When I saw the video below of Beth Ditto live, performing “Standing in the Way of Control” with her band, Gossip, I was profoundly affected. I’ve been thinking about femininity, shame, and femme performance a lot lately. My latest forays into femme fashion as a genderqueer person have been inextricably tied up in the shame of being a teenaged girl, the pain of rejection by my peers, and the power of shame to shut me up as I move through adult society.
I’ve always been a loud, boisterous person. I tend to be proud of my accomplishments and sometimes a bit of a know-it-all. I love karaoke, dance performances, and anything else creative. But as I’ve moved through my teenaged and young adult years, the pressure of etiquette and embarrassment have had a painful effect on me. I read a lot about how it’s important to focus not on what girls’ bodies look like, but what they can do. Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I’m shamed by the realization that what my body can do is not as good as what others’ can do. I’ve stopped singing and dancing as much in public because of external ridicule and growing internal embarrassment. Throughout college and law school, clothes went from fun performance to a way to be invisible, proper, and fitting into what I saw as my role. I’ve been trying very hard to speak less and listen more. Sometimes, that’s a good lesson to learn, but it also has painful effects.
When I first saw the Beth Ditto video below the cut on the commuter train, I cried. On stage, Beth is joyful, radiant, and unashamed. She dances in a purple dress that fully exposes her thighs, in bare feet, fully occupying her space. She belts the song diva rockstar style, and certainly doesn’t look nervous or ashamed about the thousands of people watching. Though I may not exactly have Beth Ditto’s voice, I do want to use this video as inspiration. It reminds me so much of being a little girl, singing in my nightgown at the top of my lungs, dancing, crashing into furniture, convinced that my voice and my body were awesome. Whenever there was a chance to perform, I took it. There’s something to be learned from that. It’s also why cried when I saw this empowering video about girls and body image. You know what? I deserve to be a fucking rockstar.
There’s been a lot about children and gender identity on my radar screen lately, from stores with gender-neutral children’s clothing to the media ridiculousness surrounding little Shiloh to the tragic murder of a 16-month-old little boy whose mother’s boyfriend didn’t think the infant was “man” enough. I’ve also been tapping into my own inner-child potential as I try to resolve issues with depression and finding my gender identity.
Childhood, ideally, is all about play. Children who are given safe spaces to exercise their curiosity and explore their surroundings as they grow up are more likely to be well-adjusted adults. Adults, in fact, could learn something from children. It’s amazing how a problem changes shape and how solutions present themselves when you take a step back and approach the problem with your imagination guns a blazin’.
And that’s the thing about childhood. Imagination doesn’t do well with boxes. It’s about exploring possibilities, playing, learning. As we get older, society draws lines and we all learn where those lines lie. We learn that boys do this and girls do this, and we learn behaviors that society considers “appropriate” to our gender. And for those of us who don’t feel 100% comfortable with our gender, it may take years to unwrap those neat little packages we’ve been dressed up in and try to find who we are, independent of this thing called “gender.” It may take a lot of play.
As I said in my last post, I have had a bit of radio silence and I do apologize for that! The combination of a new job, some personal issues, and a few Sooper Sekrit projects have put me out of blogging commission, but only temporarily. I’ll try to get back to a once-a-week or more schedule here, and I thank you all so much for your patience.
Today, I’d like to talk a little bit about children, about mothering, and about where those topics intersect with feminism. I had some mixed reactions to the recent guest posts on Feministe that addressed the topic of young children in public spaces. I, like a number of feminists, am happily child free. I don’t hate children, in fact I have worked with children of different age groups in a few capacities, but I am child-free by choice. I enjoy interacting with children, and I also like to have adult spaces where I do not have to interact with children.
I agreed with the poster on a number of points. Children are human beings, and feminism does need to recognize the importance of mothers and girls in the movement (as well as fathers and boys). I am a strong believer in the “flip side of choice,” aka the choice to have a child and the need for support of children. I think the “it takes a village” concept is awesome, and I also believe that a form of “community parenting” can be a very good thing.
On the other hand, I don’t like it when I feel like someone is telling me that it is my responsibility to interact with and comfort an upset child in a public space. I do think that if a child is crying and no one volunteers to comfort the child, it’s the mother’s job to take the child outside, calm him or her down, etc. It’s also a mother’s (parent’s) job to teach children appropriate behavior in public. Sure, it would be great if mothers could say “my child is well-behaved and thus should be able to enter all public spaces.” I sympathize with the poster, who expresses concern about mothers being isolated or stigmatized. But the fact is that unfortunately, most mothers do claim that their child won’t cry or scream in public, and usually somebody does (ruining it for the rest of them). I can imagine how frustrating it is for parents of quiet children when someone brings in a noisy, disruptive child and the animosity gets focused on the parents of the quiet child instead. But I don’t have a handy solution.
The fact is that society shouldn’t stigmatize mothers, nor should it stigmatize those of us who are child-free. I am so tired of having the heterosexual relationship model foisted on me, so tired of having happy families and cute kids shoved in my face, so tired of medical professionals insisting that I will want a kid one day, so please take our fertility literature. Just as I’m sure mothers like the poster on Feministe are tired of being ridiculed for their choices. I hate to say it, but… can’t we all just get along?
I’m reading Jane Sexes It Up right now, and one of the essays in that collection made me think of something I hadn’t in a long time – that extremely uncomfortable feeling you can get as a little girl around grown men, when they’re joking or talking about something you don’t quite get. It might be sex, it might not be, but there’s a fear and discomfort there whose origins I wonder at. Do we have some innate understanding of the sexual and the shameful as children, even if we don’t understand it?
There are so many things I’ve wanted to blog about – so many! – and regrettably just no time. My last semester of law school is proving no easier than the earlier ones, but fortunately I’ll be done at the end of June and back into the regular-blogging swing. I will try to provide a report on the symposia and conferences I’ve been to recently, as well as other thoughts, soon.
However, on my walk home today I was thinking about obsessions, and it raises an interesting question. Do adolescent obsessions disappear when we grow up? Or do they just fade into something more “mature?”
In my late childhood/early pre-teen years, I was obsessed with that paragon of literary merit known as the Babysitters’ Club. Then around the age of twelve I moved on to the Backstreet Boys, followed by NSync and lesser known boybands. Around fifteen, I shifted out of that (and started liking girls – coincidence?) I had a dearth of obsessions for a little while, which perhaps had something to do with getting better in school, and then at the start of college became obsessed with a local band, some of whose members became friends. They broke up a few years later, and my obsession became Lord of the Rings for a year or two. All of those obsessions came with corresponding friends, and sadly I lost touch with a lot of them as the obsessions themselves faded. However, I do note that the older I get, the more friends seem to stick around.
On my walk, I was trying to see if I could think of any current obsessions. I think you could say that early in law school, food was an obsession, considering how important it was to check my favourite blogs, stay current on recipe-copying, etc. I now have a database of thousands and thousands of recipes thanks to that obsession. Now, though, that’s dwindled a bit. I suppose you could say that I’m obsessed with law school itself, or at least my GPA, which is a little depressing (but would kind of make sense if you consider the lack of obsessions in the part of high school where I was more engaged with learning). You could say that I’m obsessed with feminism or LGBT issues, but that’s also depressing in that I certainly hope those things are lifelong interests, seeing as how I’m planning to make a career out of them. Or maybe it’s reading – I’ve become almost compulsive about trying to finish books, keep track of what I want to read (kind of like the recipes), and read more and more and more.
I’m curious what others’ experiences are, especially those my age (24) and older. Do you still have the kind of obsessions you did when you were a teenager, just more “mature” ones? Do you become obsessed with things like work, school, or family instead? Or do those obsessive tendencies fade over time?
I was just in the shower, thinking (like you do) about lesbian stereotypes. I think that there’s at least some assumption that if you’re a gay girl, you might have been a tomboy growing up, or you really get along with “the guys.” And for some lesbians, I know this is true, but I never fit into that mold. I didn’t have any really close guy friends as a kid – sure, I had a few male friends, but I never connected with them in any significant way. I had fairly “girly” interests, and I’ve always been touchy feely and liked long conversations. Not that there aren’t men like that, but not so many in elementary and middle school. My best friends were always girls, and I got along well with girls. But when I young and assumed that I was straight, and when I was a bit older and identified as bisexual, I always figured that once I was in a serious relationship with a guy, he would be my best friend. That was what I was looking for, and it never occurred to me that it wouldn’t just… happen.
Now I know there are exceptions, and there are plenty of lesbians who relate well with men but prefer women romantically, and plenty of straight women who don’t have any men friends but connect with their romantic partner. However, the example that comes to mind is my parents, who indeed were best friends throughout thirteen years of marriage and fifteen years and counting of divorce. My mom has always been heterosexual and she’s always had close male friends. It didn’t occur to me that the same wouldn’t happen for me, but in my only serious relationship with a man, it really was a “Men are from Mars” situation. We were just speaking different languages.
Since then, I’ve always thought that women are preferable as romantic partners because you can fall in love with your best friend. And I think there’s something to that – if your best friend is always a certain gender, and you’ve never been particularly close to the other gender, you’re probably at least somewhat unlikely to suddenly become best friends with someone of the other gender because you get into a romantic relationship with them. So maybe it’s not that unusual when a girly girl becomes a lesbian. After all, doesn’t it make a certain amount of sense?
Lesbian book club reminder: the poll is up now for round three and will be open until Sunday afternoon. Please vote! Also, feel free to start discussing for round two if you read the book.