Feminism / Society

For the Patriarchy Is Dark and Full of Errors

A practical guide to loving yourself instead of hating on other women

by Marion Bouvier

A New York March in 1970. Picture via fluffmag.com

A New York March in 1970. Picture via fluffmag.com

Margreth Olin is one of my favorite filmmakers, ever since she was revealed to me by one of the most beautiful films I saw this year, Engelen (The Angel, 2009). Dei mjuke hendene (In The House of Angels, 1998) is another proof of M. Olin’s subtle and poignant documentary filmmaking mastery, and it made my heart flutter in all kinds of ways—from sadness to laughter to tenderness. Then came Kroppen Min (My Body, 2003), which I watched tightly fitted in a sofa with contributors extraordinaire Anna Dovre and Kristina P. I found the film to be a sensitive and courageous exploration of the filmmaker’s relationship to her body.

But Margreth Olin’s line in the film struck me, and not just because of how heteronormative it sounded. She says: “As I’m about to tell the story of my body, I find that it is other girls, and women, who have not let me be at peace. […] That may sound naïve, but I thank God for the existence of the other gender.”[1]

I get what she means. And I bet most women have felt like that at least once in their life: “the one (man) who desires me doesn’t judge me negatively”, we have all thought at some point. Even the random jerk that whistles at us in the street can give us a sense of being physically desired, valued, which is something that is not often given by other women.

Indeed, even though our female friends and relatives may love us for the person we are, they can still occasionally make comments on our appearance which make us feel vulnerable, not desirable, not valued. Do you know why that is?

Because all of us women—whether bi, gay, straight, queer or otherwise identified—, have internalized misogyny.

This can vary to a great extent, of course, and some women may even grow out of this. But from our early years on, we are taught to look at our being born women in a critical light. We look at our body with scrutiny, anxiously listing all of its flaws, so desirous to correct all of these bodily “mistakes”: too much fat on my thighs, an ugly beauty spot here, a butt that’s too flat, or too big, or too wide, a nose that’s too prominent, eyelashes that are too short, not curly enough, hair that isn’t the right color, knees that are too ugly, breasts that are too small, too saggy, too asymmetrical, teeth that are too crooked, always too something, not enough something, always flawed.

The young girl who hates on her body may think that the beautiful older girl who’s the most popular at university loves herself, or that the super skinny girl looks at herself with satisfaction—and peace of mind. But the Grail of self-love is ever evasive, and even the outwardly “perfect” girl battles with her own demons, her teeth not white enough, her hair untamable when she wakes up, or maybe she just struggles with the fact that she’s reached society’s beauty ideal, and yet she still feels alone and not worthy, and people look at her body like a prize, an object of envy, of lust, of jealousy, and they forget that she’s so much more than just her outward shell.

Women are most likely to make comments on your physical appearance because: a) They are criticizing themselves—their being women—through you, and/or b) because they know first-hand that women’s social value is still so intimately linked with their appearances that this is what will hurt you each and every time.

When women are bitter and jealous and tear at you with their acid words, remember that it’s not actually because of who you are or what you’ve done. It’s more because you represent something that scare them: something they fear they may never reach (society’s idea of women’s physical perfection), something they fear will be snatched away from their hands (their sense of self-worth), or simply something they are scared to ask for: love, reassurance, support.

They tear at you because it’s easier to take out their hate on you than on themselves. They want you to feel the hurt and pain they have themselves felt when someone ruined their self-confidence with a single comment. And they want you to harden yourself to those hurtful and dismissive judgments on their value as human beings, just like they decided to build up their defenses and not get hurt again after they were first brought down, either by a guy—maybe an ex-lover, maybe a random passer-by—who told them they were ugly or not desirable, or by a female friend who told them they should suck their stomachs in to look more attractive, as in the case of M. Olin.

All of this happens because of our society’s underlying misogyny, and because of how we all internalized it.

Why do patriarchal societies rely so much on misogyny?

Because this is the only way to ensure they keep power in their (the men’s) hands. By fetishizing the physical aspect of women, they encourage them to define their worth as being necessarily correlated to the “decorative” side of their bodies (as opposed to the “physical” side of the body that boys are encouraged to develop through play fighting and sports); and thus they keep women away from focusing on other activities—such as education and professional experience—which leads to socially powerful positions. Simultaneously, the patriarchal system relies on a structure that strongly limits access to education and responsibility positions to those for whom the system is designed: men.

Nowadays in Western societies, women have fought for their rights and gained access to almost all of the areas that were once restricted to them, but one thing remains: in many cases women are still encouraged to think of themselves are less.

Because they think they are less, women need a man (since other women are also less), and thereby they grant men the power to make them climb the social ladder: this can be through a manager or a coach who “discovers” a female talent, “take her under his wings”, and “make” her career for her; through a boyfriend that takes care of all the problems you have and on whom you become dependent, regardless of the quality of the relationship itself; through a “mentor” that makes you feel you are nothing without him, etc.

But you are everything!

You do not need others to “make” you.

Of course it’s fantastic if you have the love and support of both the men and women in your life. There are many reasons to feel grateful to all the people who have been there for you, but in no way should you feel that you owe them your worth. If you chose the right people to surround yourself, and they chose to help you in one way or another, you were the one who made the right choices for yourself, and you were the one that inspired others to support you.

The women who hurt you with their comments, thank them, for they made you stronger. And forgive them, because their meanness comes from a place of fear and pain.

It’s time we stop giving our power away to the patriarchy, by allowing the system to despise one gender in order to elevate the other.

To all of the great men in our lives, praise the women you know for who they are, not just for how they look. Praise them for their strengths, their vulnerability, for their smiles that give you hope and their raunchy jokes that make you laugh, for their compassion and their brains, for their tender caresses and their ruthless determination and for everything they have done for you and for everything you love about them.

Be inspired by women!

Why should women be encouraged to see themselves in male heroes and not men in female role models? I’ve heard many girls saying, “I want to be Harry Potter!” or Batman or Legolas or Sherlock Holmes. I’ve also heard little boys say “I want to be Batwoman!” quickly followed by a parent, a teacher or an older kid stating: “But Batwoman is a woman, you can be Batman instead.” I want men to feel free to say: “I’d love to be Katniss Everdeen,” “I’ve always dreamt of being Hermione Granger,” or “I want to have the poise and magical power of Melissandre of Asshai.”

And please stop inventing that women love catfights, that they are inherently jealous of one another, and that they are naturally drawn to care more about makeup than about maths. This is simply a product of socio-cultural norms. Breaking news! Women are as complex as any human being. They can love science and diamonds and taekwondo and Gossip Girl all at once! Just like men can, or should be able to.

And to women: you can be everything you want to be!

You don’t need to crush another woman for your existence to be valued. You don’t need to compare yourself to another woman to know you are great in your own, singular way. Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself of all the beautiful things about your body: your soft curves and your dazzling smile, the way your ribs draw delicate patterns on your sides, the way your stomach rolls like a mighty wave, the way your hair undulates and shine bright in the morning sun. Then proceed to compliment your many other qualities!

Love yourself, and stop telling girls and women that they should wear more makeup, or less makeup or that they could look better if they lost a few kilos, or if they exercised more, or if they wore a more plunging neckline, or a skirt less short.

Tell them instead of what you see in them: the amazing friend that held you in her arms when you cried, the courage of your super cool sister that defended you in front of your parents, the smart neighbor who showed you new functionalities on your smartphone, the stranger that offered you that pretty smile in the street, the beautiful mother or sister or friend who believes in you even when you don’t, the (female) lover that finds you perfect the way you are, every woman you meet, look at her with kind eyes. She’s not your competition. Even if you don’t like her, even if she won’t become your friend, she doesn’t deserve your anger. The patriarchy does.

It’s the patriarchal system that deserves your anger, not the women and men who are submitted to it as much as you are. So even when you’re down, lift your chin up and remind yourself: you are worthy! You deserve the best, just like every woman and every human being does.

And in honor of Nótt Magazine’s first anniversary, I’d like to thank everyone who has helped Nótt happen and everyone who has supported me throughout one year of hard (and unpaid) work: my mom, who has been my number 1 fan since day 1; my dad, who has read and given me feedback on almost every article published on Nótt; my sisters and brother who have always given me the most precious gift I could ask for–unwavering love; Kristina, who every day gives me strength and love beyond anything I could have expected; the Berlin peeps who have inspired me to fly with my own wings, and all the amazing people met in Tromsø, as well as Nature which makes me feel so alive. And of course, I want to thank Marie, without whom Nótt Magazine would have probably just remained an unrealized dream, and all of our amazing contributors!

Notes:

[1] “Når jeg skal lage historien om kroppen min, finner jeg ut at det er jenter, andre kvinner, som aldri har latt meg være i fred. […] Det høres kanskje naivt ut, men jeg takker Gud for at det finnes et annet kjønn.”

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