Although I have “officially” completed this portfolio assignment, I wanted to revisit it to discuss Wednesday.
Rewind to the previous Wednesday, where my planning-an-ism-group focusing on transphobia and gender performance/presentation decided that we would challenge ourselves and our classmates and professor to pick “something that is integral to their/our gender identity” and alter it in some way over the course of the next week. The members of my group gave the option to complete this activity at Columbia, on the next class day, and agreed that we would do this ourselves, so that if someone else decided to, they would not be the only one.
I decided that for this activity, I would not “do” my hair-brush, product, style, etc, and just put it under a hat. Additionally I decided that I would not wear makeup, heels, jewelry, or accessories of any kind.
Fast-forward to two days ago. I had been nervous all week.
I put on my jeans, T-shirt, and hat as planned and nothing else. Finding I was ready twenty minutes early, ate some ice cream for breakfast (my version of a pep talk). Walking to the subway, I felt like a little boy. I watched as men on the corner who usually call to me said “Hello gorgeouuussss” to the woman in front of me and looked right through me. As some middle-aged women in my interviews described feeling as they aged, I was invisible.
Feeling not desirable, sexy, beautiful, or even cute, affected me in almost every interaction I had that day. It shook my self-confidence, it changed the way I walk and assert myself in conversations. I had conceived the activity to challenge what it might feel like to not be able to present as the gender we identified as, as the gender we ARE. But the activity turned itself on me, as these things often do. It became an exercise in misogyny, the male gaze, and internalized misogyny. I could not wait to go home to change and wear heels and flowers in my hair the next day. Even my size had become traitorous: as a skinny woman, I was perceived as attractive, the “right size.” Without my other feminine accessories and form-fitting clothes, I felt young-not like a man, but like a boy- and asexual.
Was I still myself? Somewhere beneath my “undone” face and hair and baggy clothes, of course I was myself. But I didn’t feel it. The world has spent the past 27 years teaching me that the BEST me, the most desirable, presentable, acceptable, RESpectable, successful version of myself, takes an hour to “become” each morning and otherwise, I was doing it wrong.
I don’t want to end this blog by condemning myself or other women and taking the onus off of men and patriarchy for putting this male gaze, this rape culture, this blatant and more covert misogyny upon us. It is NOT our job to shake this but we may be the only ones willing to begin interrupting it. Even just a thought: perhaps I don’t shave my legs twice a week. Perhaps I let my hair frizz. Part of this is difficult for me because it intersects hugely with my OCD: ‘put-together’ means a different thing to me and moisturizing, accessorizing, perfect hair, perfect face, perfect matching underwear and bra: these give me peace of mind on multiple levels, they are part of a checklist.
Or MAYBE, maybe, I look at each piece of it and try to find out what feels good to me: the essential me. Maybe I have internalized, breathed in, so much misogyny, so much genuine hatred and non-acceptance of who women really are that this will be a never-ending process. I’m okay with that.
If I let my hair puff and swirl and put flowers in it, maybe I am more that original me than the girl with ironed hair OR the girl with all her hair beneath a cap.