Love(r)

Exploring Love, Sex & Intimacy

Tag: feminism

How Vampires Represent the Modern Ideal

*EDITORIAL NOTE*

I originally wrote this with the intention of publishing it right before Halloween, because y’know, vampires. But due to hectic setbacks I was not able to finish it in time. Then in November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge, which consumed all my writing time and energy. On the bright side, I did win the challenge!

So here we are, it’s the beginning of December and I just decided eff it, better late than never. So without further ado, enjoy your modern social critique sprinkled with vampires.


 

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It’s almost Halloween (*haha just kidding) so I thought it would be appropriate and fun to talk about vampires! Vampires have been part of our collective mythos for a long, long time, but their image and what precisely they symbolize has evolved. Vampires have had a resurgence of popularity in the last decade or so and have taken on a different, sexier form.

Originally vampires were supposed to be terrifying. Stories of Vlad the Impaler (aka Count Dracula), Nosferatu and the rest of the old school vampires were meant to scare and scandalize people. Vampires were the embodiment of our repressed urges and tapped into human fears surrounding death, violence, cannibalism, blood and the dread that animalistic desires lurk inside all of us.

Eventually our culture embraced the latent violent/erotic connotations vampires had and exploited it, especially for TV and movies. This is when we started to see vampires who were sort of terrifying and a little sexy, like Christopher Lee in the Hammer produced Dracula films, or Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins on the Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. Nowadays vampires are mostly sexy and a little bit terrifying (except for Twilight – there is nothing terrifying about the vampires in Twilight except for the messages they are sending to impressionable adolescents).

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The current popularity of vampires obviously says a lot about our erotic or violent imaginations and general wish fulfillment in the form of immortality and power. However, I believe their popularity also has a lot to do with the way they exemplify some of the ideals our 21st century culture obsesses over. I would go as far to say that if a person was capable of fulfilling all our contemporary aspirations towards youth, beauty, perfection, etc, which is impossible, the result would essentially render that person into a vampire.

What sort of ideals am I talking about? Well, our modern western culture has a lot of obsessions, beliefs it emphasizes and qualities it pushes us all to strive for. Some of these ideals are pretty ridiculous, others unattainable, while still others are straight up harmful and frightening when deconstructed. 

Let’s break this spooky shit down.

Vampires are forever young (and conventionally attractive)…

Our culture is extremely preoccupied with physical beauty and puts a great deal of value into being young and attractive while prescribing a beauty ideal that is very restrictive. We are even lead to believe that youth and beauty will empower us and make us happy, but that is a misleading oversimplification of reality.

Vampires fulfill this ideal perfectly: they are immortal, in most cases forever youthful, almost always conventionally attractive and these superficial characteristics do indeed bestow them with power. As far as 21st century vampires go I have rarely seen an ugly one, or even an average looking one. Every vampire in Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries, Interview with a Vampire, and so on is practically flawless. Why do we rarely ever see a vampire who is old or doesn’t conform to our culture’s beauty standard? Because most people would find that unappealing and it would defeat the point. People love modern vampires, because they play into our fantasies of being young and beautiful forever. Almost as if to say, immortality wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t get to look like a thin, 22-year-old, airbrushed supermodel for all eternity. 

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Vampires never eat…

Well, at least they never eat regular human food. They might be blood-thirsty, but vampires don’t have to worry about their diet. They are the flawless undead and no amount of blood is going to make them gain weight. Not surprising that in a culture ripe with eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food, beautiful creatures that get to opt out of eating food entirely are so popular. I had not given this aspect of vampires very much thought until a friend of mine pointed out how many times in the book Twilight the main character, Bella, talks about not eating, or how much she admires the vampires for not eating. 

“The anorexic’s fantasies of bodily absence [in] her pursuit of extreme thinness might be seen to express the desire for ‘the impossible fiction of the non-body’ (ibid.). Here ‘…the ideal is not merely a thin body…not just a reduction but an eradication of the body’.” – Sally Miller, Vampires, the Body and Eating Disorders: A Psychoanalytic Approach

Vampires are always rich…

At least the ones we like and care about. Every popular vampire protagonist comes from a wealthy family, or is inexplicably rich. They all have luxurious lifestyles, in fancy houses, with fashionable wardrobes and tons of them own night clubs. For some reason being noble, aristocratic, or well-to-do seem to be prerequisites for becoming the undead. The point is, we like our vampire the way we like our reality TV stars, living lavishly.

Vampires are very, very white…

They are almost always white, and their paleness or “whiteness” is often fixated on as a beautiful, admirable or desirable quality. Needless to say it is extremely problematic that most depictions of vampires are white and they are praised for their whiteness. It’s creepy and racist with colonial undertones. 

“[The Twilight] saga upholds dominant ideas about race that associate whiteness with civility, beauty, and intellect on the one hand, and indigenous people with animality and primitivism on the other.” – Natalie Wilson, Got Vampire Privilege?: The Whiteness of Twilight

Vampires are sex-negative…

Being sex-positive means you think sex and the desire for it is healthy and that pleasure is nothing to be ashamed of. If we look at the blood-thirst vampires experience as analogous to sexual desire (a comparison many stories make), then we see how vampires exemplify our own culture’s dysfunctional relationship with sex. A vampire’s thirst for blood is often shown as conflicted and fraught with only two possible outcomes – evil vampires who embrace their desire and become monstrous, or reluctant vampires who struggle and feel ashamed of their nature. So whether you’re a horny human or a thirsty vampire, the message is you’re doomed to either be a tortured soul or a monster! 

Vampires also represent a sexual desire that is predatory and thrilling. Most sex researches recognize that rape fantasies often come from a conflict between desire and shame, that they are about giving into forbidden, sexual desire that a person believes they are not supposed to have. Vampire stories play out like elaborate rape fantasies where they seduce, “glamour”, or mind control their victims into passionate, hedonistic, blood rituals. A vampire is the perfect solution for a person who wants sex, but who feels they are not supposed to want sex. Vampires represent the part of ourselves that wants to control our “shameful” urges, but simultaneously wants to give into them. I believe that this facet of vampire fascination is another subtle expression of the rape culture we live in and need to learn to recognize, process and protest in a conscious way. 

In conclusion…

So let’s review, our modern society idealizes being young, beautiful, not needing to eat (or at least not needing to worrying about your diet and resulting body weight), being rich, being white and having a conflicted, fraught, shameful relationship to your own erotic desires. Sounds like a vampire to me. The problem though, is that we are not undead, immortal creatures of the night, we are humans who have complex, legitimate needs and who come in a myriad of colors, shapes, ages, socio-economic classes, sizes and appearances.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the appeal. I know I found the concept of vampires very alluring when I was an angsty, teenage girl myself. There is nothing inherently wrong with fantasizing about vampires or enjoying the books, movies, television, etc made about them. I do however, see something very wrong with aspiring to be like a vampire, or exploiting people’s insecurities in order to reinforce unhealthy ideals we have in our culture. The popularity of vampires is a reflection of dysfunctional parts of our culture that we simultaneously fear and desire – parts that we need to shed some light on and examine.

In the end I don’t think vampires are creepy, but the unattainable ideals our culture beats us with everyday as well as the messages we internalize about what we need to be happy are scary as hell.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Gender: We Made the Whole Thing Up

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Today I want to share a fun follow up to the three-part series I wrote on sexism (1, 2 & 3) and how it makes healthy intimacy in relationships nearly impossible. Those posts were so heavy and necessary, but today I want to make things a little more lighthearted, because liberation can be fun! No, really, I promise.

First of all, how much thought have you given to your own gender expression? Your clothing, appearance, mannerisms, way of speaking, pastimes and so on. The accumulation of these choices may seem to you to be natural, fundamental, perhaps even immutable. Maybe it’s something you’ve never given much thought, because you’ve never questioned your expression, how it was presented to you, how it was enforced in your life or your own predilection for fulfilling certain gender stereotypes. If you’re comfortable with your gender (dare I say euphoric?) good for you! But I am going to invite you to give it some thought right now. You see the funny thing about gender expression is that while it is important and constantly present in our daily lives, it is totally arbitrary!

“We are born male or female, but not masculine or feminine. Femininity [and masculinity] is an artifice, an achievement, ‘a mode of enacting and reenacting received gender norms, which surface as so many styles of the flesh.” – Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression

Hopefully by the time you are done reading this it will become clear that you don’t need to have gender dysphoria, nor be a furious feminist, to appreciate that gender is a construct we as a society have all agreed to utilize. It’s akin to the way we as a society have agreed that colorful paper, metal coins or digital numbers in a bank account are called “money” and allow you to buy goods and services. Our economy can only be based on such imaginary value if we all agree to believe it does, or are forced to conform. No respectable establishment is going to sell you a milkshake without money. Get out of here with your homemade dollars or mountains of salt! Similarly, we have what you could call a “gender economy” that assigns social capital to certain behaviors or forms of expression when enacted by the correct type of person. Thereby, if you have a vagina and you identify as female and adhere to a very feminine gender expression, you get lots of imaginary gender-dollars (yay!), but if you don’t conform you don’t get any gender-dollars (boo!).

Really what I am trying to say is gender and money are actually a lot like Tinkerbell, they only exist because we believe they do. And some people get really upset and start clapping like maniacs when you suggest you don’t believe in them.

There are certain things in life that don’t require our participation or belief to exist: gravity will still work, biology will keep functioning and general “truths” about humans do exist. However, many parts of life are far more subjective and variable than we tend to acknowledge. Even biological sex is not as objective and clearly defined as we once assumed. So sure, if we all decided to stop believing in the existence of germs, microorganisms would go on killing us, but if we all decided to stop believing in gender life would go oooooon! Mark my words, throwing out the gender binary and strict gender roles would not cause the end of civilization – it might just make it a lot more fun.

Gender expression is about as arbitrary as fashion because, like the type of clothes we agree are cool, it’s a cultural construction. And similar to fashion, everything from gender roles/expectations, what has been coded as “feminine” or “masculine”, or what is seen as socially acceptable has varied widely throughout cultures, throughout the world, throughout time.

Eddie Izzard rocking all sorts of gender presentations. Credit due to my awesome friend Anne Bean!

To drive home this point, here are some examples of various differences in gender expression throughout history:

  • In Western society we have a stereotype that the color pink is for girls and blue is for boys. This has become so pervasive that pink is seen as the default “girly-est” color. There are more pink products marketed towards women than you can shake a stick at. But why? Not only are these color-to-gender associations arbitrary, it was not that long ago that they were completely flipped. Pink was seen as a more appropriate color for boys and blue for girls. So please, wear whatever colors you like and for goodness sake stop making all products for ladies pink. There is no good reason we need to start enforcing gender stereotypes on humans when they are still babies… or really ever.

“According to child development experts, children are just becoming conscious of their gender between ages 3 and 4, and they do not realize it’s permanent until age 6 or 7. At the same time, however, they are the subjects of sophisticated and pervasive advertising that tends to reinforce social conventions.” Jeanne Maglaty, Smithsonian.com

  • Speaking of fashion and how greatly it can fluctuate… It is common and acceptable today to have your children wear “gender neutral” clothing when they are playing and generally being kids. However, the “gender neutral” clothing that are deemed acceptable are things like pants, t-shirts, rompers, etc. But it used to be very different. It used to be that all children regardless of their assigned sex or gender identity were dressed up in, well, dresses. Because they were easier to clean and allowed more freedom of movement. So what children used to wear wouldn’t be considered gender neutral now, it would be seen as feminine, and what we put our kids in now would have been seen as masculine and inconvenient back in the day.
  • Continuing on with fashion… High heels started out as a men’s fashion, then became acceptable for all genders, and eventually became the female only shoe it is seen as today. The funniest part about the whole thing is women started wearing high-heels in the first place as “an effort to masculinise their outfits”.
  • Knitting used to be considered a very “manly” craft.
  • Cheerleading was originally an all male sport.
  • In the earlier part of the 20th century women who were athletic “tomboys” were stigmatized as examples of “disreputable heterosexually deviant womanhood” (i.e. straight sluts) until eventually society flipped this on its head and decided they must be lesbians instead. Switching the stereotype from penis-lovers to penis-haters in a mind-mindbogglingly short and misogynistic amount of time. This is also a great example of how people often confuse gender expression for sexual orientation, or think they are inexorably linked when they are not.
  • Beer brewing used to be a female dominated industry until about the time of the industrial revolution
  • Crying used to be perceived not as a “soft”, “emotional” and “feminine” sign of weakness, but actually as a “masculine” demonstration of strength. Or once upon a time people understood and accepted that there were different kinds of crying in different contexts. The bottom line is the idea that “boys don’t cry” is a very recent invention. For most of history masculinity allowed for, or even encouraged, crying.

The examples go on and go, but I choose a few I found to be interesting and salient.

So how does this affect intimacy? Well, self-acceptance and self-esteem are a huge part of healthy intimacy. Be who you want to be, wear what you want to wear, participate in the activities you feel passionate about, express yourself as you want. Whenever someone tells you what you’re doing is feminine or masculine, as yourself, does that make sense?  Are they conflating biology with gender? Why do they even care what you wear? Are they trying to force you into a box that makes them comfortable at the expense of your own comfort? What does it matter anyways what a person’s genitals might be and what hobbies they want to participate in? A person can have ovaries and want to brew beer. You can have testes and enjoy wearing eyeliner and nail polish. Not everything marketed towards women needs to be fucking Pepto Bismol pink. Not every man needs to smell like Old Spice. WHY DOES CLOTHING MADE FOR FEMALE BODIES NEVER HAVE POCKETS?!? I swear it is a conspiracy. Saying that pink is a girls’ color, that videogames are a boys’ activity, that men are rational and women are nurturing perpetuates stereotypes that simply are not true.

People who want to control you and your gender make me so mad. Seriously, fuck them, and not in the fun way. What society really needs is breathing room for everyone. The more you are comfortable with yourself, the clearer you are on what you want and why you want it, the more liberated you will feel and the more you will love yourself. These are all parts of being intimate with the most important companion you will ever have in your lifetime – yourself! And the better intimacy you have with yourself, the better you will be at developing it with others.

“The identity of men and women is developed by embracing the important human qualities that all people need to live well. There is more to the human identity of real men and women in being disciplined, just, wise and dedicated to our self improvement than the social dictates of fashion or socially defined gender based roles can ever give us through the incoherent fiction of gender identity.” – Max Maxwell, A Socratic Perspective on Gender Identity

Invest your time and energy into being a happy, healthy person rather than a socially acceptable womanly-woman or manly-man. Because while the former is actually attainable and will improve the quality of your life, the latter is an incoherent, social fantasy we all made up and will constantly reinvent.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Sexism Hurts Men Too

This is the third and final part of a series on misogyny and sexism. Part one discussed how our society devalues and conspires against the feminine, with disastrous results. Part two discussed the often subtle problem of internalized misogyny and the widespread damage it causes. Today I want to tackle how sexism, a systematic inequality of genders and misogyny really do hurt men/male people. SO THIS ONE GOES OUT TO ALL THE DUDES, because this might surprise some of you, but sexism hurts you too.

If you felt at all left out while you were reading parts 1&2 and want to be included, first off thank you for taking an interest in the plight of the females of your species by reading this far, and second congratulations! Male people have their share of sexist suffering too! Enough suffering in fact, for me to write an entire post about it. And for the record, I’m being completely serious here. You will find little to no sarcasm or condescension in this piece (please call me out on it if you do). Everything I write today comes from a place of genuine compassion. My hope is by the end of reading today’s post, you’ll have a little more compassion for the experience of female people, male people and especially for yourself as a person coping with the patriarchy. 

“While patriarchy endures, [men] will never be free to express who they are, or treat women as they should be treated.” –Margaret Corvid

The patriarchy hurts men too, because it prescribes a limited and oppressive view of masculinity, what a man is supposed to be, how he is supposed to act and what he is supposed to want. I have known men who fit all the common stereotypes we hear about: men who feel ashamed to cry no matter the circumstance, men who don’t know how to articulate and process their emotions very well, men who simultaneously crave and fear intimacy, men who are afraid to show weakness or vulnerability and men who feel limited or trapped by the expectations of their prescribed gender role.

So what does it mean to be a man in a society that devalues and on occasion outright despises the feminine? It means men have to strive to be hyper-masculine and not perceived as feminine at all. They are forced to police themselves and others, staying vigilant to tirelessly guard and maintain their masculinity, a feat they will never pull off flawlessly. In fact, one of the worst things you can do to a man in our society is emasculate him, in other words, take his masculinity away from him. This is why calling a man a “girl”, “bitch” or a “pussy” is even considered insulting. It is also why men fear being laughed at by women, while women are afraid of being killed by men.

Apparently, despite the stereotype of masculine strength, masculinity is actually quite fragile and vulnerable – it is a noble and powerful thing you must fight to earn and fight to keep. Just as every woman I know has been dismissed as “too emotional” at some point in her life, every man I’ve asked has shared that he’s been told to “man up” if he was perceived as being too emotional, i.e. feminine, i.e. weak, i.e. bad. All of this sounds exhausting, oppressive and a potential source of tremendous amounts of anxiety.

But how can men even process or discuss this anxiety, when they are restricted to a very narrow range of acceptable emotional expression in our society? The sad truth is for the most part they don’t. It is terrible and damaging that men aren’t allowed emotional space and expression. Men have feels too! They are human dammit! They deserve to have their feelings validated and acknowledged, just like every person does, and for it to be safe to express and process them.

Another sad thing the patriarchy and hypermasculinity does is tell men they aren’t allowed physical intimacy and closeness. But again, men are human beings, so most of them do in fact need affection, and that need does not make them in any way weak. Men are told they can’t touch or be affectionate with each other or else they might be labeled as homosexual, which points to other related problems in our culture: homophobia and the sexualization of all touch. Furthermore, men are told they need to be dominant/aggressive in their sexual conquests of women, so physical intimacy and affection is hard to come by even from female partners. I have personally seen men feel anxious or even panic when allowed to be vulnerable – I have been the big spoon and witnessed a mix of relief and confusion. I believe that all male people would benefit from a normalization of platonic, consensual touch without having to fear that it will be sexualized or call into question their masculinity and/or sexual orientation. 

The list goes on and on with things the patriarchy discourages men from doing, less they be emasculated: Men aren’t allowed to cry; Men are expected to carry huge emotional burdens and do so stoically; Men are shamed for asking for help or seeking support if they are victimized or abused. These beliefs about what true masculinity is go so far that they perpetuate the idea that real men can’t be the victim of harassment, stalking, domestic abuse, rape, etc. But these terrible things do in fact happen to male people, they’re just more likely to “man up” and not talk about it, or seek help, and when they do they are not often taken seriously. 

If femininity was valued as much as masculinity in our society, if people were allowed to be people and not restricted gender roles, then the lives of everyone would be happier and healthier. There are lots of specific perks to having equality for people regardless of sex or gender.

When you are taught to dehumanize women through objectification or idolization (putting them on a pedestal) it is nearly impossible to have healthy intimacy with them. It is the classic “Madonna-whore complex“, where women are either elevated into pure, innocent beings deemed worthy of love or the role of caregiver (wives, mothers, saints, etc) or they are debased objects to be used for sexual gratification. The thing is women can be all of those things, and are certainly so much more.  

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And dudes, I’ve heard some of you like sex (it’s totally cool if you don’t though – shout out to all the asexuals out there!). However, the idea that men always want sex, that it’s all they think about and that they should always be the dominant/aggressive one in a sexual encounter is so restrictive. It also sets us up to believe that men are not in control of their sexuality, or accountable for the actions they take. It fuels the entitlement men feel towards sex and the fear women fear towards male sexuality. The truth is men have a wide range of sexual expression and desires. I have a tip for you though, if you do like having sex with women, more women would be interested if they felt a) safe b) respected and c) that their pleasure mattered in the encounter. Studies have shown that women aren’t actually any less interested in casual sex than their male counterparts, despite the longstanding cultural stereotypes. Women are just as likely to engage in casual sex provided they feel they are not going to be slut shamed about the encounter and that their partner is going to try to make it a pleasurable experience for them. 

Take it from me, if you let a sexually adventurous woman feel safe and respected, give her equal power to stay or leave as you do, then if she wants she will bend over backwards to please the both of you. I have personally know men who are respectful, considerate, mindful of the needs of the women in their lives, without sacrificing an ounce of their masculinity. It is very inspiring and attractive. These men tend to get what they want, because they are willing to listen, to communicate and to give as much as they take.

Most all of us have a need for sex, companionship and intimacy, but none of us are entitled to them. This is a priveldge we all are capable of earning, not a right we are born with. Because we are each autonomous beings with agency, no one owes you anything, and intimacy is not something you can coerce or force. You can invite it and encourage it… and that is about all. Thus sexism, misogyny, objectification and idolization will all interfere with, if not totally prevent, our ability to have healthy intimacy with each other.

“It is feminism that offers men the chance at a sexually fulfilling life. When rape culture is extinguished, when patriarchy subsides, all genders can realise their full sexual expression in safety. Even now, what feminism asks of men – that they be conscious of their privilege and respect the agency of women – can lead them to truly satisfying intimate relationships […] feminist values can teach them the skills to communicate with respect.”-Margaret Corvid

Imagine what it could be like if we did not live in a patriarchy that values hyper-masculinity and devalues femininity. Imagine if you felt safe to identify, experience and express your emotions whatever they might be. Imagine you did not have to repress or censor any part of your self expression. Imagine you were allowed to receive safe, consensual physical affection from not only your significant other, but your female and male friends too. Imagine you did not always have to project strength or deal with issues in an aggressive manner. Imagine you were not assumed to be a mindless slave to your libido, or assumed that you do not have control over your sexual desire, or assumed to be a potential rapist. Imagine women by default felt safe to communicate with you, be themselves around you, and express any interest they might have in you without fear. Imagine you did not have to worry about being masculine enough, or too feminine. Imagine if you were acceptable, lovable and totally awesome just as you are!

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Lovingly yours,

Clara


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Internalized Misogyny

Art Credit: Jemimah Vaughan

Art Credit: Jemimah Vaughan

This is the second part of what I intend to be a three part series discussing sexism and/or misogyny and how they affect our relationships. You can read the first part, “How Society Conspires Against the Feminine” here. Today I want to explore the insidious and cognitively dissonant problem of internalized misogyny, or in other words, when female people learn to hate femininity.

For some of you out there, the concept of internalized misogyny makes no sense. How could it be possible for a person to hate their own gender? But the sad truth is, it’s very common. I used to be a mild misogynist myself, without really being aware of the harm I was doing and the sexism I was unwittingly perpetuating. I know many other female people with similar experiences, and those who struggle with it still. Really this is just a case of the sexist messages of our culture being so successful that even the victims of these messages buy into the hate and go on to perpetuate it. It is the same as a gay person believing all the homophobic bullshit they’ve heard all their life and becoming spiteful and closeted. Or an African American internalizing racist messages from our society, learning to resent their own race or culture. 

If you’re still not sure what I’m talking about, start by asking yourself, how many times have you heard a woman say the following, or as a woman said these things yourself? 

  • I’m not like other girls
  • I’m one of the good ones/fun ones/cool ones
  • I don’t have many female friends, mostly male friends
  • Girls are catty and petty and cause so much drama
  • Women are boring and dumb
  • I’m just one of the guys
  • Other girls pick on me/tease me

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Why do we say this shit? Why do we throw other women under the proverbial bus and try so hard to differentiate ourselves as somehow “better” than the rest? It’s because when girls say this stuff they are striving to be the “Exceptional Girl”. She’s cool, she’s not catty, she’s “one of the guys”, she’s EXCEPTIONAL GIRL! A superhuman with all the sex appeal of a female and none of the drama and negativity our society dumps on femininity. She is a very common pop-culture trope, often used to reinforce patriarchal ideals. The reality though is that insulting and judging other females as you try to scramble your way to the top will only hurt you in the end. By fighting to be the Exceptional Girl you endorse sexist ideas about women and you reveal your own self-loathing. Because how do you really expect to feel happy and whole if deep down you hate what you are?

Unfortunately these sorts of ideas get reinforced all the time. If I had a dollar for every dude who ever told me “you’re not like other girls, you’re fun/cool/[insert positive attribute]” who meant it as a compliment (and trust me I took those words to heart as compliments) I would have way too many dollars that I would not be proud of now. I look back at my younger, more naive self and wonder, why was I so eager for male approval, especially at the malign of my fellow females? The answer is because all women in our society are conditioned to seek out male validation and to regard other females as competition.  

So obviously when this game has been set up to be every woman for herself, female people start to believe they can’t trust each other. Last time I discussed the sad reality that females are taught to believe their value is something they have to earn from males. If your value comes from men desiring you then why would you fraternize with the enemy (aka other females)? You’re also likely to do and say whatever is necessary to make your competition seem less desirable, in order to succeed in this stupid, zero-sum game where women are pitted against each other. Furthermore, asserting power over another human is much easier if that human is insecure and lacking in strong emotional bonds with other people. Thus the strategy is to undermine female people’s trust in themselves and each other – divide and conquer. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who want to keep women divided so that they are easier to conquer and control. 

Yes, some women are petty, catty, etc, but so are some men, so are some human beings of any kind! We need to learn to appreciate that female people are people first and female second. Every woman out there has as much potential for greatness, villainy and everything in between as her male peers do. Ideally, she will be judged on her actions and character rather than just her sex and/or gender.  

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Part of the reason internalized misogyny persists is because it does have certain appeal and incentives in our patriarchal society. Some of the appeal of being the only female (who has been deemed exceptional, or at least tolerable) in a male social group comes from a boost to the ego that it gives, while some of it comes from laziness. When trying to make friends with people where physical attraction is not the default current pulling you together you have to make more of an effort to be a decent and interesting human being. Thus the reverse, being friends with people who are sexually attracted to you, is easier – you just don’t have to try as hard. 

There is also a more insidious dynamic at play. Due to the widespread objectification of the female form, women learn to objectify other women just as much as men do. So much so in fact that both men and women’s brains perceive “men as people and women as body parts“. This disturbing quirk causes women to draw comparisons and size each other up in our daily lives to the point where it’s almost impossible to turn this process off. It’s unconscious and instantaneous. Most women walk into a room and instantly rank themselves and the other women present according to this unspoken hierarchy of attractiveness, which only intensifies insecurities and the hunger for outside validation. It can feel tremendously fulfilling to earn the friendship and approval of men you’ve been taught to defer to, who have the power to validate you and make you feel special. While on the other hand, it can feel challenging to be friends with the women you’ve been taught to objectify, compete against, and who are a constant potential trigger for your own insecurities.

“Women to varying degrees internalize this outsider view and begin to self-objectify by treating themselves as an object to be looked at and evaluated on the basis of appearance. Self-objectification manifests in a greater emphasis placed on one’s appearance attributes (rather than competence-based attributes) and in how frequently a woman watches her appearance and experiences her body according to how it looks (McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998). Objectification theory also posits a mediation model that may explain how self-objectification leads to women’s mental health risks via negative psychological outcomes.” – Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research, Szymanski et al, 2011

So by now I hope it is clear that not only does internalized misogyny exist, it is pervasive and damaging to the intimacy a female person has with herself, as well as her ability to have healthy intimacy with other people (male or female). As I have written previously, it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to truly have healthy intimacy with someone you have been taught to dehumanize into a sexual object. And as the research shows, not only are men doing this to women, but women are devaluing and dehumanizing themselves. If we are going to love ourselves, love others, be satisfied with our lives, get in touch with what we truly want and then fight for it, this sort of systemic and toxic loathing of femininity needs to stop.

So what can we do to alleviate our own internalized misogyny and possibly prevent it from developing in the first place?

First you can start by recognizing that women don’t have to be your greatest enemies, they can be your greatest allies. Because what are you really competing for anyways? The attention and validation of men? Girl, take it from me, it’s okay to want it, but by no means do you need it. It’s grossly overvalued and not actually going to make you happy or satisfied with yourself. Because true satisfaction is not something other people can give you. It’s something you build for yourself. When you build a relationship with yourself that contains true love and intimacy, you won’t need other people to define and reassure your value. A million men can tell a woman she is gorgeous, but that by itself isn’t going to make her feel any less insecure. And knocking down other women through teasing, criticizing, bullying, slut-shaming, gender-policing, and generally not supporting each other will only hurt you in the end. Hating other women leads to hating yourself, or vice versa, having the feminine things about yourself be ridiculed or scrutinized leads to resenting other women.

Internalized misogyny is a damaging cycle we definitely need to break. And we break it through loving ourselves (including our femininity), appreciating the femininity in others (including men), and by striving to see female people as PEOPLE. 

Tune in next time on Love(r), as I continue to explore the topic of sexism by discussing how sexism hurts menfolk too.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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How Society Conspires Against the Feminine

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Being feminine in our culture, whether you are a cis-woman, a trans-woman, or an effeminate male-bodied person, can be difficult or even degraded. I am not saying women have the sole share, or even the biggest share, of injustice in modern society. Race and socioeconomic class play a significant part in whether you are privileged or screwed when it comes to the way society treats you and its concept of your value. Add intersectionality to the mix, as I have been educating myself on, and women of color get to experience the double-whammy of sexism and racism.

But sex and gender play a big role in the advantages a person has. Being female or feminine is often seen as a disadvantage and makes you a minority in many spheres of our society. How is it possible that female persons are a minority in so many places (among corporate executives, in the boardroom, on the senate floor, in positions of power in the media, in STEM fields, etc) when on average 51% of the world’s population is female? It is the same reason that such a relatively small percent of the US population controls the majority of its wealth. The answer is power imbalance and systems that benefit from perpetuating that power imbalance. 

Society overall does not regard femininity as valuable and I would argue conspires against it in all sorts of ways. As a result, women do not hold as much power in their own lives as they potentially could, and arguably what is more important, they themselves do not feel empowered. This extends beyond persons who were born as women (two X chromosomes), and affects any person perceived as feminine. This is why it is more acceptable in our society to be a tomboy than a… do we even have a term in English for male-bodied people who prefer to dress/act femininely that isn’t offensive and hurtful? I can only think of insulting ones, which goes to show that we value masculinity so much that we respect women who pursue the masculine ideal, while we belittle men who pursue the feminine ideal.

As women we are sent many damaging and disenfranchising messages. Today I am going to talk about just a few of the major ones. 

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Constantly, in subtle and not so subtle ways, women are told that our value is in our bodies – our bodies are the best and worst thing about us, and most damaging of all, that in the end they don’t really belong to us.

There is a hyper-focus in our society on female bodies and appearance at the neglect of other traits. It is first and foremost about beauty and sex appeal. Through the objectification and commodification of the female form, bodies are not seen as whole human beings, but a collection of potentially pleasing/repulsive body parts used to sell products, please men, or keep women striving for unattainable perfection. We are taught that this is our currency in society, that our value is derived from being beautiful, being sexy, or generally being pleasant for public (usually male) consumption. 

Women are trained to be very aware and critical of these things. We are taught to police the appearance and behavior of ourselves and each other. Some of the worst body-shaming I have ever experienced or heard about came from other women.

Worst of all, as society often demonstrates, our bodies seemingly do not even belong to us: they are subject to scrutiny from strangers, harassment in public places, judgement from society, and legally we don’t even get to decide what we do with them in certain very important ways (reproductive rights, etc). I would even go a step further to say that the obsession with what a woman can and can’t do with her body, whether it is slut-shaming her for being a sexual agent rather than sexual object, or caring more about protecting the life of a fetus than a mother, it all comes back around to the idea that a woman’s value, her currency, is in her body (sex, pregnancy, motherhood, beauty, and so on).

Recent campaigns meant to empower women are often still too focused on beauty. Positive messages like “black is beautiful”, or “fat is beautiful” are great and totally true, but what about the idea that a female person’s significance is not rooted in whether or not she is “beautiful” at all. What if it was based on the quality of her character, her achievements, her intelligence, her love, her compassion, her generosity?     

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Building on the idea that a female person’s value is derived from her “beauty” is the idea that whatever value she has, or could have, is not intrinsic, but is something she has to earn, usually from men. If she is not fulfilling her obligation to be consumable and aesthetically pleasing, or one of her socially acceptable roles as nurturer/care-giver/mother then she is often seen as useless or even worthless. This is one of the reasons why women are constantly encouraged to act accommodating and permissive towards others, putting other’s needs before her own so as to fulfill those assigned roles.

Overall, as female people we are shamed about our bodies, shamed about our sexual expression, shamed about our emotional needs, and generally undermined in almost every way.

The onslaught of messages include:

  • Remember to be sexy and beautiful, or at very least pleasing to look at
  • Take care of others emotional needs even at the cost of your own (especially men and children)
  • You are an object of sexual desire, but control yourself because your sex is a resource that men want access to, and they want to control that access
  • If you express your anger or push back you will be dismissed as a bitch or as crazy

But why is it this way? What is the point?

The reason is to create insecurity and instability. If we were secure in ourselves, in our feelings, in our needs, in our sexual expression, in our bodies, and we didn’t feel like we needed external permission or validation, then how could we be manipulated? What would be left to manipulate?  

In the context of abusive relationships, one of the main strategies of abusers is to undermine the trust the victim has in their own judgement or feelings. The abuser seeks to create such insecurity, so that their victim will not fight back or stand up to the abuse. It is easier to manipulate someone who does not trust themselves. Take this in the larger context of sexism and you can see it happening to female people all around us all too often. We have a patriarchal society that seeks to keep feminine people captive and in their place by creating insecurity and undermining a person’s trust in their own judgement. Why does the patriarchy seek this? Probably to keep the power in the hands of certain people and I would guess to keep us spending money, which is the physical proxy of power. Female people spend so much money every year striving to be feminine, beautiful, sexy and fuckable. Male people probably spend a comparable amount of money themselves striving to be masculine, not at all feminine, sexy and fuckable. I suspect this is just one source of necessary fuel for our perpetual consumer culture.

So what does this sort of sexism and misogyny have to do with intimacy, you may be asking yourself. Simply put, this sort of loathing, insecurity and dehumanization makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to have healthy intimacy at all.

Being genuinely intimate with another person is very challenging when you are worried and insecure about being perceived as feminine or masculine enough. Body image issues and low self esteem abound in our society for female people, leading to low confidence, and a lack of pleasure in things like sex or physical intimacy. In addition it is hard to have healthy intimacy when a person is taught to actively loath parts of themselves, in this instance the feminine parts. Thus many men suffer alongside women, because the message to hate the feminine parts of themselves has been beaten into them by society all their lives. Also teaching men to see women as sexual objects or that women’s purpose is to be pleasing for male consumption, instills a very limiting view of women. Take it from me, it is hard to be intimate with women if you have been trained to dehumanize them into a sexual object. Furthermore, an important element of intimacy is accessing and expressing one’s emotions, which society teaches men is unacceptable (I intend to write about the effects of sexism on masculinity as well in the near future). Ultimately, issues of gender equality and sexism actually hold a lot of influence over our ability to be intimate with each other in a healthy way. We as individuals, couples, families and society will benefit from being empowered, happy individuals who treat each other as equals.

So what can we do about it?

The first step is to be aware that any of this is going on. The only way female people will stop being manipulated, learn to value themselves, and get society to stop seeing femininity as worthless, is to become aware of the ways femininity is devalued and actively fight against it. It is not an easy fight, but it is an important one. This is why feminism is so significant. Not because it will give female people supremacy in some sort of matriarchy to replace the existing patriarchy, but because it is the means by which the genders/sexes will finally be valued equally.

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Tune in next week on Love(r), as I continue to explore the topic of sexism by looking at the sad phenomenon of internalized misogyny.

Lovingly yours,

Clara


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  • Leave a comment below!
  • Email – theintimacyblog@gmail.com
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