If you take a little gander over at my right hand column here, you’ll notice I’m reading a book titled with that one little c-word. I’ve been wanting to write about it, about the things it makes me think about and wonder, though I’m having a little difficulty pinpointing exactly what I want to say. Mostly because 1) I don’t want to come across as some kind of crazy femi-Nazi when I cry out for women’s rights, and 2) I think this book is SO important, something EVERY. WOMAN. IN. AMERICA. needs to read. And I don’t wanna mess it up when I talk about it. So because it is so important, I am going to talk about it, and I apologize ahead of time for the rambling.
So the reason it’s called…what it’s called… is because it didn’t use to be a bad word. It used to, in ancient times, just mean woman. But because, in the way of history, what is associated with women often carries negative connotations, so the word acquired negative meaning. And so on, through the ages. Inga Muscio, the author of this book, says we need to reclaim this word, reclaim it in a positive sense, in a way reclaiming ourselves: our womanhood and our femininity. (Because vagina, apparently, means “a sheath for a sword”, and we ain’t nobody’s sheaths, thankyouverymuch.)
“There will remain much sadness in the world until people are willing to rise to the task of facing the world’s pain in the bathroom mirror.” She talks a bit about how we hold ourselves to unrealistic beauty ideals (how cliche that sounds, but I promise, you feel the truth of it deep down, emotionally, when she talks about it), often basing almost our entire self-worth on how we think others think we look. (I would say men, but in all honesty, I think women dress up to make other women think we look good, mostly to compete with other women.) And we hate ourselves when we think our thighs are too chubby, our tummies and arms are too flabby, our knees are too knobbly, our noses are too big, our lips are too small, or whatever whatever, because it’s all a bunch of crap. And we hate it so much, we mutilate ourselves with knives and needles and chemicals and machines, trying to meet these ideals. And we hate ourselves when we look in the mirror. While we live in a patriarchal society, I’m not sure there’s much use in blaming men so much as just realizing how we engage in our own persecution and oppression. Yes, we engage in our own persecution and oppression. And we hate on other women who don’t meet our standards of professionalism, creativity, beauty, ideas on breastfeeding, child-rearing, etc. instead of supporting each other and realizing we each just do the best we can. Why do we hate on other women so much? I dunno. I mean, yeah, we’re great with our friends (most of the time). But other women? We can be so catty with each other, can’t we? This is why the problem of achieving equality is so damn hard: because the inequalities are so subtle, so hidden, so insidious, and because we can’t get rid of the self-hate.
This is also the part where I part ways with corporate feminism. I don’t think we prove our power or achieve equality when we act like men, when we play cut-throat in the professional world and pooh-pooh the “mommy track”. I think we gain power and equality when we demonstrate how vital and important a feminine perspective is: when we run offices like collaboratives rather than hierarchies, for example. When we celebrate people in all endeavors and place value in all creative/academic/professional pursuits because each person has an important role to play and service to perform: the homeschooling mother, the baker, the florist, the accountant. When we say what happens in the home is every bit as important as what happens in the office, in the classroom, or on Capitol Hill.
Muscio also touches on rape, and how because of the way our bodies are built, we are subject to violations that some persons can do in the space of a coffee break, but that have ramifications that last a lifetime, or lifetimes, into the next generation. The statistics on rape are appalling, especially when you look at the numbers perpetrated on young children, and that is only counting the ones that are reported. “If you haven’t been directly targeted, someone in your family most certainly has. And if it has affected your family, it has affected you too, possibly in deeply personal ways, in phobias or neurosis, in anxiety or self-esteem issues. No one is exempt.” If you think you haven’t been affected, remember: silence is the perpetrator’s best ally, and “denial is one of the most common responses to heinous abuse”. Muscio is not far off the mark in saying we exist in a rape culture, when those of us who have not been raped feel lucky for having escaped it thus far, when the persecutions of rapists are so meager, and when so many movies in Hollywood glorify it, portraying it in a way that is sexy rather than offensive. (FYI: for those who have suffered from sexual assaults, or those who would prefer to avoid movies with violent sexual scenes, there is a website Movies That Trigger where someone has compiled a list of movies containing such scenes so you can be properly forewarned and avoid movies that may trigger panic attacks or depression.) For this reason alone, we should learn how to protect ourselves properly and develop strong systems of support – because any woman who has experienced sex that wasn’t entirely on the up and up can probably have an inkling of how deeply traumatic those violations can be. Even I, who abhor guns, am gearing up my guts to learn to shoot. I dislike them so thoroughly I will absolutely never own a gun, or keep one in the house (especially when I have kids), but one never knows when one might be presented with a situation in which one has to use a gun. So it’s best to know how to do it safely and properly.
So I don’t agree with every thing she says, but it is a good feeling to be shaken up sometimes. To be metaphorically slapped in the face and forced to think differently about something, even if it’s just for a while. Even if you don’t change your mind. To have someone lovingly tell you, “Wake the f— up.” Because it is gratifying to wake up, even if it is to disagree – if you honestly consider her point and really, really figure out why you disagree – and even more so when you are shaken out of your rut long enough to be reminded to love yourself. That you deserve to be loved, and most of all, that the love has to start with you, when you look in the bathroom mirror.