One of the most persistently frustrating things about being a woman is the way in which everything eventually comes down to appearance. Always.
Is it on purpose? Or is it so ingrained within society that this just happens reflexively? Do those that do this know that they are doing it? And more to the point, do they know why they are doing it? Whether it is deliberate or not and whether the perpetrators know it or not, the aim is the same: to shut women down. To reduce all that we are to our superficial physicality, thereby making us, and our thoughts and feelings, feel small and unimportant.
It happens on a small scale every day; in the office, at the supermarket, in our own homes. So regular, so commonplace, that it is barely perceptible to us anymore. When it happens on a larger scale we get angry, we point out the injustice without feeling like we are overreacting or making a fuss, but the smaller occurrences we let slide, we brush them off and convince ourselves that they are unimportant.
But we are wrong; it is precisely those little things that we should be getting angry about, because those are what are keeping us repressed.
No matter how subtle, how easily passed off as a ‘joke’, or how much we love and trust the person doing it, the unchecked belittling and dismissing of women’s thoughts, feelings, reactions, and opinions are what build and maintain the strain of self-doubt, perhaps eventually even self-hatred, which weaves through us and our lives.
It reinforces the idea that we are nothing unless we are perfect visually, that our opinions and ideas are worthless unless they are also presented in a perfect package – a ‘beautiful’ package. Unless you can prove that you know how to ‘take care of yourself’ to the general standards of society, by wearing the right makeup, having the right hairstyle, being the right weight, having the correct level of body hair, and so on, then you are not valid in any way at all. Full stop.
And herein lies the catch, the pit from which we feel we can never escape, the unending cycle of psychological and physical abuse we inflict on ourselves….we will NEVER be up to the standards that are set. That is the point of the standards, that they are unattainable and always shifting.
This is to keep us occupied, keep us hating ourselves and each other, and to keep us hungry and tired.
It is to keeps us quiet.
We are scared to poke our heads above the parapet lest we be shot down. An
insult to our looks, however fleeting, is an insult to our pride and our self-esteem. Such insults fester and grow within, gaining traction and confirmation from the inevitable further insults that come our way, and then eventually from our own thoughts too as the internal voice is transformed to reflect the negative external ones.
Society is slowly starting to understand that ‘feminism’ is not about man-hating, and that ‘feminists’ are not just angry lesbians looking for any excuse to put men in their place. But I also think that we, as women, still have a long way to go in understanding the scope of repression that we are all prey to.
It is all very well fighting the patriarchy on those big obvious issues, and we have the previous waves of feminism to thank for our willingness and ability to do that, but when it comes to our own mental health – and let’s be honest, that is what it comes down to in the end – we are frustratingly oblivious to the insidious dangers that, over many generations, have become the norm. Objectivity is not a given, and it is near impossible to live a life unaffected by society and cultural influences - and we need to recognise this.
We must question where an idea has really come from, and, most crucially, why. Of course this goes for all aspects of life, but where it is sorely lacking is in the consideration of ‘beauty.’
Only by being curious, by questioning, by making a fuss, and by sticking out heads above the parapet, will we ever change anything. And that includes our own minds.