Feminine Feminism? Part II: Challenging Perceptions

November 24, 2009

Here it is! This is Part 2 of 2 on challenging our conceptions of feminism and femininity. Part 1 may be found here.

In Part 1, we discussed how femininity and feminism are not antithetical to one another, as inspired by this Feministing post. Here, I want to discuss the image and presentation of femininity, and how it influences our perceptions.

One of the tumblrs that I follow is La Douleur Exquise by Miss Wallflower that is basically a celebration of all things feminine. Every day dozens of pictures are uploaded that reflect the general theme, emphasizing fashion photography, bon bons, woodland creatures, books, tea and inspirational quotes. I am acutely aware of its flaws. The majority of women featured are white and waif-like. It emphasizes traditional gender roles and promotes women’s sexuality and aesthetic appeal as their primary quality. But for its artistic merit, it also forces me to confront these images, and question how their meaning is received today.

My feminist theory professor was also really into art, so receiving the presentation and questioning the meaning of these images goes hand in hand with cultural feminism for me. For example, here are a few photographs that piqued my interest:

Girl kissing boy on bench Read the rest of this entry »

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Me, My Weight and I: Tales from that skinny girl

October 1, 2009

Today I want to address a different side of body issues: those of us who work to gain weight, not lose it. I have always been pretty small… okay, a frigging beanpole all my life. It’s been a pretty sensitive issue for me too. I still remember some awful girls spreading rumours I had an eating disorder in Grade 8 because I didn’t finish the weird food on my plate during a field trip (I’ve always been picky with food, so I got extra bread instead). So, yeah, I’m skinny. I think it is extremely important to stress that every body shape, size and type comes with its own benefits and difficulties. I’m very uncomfortable with the hyper-sexualisation of my body type. And it’s even harder when people assume you should be grateful for it. So here’s my experience, along with some tips for anyone who has trouble eating at times.

Firstly, a distinction must be made. I am not a medical professional, and I do not have anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder. In this posting I am discussing methods of coping with stress or depression-related appetite suppression, also known as anorexia. Anorexia is a symptom in which a person experiences a loss of appetite. This can be caused by everything from stress to medication to significant emotional loss. It is even used to describe the experience of ‘fullness’ after a large meal. If severe, it can also be a symptom for more serious medical issues, including anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is a serious medical and psychological disorder characterized by compulsive dieting and weight loss, body image issues and issues of control. For more information there are a variety of professional resources available on the web, and if you think you may have anorexia nervosa or any form of serious eating disorder, please, please see a doctor or at least tell a close friend or family member about it immediately.

Here’s my story:

Entering high school I had just had a major growth spurt. In gym class, we learned about BMI indexes, and I struggled that year to have my weight catch up with my height. I exercised more to build up muscle mass, and by the end of my first year had put on ten whole pounds to clock in at a decent 108lbs for my now 5’5” frame. Over the next four years, I gradually filled out to hover around a healthy 118lbs. Although my activity level decreased somewhat in the latter years as I weaned my body off a jam-packed dance schedule, my metabolism was still going quite strong. And thanks to an endearing first love who taught me to embrace all parts of my body, I was doing pretty damn well on the body image scale. I knew I looked good, and I liked that I was healthy. I was secure in my place in life and my high grades had opened up a wonderful new world of academia. And then I came to university…

Read the rest of this entry »


In Case You Needed More Reason to Love Johann Hari

September 22, 2009

We’re having a few hiccups getting post authorization set up, so the following post is by Val:

I can’t say that I love the vitriol apparent in his voice when describing emaciated models (who are, in fact, some of the primary victims here), but his anger seems to be directed more at the men who enforce that particular “aesthetic” than at the women themselves.  In any case, he makes some damn good points. In drawing on Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth (one of my personal favorites), he says:

Wolf points out something remarkable in the shifting tides of the fashion world. Whenever women become stronger in the real world, fashion models — our collective vision of Beauty Incarnate — become weaker and scrawnier. In the 1910s, it was considered beautiful for women to have soft, rounded hips, thighs and bellies: most women’s natural shape. In the 1920s, when women got the vote, the idea of what was beautiful shrank. Suddenly models became bonier and feeble — and women started to starve themselves. In the 1950s, when women’s rights receded, women could be curvy and eat again. With the 1960s and the rise of feminism, models became smaller and smaller — until today, when women are breaking glass ceilings, and emaciated models are the norm.

Read the entire article here.


Roundtable: Thoughts on the Omega Women + Power Conference

September 19, 2009

Welcome to the F-Wave Blog!  This is a space for seven young women to talk about issues of importance to our lives and communities, and to learn from each others’ experiences (and have a little fun while doing it.)  We met last weekend at the Omega Institute’s Women + Power Conference, and so we thought it would be appropriate for our first “roundtable” post to be a wrap-up of the conference.  You can learn more about us on the “About” page.  You can also follow this blog using the RSS Feed link to the right, or follow us on Twitter @thefwave. We hope you enjoy reading, and always feel free to give us your feedback in the comments section, or by e-mailing us (e-mails found on the About page).

Val:

This was the feminism my father warned me about.  Or more specifically, these were the feminists my father worried about.  Gloria Steinem and her bra-burning gang of man-hating , castrating, abortion-loving Feminazis.  This is not to say that there was any bra-burning (just bra abstaining) or castrating (that I know of) at the Women + Power Conference.  But these were women of all ages, who threw around words like “heteronormativity” and discussed female power and subjugation with flagrant abandon—and they were certainly more than this OC girl had ever seen together at one time.  Perhaps that is what struck me most about the conference.  Sitting on the shuttle, winding through the mists and the mountains of upstate New York, I was electrified with excitement at my realization that I was sitting on a bus full of young women JUST LIKE ME.  And not like me at all.  Dozens of women from all backgrounds who were brought together because we believe in Feminism, not as an antiquated study of generations past, but as a living and vital force in our own contemporary culture.  We are not too distracted by our iStuff to notice that women are still not receiving pay equal to men, that we are still afraid to walk the city streets alone at night, that we still feel the eye of the male gaze.  And not only that, but these we young women see the injustice of a world where heterosexuality is the standard by which all else is judged.  We see that people of color continue to be treated as second class citizens, even in states like my own, where they are the majority.  We see all of these things, and we will not stand by.  That refusal to be complicit, to be silent, to be complacent was the bolstering impression that I took with me from Omega.  Yes, there were shortcomings.  White, middle-aged, upper-middle-class women still comprised the majority of the participants.  Young women (meaning under the age of thirty), were given a shockingly small voice.  Issues of gender and sexuality went largely unmentioned.  But the truly young women were not of this nature, and coming from a generation who has supposedly tuned out from the pressing issues of the day, it was exhilarating to find that we are everywhere, and we are fighting.

Lisa:

So much of my feminist learnin’ comes from reading books and blogs. The conference really reminded me that discussion and actually making opinionated statements are much more valuable than sitting at a computer screen, nodding your head in agreement with the text you’re reading.

Becky:

Omega was a transformative experience for me. I’ve been feeling very burnt out this year, and was even questioning my commitment to my program and school in general. Spending this weekend with all these wonderful women was just the kind of energy boost I needed. Everything seemed more than I could possibly dream, like getting to speak to Gloria Steinem, meeting and hanging out with the wonder women of Feministing.com, hearing from women across the board on issues of interest to me. Most of all, getting to meet some new best friends from all over Canada and the U.S. was my absolute favourite part.

We spoke a lot of the communities that feminism creates among women. And even though we had only just met hours before, and we had very little in common as a group other than our feminism, we were able to connect on a level that allowed us to share our thoughts, voices and experiences without any fear of judgement, reprisal or rejection. One of my most overwhelming experiences was getting to talk about body issues in the sauna. For the first time in my life, my body was just a body, not for anyone’s consumption, and I loved it so much. It made me realise how important these woman-woman connections are to understanding and accepting ourselves. And in light of the inter-generational dialogue theme of the conference, I think it’s reflected in our need to interact with and hear the stories of women of all ages, from all backgrounds and experiences. There was an energy on that campus, and it wasn’t just the estrogen permeating the air, lol. There was an air of possibility and hope and power. Sure there are a lot of issues we still need to work on, like the representation of non-hetero sexualities, but overall there was a feeling that no matter what, we can overcome any obstacles in our way. The movement is strong within us. 🙂

Mary:

The Women + Power conference was kind of attitude-altering for me.  Having the privilege of seeing some of my heroes (Gloria Steinem, Samhita and Jessica of Feministing) and finding new role models (Sakena Yacoobi and Helen Thomas), and making friends with other young women who relate to me geeking out over powerful interesting, motivated at talented women of all walks of life really made me realize I am much more interested in being PART of the feminist movement.  I might not end up protesting down the streets of DC with a bullhorn and a battle-cry (which is awesome) but I do think that being active in some way, verbally on a blog, politically by voting, etc, or socially by simply making waves when someone in my home says something racist or sexist is imperative.  I like the idea of being more conscious and feminist in my daily life even if I don’t make a career of it.  As a young, broke, brown woman from a different walk of life than many of my fellow conference attendees, I feel getting my perspective in the mix on the general blogosphere is an important step in creating a holistic community.

Judith:

For me, the conference was a mixture of feeling very empowered at times and dealing with a lot of anger at other times.  On the one hand, I had a great feeling of being in this “safe” space.  Not only was it safe in the sense of not worrying about the negative energy that comes from being stared at on the street, or safe in the sense of being able to express my views, but also safe in funny little ways like not having to worry about accidentally eating meet in the dining hall.  It was wonderful to get away from my life, to recharge, to do some yoga, to meet some amazing women, and to assess where I am in my life and where I’m going.  I also enjoyed connecting with women of different generations, even though some of that experience was colored by the heteronormativity and privilege of it all.

On the flip side, I found myself frequently questioning my own reactions, especially to the women on stage.  Interspersed with wonderful wisdom and insight from Gloria Steinem, Helen Thomas, Isabel Allende, etc. were some comments that sat funny with me.  There was a lot of talk about how women, while trying to empower themselves, have become too aggressive, not embracing their “feminine,” caring side.  This was often linked to children and family and (sometimes) men.  There was also lots of talk of mentoring, which I think is great, but where does one find a mentor on the street?  So I reacted to a lot of this with a mix of “hmm, maybe I do need to allow myself to be more emotional” and the more abrasive “fuck that shit.”  The juxtaposition of these groups of traits as “masculine” and “feminine” was especially troubling.  I felt some essentialization of “woman” creeping in, and it made me feel like an outsider at times.  That said, the conference has given me a lot to think about, and I’m so excited about blogging with these amazing women.