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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Reason Number 137 I'm a Feminist

I think I need to officially come out on this blog as a feminist, because I'm going to be writing about it a lot more. A lot of people take issue with the word "feminist", thinking it refers to a woman who hates men, or a woman who wants females to overthrow men and reign supreme over the land and have tea parties instead of wars.

But that just isn't true. Here's a fun fact: If you think that women and men should be treated equally, you are a feminist. That even includes MEN with those beliefs. Imagine that!

If you think they're treated equally now, you're just plain wrong. Lawmakers are not trying to govern men's reproductive choices. Men don't have to avoid walking anywhere alone at night in fear of getting attacked. Men don't have to fear being called "baby" or "sweetie" or being called "hot ass" in public and then called a bitch when they don't think it's the best compliment they've ever received. Women don't get paid as much as men for doing the same job and having the same credentials. But the most salient difference between men and women, one that all women have to live with every single day, so much so that it's been internalized as "normal," is body policing. Or body shaming. The belief that women's bodies need to fit into a certain norm.

(And for any men reading this, you may already be thinking to yourself that men experience this, too, and that I'm being a jerk for not mentioning it. That is also wrong. Read this article about why. By all means, I want to hear your opinions, but if all you say is "but what about the men?" I will barf. And then write a ranty post about it.)

It's one of the primary reasons I consider myself a feminist, and it sucks. And I just remembered yesterday how troubling the effects of one of society's favorite past-times (i.e. dictating the way women and girls' bodies should look) can have on real people.

I went shopping with my mom and my twelve-year-old niece. It was a really fun day. I was trying hard not to be infuriated at the clothes in the juniors' section that looked like they were made for toddlers, remembering in my middle and high school years some girls who really were that tiny, as their bodies hadn't fully matured, or they were simply genetically predisposed to being small. And that's okay!

But, then we went to get a snack after five grueling hours of fun, and my niece didn't want to eat anything. She has always been a picky eater, so it didn't strike me as odd or out-of-character. Until we got onto the awkward topic of food and nutrition. I say "awkward" because most people don't know jack shit about these things, especially kids, and it's really hard to explain without sounding like a dick. I didn't understand any of it until I started seriously attempting to lose weight last year. I don't want to preach to anyone about what they should and should not be eating, so I attempted to stay out of the conversation my mom was having with her about eating more fruits and vegetables and less crap that comes out of boxes or bags. And then my niece hit us both with a doozy: she thinks she's fat. My Hollister-size-zero niece thinks she is fat. I tried not to explode while my mother awkwardly (and maybe misguidedly) attempted to alleviate my niece's worries by asking if she can "pinch an inch" on her belly (she couldn't) and explaining that it's "unbecoming" for a woman who isn't fat to call themselves fat. I told my niece that all bodies, no matter what size, show rolls in the belly when someone is sitting down. It's just the way bodies work. She replied, "Well, bodies need to be different."

My niece is twelve and may very well have been being dramatic. I don't really think she thinks she's fat, or that she believes she needs to lose weight. I am a little worried about her nutrition, but I don't think she is at risk of becoming seriously ill. I believe she was just demonstrating the "cool" way to think.

And that's really fucked up.

I remember middle school. I wish I didn't, but I do. At my lunch table, the popular girls only ate a cookie for lunch. Some never ate anything. One of my good friends had a "phobia" of eating in front of boys. Some girls bragged about how they "had anorexia earlier in the school year," even though most people could tell it was a lie to get attention. But the point is that these girls wanted people to think they had anorexia. Because anorexia is cool and means you're skinny. This mental illness, in fact the mental illness with the highest mortality rate, was something that was desired by young girls. Because it's cool to want to be skinny. It's cool to hate your body even if you are skinny. It's never cool to like your body the way it is. And it's never cool to eat.

On my drive home, I wondered if maybe it would be better if humanity just started over, because there are still twelve-year-old girls who believe it's desirable to hate on their bodies. Maybe our society needs to die a little because we let this happen and it doesn't seem to be a big concern. But I decided not. Batman was right, there are good people in Gotham, and there are good people trying to empower girls and women not to take society's norms to heart. It is hard. Especially for girls, who believe that their lives depend on the approval of their peers.

My niece has no idea, but I'm a feminist for her. Even if she did have an idea, she wouldn't give a shit because she's twelve and One Direction, her friends, and cute boys are the most important things in her life right now. She's where she should be. But she'll grow up soon, and I can only hope like hell that she doesn't take these body shameful feelings with her into adulthood. But if she does, I hope she finds a nice feminist community who will tell her she doesn't have to keep them forever.

L,
V

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