By Morgana Lizzio-Wilson
TW: Some crude language, sexual references
Over the past few weeks, I have noticed something interesting about myself. Something that has long evaded my attention, but I am now painfully aware of. I must confess this ‘quirk’ of mine – it cannot remain unscrutinised. When I am home, I exude an aura of self-confidence and sass. I am shrewd and bold in my critiques of current events, popular culture, and mass media. I proudly proclaim that I haven’t shaved my legs and underarms in over a month. I show my partner each night, and cheekily say, ‘Like what you see, baby? I’m a-a-a-all natural.’ I don’t care that my hair is greasy, or that a constellation of pimples is forming on my chin. I straddle my partner in bed, and brazenly declare how much I love and want him. I celebrate my vagina. I look at it, inquisitively touch it, sensually stroke it. In fact, I celebrate my whole body. I caress my curves and proudly wiggle my ass in the mirror. Powerful and intelligent women, like Julia Gillard and Franchesca Ramsey, command my respect and admiration.
Then I get dressed, grab my keys, walk outside… and everything changes.
I trundle down the hill to uni, and suddenly become very aware of my trembling thighs and bloated gut. I worry that a wicked combination of my sunglasses and sweat are slowly eroding my perfect make-up. Before I go to class, I make a customary detour to the toilets. I lock myself inside one of the stalls and impatiently wait for my moist face to dry before re-applying my L’Oreal security blanket. I swipe my hand along my groin to check for offensive odours, and furiously re-apply deodorant to my overgrown armpits (which I must keep hidden at any cost). My overall aim is to walk outside looking ‘effortlessly cool’, like I’m not incessantly questioning my self-worth.
On a good day, when my charade is particularly convincing, I will pass another woman and catch her staring at me from the corner of her eye. This looks communicates a combination of envy, anger, disgust, and self-deprecation…and it makes my spirit soar. I must look hot to have gotten such a reaction from her (among women, a ‘switchblade stare’ is the equivalent of a public smack down). On a bad day, when my superficial efforts to bolster my confidence fall flat, I constantly compare myself to other women, and belittle their achievements and abilities.
Within my body lies two distinct personalities: one bolshy, empowered feminist, and one fragile, diffident bully. When I realized that these two personas existed, I began to ache. How could I lead this double life, but still call myself a feminist? How could my public and private personas be so devastatingly different? At the end of each day I would derisively ask myself, ‘what the fuck is wrong with you?’ I realise now that was the wrong question to ask. It’s not what’s wrong with me – it’s what’s wrong with society.
When I’m in private, surrounded by those I love and trust the most, I emanate moxie. I like to believe this is who I really am (or at least, who I will be when I sort myself out). But when I venture out of my ideological safe-space, I am constantly bombarded with messages that my self-worth is contingent upon the validation others choose to give me. I have to embody an unattainable standard of beauty and act in a demure fashion or face the consequences. In all the haste, hurt, and confusion, the bully takes control. To say that I abandon my feminist morals entirely would be untrue. I can recall many occasions when I have unapologetically confronted hostile sexists and their charming views of women. But I, and many other women, are guilty of willingly colluding with other insidious forms of sexism and oppression. One of the biggest plights of my generation is that we think that sexism ended with the 60’s and second wave feminism. ‘Everything’s equal now,’ many have said to me. ‘Women can work, vote, and go to university. What’s unfair about that? You’re so over sensitive.’ After hearing variations of the same speech for most of my adult life, I soon learnt to restrain my PDA (public displays of activism).
A former friend of mine would often comment on how ‘pathetic’ some women were (harsh, I know). The women who would smack their coloured lips and suggestively stroke their tanned bellies to ‘attract and appease’ their male counterparts. She would scoff at how they would go home with men and ‘do anything’ to satisfy them. Yet she failed to realize that she was also one of these ‘pathetic’ women. She may have kept her lips nude and her skin alabaster, but the seduction ritual and its consequences were the same. The following morning, she would come into my room, divulge her sexual exploits, and state how it was ‘no big deal’. That he enjoyed her performance, and that she had relished in his satisfaction.
At the time, I was actively disgusted by her hypocrisy. But now, I can hardly blame her – we’re all human, and we all want to be loved and accepted. It’s just unfortunate that so many women, myself included, feel that this is necessary at any cost. But blaming us, calling us ‘ignorant’, and pigeonholing us as ‘part of the problem’ is not the answer. Our behaviour is a symptom of a greater issue. We live in a cultural context that does not support women’s liberation and freedom – not entirely, at least. The proud women we are in private become our ‘stay-at-home-personas’ out of fear. But hopefully, this agonizing double-life will soon be a thing of the past. Hopefully, this public proclamation will compel myself and others to question and subvert the forces which prevent us all from leading remarkable lives. Hopefully, this confession has meant something.