Yes, March 8th is International Women’s Day, and to celebrate/acknowledge it, I’d like to talk about just how life has changed for me as a woman, and with women over the years.
All my life, I felt like I wasn’t “girlie” enough. When I was small it was because I was poor and didn’t have the pretty clothes and things that other girls had, and because I was repeatedly told I was fat. I felt like being a girl was a competition, and because I couldn’t compete, I wasn’t “girlie”. Then along came puberty and I really did become fat. Add hairy and spotty into the equation, that made me feel like I had even less of a right to girlhood. As I passed through my teens and into adulthood, I still believed that because I didn’t fit what the media, my family, and men in general told me a woman should be, I still didn’t feel like I belonged to womanhood.
My response to that was to internalise misogyny. I started to tell myself that “I’m not like other girls” and consequently I couldn’t be friends with women or girls. I surrounded myself with male friends, denounced anything that read as “feminine”, shaved my head and wore big clunky boots and a lot of flannel. I thought if I couldn’t “compete” with women, I didn’t want to be like one.
You see that’s what misogyny is. It’s the myth of “femininity”. The myth that womanhood fits one narrow band of features and behaviours, and that womanhood is a competition between the female of our species to appeal to male of our species, and only those that “win” the attention of men are allowed to consider themselves “feminine”. Femininity is measured by how pleasing a woman is to men – by her appearance, her voice, her behaviour and her sexual availability.
Not to mention that fat women are so othered by society in so many ways that rob them of the things that are supposed to mark femininity – society sets the standards of femininity and then denies them to fat women. When you cannot buy the clothes that are considered acceptable, when you are not seen represented by marketing and the media, when you are treated as sub-human, you cannot participate in society as a peer. When you are led to believe that life is a competition, and that you are not a peer of the population in general, you tend to opt out.
There is no wonder that so many fat women (as well as other marginalised women) internalise the misogyny that is continually poured on us.
But for me, somewhere about the same time as fat liberation, I found feminism. I started to question the way women are treated in our culture, and I started to see just how girls and women are forced into competition with each other to prove this thing called “femininity”, to prove their worthiness as human beings. I learned to value myself not only as a woman, but as a fat woman. I learned that girlhood and womanhood are far more diverse than society leads us to believe, and that there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a woman a woman.
I also began to see just how badly many of the men in my life, those who I believed were my friends, were treating me. I began to recognise just how many of them dismissed my opinion, ridiculed my feelings, refused to respect my physical boundaries and generally just treated me with disrespect. I finally put an end to the friendship with the man who was supposed to be my best friend, but had been repeatedly sexually assaulting me for the entire span of our 15 year friendship – assault which I had been groomed to believe was my fault and that I deserved it, and that I was silly for feeling uncomfortable and upset about. I began to expect better of the men in my life. Which meant that many of the ones I already had in my life either left or had to be removed, but it meant that there was room in my life for good men (y’all know who you are fellas) who treat me with respect. The men I have in my life these days are amazing, and I’m honoured to know them.
Another factor that changed for me on discovering feminism and fat activism is that I’ve enjoyed participating in things that are coded as “feminine”, where I did not before. I wear dresses. I love anything pink. I enjoy having my nails done and growing my hair long so that I can pin flowers and bows in it. These things are not any indicator of womanhood, but are things usually denied to women who are seen as unacceptable. It’s nice to have the option to participate in things that are seen as traditionally feminine.
That doesn’t mean you have to perform “femininity” to be a woman, after all “femininity” is a social construct. What it means is that you give yourself permission to enjoy those things that are coded as feminine regardless of whether you fit society’s narrow definitions of womanhood.
I’ve realised that how others judge me is not indicative of my womanhood. My womanhood is my identity, not for others to bestow upon me if they deem me worthy.
However the greatest benefit of feminism and fat activism for me has been the discovery that now that I don’t feel in any way competitive towards other women, I’ve discovered I really like women. I’ve made far more women friends and they in turn have enriched my life in more ways than I can express. I enjoy the company of other women immensely and found that we have more in common than we have in difference.
So this is for you, all of the women in my life, all of the women who read my blog and all of the women who have been convinced by others that they’re not good enough, not “feminine” enough, that they don’t belong to womanhood. YOU determine your womanhood, not others.
Here’s to the women of the world. May you see your own value.