I’ve been reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. I’m almost half way through it and I can appreciate her candid and honest approach to feminism. Essentially, Gay is proclaiming that she doesn’t have all of the feminist answers, and that she’s not a perfect feminist, but feminism and being a feminist don’t have to mean the perfect, inflated, capital F stature that we often raise it to in our culture. It’s refreshing to read stories about her life as a young professor, about moving to a small town to take a job, and about growing up being a social outsider; I’m finding comfort in this book.
The most glaring of reasons for why Gay’s book is so comforting to me probably has to do with the fact that I recognize my own feminist discrepancies as they play out in my lifestyle. A few months ago, Colbie Caillat released the single and music video for “Try,” and I was moved. After hearing it a few times, I began covering the song on my guitar and singing the lyrics as I watched my daughter hobble around the house, curly coifed, stubby toed, chubby cheeked, and bright eyed. Of all of the lessons I will teach her, embracing all of her gifts is one I hope to succeed in. As suggested in Caillat’s lyrics, all she and any other women really have to do is make their best go at being smart, aware, and happy. Perfect hair, nails, faces, and waistlines are trivial.
At the same time that my heart hopes this, I find myself maintaining carefully orchestrated regimens for my own hair, nails, and body. I don’t go without makeup. I check myself in the mirror before stepping out. I enjoy wearing clothes that flatter my body.
Holy crap, I’m a bad feminist, too.
Last week, as I flat-ironed my freshly washed and dried hair, my daughter peered into the mirror, looking at me in fascination. I let her continue to watch as I started spreading foundation onto my face, the strokes of blush, pats of eye shadow, and as I combed mascara through my lashes. She was mesmerized, and smiled at me with a sort of curious admiration. I felt really lucky in that moment, because having a daughter means getting to show her how makeup works, and shopping for dresses, and cute shoes, and bows, and sweet perfume.
But do those things make me a bad feminist mom? Am I a hypocrite because I guilt myself into running three miles three times a week in order to keep my waistline at what I consider to be an acceptable size? Should I be ousted from the feminist club for wanting to be sexy? According to Roxane Gay, no I shouldn’t, but wow is it hard to make your feminist case if you’re not some butch, braless amazon.
I plan to teach Kennedy to love herself as she is, but I still waver on how to also profess a message that cosmetic upkeep doesn’t make a woman a sell out. In a world where appearance has the power to influence everything from how approachable you are in public to your likeliness at getting a raise at work, it’s actually in a woman’s advantage to do her hair and makeup. It shouldn’t be, but this truth is undeniable. Men, on the other hand, can achieve success regardless of how they look (Donald Trump).
I guess the professor in me should start planning my lessons on this now. Oh, the questions she will ask…