An article called “50 Ways To Be A Woman” was making the rounds on some Tumblr blogs I follow. The article itself is a well-meaning but rather contradictory list of suggestions to be yourself and be independent mixed with tips on how to appear and behave lady-like. If these are traits and behaviors she values for herself, more power to her. In that case, though, a more fitting title would be “50 Ways to Be the Woman I Want to Be“. A list on how to be a woman really shouldn’t have more than two steps:
1.) Identify as a female human.
2.) Survive until adulthood.
There are a lot of points to criticize in the list (its somewhat obsessive hetero-normativity, its focus on the very subjective concept of “modesty”, etc.), as by its standards I fail pretty hard on a lot of it. My biggest issues with the list can be summed up in these few points:
12. Allow yourself to be treated like lady. If more women would sit down and be ladies, more men would stand up and be men. Just because you are capable of opening your own door, in the presence of a man, you should not have to. Allow men the indulgence of being men and take pride in the privilege of being a lady.
20. Do not restrict yourself to gender stereotypes, but do not blatantly defy them for sport.
32. Do not outwardly reject society’s conventions of a woman just because they differ from your personal convictions.
These points led to some discussions about “gentlemanly” behaviors like opening doors, offering seats on the bus, and taking on physical labor tasks so women don’t have to do them. It was pointed out by some that this is intended as a sign of respect toward women, and not intended to be degrading.
No, those acts generally aren’t intended to be degrading, but they very much can be. Here’s an example from my own experience:
My two most recent jobs (with the same company for which I worked 10 years) involved a pretty significant amount of warehouse work. I was management, but I was still loading trucks with a non-powered pallet jack and otherwise moving heavy materials on a fairly regular basis. Particularly in my most recent position, it was not uncommon for male employees to insist on stopping me from doing these tasks myself. Some would go so far as to actually grab the pallet jack away from me.
I don’t believe any of them did this maliciously. I believe they all meant well, but it made me uncomfortable and often angry. This was part of my job, which I took seriously. Their insistence on taking these tasks from me, even if they didn’t intend it, came with the implication that I was inherently unsuited to my position based on my gender. This is not only discouraging on a personal level; consider the fact that, whether you believe the wage gap between genders exists*, there are a significant number of people who believe such a gap is appropriate in part because they believe women do less work. When I’m trying to do my job and men consistently take key tasks over for me, is it not likely that what my supervisors see is me doing less of my own work? Furthermore, what they see is someone else “having” to take time out of doing their own work to do mine.
Again, I believe these men truly intended to be helpful, but when I politely turn down their offer and they insist or take it upon themselves to do it anyway, they are undermining my ability to demonstrate my merit in the workplace. It may be well-intentioned, but it is not always harmless.
Even when it’s not a matter of feeling degraded, I find it very uncomfortable. I truly believe that my gender should not be a factor in how I am treated as a default. I believe a man should show me no more, and no less respect than they would a man of comparable familiarity. If a man holds the door open for every woman, but doesn’t do so for other men, how is that not considered weird? How do you explain that behavior without just using an “it’s tradition” argument?
I defy quite a lot of cultural gender conventions, but I don’t do it “for sport” as the author suggests. I do it because those conventions feel completely unnatural and uncomfortable to me. Even when it comes to the appearance suggestions in the article, I don’t follow those conventions because I am profoundly uncomfortable wearing heels (I don’t like the way they make me feel “artificially” taller). I don’t adhere to “modesty” guidelines because low-cut, sleeveless tops that show my cleavage and shoulders look good on me and feel good on me, and much “conservative” clothing makes me look and feel even more awkward than I already am.
So, if I find these conventions restrictive and unnatural for myself, why wouldn’t I outwardly reject them? What reason is there to reject society’s conventions if not because they differ from my personal convictions? My gender is part of me. It does not define me, nor do the expectations our culture has for it.
This does not make me any less of a woman.
* It does exist, but I don’t want to derail this topic with that argument. The point here is that there are plenty of people who don’t think it’s a problem if it does.
I’m a fat girl. After many years, I’ve broken the cycle of hating myself for it, dieting, gaining the weight back, and then hating myself even more for it. Certainly, I still have body-image issues, but it’s more of an occasional outbreak rather than a feedback loop.
These days, I just try to focus less on my dimensions and more on my overall health and happiness. So far, it’s serving me well.
I’ve also taken to reassuring other fatties that they don’t have to hate themselves, and that they can wear bright colors, horizontal stripes, shorts, tank tops and whatever else if that’s what they like to wear. There’s a culture of shame around being overweight in which fat people, and especially fat women, are expected to display guilt about their weight, and I try to dispel it wherever I can.
This makes me part of the size-acceptance movement, and boy-howdy that makes people angry. I’m not really sure why. I’m just fat. I’m not, like, being fat at anyone. Mostly I just know how much it sucks to hate myself, and I like to try to help other people not feel that way.
But then, there are a lot of weird misconceptions about size-acceptance. Now, I can only really speak for my own experience, so I’m going to respond to each myth as if it is directed to me, personally, to give folks a look at what size-acceptance means to me. However, that I exist still helps to demonstrate that these common assumptions about size-acceptance are, in fact, only assumptions.
“You think anyone who isn’t attracted to you is a bigot.”
Nope. If you don’t find me attractive, that’s all good. There are certain things I don’t find aesthetically attractive either. Generally, I am not physically attracted to really muscular men. Just not my thing.
But there is a big difference between “I am not physically attracted to fat people” and “No one could possibly be attracted to a fat person for real”. This is a message repeated to fat people both directly and through media distortions. I wasted entirely too much time in my life believing it, even when evidence to the contrary was literally right in my face.
The truth there is a very wide range of people who will still be attracted to you. Some people are just straight-up physically attracted to fat people. Some people are _only_ attracted to fat people. Some people aren’t particularly attracted to fat figures, but still find themselves attracted to fat people based on sets of other traits.
So, no, I don’t expect everybody to be physically attracted to everybody else out of fairness. What I expect is for people to not assume their preference is a universal standard.
“You just don’t want to be held accountable for your unhealthy lifestyle.”
Not true. The thing is, I only want to be held accountable by people with credible knowledge of my health. I’m currently being treated for poly-cystic ovary syndrome (which causes insulin resistance and weight gain), chronic acute asthma (which means I can’t always keep to an exercise routine, and I have to take steroidal medications that promote weight gain), and generalized anxiety disorder (one of the symptoms of which is a binge-eating disorder). My doctors and my therapist keep tabs on my activity levels, my nutrition, my blood work, and yes, my weight fluctuations. They are in a far better position to discuss my health with me than, well, pretty much anyone else.
“You just want everyone to believe that being overweight is always genetic/hormonal.”
No, I acknowledge that isn’t the case. Some people are definitely overweight because they overeat on unhealthy foods and get little exercise. What I want is for people to acknowledge the following:
1.) As the Fat Nutritionist puts it, “Your weight is morally neutral”. Body size is not an indicator of how good a person is, how useful a person is, or how worthy the person is of respect.
2.) Even if you insist on placing a moral value on a person’s body size, you really can’t determine which ones are fat for medical reasons from the ones who are fat from lack of effort just by their physical appearance (a common example: People who complain about fat people using the mobility scooters provided for disabled patrons at stores, because apparently you can’t be both fat and “legitimately” disabled for… reasons.)
“You just don’t want to do what needs to be done to lose the weight.”
Okay, I’ll cop to this one, but I’d argue that it’s acceptable for me to make that decision. Though even as a teenager with a bodyfat percentage around 18%, I was never “skinny”, I could conceivably get back to a weight that people looking at only my body would deem “healthy”. However, the time, effort, and resources required to get there would be disproportionate to the rewards for doing so.
You see, it’s not a matter of will-power or motivation; it’s largely a matter of time-management. Under the ideal circumstances, I’m working full-time and operating my sideline art/graphic design business. I have to grocery shop and do housework like everyone else, and get a reasonable amount of sleep to allow myself ot function. In addition to that, I like to spend time with friends and romantic partners (despite part of the myth being that fat people don’t get to have social lives). Sometimes, I need down-time alone to unwind and recharge. There have been times in my life where my schedule meant I could have either a social life or a regular exercise routine. I chose the social life every time, because life is too short not to.
“You only care about fat-shaming, not skinny-shaming.”
False. Telling a skinny person to “Just eat a sandwich, already” is every bit as malicious and obnoxious as telling a fat person to “spend some time on the treadmill”. Body-shaming is body-shaming, and it’s stupid at best and damaging at worst. However, again, I can only actually speak for my own experiences.
See! When I put it that way, the whole thing doesn’t sound so bad, does it? In the end, the size-acceptance issue is just one more way to follow Wheaton’s Law. It’s just that simple.