When you grow up as a female, you get used to all of the outlandishly obscene and fucked up things guys say to you. If you’re a survivalist, you even develop a sense of humor about it. Some comments are more degrading than others. Some are simply stupid. I’ve heard a lot of degrading comments about my gender or my appearance or my nature throughout the course of my life. I’m not a subtle person. I stand out. This much I know.
At this point in my life, I’m used to being approached by strangers. I’ve developed a pretty big repertoire of come-backs and creative distractions to filter out comments or unwanted attention but sometimes it’s hard to ignore how blatantly obvious that males still assume ownership over females. Now, I’ll admit, that’s a pretty big sweeping statement but it holds a particular weight for me even today. Last Friday night I was walking down Polk Street to get some food and there was a group of drunk guys smoking cigarettes at the corner of the street. Having no option but to walk past them, one of the guys leaped out of the group and stomped on the ground, quite like you’d do to a dog to startle them. Out of compulsory reaction, I spun around anticipating violence and was met with “come here, kitty kitty!” Gauging that he was too drunk to even stand, I turned back around and started walking. He stomped again and shouted “GET OVER HERE. NOW.” The aggression continued to build with the velocity of distance I was placing between us until I heard a defeated “stupid bitch” whittle off. I’d like to consider myself to be pretty rational. Context is necessary when facing a world like ours, but there is something about the entitlement to female presence that has never made sense to me. I’ve spent years repressing an underlying resentment of my opposite gender for this instinctual assumption of ownership.
What my mother never told me about beauty is that it isn’t always kind. When people consider you to be attractive, there comes a specific complexity attached to it. You’re given two choices: you can hide from it and deny it to the core and place an emphasis on other things around you, or, you can put it on display and parade it around as your identity. The truth is that it’s more complicated than that. Being “pretty” has this silent mysticism around it and it’s hard for people to talk about not only because it’s objective, but because it’s dangerous. I recently read the Rape of Persephone and her (forced) marriage to Hades. Colloquially speaking, Homer tells a tale of Zeus’s daughter who is kidnapped while minding her own business and dragged into the Underworld by Hades who then rapes her and forces her to marry him. Zeus being the asshole that he is secretly arranged the deal with Hades, pawning his daughter off to some strange dark lord for reasons long since retired by time. I could delve into details about the story, but more importantly it says a lot about male entitlement and power. Women were traded as assets for land and money by men that created them. Rape was just a consequence of having a body that was more enticing than their own.
When you look at rape in it’s fundamental elements, you see a struggle for power but there’s an odd shift of weight in responsibility. I’ve been groped in public before and when I reacted strongly against it, some people said “well look what you’re wearing”. Its easy to blame it on the woman for looking the way that she does. For genetically having a more favorable appearance. For being so bold as to walk down a street without a man wearing a dress that flatters a curve or two. For speaking when not spoken to. Women even cut down other women in this strange, backwards reality. When I complain about unwanted attention, some of my friends say “at least you get attention”. Am I supposed to feel good about being harassed by strangers because of some freak genetic development I had no control over? Am I supposed to feel grateful for the value that beauty places on me?
Even writing this is vain, or so some would say. How can you possibly complain about being attractive? Well it’s because you cease to have common ground with others when you are. You’re either placed on a pedestal and worshipped for a while, or you get raped or you get old and then stop feeling valuable because you built your entire identity on being beautiful. Or… The possibilities are endless. Beauty is like culture, it changes and loses validity.
Im a photographer. The majority of male photographers I’ve met have always told me that I should be in front of the camera instead of behind it. Though I’m sure most of them are trying to pay a compliment, it deeply hurts to be told this because what you’re actually saying is: your identity is your physical beauty and that cannot coexist with any technical ability. How dare I question that logic? Would it make me conceited to say that I am pretty but I am greater than my body? What consequence does that have as a female?
Ive met some pretty damn attractive males in my life and they all have one thing in common: they’re respected for what they do AND how they look. Those things are given to them without much work or resistance. I find myself having to struggle for respect amongst my more intellectual peers. I find myself jumping through hoop after hoop to encourage brevity in my art, music, or writing. It seems to be judged more harshly. Perhaps it could be self consciousness but even that, in itself, is just the problem. We’re taught to second guess.
It’s not my fault that I happen to be a female. And it’s also not my responsibility to convince you to respect me more than a pretty fleshbag of occasional quips. Women are not domesticated animals, they are human beings and when you peg a person into a place where their physical composure is their identity, you create a world of imbalanced values. You create a world where women quietly hate you for complimenting them on their looks because, let’s be honest, there is more to us than that. Sure, you have a lot more opportunities when you’re attractive like marrying rich or getting famous. But these “successes” are built on the foundation of physicality and the male perspective of value.
Anyone that knows me can argue that I enjoy fashion and talk about sexuality openly. Some would even argue that it contradicts my perspective of feminism. Fashion and sexuality are elements that embody the artistic and cultural perspective. They’re human facets that root a culture into place. Beauty isn’t a thing and it can’t be possessed or owned in the same ways that an idea can’t be possessed solely by one person.
There is something wrong here with the way we see ourselves and the way we see the opposite gender. There is something wrong with the weight we place on beauty. Theres an absence of attention in the intention of our actions and it’s perpetuating itself in this cyclical quest for validity.
And it doesn’t have to be this way.
Every time I start a blog post I always try to contextualize it before I start. It’s the same issue I’ve had my entire life: I’m always trying to fit the periods of my life in some thematic topic box. Put a frame around this period or that period. Try to find meaning in all of my experiences to tell some relevant story on a broader social topic, but the truth is that life is all just one big collection of semantic experiences that add into this greater whole.
Part of this issue that I’ve discovered through writing in secret is that I’ve always been afraid about being open with my emotions. Expressing to someone how you feel is so much different when you oscillate between a visual world and written one. I’ve never been a good writer and it’s something that I’ve always been more passionate about improving than my visual narrative. It’s sometimes easy to see a picture at face value. Here, we see a portrait of a girl. Desaturated and blueish. Hidden by hair. Moody. Debatably trying too hard to look feminine. I took this photo when I first moved into my current apartment and at this time I was feeling very disconnected to any sense of belonging or place. This photo was taken in my room to create the essence of what I wanted my room to be: airy, ephemeral, oceanic. I wanted to find comfort in those elements. The complicated thing about the picture is that Im hiding in it. I hide behind my hair, something which has become a symbol of my connection to femininity. I hide behind the colors, my voice. I tuck my head between my shoulders because I hadn’t quite adjusted to the weight of discovering myself in this new environment. The ring is my mother’s and I carry it’s history through my own.
I’ve spent a lot of time hiding in my photographs, even candids of strangers. Part of this is because I don’t believe that beauty is primarily rooted in what is tangible. I don’t believe that you can tell a complete story with a picture. I see beauty in complexities (even if they make my head hurt) which is why I connected with art more than anything else in my life. The meaning of life is in the quest for meaning itself. My purpose is to communicate that.
Which brings me back to my problem point: How does an “artist” become a story teller? I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this in my long, emotional journey to figure out “what I want to do with My Life” and the answers never seem to be as easy to find. The deeper I dig to search for a path towards my greater “future” (…career) the more disconnected I find myself from it. Since going back to school, I find myself at this strange divide between what works in a logical context and what works in an emotionally fulfilling one. Here, I am told that being honest and emotionally open can hurt your career and in another plane, I am at my best when I am being, as my friends call it, an “emotional exhibitionist”. Can anyone truly find a financially rewarding career by sharing their semantic experiences with the world? Can anyone be respected for it?
Were you expecting some epiphany at the end of this blog post? So was I. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to fit everything in a summary box and just be honest.