Lately, I’ve been feeling frustrated. Like a low-key frustration, not a sudden, I’ve-stubbed-my-toe-why-haven’t we-evolved-to-not-do-this anger. I think it’s been building for a while now, but two particular instances brought it to light.
The first was a blog post I read by Jameela Jamil. She came across an image of some of the Kardashian sisters with their respective weights edited onto each of their bodies, and felt compelled to discuss how totally shit it was. She talked about how belittling it was, and how gendered that kind of judgement is, along with how it is often placed on women in order to establish control over them. How in society, a woman can be valued by her appearance alone. How we should value ourselves as humans, not kilograms.
The second was a conversation with my boyfriend about whether makeup was empowering or taking advantage of vulnerabilities, particularly the vulnerabilities of women. I am of the belief that makeup functions as a suit of armour for many, to protect against the plague of insecurity-inducing images and ideas that have confronted women for decades, along with being an outlet for creativity. To me, it is empowering. However, it was good to question my current perception, to have to consider the root cause of why we bought makeup in the beginning, and how it is influenced by patriarchal ideas of womanhood.
Both of these experiences made me think; we’ve always been taught to be ashamed of ourselves, as women. It is ingrained in us from the moment gendered stereotypes start being projected in our direction. From infanthood through to adulthood, it creeps in and makes us question how we behave, how we look and how we identify. So much pressure is put on us to behave a certain way. I’m not saying men don’t suffer from societal pressures too; toxic masculinity is a whole other damaging ball game, however there’s a particular flavour to the years of oppression women have endured that pushes us towards weakness, not strength. All expectations placed on us require incredible strength to endure, yet involve us staying silent, losing our power and complying in fear. It’s a destructive cycle.
I got thinking about how this has affected me personally, from generic assumptions all the way down to my very personal relationship with my body. I started thinking about the assumed wisdom that “girls are two years more mature than boys,” and how that phrase is used to hold women up to a higher standard and excuse boys, and even men, from taking responsibility. Whilst puberty may begin later in men, it’s unlikely to significantly hinder them in areas such as taking on new responsibilities, self-awareness and general empathy. All of these traits are expected and imposed on women from a much younger age, and they have to deal with the pressure of managing their weight and appearance, exceeding the expectations of their family members, and caring for people, emotionally and practically, in their lives. Of COURSE they’re going to appear to be more mature. But that’s due to patriarchal expectations, not science.
In my own life, the pressure manifested in the way I viewed my body. From every angle, growing up I was told that skinny was the only way. So when I hit puberty and developed hips, I assumed I was getting fat and took any action possible to stop myself from putting on weight. This developed into putting overwhelming pressure on myself to be perfect, which I didn’t even realise I was doing until last year. I assumed everyone did this! When I wasn’t achieving my ideal I’d beat myself up mentally, and eventually take my frustrations out on myself through alcohol. Not a fun period of my life, I can assure you.
I still struggle with being kind to myself, as despite the practice I put in, it definitely doesn’t come naturally. I’m getting there with all of this, but some days it just makes me so frustrated that had I been born a different gender, assertiveness would have been encouraged in me and not demonised. I probably wouldn’t have had the same relationship with my body, or have been consistently pushed towards doubting myself or holding myself up to unattainable standards. There wouldn’t have been the pressure to act more mature, to take on responsibilities beyond what I could handle, at such a young age. It isn’t about maturity or biology; it isn’t about sugar and spice and everything nice; it’s about the society we live in. We need to find a way to change it. We all deserve better.