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But I Thought Feminism Gave Me Self-Esteem…

Apparently I don’t have very much self-esteem. At least not the way my therapist defines it.

I suppose she’s right. I’ve done a lot in my 31 years yet I rarely give myself credit for anything. I second guess almost every decision. I am constantly arguing with the voices in my head that aren’t really mine. Yet simultaneously getting confused sifting through the words echoing in my brain – are these my values or someone else’s?

Upon reflection, it would be accurate to say I am insecure in that I do not feel secure in myself. Because a lot of my time and energy is spent sorting out what IS myself and what is not. Even very basic things can sometimes consume me to the point where it stops me from doing what I want to do. I question what I want and whether I should want it, constantly looking for a reason not to take the very next step – the step that, a few steps back, I was aching to take. I am often pining for some time in the future, yet when that time comes I am terrified, frozen, unable to move. Then I pine for another time down the road. Until the tension gets so uncomfortable I take the damn step as I’m half-averting my eyes away. Sometimes I laugh that it was so easy. Other times I question whether I should have taken the step at all and worry endlessly about whether I should even be here. And I pine again for another time that will somehow be different, a few steps ahead of the one I’m struggling with. Up there, it’ll be easy.

It does get easier. Yet this is hard to acknowledge. There are starts and stops to personal growth. ’Ignorance is bliss’ isn’t accurate, though at times I reminisce as if it was. In ignorance I assumed it was all me. Now, even if I am insecure, I know deep down that I must be okay because I’m no different from anyone else. If I see value in other people, that logically means there is value in me. I love the ‘new age’ (though its more like super old) concept that we’re all connected, as if we’re each different manifestations of the same life. The same need to live that implores me to get out of bed every morning does to you, though it may look different (I have to pee, I’m hungry, my kids are screaming, my dog needs a walk, I’m late to work). Before I had this idea, the logical conclusion is that there was something wrong with me and other people were therefore better. Now from this perspective, if you’re a cool person then I must also be a cool person deep down (though you and I both may not act cool sometimes). This makes intuitive sense to me. It feels like one of those truths about the world. At least for now. And it operates to temper too much finger pointing at myself. Oh I’ll go at it with myself for awhile, but there IS an end point. There are increasingly happy breaks before it creeps in again.

It is hard to admit because I thought I was past these insecurities. I thought my time studying feminism somehow melted it all away when I decided whatever I read about that supposedly subordinated women, I’d just do the opposite. I decided I wouldn’t preoccupy myself with silly ‘women’s issues’ like beauty and babies because I’d be enacting patriarchy in my own life and no way in hell was I going to do THAT. And somehow by NOT doing things I read were cultural expressions of sexism and misogyny I would be free. Looking back it was actually more silly to think all my problems could have been erased by diverting my attention away.

Where feminism failed me was in developing my own sense of self worth. Feminism was paraded as empowering yet became another external metric to measure myself against. If only I could erase the impact of the patriarchy on my life, all would be okay. Almost all of the attention in feminist writing was on the ways we have been put down by a male dominated system. Which I do not disagree with, at least not in entirety (I now believe the problem is more an oligarchy than patriarchy, though those oligarchs have usually been men; nonetheless, men suffer under existing social conditions too, we all experience gender-based social pains). Yet I did not learn the many ways in which it was okay to be feminine, and okay to be a woman. I did not learn to be embodied, that is, to be present in my physical pleasures and pains. I was not taught how to establish healthy boundaries. I did not delve deeply into myself and my experiences to discover my unique gifts and the value I bring to the world. I mostly learned how the world suppressed them. And in reaction I tried to suppress anything that might have contributed. But in the process, I suppressed parts of myself that needed healing in exchange for false bravado. Just because someone yells something doesn’t make it true.

Those parts, and others pushed down far far earlier in my life, are now being stirred up. I’m feeling things I haven’t felt since I was a teenager. What was underlying my 10 years on anti-depressants (ages 14-24). Processing old, old emotions that feel fresh and new. My insecurity is at a high, though that isn’t necessarily new, I’m just finally looking at it. The form is much more overt.

I have so many rules in my mind, and my emotions are constantly getting set off when I break one, yet the ‘real me’ (the spiritual me, my soul or higher self) exists on a plane where those rules don’t make sense. Self-esteem, I’m now seeing, is about listening to that part of myself and trusting it. That’s what I’m learning to do.

Edited: September 5th, 2014

Sometimes Conservative Christians Have a Point

I don’t agree with everything this woman says, but the judgment of her choices and beliefs is sadly common. This blog is fascinating because it demonstrates that no ideology can speak for everyone, especially not one that is said to speak for 50% of the population. Its ironic that while many people who consider themselves to be feminist have done some amazing things throughout history for women (and men) (and continue to do so) yet others use the term almost as a slur – how ABC people are NOT feminists because they believe or do XYZ (such as ‘sex workers can’t be feminists because they sell their bodies to men and contribute to the patriarchy’) – and that’s a problem. For them. Because they’re soooo unenlightened. The same way people who call themselves ‘liberal’ and listen to NPR often snub their nose at ‘conservatives’ who watch Fox News – not as if they simply reflect a difference of opinion, but as if the NPR-listener is inherently better, smarter, more advanced, more “progressive” (a term that has its origins in the eugenics movement & isn’t as historically awesome as people make it out to be).

Also I personally think we’re moving into a 4th wave of feminism… but more on that another time.

Originally posted on Tumblr.

Edited: August 13th, 2014

We Don’t Ask for Our Desires…

… so we may as well get friendly with them.

Even if they’re weird, humiliating, or violent (so long as nobody REALLY gets hurt).

Here’s what self-defined feminist, Emily, has to say about her fantasies (many of which overlap my own interests):

I consider myself to err on the side of sexual submission. I have never been into the performative aspects of it all — I am not some weird sex LARPer who wants to wear costumes and address each other as “Master” and “Slave.” I don’t want to go to special events, I shouldn’t have to wear pleather just to get it done, and I don’t want to “play.” I want to have weird sex with weird people who like weird things, like an adult.

Some of those weird things that I like include: rough breast play including slapping, clothespins and ropes; name-calling of the slut-bitch-whore variety; forced deepthroating; facials; “Daddy” talk; rape play; spanking; dirty talk; hair-pulling; group sex; anal; and basically anything else filthy/nasty/taboo/found in your average pornographic video. Also, and here’s the stuff that’s more for special occasions and that I don’t want to admit on a site for ladies: being slapped, being spit on, being choked, being urinated on.

I don’t begrudge anyone their role as captain of their own sexual steamship. Desire is complicated and tricky to regulate — I don’t think I could stop being turned on by being treated “badly” any easier than a gay man could suddenly start being attracted to women. I might prefer that my big controversial sex preferences involved whipped cream or whatever instead of wanting to be slapped in the face during intercourse, but that is not the hand I was dealt.

We all, male and female, live in a world where a wider range of sexual activity is visible and accessible to us. As long as we keep consent, respect and common courtesy top of mind, that fact in itself doesn’t have to hurt anybody.

Sometimes I hear women say that by engaging in “politically incorrect” sex, we are sending a message to men that all women want to be treated in such a manner. But consensual sexual activity, even if it resembles some nonconsual sexual activity, isn’t rape any more than movie murder is real murder. And while some people certainly think we should eliminate movie violence lest it drive the easily influenced to commit violent acts, we’re not talking about movies here. We’re talking about people. And you can’t eliminate people or ask them to eliminate parts of themselves, no matter how messy or unappealing their desires may seem to you.

Since we can’t erase reality, we better start dealing in nuance.

Getting slapped and called a slut because it turns me on and I’ve asked for it is not abuse. The men who want to do that are not abusers; in fact a lot of them are some of the nicest and most respectful men I’ve met outside of the bedroom. Rape play and rape are never going to be the same thing. And pretending that the two are similar is actually way more confusing and dangerous than clearly differentiating them.

If our men truly can’t tell the difference between hurting, abusing and degrading a woman, and participating in consensual play utilizing some of these elements, then the problem lies with them and sexual education in our society, not with those temptingly rape-able women who enjoy rough play.

If you are still confused, consider this: After we’re done, when I’m spent from being used, being told I’m a filthy whore as you hold me down or toss me around or hit me if those are the boundaries we’ve agreed upon, when I’m covered in saliva and sweat and bodily fluids, look at my face. I will be smiling.

That’s the difference.

Edited: March 12th, 2014

Is Porn Degrading to Women? Answers From a Female Porn Executive

I don’t agree with the anal part… I’d have thrown in in the ‘jackhammer’ move (as a move to NEVER do) to accompany the dude’s toolbelt, but its still funny and pretty true.

Edited: October 6th, 2012

Women Against Pornography: Is Pornography Propaganda Against Women?

Short answer: No. Not according to Laura Kipnis, author of Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America

Pornography does, in an emotional sense, do profound violence – emotional violence – to some women. However, for women who hate pornography, the violence it inflicts is to female identity and “female sensibility”

Not all women dislike pornography; some even like it a lot. So obviously there’s a spectrum of female identities. But the problem most women who don’t like porn is that they don’t recognize the female characters in it as “like me” – either physically, or in their desires. These big-breasted porno bimbos want to have sex all the time, with any guy no matter how disgusting, will do anything, moan like they like it, and aren’t repulsed by male body fluids – in fact, adore them – wherever they land. Women who dislike porn refer to this as a male fantasy, but what exactly is it a fantasy about? Well, it seems like a fantasy of a one-gender world, a world in which male and female sexuality is completely commensurable, as opposed to whatever sexual incompatibilities actually exist.

Women Against Pornography

Women Against Pornography

Heterosexual pornography creates a fantastical world composed of two sexes but one gender, and that one gender looks a lot more like what we think of (perhaps stereotypically) as “male.” Pornography’s premise is this: What would a world in which men and women were sexually alike look like? (The romance [book] industry proposes a similar hypothesis in reverse: What would the world look like if men were emotionally and romantically compatible with women?) So pornography’s fantasy is also of gender malleability, although one in which it’s women who should be the malleable ones. Whereas feminism’s (and romance fiction’s) paradigm of gender malleability is mostly that men should change. It’s possible that the women who are most offended by pornography are those most invested int he idea of femininity as something static and stable, as something inborn that inheres within us. (“Women are like this, men are like that.”) But of course, sexuality is completely malleable (and sexuality is a component of gender, by which I mean masculinity and femininity), altering radically over history, or with education level, age, religion, etc.

One model for looking at pornography oddly be as a kind of science fiction; that is, as a fantasy about futurity, whose setting is the present. We don’t get offended when science fiction imagines different futures, even dystopic ones set in worlds that look like our own. Of course one reason that women, and particularly feminists, have a hard time either enjoying pornography as an interesting gender fantasy, or dismissing it as a harmless gender fantasy, is our worry that in a world in which men have more social power than women, men have the power to force their fantasy of a one-gender world onto unwilling women, who have their own ideas about how female sexuality should feel. But is pornography proffered (and enjoyed) as a form of propaganda? And if you think so, why presume that pornography alone, among the vast range of cultural forms, works as indoctrination, whereas every other popular genre is understood as inhabiting the realm of fiction, entertainment, even ideas, not as having megalomaniacal ambitions to transform the world into itself? We don’t spend a lot of time worrying that viewers of pro wrestling will suddenly be seized with some all-consuming impulse to wrestle innocent passersby to the ground. On what grounds are such megalomaniacal intentions imputed to pornography?

Edited: March 6th, 2012