My name is Emma. This is my feminism.

My Life As Liz (and the Illusion of Choice)

on June 15, 2012

I’ve only seen a few episodes of My Life As Liz, and I’m really just using it as a starting point for this post, which is mostly just guna be me talking about what I’ve been thinking lately.  It might also get a little personal and a little sexual… just warning you now.

Ok, so I got really bored on my day off, and watched all of 2 Broke Girls, and then needed something else to watch.  So I started watching My Life As Liz.  I don’t think I’ll continue watching it – I didn’t find it all that entertaining – but it did reinforce an idea that I’ve already been thinking a lot about.  We have the illusion of choice, but we will be severely punished if we choose “wrong.”

The example from My Life As Liz is that Liz has chosen to reject the traditional Texas ideal of a tan, blond, superficial girl in favor of being herself.  I think it’s important to note that she used to be all of those things, and then chose to change.  I think a lot of times people tend to think that if a girl doesn’t look the way she’s “supposed to” it’s because she can’t, and is therefore jealous of the girls who can.  But for Liz, that is not true at all.

On the flip side, people also tend to legitimize their hatred of ugly people by saying that if they tried hard enough, they wouldn’t be so ugly.  Obviously they just don’t care about or respect themselves, so why should anyone else?  (Unfortunately, I literally had this conversation with a group of my friends.)  The message here is very strong – if you want to be liked, you better do your best to look conventionally attractive.  It’s all a contest to see who can make themselves look least original and most like Barbie.

But then we also say that women who have succeeded in looking like Barbie are asking for male attention (read: sexual harassment and assault).  So essentially what we’re saying is, you can choose to look conventional, in which case you obviously want to be raped or gawked at, or you can choose to look unconventional, in which case you are undeserving of any respect from men or women, and if you are in high school like Liz, you will definitely be made fun of and outcast.

So why do women “choose” to objectify themselves?  Because it’s what we’re supposed to do.  Because we have learned that if we don’t, we are disgusting and will surely be outcast, while if we do we might be sexually assaulted.  Because we know that, as women, regardless of how it actually makes us feel, being sexually harassed by men should make us feel empowered, because our sexuality is our source of power.  Is being outcast, hated, disrespected, and seen as disgusting if we choose differently really an option?

Here’s another example – shaving.  Nobody is forcing us to shave.  Women do it for themselves, not for men.  If we hated it that much, we would stop.  Right?  Cuz the other option is pretty fucked… that we have to shave half of our bodies.  That we do not have a choice about what our bodies look like.  That our bodies have become so regulated that we are no longer in control of them.  That razor and lotion and shaving cream and waxing companies have brainwashed us so entirely that they don’t ever have to worry about not making money.

But look at Clementine Cannibal.  I have mentioned this before, I know, but I just think it is such a dramatic example of what I’m talking about that I have to bring it up again.  Because she chooses not to shave (including her armpits), she has been yelled at and verbally harassed, as well as thrown down the stairs.  Can I say that again?  SHE WAS THROWN DOWN THE FUCKING STAIRS BECAUSE SHE DECIDED NOT TO SHAVE.  What the FUCK.  So tell me again… women CHOOSE to shave?  For themselves?  Really?  And the fact that they will be physically assaulted if they don’t has nothing to do with the fact that they never consider not shaving? 

Here’s another example (the personal one… but ‘the personal is political’ as they say).  So, inspired largely by Clementine Cannibal (and that amazing picture of her <– ), I decided to try not shaving for a while.  Specifically my pubic hair, which I have always felt really shameful and stressed about, and didn’t actually know what it would look or feel like if I let it grow as long as it wanted. 

Here’s a little back story.  When I was 15 and my self esteem was at an all time low, I was all about this sketchy ‘dating site,’ and talking to random guys online.  Of course, the talks got sexual, and they would always ask if I shaved, and say that smooth was sexy.  One guy even told me he could tell through girls’ jeans if they shaved or not – and I totally believed him.  So I was always scared that everyone could tell through jeans, so I always shaved.  And I always hated it.  It hurt when I walked or moved or had sex (ironically, since that was theoretically why I was shaving in the first place).  I got bad razor burn, and it itched and bled.  But I always shaved, and I always thought that it said something bad about me if I had any stubble or hair left, or if there was any indication that hair had ever grown there at all.

Fast forward 7 years, and I’m still shaving (but now with just a trimmer so it doesn’t hurt like it used to).  I’m still stressed out about not having my hair perfect before sex, I still don’t know what my hair would look like if it grew, I still get out of bed to shave my legs in the middle of the night before going to have casual sex.  Obviously, I am still very uncomfortable with my hair and very aware that I have to shave. 

So then I get really into feminism, read about Clementine Cannibal, and decide that if she can do it, I can do it.  So I decide to try not shaving.  I text my fuck buddy and explain that I’m not going to shave my pubic hair because I don’t want to and I have always hated it.  He says that’s fine (gee thanks for the permission).  So the next time I go over to have sex, he gets off, I wait for him to continue for me, and he lays back, stifles a laugh, and says mockingly, “So… why don’t you wanna shave your pubes…?”

Now this was clearly not a real question, but a criticism, so I did not reply.  I guess he thought that meant he should go on.  “I mean, I get that if you’re using a razor it can hurt, but if you just trim it…” (Nice of him to say that I don’t have to cause myself pain for his sexual desire.  What a gem.)

I got up and left.  And I was very proud of the fact that I did not cry.  I was pissed at him, but I wasn’t ashamed of myself.  Despite the fact that, (here’s the sexual I was warning you about) he just fucked me til he came, then laughed at and criticized my body when I was still laying naked and vulnerable beside him in his bed.  Like, come on.  That’s pretty brutal.  Really.

But my point here is, if you don’t shave, people think they can do brutal things to you (ranging from mocking your naked body to throwing you down the stairs), and it will be completely justified because you chose not to shave.  See how it’s not really much of a choice?

I know this post is already too long (maybe a different colour will help break it up??) but I want to extend this to another topic or two.  Occupy Wall Street and the Montreal Student Protest are two issues that I strongly support, and – regardless of what you think of what they’re actually protesting – I think it is unquestionably important that they are able to protest.  But they kind of aren’t…  Sure, in Canada and the States we have ‘democracy,’ and people have ‘the right to protest.’  Sure we do.  Oh, but if you actually try to use it, you might lose an eye, be pepper sprayed, definitely arrested, and quite possibly a victim of (unpunished) police brutality.  So… would you like to join the protest?  Not really huh?  Well, that’s your choice, I guess things won’t change.  (I wonder who this system is working for…)

A personal, less extreme version of this is my recent criticism of a certain company which I suppose I won’t name since they apparently are going to sue me for talking about what happened with them.  Supposedly, we ‘vote with our dollars’ and we should let a company know if we disagree with their practices / are boycotting their company, but sometimes, you will be personally attacked, threatened, and accused of harassment and slander if you do speak up.  But of course, you ‘have the right to share your opinion.’  What kind of democracy would this be if we didn’t?

What kind of ‘free country’ would this be if we didn’t have the right to make choices about our appearances, our body hair, or our government?  Imagine if we weren’t allowed to criticize companies, tell the truth about our experiences, or protest the way our country is being run?  Wouldn’t that be terrifying?  Good thing we live in such a progressive, free, democratic country.

Oh wait…

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