“Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.”
With the expectations of womanhood becoming more insane at every turn, in this era of Instagram and curated feeds and “lifestyle” branding, have we optimized ourselves out of the possibility for genuine contentment? I myself find it very difficult to feel satisfied and contented, but perhaps it has less to do with any personal failings to “choose happiness” and much more to do with the insidious all-encompassing hamster wheel society has convinced us is necessary. And at the particularly insidious intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, it becomes even harder.
If capitalism didn’t ingrain in us that we always need more, better, pricier things to signify success, or if the patriarchy didn’t force us to gauge our worth by our attractiveness, youthfulness, and willingness to accommodate, aka our “fuckability”… what then? Tolentino is correct, I think, that the ultimate question is to ask what we ourselves really want, whether within or despite the systems we live in. What will make us content? What will let us feel whole and happy? Perhaps that becomes the most difficult thing of all — to find out what our own real desires are, rather than simply wanting to be desired, admired, and optimized.
As Mental Health Month draws to a close, I want to talk about something often overlooked: personal pride. A lot of press goes to self-help and self-care in the form of therapy, outdoor walks, or medication, all of which are excellent and good and necessary. I’d also propose that something as small as a little bit of pride can be wonderful, too.
As someone with anxiety and depression, I am rarely proud of myself. In my head it is always more about getting better at something, looking better, feeling better, or at least trying keep up a facade of being “good enough,” whatever that means. So when a rare shiny moment of pride comes up, I’m learning to sit up and listen, and bask in it for all it’s worth.
Last month I attended a conference for work. I am introverted, so I always walk into events like these thinking how draining they will be, and how nervous I’ll be. Over the course of those few days, though, I was struck by how much easier networking has become for me over the last several years. I had colleagues to greet, a committee meeting to run, opinions to share, and expertise to pass on. I was doing it! And I wasn’t scared.
During and afterwards, I discovered an immense sense of pride in myself. I was proud of how much I’ve learned and grown professionally. I was proud to see myself as a confident professional — a stark contrast to the shy grad student that first attended these conferences almost 10 years ago. It was kind of novel, actually, how good it felt to be proud of myself. To pause for a moment or two, and just glow.
I’m trying now to realize pride doesn’t necessarily have to come from something as grandiose as professional growth. I can simply be proud because I got out of bed this morning. Proud that I made it through another day. Proud that I made a good choice for myself. Acknowledging ourselves is so, so important. And I’m learning.
The last couple of weeks have left me full of rage and despair as I have watched politicians pass draconian measures to control a woman’s body, with zero concern for health or well-being. Women’s rights are human rights, and by making abortion illegal, those rights are being stripped away at the most basic level.
Making abortion illegal is not “pro-life.” Women have been dying throughout the course of history from unsafe abortions, and many, many more will if we take away this right. Why is it that the life, the health, the autonomy, and the well-being of women are so easily disregarded? And the well-being of families certainly is not being considered either: politicians condemn women for seeking abortions, but they also condemn the same families for seeking government assistance programs. Where will they be when that child needs formula, needs childcare, needs food and shelter?
Making abortion illegal will not stop abortions, it will only serve to legislate who can have access to safe abortions. Rich politicians will always find ways for their mistresses to get rid of unintended pregnancies. POC and the poor are the ones who will suffer the most. They will either die getting an abortion under unsafe circumstances, or be forced to have children they cannot afford. Banning abortions equals an enforced continuation of the poverty cycle, point-blank.
Here are some excellent articles, with food for thought, resources, and things we can do:
A brief primer on Alabama’s abortion ban, plus suggestions on ways help.
A new way to think about men and unwanted pregnancies.
How to help women in states with extreme abortion bans.
On this beautiful sunny Friday, I’d like to take a minute to talk about vulnerability. It is perhaps the bravest act one can take, to be vulnerable with someone else, is it not? To open up, to show someone something real and deep and true, and risk rejection or ridicule when all you desire is to be seen. Seen and loved.
I watched Brené Brown’s Netflix special The Call to Courage the other night, and I am still thinking about it days later. Her research on shame, vulnerability, and courage is amazing, but her humor and compassion make it that much more poignant and powerful a presentation. Brown is witty and insightful, bringing her research together with anecdotes from her own life to show us that we are in it together, we need each other, and we can only forge those connections by being brave. Highly recommend.
With that in mind, I found Melanie Hamlett’s excellent article to be especially timely. Hamlett discusses toxic masculinity and the ways it forces women to take on a hugely unequal amount of emotional labor. This is certainly not news, per se, but in her take, she explores a new wave of men’s groups that are encouraging vulnerability, communication, and mutual support. Our #MeToo era of “wokeness” seems to have more men thinking hard about their own emotional needs. Drinking, trying to “get laid,” ogling women, and playing contact sports have traditionally been the only socially-sanctioned ways for men to connect with each other, all of which reinforce painfully toxic tropes about “being a man.” Furthermore, the idea that men should only be emotionally open with women, and that they should find “their one and only” to connect with, left many female partners shouldering far more emotional work than they could handle. These small, intimate new men’s groups offer the opportunity for healthy emotional connections, and have the side benefit of easing some of the emotional labor burden off of the women they love. Win-win.
Perhaps we’ve been onto something all along with our ladies’ nights and brunches with the girls — and thankfully, many men are starting to catch on. Emotional support networks are necessary for all of us, and outlets for vulnerability — as brave as one must be to go there — can only make us stronger.