I was trying to get to sleep a few nights ago and had a few deep, worthwhile, and terribly fascinating thoughts about femininity. I did not get up to write them down as I was almost asleep, thinking that it would be simple stuff to recover in the morning. We’ll see what comes now that a few days have gone by. But female sexuality and gender roles are issues that I’ve been thinking about seriously for a few years now, and I doubt I’ll ever arrive at a solid conclusion. Does inquiry ever really end? I think about it often, though, especially as my daughter grows and changes and as I myself do the same.
My journey on these paths of inquiry really began almost five years ago when I began attending Langley Mennonite Fellowship. I saw women who were active in society in many ways that were different from my traditional upbringing and experiences. I realized that I did not like who I was or who I felt I was pressured to be. The second path of my journey was begun with reading “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf. It was a little outdated when I read it, but the message is timeless and made a sizable impression.
I’ve come to realize that what we really need – as a society, as women, as North Americans – is a paradigm shift. The zeitgeist regarding femininity is something I find to be unrealistic and degrading. Women are expected to have a certain appearance (slim waist with perfectly rounded buttocks and breasts, long hair or flirtatious short hair, a face of certain proportions, and so on); fulfill certain roles such as career woman or mother, act in a certain manner such as the “dumb blonde” or mothering stereotype; and fulfill certain sexual stereotypes during their lives. But we are human, regardless of sexuality or gender, and humanity is so much more diverse and wonderful than societal expectations.
People are beautiful, whether male or female. Physically, our bodies have been created in marvellous ways that no person can fully understand. All the other aspects of ourselves take place within our brain – the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Somehow, though, what is tangible and what is intangible are inextricably woven together so that a human being is more than the sum of its parts, and this is why “a person’s a person, no matter how small” (Horton Hears a Who – Dr. Seuss). We need to get outside our “perfect is beautiful” mindset. We need to look for the beauty in each person. What is my first thought when I see that woman who is thirty pounds overweight, with the screaming kids in the checkout line, with the full-time career and dirty house, who never takes a position on committees, with the acne problem, who is socially inept? We are conditioned to have a very negative gut reaction to anyone declared to be less than perfect, including ourselves. I don’t think we’re allowed to love ourselves or others when we’re told by the media and our own subconscious that we as women need to fulfill all our roles in an exceptional manner and be as beautiful as movie stars at the same time.
The solution to our societal malady must come personally, however. Enacting broad societal reforms, for example legislation that prevents publication of certain attitudes, only amounts to censorship and restriction of freedom. A top-down approach to problem solving rarely solves problems. What we need is a change in thinking, a change in atmosphere, and that can only come about through a change in each person. Teaching self-awareness, creating forums for thinking and discussion, teaching our children, and working vigorously for justice all are necessary and will do a great deal to change the general attitude towards female sexuality and gender roles. These important activities have made a large change in our societal expecations of women in the last 100 years and are continuing to change the face of what it means to be female. I’m more concerned, at this point, about what I can do.
So what can I do? What can we do? Where do we go from here? I think the answer lies in exploring what it means to be female from a spiritual perspective, but I want to begin that in another post.