In the early days of this website (read: a year ago, maybe two), I used to write about feminism a lot. To me, the definition of a feminist has always been simple and requires no academic training. You believe women deserve equal respect and rights as men and you also don’t look the other way when the universe decides to take a giant dump on a girl’s face. There! Instant feminism that’s ready to serve at dinner parties. (Best garnished with a slice of outrage.)
Then, somewhere along the way, I stopped writing about gender because reading the comments on a post would seriously delete years off my life span and I also didn’t feel like I had anything else to add to the discourse. Recently though, I had an experience that made me realize just how fucked we are in terms of treating women fairly and I just haaaaaaaaddddddd to share it with you guys.
So, a few weeks ago, I was at a house party living, laughing, and loving like I usually am, when this girl, let’s call her Sam, started to chat me up. Sam seemed totally sweet and normal. Definitely a fun person to get to know for one night. But then, as these things so often happen, she got drunk and stuff got weird.
I don’t know how but the two of us managed to get on the subject of feminism. Honestly, I was expecting to hear some backwards opinions from this girl because that was just the kind of vibe I was getting. To my surprise though, Sam told me she identified as a strong feminist.
“Fuck it,” she slurred, waving her cup in the air like she just don’t care. “I know this is controversial or whatever but I am a major feminist and not afraid to talk about it!”
(BTW, the fact that people are fearful of talking about being a feminist in 2013 in NYC—a place where we freely discuss our sex lives, abortions, financial situations, and drug use—is slightly unnerving.)
“There’s no shame in the feminism game,” I told her. “What’s the alternative? Being shitty to women?”
Just then, another female partygoer who had been eavesdropping on our conversation, chimed in: “Uh oh. We got a feminist over here!” She then turned to Sam’s boyfriend, Jason, who had been smoking a cigarette across the balcony, and said: “She must be quite the handful! I don’t envy you!”
Ew. Sam and I ceremoniously rolled our eyes at this lady’s ignorant comment. She whispered in my ear: “See? That’s the kind of shit I’m talking about.”
I nodded and understood. I liked Sam. She seemed like she “got it” and was on the right side of things (or, perhaps I should say more accurately, my side). Visions of us exchanging numbers and becoming casual brunch friends danced in my head.
But then she did something no one should ever do when they’re drunk at a house party: she started talking about Girls.
Leaning in to me, she said, “Can I just be honest and say that I don’t like Girls.” Oh my god. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say something about that show, I’d be able to build my own Planned Parenthood and give away free pap smears. SMDH.
“Really? I love it. Why don’t you like it?”
“I just don’t think it’s that well-written and I don’t relate to the characters and…” Sam paused. “I know this sounds mean but I can’t stand looking at Lena Dunham’s naked body!”
Jesus. Here we go. An interesting observation I’ve made since Girls aired: Most women are uncomfortable with Lena Dunham’s naked body. Not just uncomfortable but offended. Her naked body makes them angry. It’s fascinating and disturbing stuff. Many of my friends who are smart, well-educated and identify as feminists, have vocalized their distaste for seeing her naked. WTF? Women are so conditioned to hate each other’s bodies and their own. It’s so sad. Also, I don’t mean to be cunty here, but I’ve seen most of my girlfriends naked and they all look totally normal. Some have a little cellulite or a soft stomach, even if they’re very thin. That’s just how people look when they’re naked. There’s flaws. It makes you realize just how airbrushed and photoshopped the images we see onscreen of naked women are. If my 25-year-old size 4 girlfriend has a little bit of cellulite, guess what? We all do.
Anyway, I have zero tolerance for people expressing disgust about Lena Dunham’s naked body, especially if you just FUCKING told me you were a feminist.
“What about it offends you?” I asked Sam.
She got flustered. “I don’t know. It’s just gross. She shouldn’t be getting naked, I’m sorry!”
“I find people’s visceral reactions to her naked body to be a little scary. The fact that people are outraged about it speaks to the damage the media has caused with their unrealistic expectations about women’s bodies. Lena Dunham should continue getting naked until it stops pissing people off.” (I wasn’t this articulate but it was the gist.)
Sam didn’t really have anything to say about that, not because my logic was brilliant and impossible to tear down, but because she was drunk and wanted to focus on eating her hot dog. We fought a little bit about it though, in that casual inebriated way. She saw my point but also stood steadfast to her own, which was that Lena Dunham does not have a perfect body and therefore shouldn’t be putting it on display.
It reminded me of the first time I saw Tiny Furniture in theaters and legitimately gasped when I saw Dunham’s cellulite on screen. Never mind that I had a flawed soft body myself and had been seeing people’s imperfect naked bodies for years. My mind had forgotten all of that. In that moment, I was just shocked to see a real body exposed publicly. After the shock wore off, I became annoyed at myself for feeling surprised. Do we all have amnesia when we watch movies and TV and forget what people actually look like naked?
Sam then switched the subject and talked about the area of feminism that appealed to her the most, which was the harmful question: “Can women have it all?” “Tina Fey was on a press junket with Steve Carell for their movie Date Night,” Sam said. “And the interviewers kept on asking her how it felt to balance work with having kids but no one asked Steve Carell that. No one asked him what it felt like to be a working dad.”
I agreed with Sam completely but I couldn’t shake off her body-snarking. (At one point, she even pointed to another girl at the party and giggled to me, “She should not be wearing a crop top, okay?”) What’s terrifying is that someone can identify as a feminist, have good politics, and unknowingly hold on to such harmful ideas about gender. AGGGH! It reminds me of that Joan Didion quote in her essay, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”, where she says, ” It is possible for people to be the unconscious instruments of values they would strenuously reject on a conscious level.” Here was a girl who shouted her feminism from the mountaintops and still felt okay criticizing a woman’s muffin top.
Nobody’s perfect. Everybody is a hypocrite. I find myself backpedaling into body-snarking and slut-shaming and when that happens I have to stop and acknowledge it as harmful behavior that’s been indoctrinated by our society. (SORRY, SO LIBERAL ARTS GIRL RIGHT NOW.) We’ve all been brainwashed. Do we really give a shit if a chubby person is naked or are we just mad because we’ve been told how a body should look and that’s not it? Here we are, starving ourselves to look perfect, and here comes along a person who’s happy with herself and her body. It’s a threat! In my experience, the only way to combat your own ignorance is to ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way?” and then if you can’t come up with a good enough reason, you change your damn attitude.