Was it with the stark justice of a child in an elementary school classroom? Was it when you first felt grown men’s eyes on you and walking through the street felt like being caught in a spider’s web? Was it when your boyfriend’s father squeezed your breasts under the Christmas tree without looking at you? Was it when you read Simone de. Beauvoir’s “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” and suddenly everything became clearer and more muddied at once?
Or was it when you were on the phone with your best friend after she had just broken up with her boyfriend and you were confused because he seemed to be a great guy and she admitted that he had never tried hard enough to make her orgasm? And though you had spent the last fifteen years discussing everything, somehow the issue of a man bringing you to orgasm had never come up.
“Look, at the end of the day, he didn’t care enough about me. He was selfish.”
“That sounds mighty feminist of you.”
“I am a feminist.”
“What?! You are?”
“Yeah. Of course. Didn’t you know? I was sure you knew.”
“No! I had no idea! I am also a feminist!”
Like discovering that you are swingers or communists, you uncover that you are feminists.
And you were both impressed and surprised because this friend was always an enigmatic mixture of diamond-sharp intelligence and obsessive insecurity. The sort of insecurity that compelled her to get chemical peel after chemical peel burning off her skin with furious devotion, that made her skip most of high school, that caused her to burst into tears when talking about her face, that made other people ask why she always looks in the mirror when she dances, that kept her up nights clicking on image after image of yet another perfect female body, dreaming of when she too would be beautiful. It was the sort of insecurity that cripples and consumes and leaves no room for anything other than envy and self-hatred. There was nothing feminist about this insecurity.
And yet, she was a feminist. She read The Beauty Myth, didn’t laugh at misogynistic jokes, championed young women, and called people out on their bullshit. She understood full well the hollow, ugly place from where her insecurity stemmed, but there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. She was suffocating.
So when she got a nose job and then another nose job to fix the first one, you weren’t surprised. What you were was self-righteous.
“Do you want to see the pictures?”
“Um, no thanks. I am good.”
“Well I would like your opinion.”
“You know how I feel about this. I don’t want to know anything. I’ll call you after the surgery.”
And you tried to tell yourself that you were just looking out for her, for all women really, as you passive aggressively fought against the tyranny of the male gaze and the barbarism of plastic surgery. You convinced yourself that she was weak, vaguely pathetic, and a fake feminist. You preached self-love from your crumbling pulpit to students who had no choice but to listen. What you failed to recognize is that underneath all this sermonizing seethed your own ugly insecurity, your brewing fear of not being “the pretty one” any longer. What you refused to see is that her nose job exposed the fragility and contingency of your own sense of worth. And maybe the real question was never about whether your best friend is a feminist, but are you?
Marina R. is an English teacher, an online entrepreneur, a foodie, and above all, a feminist.
Image: Fast Company