence actually is to one’s existence. It is so easy for it to be shaken, or taken away, or for it to not even materialize in the first place- especially for young girls and women. And I only emphasize the female persuasion here because that is who I am, that has been my experience, and my perspective is “refracted through the prism” of gender (to borrow an apt phrase/concept from Maxine Baca Zinn, Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo, and Michael Messner). I cannot claim to speak for all women and girls, but I know that I speak for many of them. For me, the recognition of various forms of subjugation (via studying feminist theory) has meant freedom, the ability to see through these cultural patterns and influences and actively resist them. It has meant the ability to become self-definitional, if that is even possible. It has meant finding confidence.

Having my cake and eating it, too.

That’s right-

I’m a lipstick-loving, romantic comedy-watching, fashion forward, yet card-carrying feminist.

(But no, we don’t really have cards. It’s just an expression. Though if we did, that’d be pretty fun. I’d probably want mine to have a pinup on it. Actually, individual cards would be really fun, because then we would all end up having such wildly variegated cards, showing the very multi-dimensional and diverse nature of feminism itself! This woman, however, would not get one. But I digress…)

Who said we couldn’t have feminism and lipstick too?

Look, I know there have been centuries of social conditioning of women to look a certain way for the visual pleasure of men (i.e. women being socially constructed by, within, and for “the male gaze,” if you wanna get all sociological about it) BUT, there also happens to exist in this wonderful world the sociological concept of gender fluidity. That is to say, there is femininity, masculinity, and a number of other nameless categories in between. As a former professor of mine used to always say, “Gender is fluid,” meaning it is NOT, as many of us are used to thinking, dichotomous (i.e. masculine/feminine). It is not discrete, but is continuous. It is not black and white, but contains within its spectrum many shades of gray. (And no, I haven’t the read the book, so don’t think I’m trying to hint at it with that analogy!)

Here’s the deal: I, personally, delight in femininity. I spent years of my life being a self-loathing misogynist (can you say, “internalized oppression”?) and ironic as it may sound, it was a job in fashion many moons ago that ignited the feminist within me. Working for a certain eccentric but longtime established female designer, with her uber-flirty, fun, and feminine designs, in an atmosphere of female camaraderie I had never before in my life experienced (or thought possible) changed my life forever. Everything about this experience turned my once sexist perspective upside-down. It not only paved the way for my own self-acceptance as a woman, but allowed me to relish in my femininity if I wished to do so as well.

*Disclaimer: To be clear, this does not mean that being feminine equals being a woman, nor does it mean that being a woman means being feminine. Hell to the no. That’s called a logical fallacy, people, and there are tons of those out there, especially with regard to gender and sexuality, so beware!*

This designer’s signature use of the word “girlfriend” (know who I’m talking about yet?;) almost drilled the concept of sisterhood into my head in a way. It made me see myself and other women as, well, “girlfriends.” As in, we’re all women and we can be friends (and in fact are), so what’s with all the self-hatred, competitiveness and sexism anyway? Us women were, and are, so much more than the dresses we sold or the makeup we wore (or chose not to wear for that matter). We were an amalgamation of queer, straight, Mexican, White, Black, Native American, poor, and privileged women.

We loved fashion and makeup, quoted The Big Lebowski on a daily basis, and probably passed around about as many dick and fart jokes as any fraternity. (Not that that’s a great thing, but I’m just sayin’- it sort of undercuts traditional notions of femininity, does it not? A bunch of high-fashion wearing women belching loudly and talking about farts?) We did not fit into neat, discrete gender categories, in spite of our physical appearances (“physical appearances” meaning looking very “girly”).

I suppose what I’m getting at with all of this is, there can exist women who like lipstick and feminism (same goes for men, too!). You can simultaneously subscribe to fashion and feminist ideals. If you have a predilection for all things feminine, there is nothing wrong with that- you can still be a feminist, too. I am!

After all, wouldn’t it be antithetical to feminism to denounce as feminists all women who like expressing what we know as traditional notions of femininity? If they are down with the feminist cause, who cares about their sexuality or how they choose to portray their gender? And really, isn’t that a large part of what feminism is all about- accepting and loving ourselves as women and having the freedom of choice to be butch or femme, a feminine lesbian, or androgynous heterosexual, etc.?

I’m having my feminism and wearing lipstick, too.

the F-word

Feminism. Why is it seen as such a dirty word?

Image

It seems to me that most people simply do not know what the fundamentals of feminism are. Or, perhaps most likely, they are still operating under the extant influence of the feminist backlash of the 1980s. As a matter of fact, this more than anything else probably reveals just why feminism is greeted with sideways glances and caustic comments, whether designated with jocularity or not. Moreover, it even serves as an explanation for the overwhelming unawareness of just what feminism truly is in the first place.

The intricacies of this socio-political movement are detailed in Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash, a masterfully detailed as well as highly comprehensive analysis of the American political and cultural landscape that functioned to derogate feminism during the 1980s. I won’t bother recounting the particularities of the book here, but I assure you- the evidence is all laid out, and a critical analysis of all aspects of American life in the 1980s really does reveal how the many anxieties revolving around feminism were deployed in strategic efforts to counteract the feminist movement. The long and the short of it is that in the sixties and seventies the feminist movement broke lots of ground, opened many doors, and made many gains- in effect, helping lots of women across the U.S. secure greater economic, cultural, and political standing. When Reagan came into power engendering a largely right-wing hegemonic governmentality, the socio-political tides turned and the “backlash”, as it came to be known, ensued. Suddenly women were shown to be unhappy with their independent (and often “single and lonely”) lives, and their liberation via the feminist movement was targeted as the culprit of this unhappy demise. Feminism wasn’t helpful at all, as one’s right-wing milieu began to tell them- it was actually harmful…

And if it wasn’t this picture being promulgated by the mainstream media, (although I assure you, it most definitely was) it was that of the angry, man-hating feminist who declared all men as evil and desired a society devoid of all penises- hence, the beginning of the term “feminazi.”

Suffice it to say, I find both of these images problematic and ridiculous, not to mention sincerely hurtful and misrepresentative. The reality is, feminism did accomplish many wonderful things for women, then and now; And the truth about feminism, regardless of which form you take into consideration- indeed, there exists many forms of it- is that it overwhelmingly stands for equality and freedom of choice. That is what feminism is truly about.

Sometimes, within a certain kind of conversational context, I find myself telling someone that I am a feminist (in case they didn’t already know- not the most likely scenario, to be sure) and I am either reciprocated with a bit of a snicker or an honest inquiry as to what exactly that means. I am always tickled at the latter response.

I proceed to give them the general, sweeping phrase I have just stated above:

it means that I am in favor of equality and freedom of choice for all.

“Equality” meaning equal treatment, equal opportunities, equal social, economic and political standing, and “for all” meaning people of color, the disabled, the LGBT community, women, and men. “Freedom of choice” pertaining to job opportunities, which religion you choose, freedom of reproductive choices, your political affiliation, etc.

Obviously, this is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is it fully representative of the various feminist ideals and theories that I personally hold. Nor am I able to fully explore in detail the many benefits gleaned through feminist advancements over the past few decades in one short article. Nevertheless, I find it important to first dispel the myths and lies about feminism and affirmatively state, feminism is not, and should not be considered, a dirty word. It is with pride and certainty in my firm convictions that I say I am a feminist, and it is from this perspective that I write.

 

 

 

 

 

“Beauty School Dropout…”

Ok, so I’m not really a beauty school dropout.

Seems a little anachronistic in 2012, don’t you think?

More apropos of our time, I am a law school dropout.

And “My Feminist Briefs” is my attempt at getting back to my roots- that is to say, being the writer I have always been. Some articles will be intense, some quite personal, sometimes with a hint of silliness, but always passionate, because that’s why I write in the first place. I am passionate about this nexus in which we all live, where the social and the political converge, whether it’s work, family, national politics, or day to day life- we are all in it. I am a feminist and probably what many [anti-feminists] would construe as the “worst” kind (and I say this facetiously of course), because I am the type that sees everything as a feminist issue. The old adage “the personal is the political” has endured for a very good reason, I think: because of the truth it holds.
In the next article I will explain just what I mean when I say “feminism,” so as to clear up any misconceptions regarding this perspective so fundamental to my writing. First, however, I just wanted to start off with a more introductory piece, perhaps more than anything so that you all can grasp that I am not always as super serious and intense as I may sound in the next article- it was originally published via a former blog back in June, 2010 while I was attending UC Berkeley- and I’ve since given it an ever so minor revision.
I promise it’s good though *wink*wink* and I hope you enjoy “my feminist briefs.”