Friday, May 18, 2012

we've come a long way, or have we?

I tend to stay away from political conversations on here, not because I'm uninterested or unaware, but because I'm no more interested in foisting my beliefs on anyone else than I am in having your beliefs foisted on me. And, because so much of what we consider political debate is really just opinionated rambling that makes no difference. But I just have to get a little something off my chest ... I've been feeling a little more feminist than usual of late 

<tangent>... actually, is it possible to be more or less feminist? Is there a degree of feminism one can adopt, or are you always either feminist or not, like pregnancy or marriage? </tangent>

Okay ... well then ... I've been more aware of late of how many inconsistent messages women are bombarded with about what it means to be a woman - many of those messages are about mothering, and what to do/not to do, and for the most part those cancel each other out like the careless cacophony they are. Sometimes we're told we can have it all, and sometimes we're told to that we don't have to - that not having it all is perfectly fine. 

But what has really struck me, partly through an online conversation with Jill over at Gear Gals, is this noxious conversation about who is or isn't a woman based on body shape, some of which is meant to be empowering, but which always somehow pits us all against one another when we need each other more than ever. 

To be specific, this unrelenting marketing idea that 'real women have curves' gives me the heebie-jeebies - an itch that Jill, as someone who has been called a bitch for being fit, confirmed for me. Is Jill less of a woman because she's careful about balancing her caloric intake and her exercise? Or because her metabolism/frame (and hard work) combine to keep less fat on her? Taken to extremes, am I more of a woman because I've regained some weight and now have not just curves but rolls? Or am I less of a woman, because the curves are no longer in 'all the right places?'

I will admit, I like having curves. I didn't have them for a LONG time - those are some late bloomin' curves, as I've mentioned. And every time I lose weight, I bemoan that fat goes from all-over, not just from my belly (though it does only seem to come back there ... what's with that?). These are not sour grapes - that whole stupid 'real women' phrase is designed to help women like me feel at peace for not being a size 0. But it doesn't - it's reductive and condescending and just plain silly. 

Body issues are body issues, but why are they so often gender issues? Ya ya ya - I know about magazines and male gazes and feminist rhetoric, but what really alarms me is the female attacks on each other. 

At first I was going to combat the 'real woman have curves' line with 'real women have uteruses.' But what about the millions who don't? What about the women who have given up ovaries and wombs and breasts in order to preserve their lives? They are still 'real women' - maybe even more so, since adversity has such a strengthening effect and tends to crystalise for people what really matter to them. I found myself when an full on mental quandary - I know that real women may or may not have curves or uteruses or breasts; they may love men, or other women, or both, or neither ... I couldn't put a finger on what it is that really identifies us as women.

And then, in a completely unrelated conversation, it became clear. I work at a charity that runs a transition house for women, and I learned this week that that transition house is transgender friendly. As Miss C, one of the managers said, 'if you identify as a woman, you are welcome.' 

As women I know were are often individually told we are our own worst enemies, and I believe that's true corporately as well. But what if we took on the transition house approach - what if we weren't constantly comparing ourselves to sister X who breastfed forever or sister Y who climbed the corporate ladder or sister Z who is always just so put together and ranking each other on arbitrary scales of femininity, womanliness, success, attractiveness, etc. 

What if we stopped taking offence at every conversation about women and started new conversations instead? What if we were valuable not for the children we rear (or don't) or the businesses we lead (or don't), or the size we wear. What if instead of attacking each other's lives, bodies and choices, we were as welcoming as the transition house is? You are a woman, and you are welcome. 

And yes, men are welcome too - but in my experience they are far less likely to be the ones attacking us. And yes, there's an argument that the whole conversation about gender could be thrown out and we could just treat each other humanely. But, you know, we don't get into politics on this blog. 

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