It has been a lot of fun watching the media and my awesome community of feminist men and women react to the idiocy of Women Against Feminism, but sometimes you don’t realize how much shit like that can get you down until you’re at work watching a Beyoncé concert video and the word “FEMINIST” flashes across the enormous stadium screen and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words echo throughout the hall and you start crying tears of relief and happiness in the middle of a comic store.
One of the reasons I need feminism (even as a very privileged, middle class, western, white woman) is because when I was 20, I received an unscheduled, undesired nose-job during reconstructive (non-plastic) surgery on my face.
I broke my nose moving a garbage can out of the street (no surprise to those that know my clumsy ass), and went in for surgery at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Oregon a few days later. After a couple weeks of healing and waiting for the swelling to go down, I went in for a follow up appointment with the surgeon, a gruff white man in his early 60s. Everything was healing nicely but I didn’t understand why my nose looked a little different, as he had told me the surgery would be easy and result in no permanent damage or change in my appearance. I asked him about it, would I still look different after it had finished healing? The doctor laughed and told me that it looked different because he had lowered the bridge of my nose during the surgery. “I thought you would like it,” he told me, if my nose looked smaller.
This man altered my appearance without my consent. He permanently altered my face to conform to his vision of how women should look, how we should want to look. This was done while I was unconscious, without prior consent or even prior discussion. Not only did he think he had a right to make this decision about MY body, he thought I would thank him for it and was genuinely surprised that I was disappointed I would never have my old nose back. This guy, who acted with no malice, did what he did because he had been raised in a culture that teaches white men to think that they are the ultimate authority in all situations.
This happened because that man and I grew up in a culture which implicitly and explicitly tells men that women’s bodies are for their enjoyment: we are physical objects for their aesthetic and sexual pleasure. Women are raised to aspire to a homogeneous ideal of beauty, which is the measure of our self worth, and only affirmed when appreciated by/enacted for men. He thought he was doing me a favor, helping me fulfill my function.
Now, luckily for me, the difference is very slight. In fact, only my mother, my best friend and I can notice it. But being glad that someone only violated your body a little bit has the same kind of feeling as being thankful the guy who mugged you only stole your purse, but didn’t make you empty your pockets or give him your shoes. It could have been worse. It’s still a good looking nose. But it shouldn’t have happened at all.
And that is why I love what Beyoncé is doing with Flawless, what her co-creator on the remix, Nicki Minaj, is doing with the cover for her single Anaconda: they are being explicitly sexual, they are reveling in their bodies and their beauty, but it is on their own terms, for their own enjoyment, and none of it is for or sanctioned by men. I think it would be very easy to look at them and see only “empowerfulment” (easily googled for those not familiar, try empowerful and think pink Nike products and stripper poles), but that’s not what is happening here. These are two powerful women making their own choices, in control of their images, their careers, their money, and their bodies and it. is. awesome. To do it in a culture still struggling with “Black is Beautiful" is nothing short of inspiring.