Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Super-Feminist!

When Gloria Steinem wrote Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, critics used the opportunity to deride feminism. If a feminist icon such as Steinem admitted to suffering low self-esteem, feminism must be a complete failure.

For several days now, I have felt like a complete failure.

You see, I’ve proudly claimed that women can be opinionated, loud-mouthed and forceful, and also, married. I’ve believed we don’t need to feed egos of husbands today the way my mother spoon-fed my father in the past, and I’ve held myself out as evidence.

But I no longer know what I believe.

Good God—whatever you do—don’t tell the patriarchy! Apparently, my doubt doesn’t expose the weakness of humanity, but the weakness of feminism.

“You’re ruining the reputation of feminism,” an acquaintance recently reproached my state of uncertainty and emotional vulnerability. I don’t think he realized he had just endowed me with incredible political power—much more than I can possibly claim!

Does feminism imply immunity to pain, assault, personal tragedy? Superhuman self-esteem?

Steinem reminds us that the “powers that be” have no motive to boost our confidence. Low self-esteem keeps us in place: obedient and pliable; doubting and distrusting of our own gut instincts. So, in revolt, we must strive to nurture our self-worth.

But how can we do this if we don’t acknowledge that we falter; if we pose as perfect role models for friends and family? And how can we do this without leaving ourselves open to harsh criticism? Hell, we can’t, can we?

Since my husband left, I’ve been agonizing over self-worth, wondering if my mother was right when she told me: “No one will ever love you.” I was a young teen at the time; impressionable.

In a recent conversation with a divorced man, we shared the lists we write to remind ourselves of daily functions (while our hearts are mending). I told him “Remember to Eat” was in mine. He told me “Remember to Wake” was in his.

Remember to love me.

I’ve added this to my list. Mom—she’s been wrong all along. Even if I must remind myself in writing; even if, during a dark hour, I can’t establish much more reason than challenging a false authority, I will love me.

-----

Dear Readers, I look forward to the time when I may read your essays in peace again. I miss your writing and your inspiration!

25 repartee:

Blogger Sayre wrote...

I have always believed, in spite of the political and literary definitions, that true feminism is being the best woman that you can be. Period. For some people that is being outspoken and visually active in the betterment of lives. For other people it is working quietly behind the scenes and making impacts on lives that aren't necessarily obvious.

I, of course, have much more to say about all of this, but I'm running out the door to work. Just had to comment and give you a virtual hug. Sounds like you're having a tough go of it right now, Frankengirl. Hang in there. Things WILL get better.

7/25/2006 10:08 AM  
Blogger JLB wrote...

Hello FrankenGirl,

It is so good to hear from you! I can only imagine the sorts of challenges you are currently facing. Sayre makes a wonderful point about feminism being defined as a woman being the best that she can be – or to put it another way, for women to be true to themselves as any other person should be.

None of us is perfect - nor should we be. If we all came sailing into this world flawless and perfectly-formed, what would be the point?

I look forward to the chance to read the work you referenced by Steinem. I’ve been in your shoes, wondering if I’d failed myself and my ideals above all other things during my periods of insecurity and self-doubt.

Upon closer inspection, I realized that I couldn’t be more wrong: being true to myself and my ideals often means that I have to make mistakes, be uncertain, and wade through periods of doubt. Being in the midst of uncertainty can ultimately lead us towards one critical path: growth.

I think that your addition of Remember to love me. is beautiful FrankenGirl – something we should all have on our lists! Your mother most definitely had it wrong – you are capable and deserving of loving and being loved.

Sending you good thoughts FrankenGirl,
JLB

7/25/2006 10:32 AM  
Blogger niTin wrote...

All I feel like saying is that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
And I personally appreciate that you've not kept your angsts to yourself but have shared them with your virtual friends, who are friends nonetheless and better than real ones in many cases. I hope you'll feel better.
And no matter about the others. We love you.

7/25/2006 10:51 AM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl!
*BIG HUG* It is lovely to see you again! I have missed you and I wondered if you were doing ok.

I think people tend to confuse (and search for) the difference between what is "feminism" and what is "human". If a feminist isn't allowed to feel low, she is not given a right to a full spectrum of human emotions. This in itself is in opposition to what the word "feminism" should protect: a woman's equality as a human being.

Take care of yourself Frankengirl! Don't let anyone depreciate your worth!

7/25/2006 10:58 AM  
Blogger susan wrote...

I never thought (and I've been thinking for 57 years, now) that you had to be any particular way to be a feminist. Self esteem just comes, sooner or later (and later, if you aren't raised with it), as we recognize the changes in our lives as successes, whether small or large. I am a feminist because my models for success, my assumptions about how the world should be and how I should be in it are based on my radicalizing experiences. If men don't love fat bodies, I guess I think woman have to look around at each other to judge what prettiness is. If men don't want to promote women in the workplace, then those of us who move up the ladder have to look behind ourselves and pull our sisters up. I struggle with the same issues (including self-esteem) now that I struggled with thirty years ago in feminist consciousness raising groups - I survive despite self doubt, oppression, my upbringing, my culture, and I succeed because I can share whatever strength I have with other women, who, by the way, may not even think of the issues you discuss as feminist issues. So you just keep on keeping on. You sound okay to me, even if you don't always feel it to you.

7/25/2006 12:33 PM  
Blogger Bored Dominatrix wrote...

Hi, Frankengirl! So glad you're posting again!

Does feminism imply immunity to pain, assault, personal tragedy? Superhuman self-esteem?

Good heavens! Maybe I read too much theology. I have always thought William James was right when he wrote, "Our civilization is founded on the shambles, and every individual existence goes out in a lonely spasm of helpless agony. If you protest, my friend, wait till you arrive there yourself!"

Femnism seems to me a movement born from pain, assault, personal tragedy. It claims that women are made to suffer because they are women, in ways that men are not required to suffer because they are men.

Compassion and a decent sense of the obvious teaches us that no one--not feminists of either gender, not women who aren't feminists, not even the most powerful and privileged of men--is immune from suffering.

Feminism asks us, at its base, to value the suffering of women as much as the suffering of men.

Your unhappiness matters, Frankengirl, and I hope you find ways to be happy and to recover from the personal tragedy you're experiencing. Being unhappy because an important relationship is ending doesn't mean you're a bad person or a bad feminist. It just means you're human.

I fervently believe that feminism is not only strong enough to deal with your personal unhappiness, but founded on the ways that women have historically suffered more--financially, professionally, socially--from divorce than men did.

So be as unhappy and uncertain as you need to be right now, and know that there are feminists who don't feel the least bit threatened by the fact that you're unhappy--they're just sad in sympathy with you.

7/25/2006 12:35 PM  
Blogger Cristina wrote...

You're back! :D

Nowhere does it say that as a feminist you aren't allowed to have your low moments. Granted, we'd all like to be happy all the time but when that's not possible we don't want people to add insult to injury by telling us we are ruining anything.

IMO, being a feminist means being able to develop yourself fully, to express yourself and to be mistress of your own life. If feminism asks you to hide yourself behind a mask, to put on a show - then there's something very wrong with it, and it has definitely not achieved its goal: letting women be themselves freely.

I feel the same way when some feminists frown upon Charlotte Brontë or Virginia Woolf being married women. Where does it say that a feminist should be single? Nowhere. The feminist in question may do what she thinks best as long as she is searching for her own happiness and development, be that being single, married, with triplets or living on top of the Himalaya with a goat for all company.

Take good care of yourself.

7/25/2006 12:43 PM  
Blogger The Poodle's Friend wrote...

Frankengirl, I love you too!=) And I'm so glad you're back. I was worried and I really missed your posts.

I think the item on your list is exactly right. Remember to love yourself, because you have all the reasons to do so. I can think of one right now: you're a feminist. You believe in something, and you fight for it. So many people go through life without a trace of ideals. You, on the other hand, have an ideal in mind that you are striving to achieve, which is much harder than being apathetic, because as you point out, feminisits are human before anything else, and humans aren't always perfect.

So, be yourself and try to be happy, love youself and don't forget to eat! =)

TPF

7/25/2006 2:14 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

As usual, you guys blow me away with your comments! - :D

Sayre!

I love your definition of feminism: “I have always believed, in spite of the political and literary definitions, that true feminism is being the best woman that you can be. Period.”

Yes! Feminists aren’t cut from a “feminist cloth” – despite how society may wish to label and categorize us. We bring unique and diverse temperaments and talents into this world, and I especially like how you give a nod to those who work quietly behind the scenes.

Thanks for the virtual hug!

JLB!

Thank you for sharing with me that you’ve been in my “shoes.” Some days, I wear strong and sturdy boots. Other days, I struggle in a flimsy pair of slippers. If I can’t always choose my “shoes” on a given day, at least I can choose the direction in which I’ll walk (if not today, tomorrow…)

“…being true to myself and my ideals often means that I have to make mistakes, be uncertain, and wade through periods of doubt. Being in the midst of uncertainty can ultimately lead us towards one critical path: growth.”

How true! My life ultimately holds no more uncertainty than it did before. Only now, I can no longer pretend that change and uncertainty don’t accompany me on my journey. When I accept doubt, I won’t feel so much discomfort in its company.

Thanks for your good thoughts and your inspiring words!

niTin!

“And I personally appreciate that you've not kept your angsts to yourself but have shared them with your virtual friends…”

Thank you!!! I do feel that airing my angst is important.

So many real-worlders tell me how wonderful I look; how great I’m doing, and I feel dazed. I must be projecting a positive image. (Not that I long to have a meltdown in the middle of the library, but still…)

I feel it’s dishonest to pretend I’m handling this especially well. I have been dumped, dammit, and although I know I’ll be better for it, right now it stirs insecurities from childhood. My self-esteem is not impervious, and my behavior, not immaculate - ;)

Awww, niTin, thanks for the virtual luv!

7/25/2006 6:02 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

MysticGypsy!

Thanks for the hug! When I’m stuck inside the real world, I look forward to the end of my “nap-time,” because I have all of you to wake up to! - :D

“If a feminist isn't allowed to feel low, she is not given a right to a full spectrum of human emotions. This in itself is in opposition to what the word "feminism" should protect: a woman's equality as a human being.”

Yes! I have equal rights to misery and suffering, hehe! Okay, seriously, I love how you mention the full spectrum of human emotions. It’s an excellent point.

Gloria Steinem has noted how many critics overlooked passages in her “self-esteem book” in which she triumphed and focused only on pages where she admitted failings. They picked out pieces of her, instead of seeing her whole being.

Thanks for the positive thoughts!

---

Susan!

Thank you for your beautiful comment and sharing your experiences (and strength) with us.

“I struggle with the same issues (including self-esteem) now that I struggled with thirty years ago in feminist consciousness raising groups - I survive despite self doubt, oppression, my upbringing, my culture, and I succeed because I can share whatever strength I have with other women, who, by the way, may not even think of the issues you discuss as feminist issues.”

I love how you bring up survival and sisterhood. Our self-esteem as women is under attack on a daily basis as we are confronted by inequality and injustices around the world. And as you suggest, I believe women need women when it comes to self-esteem. We need to know that others like us have struggled and survived; fallen and risen; lost and found ourselves. We are not alone.

How I wish we had “feminist consciousness raising groups” today!

:)

7/25/2006 6:41 PM  
Blogger actonbell wrote...

Hi, Frankengirl! Glad to see you back:)

I can't possibly add to all the insightful comments above. I agree that being a feminist is about being the best you can be, without being limited by your gender. You are obviously too talented, and so full of passion, life, and thoughtfulness, to be submerged forever.

I think almost everyone has suffered from low self-esteem at one point or another. Most of us will, at some point, derive our self-worth from something external. I think that's part of the reason why most of us need to go away on vacation, once in awhile: to step back and be reminded of what's important and who we are, as people.

So, take care of yourself--do frivolous things, and EAT. And of course people love you!

7/25/2006 7:55 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Holly!

Thanks for the warm welcome - :)

I love the William James quote! And I do not protest! I do not dare! I have “arrived.”

“Feminism seems to me a movement born from pain, assault, personal tragedy. It claims that women are made to suffer because they are women, in ways that men are not required to suffer because they are men…Feminism asks us, at its base, to value the suffering of women as much as the suffering of men.”

Wow. This is an excellent definition. If we value our own suffering, our compassion for ourselves can help us to overcome it.

“So be as unhappy and uncertain as you need to be right now, and know that there are feminists who don't feel the least bit threatened by the fact that you're unhappy--they're just sad in sympathy with you.”

Thank you so much. This is perfect, lovely!

Cristina!

I really like what you write about a mask and a show. We shouldn’t have to hide or perform, but sometimes, grief feels like a “taboo” here in America.

“Nowhere does it say that as a feminist you aren't allowed to have your low moments.”

Yes—and as JLB has noted, we often make great discoveries about ourselves and our world in these difficult moments!

“The feminist in question may do what she thinks best as long as she is searching for her own happiness and development, be that being single, married, with triplets or living on top of the Himalaya with a goat for all company.”

Ha!!! Now you’ve inspired me… I’m picking up a goat and heading for Himalaya immediately! - ;)

It’s good to be back—thanks.

TPF!

Awww, I’ve truly missed you! Along with your comrade, Pan! I’m relieved to know you’re both back safe and sound—selfishly, of course, since I look forward to reading your words.

It’s perfect how you use our “feminist ideals” themselves as a reason to love ourselves. You’ve reminded me that the battle, win or lose, is what matters.

Thank you for your stirring comment and words of comfort!

7/25/2006 8:15 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

ActonBell!

Good to see you, too - :)

“Most of us will, at some point, derive our self-worth from something external. I think that's part of the reason why most of us need to go away on vacation, once in awhile: to step back and be reminded of what's important and who we are, as people.”

I think you’ve added something very important here. Being so caught up in the chaos of a situation that we can’t see clearly; have no perspective on it yet.

And yes! I need a vacation! ASAP!

“do frivolous things”

Terrific advice! Thank you - :D

7/25/2006 8:31 PM  
Blogger SlayGirl wrote...

Beautiful, poetic, your words speak as though you see into my soul. I am not always able to leave comments on you posts because your honesty in your self examination can affect me so deeply. Though I do not have your way with words I wanted to post to you now to say thank you for sharing this and I believe we could all benefit from more self love.

7/26/2006 4:23 AM  
Blogger Sophia wrote...

FrankenGirl! Along with NiTin and TPF, I love you too. And have missed you.

As They say, the best way to learn something is to teach it. And I think every one of us - single or attached - needs to learn how to love themselves. It feels so easy for me to tell you how much I think you have to offer the world and how much warmth you emit in your blog and your comments, but it is so hard to believe when it's yourself. We are taught that we shouldn't be vain, conceited, arrogant, yet at the same time we're supposed to love ourselves. Huh? How? Maybe it's just by being gentle with ourselves. Being forgiving, tolerant, patient. The same way you would treat a child. The child that was and is you.

I know it ain't the human touch, but through your beautiful words, we lucky ones have come to know you - that is, your innermost thoughts, your deepest feelings which you unselfishly share with us, your soul - and we love you just the way you are.

7/26/2006 7:40 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

SlayGirl!

Thank you for your generous words!

“I believe we could all benefit from more self love.”

Yes! This week, the following song title has been running through my mind: “Love the One You’re With.”

And so I’ve asked myself: Who are we guaranteed to be with for the rest of our lives? Ourselves! - :)

Sophia!

I have missed you, too!

“We are taught that we shouldn't be vain, conceited, arrogant, yet at the same time we're supposed to love ourselves. Huh? How?”

So true! When we’re young, we aren’t necessarily taught to love ourselves, even by well-meaning parents who project their own particular hopes and expectations onto us instead of nurturing our individuality and selfhood. And religion is often about humility, fear and conformity.

But I love your answer to your question:

“Maybe it's just by being gentle with ourselves. Being forgiving, tolerant, patient. The same way you would treat a child. The child that was and is you.”

Yes, if we don’t learn this from our parents, I think you’re absolutely right - we must become our own parent.

Thanks for sending the love all the way from Switzerland!

7/26/2006 11:13 AM  
Blogger Charlie wrote...

FG: It appears that both of us have become "shadow people", waiting for the right time and the right subject before we post.

I agree with all of the wonderful comments and yes, I do read them all. But I think I have a somewhat different "take" on feminism.

To me, feminism is not about having to justify your femininity or your humanity. It is not about your emotions, or your weaknesses, or your self-doubts, or your capacity to love and be loved.

Rather, feminism is about equality. Our mothers, and their mothers, and all of the mothers before them, accepted the role of being the #2 gender. Over the centuries, the June Cleaver persona of wearing an apron, most likely even to bed, was etched into stone. From childhood, this role was etched into your brain and your spirit.

For the modern woman, then, breaking those stones into pebbles is a daunting prospect and process. For you to say that a woman is equal to a man and deserving of equal rights is heresy. Most men, and many women, dismiss feminism as (pardon the crudity), "Chicks with dicks."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Feminists are not trying to be men, thank God, but equal to them in jobs, pay, intelligence (no problem there), opinions, sexual freedom, respect, and hundreds of other basic human rights.

And in all of this, your personal vulnerabilities and doubts should never be an issue, many of which were handed down to you from your foremothers.

This is a very personal opinion, but I suspect the reason your husband left was not because you are a feminist, but because he was unable to love the woman that you are.

7/26/2006 12:29 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Charlie!

How lovely to have you join us! (Shadow people, eh? Sounds kind of cool to me!)

I applaud your detailed depiction of feminism.

“Feminists are not trying to be men, thank God, but equal to them in jobs, pay, intelligence (no problem there), opinions, sexual freedom, respect, and hundreds of other basic human rights.”

I couldn’t agree more!

“And in all of this, your personal vulnerabilities and doubts should never be an issue, many of which were handed down to you from your foremothers.”

Yes, I believe this to be very, very true, but still - even knowing this - I can get stuck on this point.

For me, the trouble often lies in the tricky business of living out our beliefs in this imperfect world. Despite our intolerance for sexism, we may put up with a sexist boss, because we need to feed children at home. Thus, we are tolerating sexism to some degree.

In this way, my “angst” arises when I feel my behavior to be in conflict with my beliefs.

Of course, there are two ways of looking at this. Some may say - if Gloria Steinem is susceptible to self-destructive relationships, the rest of us are Doomed! Others may say - if Gloria Steinem is susceptible to self-destructive relationships, the rest of us have Hope! (Because who hasn’t been in a bad relationship at some point in their life?)

In the end, you and others here have reminded me that at the very core of feminism is the immense compassion for the struggle and strife of “our mothers, and their mothers, and all of the mothers before them” - which you write so well. To deny myself compassion is to go backward, not forward.

Ah, Pooper, look at all the thought you stirred! Thank you so - :)

7/26/2006 3:01 PM  
Blogger Sayre wrote...

I've re-read your post and all the comments that have come in... This is the most thought-provoking blog I read and I'm so glad you're back... pain and all.

Your comment that "Mom was wrong" got me thinking about the differences in the generations. To be truthful, I'm looking at essentially three generations, though only 10 years separates the first two.

My mother-in-law is nearly 80 and still lives with my father-in-law. He is the king and she is the slave. He is loud and opinionated; she is quiet and has little to say. She is one of the unhappiest women I've ever seen. For women like her, death of a spouse (divorce is not possible) is something to look forward to.

My own mother, who is 67, is still married to my father. My father is loud and opinionated, but he also knows that my mother is a person and has her own ideas. They don't always agree, and sometimes my mother winds up quietly seething, but it's a more equal partnership.

Then we come to me. I'm on my second marriage, this time to an unusually enlightened man when it comes to women's abilities and thoughts. It is a true partnership. He has his space; I have my space, and we enjoy our together space as well.

Looks cut and dried, doesn't it?

It's not. My first husband was of the same ilk as my father-in-law. My best friend is married to someone like my father. It took me several tries to wind up with the wonderful guy I have now.. who was brought up by my neanderthal father-in-law and invisible mother-in-law.

The thing is - everyone is different. And finding the "right" person for you is sometimes a needle-in-the-haystack proposition. In my opinion, a mate should embrace all the above definitions of feminism: love the woman you are (the best and the worst); accord you with equal footing intellectually and emotionally; respect what you do for a living and your right to do it; encourage your friendships with other people and include you in his own friendships.

This would be the ideal. Which makes it rare indeed.

7/27/2006 8:42 AM  
Blogger Sayre wrote...

An additional thought: Your ideal mate cannot do those things unless you accept those things for yourself too.

You must love the woman you are (best and worst); believe that your are equal in your intellect and emotional abilities; respect your rights to work and have friends that are not him - and do the same for him that you wish for yourself.

7/27/2006 8:47 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Sayre!

Thank you digging even deeper into this discussion!

The journey from your in-laws to your parents to yourself is fascinating - as well as the contrast between your enlightened husband and his “Neanderthal” father - ;)

My brother has often teased me that my feminism is partly a “reaction” to my mother, who is a perfect example of an oppressed person who subsequently oppresses those within her power, i.e. children.

It’s happy - :) and inspiring news to hear that you’ve found and enjoy a partnership which allows for individual and shared space, and a good reminder that this often comes through trial and error.

“You must love the woman you are (best and worst); believe that you are equal in your intellect and emotional abilities; respect your rights to work and have friends that are not him - and do the same for him that you wish for yourself.”

Yes! Although this isn’t what all of us our taught. In my early twenties, I was told that I was too picky; that I was holding out for the impossible. I think young women are often trained to a certain extent to lower expectations of men. I’ve seen so many strong women compromise because, mirroring society, they hold different standards for men than they do for themselves.

And of course, girls learn through many stories that the ultimate treasure is love whereas boys learn to relish the adventure itself.

It would be lovely if, upon leaving our parents house, they smiled upon us and said—Go out into the world and seek adventure and independence, and if you happen to find a partner along the way, remember that he is exactly that—a partner—not your journey or your destination.

:) Thanks for your wonderful comments!

7/27/2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger Rhonda wrote...

What a treat to pop in and find a new post - and an incredibly insightful one at that.

Feminism isn't about being untouchable and tough as nails. It isn't about supressing woman-hood, with its unique emotions. It is, I think, about knowing yourself (which involves tears and pain)so that you may love yourself and know you are a worthy person who does not have to compromise anything about herself.

Thanks, once again, for making me think!

7/28/2006 10:30 AM  
Blogger Sven wrote...

I agree with MysticGypsy and the premise that feminism is about a woman's equality as a human being. While it can be argued that said equality has not yet been fully realized in this country it seems the point of the struggle is to afford women the opportunity(right) to be opinionated, loud-mouthed and forceful, or not.

The difference is that women have the decision making power not men. To me that includes the right to feel uncertain and emotionally vulnerable as much as anything else.

I'm willing to bet that if you had found yourself at the end of a relationship/marriage with a women the agony would be much the same. Would it make you any more or less feminist without a man in the picture?

7/31/2006 10:29 AM  
Blogger pendlerpiken wrote...

I echo what Rhonda said.

And good to see you're back!
Remember to take good care of yourself in these difficult times. You have people who love you and esteem you, even from afar.

oh, and thanks for commenting on my blog :P

8/01/2006 8:14 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Dear Rhonda, Sven & Pendlerpiken!

I apologize for my long silence and for my hasty response now! (I have relatives staying and… hmmm… need I say more???)

Rhonda: Thank you for making ME think, too! I like how you embrace “woman-hood” with its “unique emotions” – and I expect — unique definitions as well—as each of us comes to terms with ourselves and our relationship to others and the world.

Sven: I particularly appreciate your point about the agony being the same regardless of gender! How true and poignant. Thank you!

Pendlerpiken: Thanks for the echo and the incredible support! :)

-----

Thank you ALL again for generously giving your voices to this post, this blog, this FrankenGirl.

8/04/2006 11:42 AM  

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