Ladies: Are you Shrewd, or are you Sick?

I think we can all agree the feminist issue is not dead, right? Whatever might be going on in the world right now, this is one of those things that won’t go away. Not until we have true equality. Same with issues of Race, Xenophobia and Sexuality — even Animal cruelty. We’re not free until we are all free.

Glennon Doyle’s new book ‘Untamed’, is intoxicating. A feminist emancipation. So full of insights springing from personal experience, it blossoms out as lessons begging to be integrated into your own existence. Her holistic approach means nothing is off the table: home and family life; LGBTQ and civil rights issues; being white and getting involved in the racism debate.

Underneath all these vignettes is the thread of becoming. Becoming who you are, not what you should be. The tagline — “stop pleasing start living” calls it. We are all guilty of trying to please others, rather than pleasing ourselves.

Within these pages, I recognised my own thoughts. Lying under the surface, unconscious consciousness. What Glennon calls our “knowing”.

In one section she writes of how society puts women into cages: How to look, behave, feel, how to express yourself, how to be a ‘good girl’, a menagerie of judgments. These girls become women. Women fated to be coerced into cages, or those who run from them.

In short, “girls born into a patriarchal society become either shrewd or sick. It’s one or the other”.

This makes sense on the surface. But I have to admit that I am both.

Being Sick

I am aware of capitalist bullshit. And yet, I have fallen into the traps set by media and advertising. I’ve felt my emotions are ‘too much’, and tried (usually unsuccessfully) to hide them. I’ve erased bits of myself to feel more ‘desirable’, I worry about my weight, a lot. I’m overly critical of myself with an eye begat by the image-obsessed society we live in.

And sometimes, when I see a skinny model in an advert I think, “I have to stop eating”. Indignation usually follows, but these thoughts horrify me.

This is the sickness: Believing you are not already whole, and bending to society’s view of what that is. The job, the car, the partner. Your status.

The sickness is caused by any culturally held action or belief that becomes an ‘imperative’. Leaving people who don’t conform feeling outside or ‘other’.

So I know this sickness. I’m a super-collector of damaging beliefs who knows enough to see them as a symptom of indoctrination. Note the damage they cause, psychological or otherwise, and move away. And I have been arming myself against it for years. I’m undoing the belief that being ‘skinny’ gives women worth. I am on the right track!

…Even if I do still pull up my shirt up every time I pass a mirror, just to check my tummy is flat.

Part of the remedy is admitting that life is messy and humans are fallible. Perfection is fetishised in the media and advertising, creating so much strain on us mortals. But, what sits behind the indoctrination machine? Other mortals. Fallible ones.

The machine spouts opinion. Not fact.

We can know this academically, but the machine is still running, insidiously incorporating us as cogs.

How do we wilfully disengage with its messages and begin to heal?

Being Shrewd

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that if you can swallow a bunch of outmoded gender values, you can do the same in reverse. (Thanks Jane Austin)

Before I spoke or wrote, I read and listened. I discovered an enclave of beautiful warrior women who spoke their truth and were more inclusive than I ever imagined.

Now I bow to the Clarissa Pinkola-Estes’, Brené Browns, Glennon Doyles of the world; I watch anything by the Phoebe Waller-Bridge, soaking up the grieving and furious, fucking fabulous and outspoken female characters, so powerful in their own right. These are Women (yeah, I am capitalising that shit) who don’t shy away from messy imperfection, who call us to rebuild ourselves our way, rebuilding the world in tandem.

Their creations are medicine, a sucker punch to the insidious machine.

“When a woman finally learns that pleasing the world is impossible, she becomes free to learn how to please herself.” Glennon Doyle, Untamed

These voices are gifts of our time. Guides, sending us to that which exists inside us all, buried by years of systemic indoctrination. Here, we see our beauty, and don’t waste time comparing ourselves to others. It’s the voice that says “everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this.”

These Women live for/within their inclusive and loving ideologies. Their truths are powerful, they want to share them and lift other women up. They actively call for change, and never shy from debate. The stories told in books, podcast and film are as full of cohesion as contradiction. They know. life is messy!

I love these people because they invite us to think deeply, critically. A vital and powerful skill which, when mastered, inspires greater self-confidence.

When we name the sickness and seek our ‘tribe’, we require truth, honesty and compassion. This is what they gave me. We need hard conversations to break everything apart. We must cry as much as laugh together.

This is why podcasts like ‘The Guilty Feminist’ exist (And If you haven’t listened to it, I suggest you do). To bring patriarchal values into the limelight and laugh at the subtle ways we propel it. When laugh at our ridiculous selves, we expel the tension and become a little more enlightened. When we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we can pour the serious into the cause.

So when Deborah Frances-White starts the podcast with, “I’m a feminist but…” sharing some clandestine thought or behaviour, our laughter becomes a chorus of “me too”. A phrase imbued with fight and fury, a reminder to abused women that they aren’t alone. It has come to encapsulate everything.

The laughter of “me too” shows fearlessness. It’s a coping strategy, a healing action. It creates bonds that maintain fierce loyalty and honesty with good humour. A humour that nourishes, strengthens.

So. I am still a little sick, and my mind is saying “who cares what you think. You’re just a middle aged, middle weight, underachieving white girl from Surrey”. But I will finish this. And I will hit send.

I will do it because I want to reach anyone who feels both sick and shrewd. Because that’s ok. Everyone is really. We will be until our society stops trapping and labelling.

While we work on this, we must keep pulling each other up. We must keep exploring our thoughts and the world with curiosity, connecting with the people who speak a more inclusive truth. We must keep seeing each other as as perfectly imperfect.

This is how we pick those locks, break away from those cages and stay free.

Founder & Writer at Blognitive Therapy. Deeply committed to psychology, movement and mental health awareness. Fascinated by pretty much everything else.

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