Weighing In

Thanks to Amanda Hess at The Sexist for the inspiration on this one.

On Monday, The Sexist ran a great article about “Feminist Cognitive Dissonance:”

Embracing feminist cognitive dissonance can be a helpful tactic for continuing our theoretical work while still allowing ourselves to live normal lives. And a big part of living our lives includes working to receive the validation that comes with being a “good woman,” even when we know the idea of being a good woman is some fucked up shit.

This immediately struck a chord with me because recently, I’ve been trying to navigate the dissonance. One element of that has been my attempt to lose weight.

You can make the argument that there IS no dissonance: losing weight is good for my health, and being healthy is good in a feminist context. But come on: what twenty year old is losing weight just because it’s healthy?

No, my reasons for losing weight have a lot to do with things that are virulently anti-feminist – like the fact that I want to be thin because I think thin=pretty. I’m not going to go into a full analysis of what made up my decision, because I tried to discern the exact reasons while I was in the shower (I take REALLY long showers) and that wasn’t enough time to figure it out. Let it suffice to say that my motives aren’t entirely health related.

What I’ve realized recently, though, is that I feel significantly better about my body. Sure, I’m not 5’5″ and 120 pounds. I’m no supermodel. Actually, I’m still pretty overweight, according to the BMI calculator I keep Googling. But I suddenly have control over my body. I’ve lost over sixteen pounds in the last three months, which is more than I ever imagined I was capable of losing. Having control over my body and being able to make more intelligent decisions about what I’m eating are what’s making me feel better about myself, and isn’t that what feminism is about?

I’m not sure. What if I’m making the right decisions for the wrong reasons? What if I’m making these decisions that are leading me to be healthier and feel better because I would love to one day look like Angelina Jolie? Because that’s ultimately what it comes down to.

In theory, I rail against standards of physical beauty that employ weight. Queen Latifah should be all the evidence we need to understand that women who aren’t sticks can succeed and be considered gorgeous. But in practice, it seems like this doesn’t apply to me: I will be pretty when I’m skinny. This may be, in Amanda Hess’ words, “some fucked up shit,” but unfortunately, I can’t alter my entire emotional understanding with that logic. “A simple awareness of feminist issues can’t magically negate the power of the culture in which we live,” Hess notes. “Here, validation is still dispensed based on how well you conform to the ideal.”

Overweight people are not taken as seriously, etc. etc. lots of studies. Attractive people do better in life, etc. etc. more studies. So the cognitive dissonance remains. I want to be thin because I want to be pretty, and there are legitimate reasons for that – even when I know how fucked up it is.


Why This Argument Doesn’t Work.

Feminists destroyed the world.

Well, obviously we did. I mean, look at the state of things. “Men are delaying or avoiding marriage like never before and women want to know why,” says Pegah Patra, a model/actress I’d never heard of before Huffington Post published her on April 8th.

“…maybe the concept of feminism has also taken us to the extreme level of sexual freedom. By making sex so available and accessible for men it allows them to lose respect and not value courtship the way they did years ago in western cultures or as they still do in many parts of the world.”

She’s totally right. We shouldn’t make sex so available for men! That’s absurd! We have to WITHHOLD sex until they prove they’re WORTHY of it.

Why does that sound like bribery?

Oh wait. Because it is.

But so what, you know? Men who only want sex and not a relationship should be FORCED into having relationships. That’s a really good idea. Because it’s the truth that women ONLY want relationships, and men ONLY want sex. Men are evil. Women are emotional. Duh.

So there are several huge issues here. The first is that men are a single bloc and women are a single bloc: we are not individuals, and we do not make our own choices. Apparently, women are programmed to want love and relationships, and men are programmed to want sex. This argument has been falling flat for me recently, though. I’ve heard of three or four relationships in which a girl almost broke up with her boyfriend because he wouldn’t have sex with her – talk about gender roles being turned upside down! Sometimes men are genuinely interested in an emotional connection (thank god). And not all women have dreams about walking down the aisle. Recently, for the first time in my life, I “planned” an element of my wedding. “If I ever get married, I want it to be here.” But that feels weird to me, because in my mind, marriage is not a goal to be worked towards, it’s a celebration of something that already exists. From that perspective, I don’t know if I’ll ever be married, and frankly, that doesn’t bother me. I find it immediately offensive that Patra assumes I played “wedding” just like her, and it’s just as obnoxious that she sees all men as vessels of desire and not much else.

The second major issue is that wanting purely sex is presented as a bad thing. Petra completely undervalues the lifestyle choices of – well, a lot of college students, actually. I’m not going to pretend that every girl I know who has hooked up a decent amount is thrilled with her decisions. But I know several girls who are rather happy just making out/sleeping with a lot of random guys. As long as they’re safe and they’re happy, then GOOD. The same goes for men – if they’re being safe, and it genuinely makes them happy (and actually isn’t making them feel badly about whatever), then go for it.

Patra doesn’t see it like that, though. Some girls are at clubs dressing “slutty” (her word not mine) to “attract men’s attention,” and she clearly has some judgmental things to say about that. I would encourage Patra to let those “sluts” do what they want – but stay the hell out of the clubs if it makes her that uncomfortable. There are other places to meet men, and in those other places, it’s more likely that they’ll be looking for something similar to what she wants.

The biggest issue with Patra’s “piece” (dare I call it that?) is that I feel like the whole thing indicates that women should be bribing men. “I’ll sleep with you – if you emotionally connect with me first.” Now that sex is so accessible, men don’t have to form those connections for us, and they apparently don’t, which she proves with statistics about marriage rates. Since all men want is sex (and this is bad), they can get what they want and leave us stranded in the dust or something depressing like that. We have to go back to the olden days and force men who only want sex to exist in relationships in which they probably don’t feel comfortable first. Sex is a bargaining chip.

But I refuse to accept this. My body, my sex, my life is NOT something to be gambled off. Sadly, in Patra’s scenario, that’s the only option. If men only want sex, in order to get that emotional connection we crave, we have to draw them in with – sex. My body is NOT a bargaining chip, though, and I’m NEVER going to create a situation in which I force a man who only appreciates my body to stay with me long enough to get it.

Instead, I’m going to believe that men are individuals. That men, like women, can be good, and like women, can behave poorly. That some men want sex, but some genuinely want relationships and find satisfaction and fulfillment in an emotional connection. I’m going to believe that, even though I also want an emotional connection, I don’t have to withhold my body to get it. An emotional connection is (or isn’t) going to form based on our personalities and how we interact – not whether or not there is sex in a relationship.

Breaking Down Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift. I LOVE her music. Most of the time.

Her music is poppy, country, and full of teenage optimism and angst – simultaneously. It’s hard to argue, sometimes.

But sometimes, I do want to argue. Because sometimes, I can’t figure out how to integrate my love of Taylor Swift with my worldview, in which women are far more than Taylor lets them be.

Take “You Belong With Me.” Taylor is basically sitting around shaming her best friend’s girlfriend for wearing short skirts and getting upset with his jokes, while criticizing her music taste. Taylor Swift is obviously madly in love with this boy – but all she’s doing (besides criticizing the girlfriend) is “dreaming ’bout the day when you’ll wake to find that what you’re looking for has been here the whole time.”

Dear god, I wish this song had been around my senior year

And there’s the problem, I guess. This song is absurd. “You belong with me,” but I’m just going to sit around, criticizing your girlfriend and waiting for you to figure it out. And every single girl can relate to this.

“Today was a fairytale, I wore a dress.”
“If you could see that I’m the one who understands you/been here all along so why can’t you see/you belong with me.”
“She’s cheer captain and I’m on the bleachers.”
“I can feel my heart/It’s beating in my chest/Did you feel it?/I can’t put this down.”

I mean, there are other eerily relatable lines in other songs, but those two songs (“You Belong With Me” and “Today Was a Fairytale”) are the two easiest for me to connect with.

So is Taylor espousing a life choice, or is she relating an experience that everyone I know understands? The problem with her music is that she frequently seems to be doing the former. She does have a few songs that don’t fit this stereotype (“You’re Not Sorry” and “White Horse” come to mind), but Taylor Swift is waiting around for a “Fairytale,” begging for a Romeo and Juliet “Love Story,” or deciding that “Two is Better Than One.”

It’s not just that Taylor Swift writes and sings music about love – plenty of female artists do that and don’t make me feel like a terrible person when I sing along (KELLY CLARKSON). It’s that she sings about love in a way that makes her entire powerless. In every single one of her songs, Taylor Swift in the princess in her own fairytale. She sits around and WAITS for boys to shape her world. In “Love Story,” all she has to do is say yes. In “You Belong With Me,” she’s mope and hope he realizes how good they could be together. In “Fifteen,” high school is about cute seniors with cars who determine her entire four year experience (oh hello sophomore fall how are you).

I love Taylor Swift because I can relate to her. I hate Taylor Swift because sometimes, she is a reminder that I am – or that I was – so many things I don’t want to be.

Or I could just stop taking my music so seriously. Whatever. :)