I’d never thought of feminism with any real in-depth analysis until December 2014. And you know what I found out? I was a competitor and I saw everyone as my opponent. Compete with men for intelligence, logic and sometimes straight up brawn. Compete with women for the same things and the attention of men.
When I realized that, I felt kinda sick. Always measuring against another person left me wondering what, exactly, do I compete with myself for to be better? What matters to me when there’s no one to compete with? I had no definitive answer that focused just on me.
So I decided to try something: redirect the competitive nature from outside to within. I had to think of a time that I truly enjoyed and focus on rediscovering that part of myself. I started with the period before The Hero and I got together. I realized that all of those things I loved – writing, painting, drawing, making jewelry, sending cards, reading – the things that made me distinctly me, had fallen off. So I challenged myself: make an artistic planner. Write down or sketch my ideas at least three times a week and devote one hour on the weekend to working on a creative project. Talk about floodgates! It’s like all of my creative energy was like ‘FINALLY!’
The second part, competing with other women, was harder. I’m sure this has been a lifelong thing, since my days of reading Harlequin Romance novels and my mom’s magazines (I wanted to be a Jet Beauty soo bad). I would size up other women and wonder what made them attractive to men. I’d ask The Hero to point out women that had ‘it’ and tell me why. I was taking inventory on how to be better than her, how to keep him from looking. I’m lightweight embarrassed writing this, but the competitor in me couldn’t seem to let it go. So I tried a different tactic, something that went against my nature: I started complimenting the women I envied. I began to appreciate that each woman was doing her at that moment and was secure in her womanness. That changed how I saw myself. I stopped obsessing about my belly fat, jiggly thighs, Spongebob-shaped ass, half-full closet, small make-up and nail polish collection and low-maintenance hair. I started being thankful for what I loved about me and appreciating the perfect imperfections above. Those two things changed how I started seeing other women. It’s no longer about me versus her. It’s now an appreciation of different shapes, sizes and shades of fantastic womanness. I do still give the occasional side eye. I never said I was perfect.
That led to some changes in other areas of my life. For the last three years, I tried to make The Hero my surrogate girlfriend. When I started shifting my thoughts though, I was able to comfort myself or turn to my female friends and find the solace that The Hero just couldn’t provide. It allowed me to be independent again and sever the imaginary umbilical cord that made me a needy, perpetual damsel in distress. I still want him to shank someone if they hurt me, but I’m completely capable of walking a heavy trash bag to the dumpster with one hand.
Speaking of my female friends, it allowed me to start talking less and listening more. Inquiring about their lives. What I realized was I had left all my good friend sensibilities somewhere in 2011 and became a self-centered jerk. Not a good look. To change that behavior though, it required me to get out my lane and foster my existing relationships with women who I wanted to form deeper bonds. Sometimes that meant being vulnerable in ways I never had before. Risky, but worth it. It also meant not giving energy to relationships that were not positively affecting my life. Some people had to be curbed.
These changes also shfited the dynamic between The Hero and me. Like I said, I would lean on him for EVERYthing. I found through this change that I had been shrinking myself because I thought it would make me more attractive. I would keep my opinions to myself. I wouldn’t share a lot of the deeper issues I pondered. I would passively disagree with some of his ideas that I felt were outdated or stereotypical by not saying anything. When I started to share more, I found that he would too. I’d be lying if I said that we’re talking about deep universal truth and changing the galaxy, but I know that I am now not afraid to be vulnerable with him and love him freely rather than protecting myself from some unforeseeable hurt.
All of this started with a Beyonce song. Am I a feminist? Yes. What I didn’t know is that it starts within, with me acknowledging that I can reframe my life experience from one of equality among women and respect from both men and women. Support, uplift and love the familiar femininity among my peers.