swallow it whole
I’m not eating much
want to be thin
I want to be
–Charla M. DelaCuadra
swallow it whole
I’m not eating much
want to be thin
I want to be
I was having a conversation with a friend recently about movies and nostalgia, and childhood. Somehow we got to Mary Poppins, which I haven’t watched in years but remember very fondly. I feel sheepish even typing this, but all of a sudden a realization hit me like a thunderbolt — Jane and Michael’s mother was a suffragette. I remembered (barely) her “votes for women!” line in the song Step in Time, but I never connected the dots. Mrs. Banks was depicted as a bad mom, neglectful and flighty, because she spent her time blithely campaigning for a woman’s right to vote rather than staying at home with her children. She had a nanny. A nanny who had to show Jane and Michael love and care with a sprinkle of magic, because their parents were blind to their emotional needs.
I’m not sure if it is sadder that this movie depicts a suffragette as a terrible mother, or that it took me decades to realize it. Sexism, female subjugation, and the expectations of motherhood are so deeply ingrained in our patriarchal society that even a self-professed feminist can be blind to things that are painfully obvious. That Mrs. Banks trades in her sash and signs for kite-flying with her family at the end of the film seems obvious, the perfect ending. Another woman perfectly tucked away, motherly and nonthreatening. And I didn’t even notice.
Women, the vote, and societal expectations are big topics on my mind these days as we head through the primaries and towards Super Tuesday. We have two remaining female candidates for the Democratic nomination, both of which have bucked the societal expectation that women shut up, stay home, and mother their children. And there is a nation full of women who have the right to vote, when less than 100 years ago we did not. I don’t want this moment in time to go unnoticed. And I don’t want the sacrifices of so many women a century ago to go unnoticed. Send in your ballots, get out and vote next week, and make sure people take notice. Let’s make this our time.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I am in life and where I am headed, and whether I am ready to make a leap into something new. I’ve been agonizing over finding the right decision, over and over as is my wont. All of sudden on my commute home the other day, though, I had a real moment of clarity: what if there isn’t actually a right answer? Or, more importantly, what if there isn’t actually a wrong answer? I immediately felt a weight lift off my shoulders at the thought. Perhaps, after all is said and done, each path I might choose has potential. Each path has its own validity. And no matter what I choose, I will be okay. I will be okay.
I think perhaps I have tried to “do what’s right” for so long that doing something I want ceased to be a consideration. Or what I “want” became conflated with “wanting to make the right decision.” Either way, what will actually make me feel happy and fulfilled has gotten lost in the shuffle. I cannot explain how revolutionary it is to consider that perhaps there is no one right answer. And now, armed with that insight, I finally feel like I have permission from myself to move forward in a way that will make me happy. I don’t have to feel obligated to check the “right” boxes. Of course, in the abstract I am aware that there isn’t a right or wrong answer for many things. We exist in perpetual shades of grey, where things are often subjective. For some reason, though, it has never really occurred to me that was the case for my life.
It occurs to me that the patriarchy has insidious finger-holds in so much of our societal consciousness. As a woman, we have rarely had the luxury of asking ourselves what we want. And even though, in theory, we have progressed to a point where that is an option, can we really make those choices freely? So much of our self-worth and happiness is tied up in making others feel happy and cared-for. A spouse, children, our aging parents… they have needs we are conditioned to want to meet, and our own needs be damned — or at least, swept under the rug into unobtrusive invisibility. I’ve decided I don’t want my desires to be forced into invisibility any longer.
I am incredibly lucky to have good people around me — people I love and trust and can rely on. Maybe it is time to release the vise-grip I feel like I have to maintain on my image, the way I want people to see me, and the way I feel like my narrative should unfold? Part of my fear in choosing wrong is that I will be judged, or seen as wanting somehow. That not choosing correctly equals failure. But then, so what? No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I truly have no control over how people see me, feel about me, or whether they will judge me. Nor can I possibly please everyone.
So, as we embark on a new year, I am thinking a lot. I am beginning to plan ways I might like to move forward with me in mind. Not what I feel I should do, not what I think I have to keep doing, but what will fulfill me. It is a strange feeling, I have to admit. I feel selfish (I’m not) and perhaps a little bit adrift. I’m going to try to move through that discomfort to a place of discovery, though, and I’m looking forward to the ride. See you on the other side.
I preordered Kim Liggett’s new novel The Grace Year as soon as I could, and was riveted the moment I had it in hand to devour. There is simply no other way to consume this book — heart in hand, fully devouring this tale of girlhood and womanhood. Liggett’s speculative fiction expertly weaves a world where women have no power or agency, save the magic they must be rid of in their sixteenth year, the grace year. It is a survival story, a modern fairy tale, a coming-of-age, a resistance manifesto, and a terrifying horror yarn all at the same time, deftly told and hauntingly realized. I could not put it down.
There are so many ways that women and girls tear each other apart and lift each other up by turns, and this novel explores those dynamics in interesting ways. What does power come to mean when you are entirely deprived of it? How do we define ourselves within the rhythms of family, society, friendships, and love? What does that mean for our self-hood? How can we push for meaningful change? All of these are questions I turned over in my mind as this story unfolded.
Besides a fascinating macro look at a society described by some as The Handmaid’s Tale meets Lord of the Flies, I thoroughly appreciated Liggett’s attention to small details. The language of flowers in particular made for a beautiful leitmotif, further strengthening her world-building. Flowers make for a common language, but they also prove to be a perfect metaphor for the girls themselves. Fragile, beautiful, unique, prized, just as easily crushed as admired — the Grace Year girls and their story will haunt you long after Liggett’s last page.
At this point I think it is safe to say I have become a total Jia Tolentino fangirl. (Jia, you’re amazing!) Her articles are thought-provoking and so on-point, I can’t help but share another.
A couple weeks ago her essay Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman was published in The Guardian, and I have been thinking about it ever since. I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to read and ruminate.
“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.
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.