Image by Mark Raker
By Kristine Rose, AP contributor
I will always be grateful to the Jewish side of my family for not being pushy. From them I got some chocolate-covered coins, a few good stories, and my wavy hair. The Catholic side was a bit keener on the indoctrination shtick. From the age of seven I was to attend CCD classes so Jesus could enter my heart; whether I wanted him there or not wasn’t much of a concern. For a few weeks the teacher gave me the hard sell and I gave this unfamiliar world a shot. I even opened the bible of my own accord a couple of times. Some of it was violent, I could dig that.
Over a relatively short amount of time my seven-year-old attention span waned. Much like today, my favorite word then was “why” and their answers were increasingly dissatisfying. For something that the grown-ups said was so important, the whole deal didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I remember during one particularly fervent lecture of the fire and brimstone variety, a rogue thought permeated the haze of judgment for just a second: I don’t care.
That’s a startling realization for a little kid to have, and one that seems to be increasingly difficult for the adults around me now. The idea that you don’t have to subscribe to what others tell you is compulsory. You could have your own values, and they were more important than anything external. It was a notion so inherently powerful that I didn’t even speak the words out loud. They were just for me. So the Catholic church could go on for years and years drilling something into my head, and they sure did, but it was ultimately in vain. I knew in my heart that I did not care.
As you walk uphill towards adulthood, you’re supposed to lose that conviction. You’re supposed to be mutable, to get along in the world.
Doing what’s expected of you takes a peculiar form for women: a veritable tightrope of being pretty but not too pretty, sexual but not too sexual, nice but not too nice, smart but not too smart. There’s always somebody to please. The patriarchy, the feminists, your parents, your partners, your teachers—they all want to tell you that you’re somehow sending the wrong message. No matter who you are or what you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong. You don’t know what’s best for yourself. But the thing is, you do.
I would hardly call myself a Kardashian fan, but after Kim’s latest nude selfie caused a media commotion I read the resulting think pieces. And the Instagram comments. Well . . . many of them said things that I
On one side of the fence there were people calling Kim every derogatory name in the book and citing her motherhood as a reason the selfie was inappropriate, as though somehow posing nude has any impact on what kind of a parent you are. On the other side were feminist articles claiming that even though Kim claimed to feel empowered by the photo, she wasn’t actually since she was playing into the male gaze.
Kim’s agency seemed to get lost in the mix. Her reasons for posting the selfie were secondary to its supposed effect. On the one hand, the notion that because a person is “somebody’s mother” they cannot possibly be a sexual being is absurd. What is that teaching your children, really? That sexuality is a dirty thing divorced from respectability? You had your choice between Madonna and whore and you chose Madonna, so now you’re shoehorned in that niche. What a grown woman chooses to do with her body has no bearing on what type of a parent she is. Even if Kim was actually a sex worker, as long as she kept that part of her life separate from her child, she could be a good mother. What kind of example is she setting? Well, that depends on what sort of conversation she has with her children when they are old enough to ask about her photos.
On the other hand, assertions that her choice couldn’t possibly be empowering ring false to me also. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical about someone’s choice or questioning it, but when you leave no room for the possibility that the person may actually have examined their intentions and know damn well just what they’re doing, you infantilize them. Period. Because there are people out there who do take into account society and media and messages they’ve received, who do look at the big picture and make their choice anyway because of any number of reasons they deem more important. We seem to keep coming back to the idea that if you’re doing something the patriarchy approves of it’s clearly because you don’t know any better. You don’t understand, you poor, poor thing. And it’s hard to believe anyone thinks THAT is empowering.
I do agree that we as individuals should question everything. We should be skeptical of every decision we make and be sure we are really doing it for the right reasons, the reasons that are true to us. I don’t know if Kim asked herself these questions—I for one don’t feel comfortable speaking for her—but I know that I do. I know that when I paint my nails and wear makeup and shave my body hair, it is something the male gaze would approve of. I have full knowledge of that, and yet I find myself returning to my old friend: not giving a singular fuck. Because you know what? If I don’t do things that I like, that I want to do, because of what men will think, they win. They win in the same way they would win if I did things I did not want to do for them.
That vein of anti-choice feminism doesn’t seem too far off from the sexist policies on school uniforms that have received so much criticism. If you look a certain way and act a certain way, you may inspire lust, even if that wasn’t your intent. And it’s your responsibility not to do that. It’s your responsibility to not only anticipate the reaction your every move will elicit from men but to go out of your way to counteract it, even at the loss of your own preferences. I’m gonna go ahead and give a great big fuck you to that sentiment. Other people’s thoughts while looking at me—men’s thoughts—are not my problem. I’m not going to live in fear of anybody’s boner. Because whether you find it positive or negative, if you make it your problem, you’re still making choices according to how men will react. Feminism shouldn’t be your jealous boyfriend, whispering in your ear, “If you do that men will look at you. And that’s your fault.”
I do in fact examine what’s influenced my choices at almost every turn. If I did have a religion, it would be self-awareness. I would gladly go door to door witnessing the miracle of that. You should absolutely ask yourself the hard questions. If you find yourself doing something with an audience in mind, and that makes you uncomfortable, it’s worth working through it and changing that behavior. But I have a real problem with the idea that no matter what you do, you can’t possibly ever truly think for yourself. There’s a palpable condescension in there, and I think the root of it is that we confuse “this is a common thing, this happens often” with “every single person must think/feel/do this”.
Just because there are women who post selfies for validation does not mean that’s automatically what Kim is doing. It doesn’t mean that is what everyone who posts a selfie is doing. We contain multitudes, whether we choose to share them with the general populace or not. So if there is a negative assumption that is made when a woman posts sexy and/or nude photos, that it means she is only a body, that attitude is what we need to combat. Not the actions of the women.
When it comes to people objectifying me, I will call them out on it every time. What I will not do is alter my behavior to prevent it. That’s being controlled. That’s living in fear. When I post images online I’m just kind of shouting into the void, I’m not sitting there counting my likes in order to feel like I have permission to exist. I’m sure some people are but I’m not particularly interested in having to prove the court of public opinion wrong with my every move. THAT is exhausting. It is not my responsibility. I’m simply taking up space in the way I see fit.
It may be ironic to write a whole article about not caring, but it’s really more about being tired of having other people speak for me and deciding what’s important to me simply because I’m a woman. I’m tired of every article I read assuming I’m jealous and insecure and desperate for approval because I’m a woman. I’m tired of hearing why I’m making the choices I’m making because I couldn’t possibly figure it out for myself. I’m even tired of people assuming I must hate my body (I don’t). And I cannot be the only one.
_ _ _ _ _
Kristine Rose is a make-up artist, esthetician, and writer. She strongly believes in each individual’s right to express themselves through style, make up, and body modification (or lack thereof). Beauty writing is her one true passion and she intends to revel in it until her untimely death, crushed under the weight of her own jewelry. Follow her on Instagram: @swansaredead and @_partoftheproblem_. Or contact her via email.