Freedom: Status and Feminist Empowerment

by 11:57 PM 0 comments
In terms of real constraint, I'm very free. Sure, I have responsibilities, but I've chosen the majority of them. In fact, I have the extraordinary privilege of examining what ways I'm choosing to restrain myself. This is so mind-bogglingly different from slavery that it seems self-indulgent to write about it. But here I go!

First of all, American society has got me in her clutches when it comes to brand and identity. I cannot go into an American Eagle without looking over my shoulder 2-3 times. If I gather up the courage to walk in, I try to look as old as possible and pretend that I'm shopping for my "daughter." Because it's really not acceptable for a post-college girl to be in a high schooler's store. Forever 21 or Target are okay in kind of an ironic way, but only when worn with nice shoes and bags.

I also don't feel great about the fact that I can't afford to shop at Anthropologie or Club Monaco, except the sale section. Because I should be out of grad school and in a career where I make that kind of money by now. So I sulk to the back rooms and practice yelling "well, I'm a teacher!" in my anxiety day dream where a salesperson is asking me why I'm not looking at the full-price items.

And really, who is judging except me? Amir is the only person who could know exactly how much each thing I buy costs, and where it comes from. He's also the person least likely to know or care about any of this stuff that I know.

For all of the complaints I have about "Girls" (like how did Caroline and Hannah not see each other while living in the same building for weeks?) I have to say that I'm grateful to it for being an anti Sex and the City regarding economy. The characters struggle with finances and second-rate jobs instead of traipsing around in Manolo Blahniks on a journalist's salary, inexplicably.

A lot of my thinking about what success means has been heavily influenced by women's magazines and SATC-style empowerment. In college, I thought I would graduate to enter into a high-powered career. I would kill it at the gym each morning, work 60 hours a week, clip around in Jimmy Choos all day, get cocktails with colleagues after work at bars named by a single noun (Fiori or Ice or whatever), and perhaps date seriously but never marry before age 28. In fact, I remember having a conversation with a friend and I who both swore to one another we would never get married earlier because everyone would think we were white trash. We both ended up being married before age 27. One can't plan love!

My career plans may have worked if it weren't for the crash of 2008 about six months before I graduated, or if I had been a little more committed to the dream. As is, I don't look like I expected that I would. I'm happy with my life, but I'm still scared of that would-be bossy third-wave feminist, my alter ego, asking me why my career and wardrobe are so lackluster. I'm scared that I'm letting womankind down by not succeeding in the way that I had planned, and all of that comes to a head when I'm walking through the mall and reminded of my limited wealth. The problem with SATC-inspired thought is that it conflates empowerment with financial success. Like I said in my last post, this seems to be true up to a point. And SATC was bold to say that you don't need a man to buy you designer clothes. I'm going to go one step beyond that and say you don't need anyone to buy you designer clothes. Because you don't need them.

I would love to free myself from these messages that I've absorbed and get rid of the guilt. Making less than enough to feed and house myself doesn't make me a bad woman or feminist, and making less than enough to afford the fanciest handbags certainly doesn't mean I'm letting anyone down, even myself. I don't know how to get those feelings out of my mind, but I think that writing this all down and processing it is the first step.

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.

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