“Last year I abstained
this year I devour
which is also an art”
-Margaret Atwood, You are Happy
It was difficult to watch the news in the two months after I graduated from college, during the summer of 2014. News of the Isla Vista shootings came 4 days after my commencement, a month later the Hobby Lobby verdict rolled in, announcing that a corporation can deny contraceptive care based on their religious affiliation, the rape of a 16 year old teen went viral, and simultaneously the “I don’t need feminism” campaign began plaguing the internet.
Individually each of these events were heartbreaking, but when you put them together, the message being directed at women was impossible to ignore: women are not in charge of their own bodies, women should be punished for not having sex, women should be punished for having sex, and women who object to this somehow hate men.
It is incredible to me how quickly conversations that are specifically about women are derailed by someone who says “but are you thinking about men?” especially when what is being discussed is women’s health and safety. Or that, when we react with rage, we are told we are over-reacting or being “too emotional” a catch-all phrase which means “your emotions are inconvenient for me.” Similarly popular are “crazy woman” or “angry feminists.”
Actress Zooey Deschanel has been quoted as saying “As a woman, I feel continually shhh’ed. Too sensitive. Too mushy. Too wishy washy.” I think this experience resonates with a lot of women. When I was picked on as a little girl for being too chubby, too loud, too unfeminine; if I reacted with rage, I was told to suppress that. “That is the reaction they want.” What an interesting game, provoke a girl into having an emotional reaction, then tease her for her rage. It was often the women in my life who told me that I needed to react calmly, because they had gone through it before and learned to make themselves smaller, so that they would seem more rational.
Well I’m pretty over rationality. The concept is that rational people don’t make decisions with their emotions, but logic, as if logic is ever not tempered by our experiences or emotions. What I learned during my 4 years at a women’s college is that if I can trace my feelings to their roots, then I can often find the solutions to my own problems. If I can trace the emotions of others to their roots I can understand their motivations, and work with them in compromise and collaboration. My emotional reactions have become my strongest asset, and I will not hide them to make someone else more comfortable. Embracing the emotional parts of myself that I used to feel ashamed of has led me to stronger relationships and a braver self.
When Margaret Atwood wrote “this year I devour/without guilt/which is also an art” she wrote about the need of women to be able to take up space, to emote, to consume sex and food and love with as much skill as they had previously been taught to deny them.
Being femme is about allowing yourself to devour without guilt, to take up space, to cry like the world is going to end, and to laugh a little too loud in public spaces. It’s about yelling your rage and fighting for justice.
It’s about learning the art of speaking, even if your voice shakes.