Teenage Divorcee Confessions and/or Lana del Rey, How You Get that Way?

by dhaaruni

The first time I remember referring to myself as a feminist was when I was 13 years old; there was a lot of cringing and more than one person told me that I wasn’t ever going to find love. Our history teacher had married us to other kids in the class so we could learn about the feminist movement in the 1960s and it was a good idea in theory. I was married to a boy who I got divorced from because he didn’t think women should wear revealing clothes, he wouldn’t like it if his wife earned more than him, and he thought women should first be mothers to their children to which I asked “What children?!” I’m not saying my compromise levels were at an all time high at 13, or that they’re significantly better now, but I’ve just become ultimately frustrated at the debates about feminism because I’ve been listening to them for years and it’s just exhausting to put it simply. I can’t understand why people wouldn’t be feminists, because they’re benefiting from feminism even if they don’t realize it, and it’s just so childish to be honest. “I’m not a feminist because I like men;” well I hate to tell you this but men are abusing and assaulting women all over the world whether they’re feminists or not, so liking men doesn’t mean men like you back. And the other issue is that I don’t even agree with a large part of the mainstream feminist movement because it doesn’t feel applicable or relatable to my day to day life. This eternal contradictory frame of mine is why I picked up “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay; I don’t consider myself the epitome of a perfect person or a perfect feminist, but I know that the world’s not fair and I know that we all deserve better.

The reviews say the book reads like a combination of bolstering girl talk, academic literature, and a gospel of sorts because the crux of feminism is that it’s a movement by humans for humans and it’s prone to all the flaws of humanity. For some reason, we hold feminism to a significantly higher standard than we hold other social movements like Christianity and that’s because it comes from the minds of those who have faced long-standing oppression by society and in the true spirit of Capitalism, there’s a misconception that for women to be seen as equal, men have to be seen as less than equal. As I’ve said before, the reason I read so much is because literature validates our humanity, it makes us feel that our thoughts aren’t inherently wrong but just different. Roxane Gay made me feel that I could be a feminist and still be who I wanted to be, the girl who wears sunflower shirts and headbands and wants to be wanted, no matter how flimsy that wanting may be and doesn’t allow people to be treat me like shit for what I want. I’m tired of the constant infighting in the feminist movement, and sometimes it’s extremely valid especially regarding issues of intersectionality, but I don’t want to be constantly defending every choice I make as feminist or antifeminist, to be held up to some pedestal I can’t ever live up to. And Roxane Gay gets it.

Her love of Sweet Valley High and deliberate takedown of Chris Brown spoke to me because despite my devouring of the “The Second Sex” as a 14 year old who wanted to annoy my ex-boyfriend, my feminism is more about Gossip Girl and Sylvia Plath and Lana del Rey than feminist political theory. I’m not claiming that feminism should be depoliticized or that it should be watered down for public consumption but the fact remains: at the very core, feminism is a social and political movement that renders it possible for women and other minorities to live their lives without censure or abuse and that’s not even close to a reality for most of the world. I don’t mean to devalue the issues faced by men, in particular men of color, but the eternal fear of rape and sexual abuse isn’t present; when I’m walking home alone I will cross the street if I see someone walking behind me because that’s what I’ve been conditioned to do. There’s a profound difference between being scared to share feelings and being wary of being assaulted when walking home from the library and if people can’t see that, I don’t know how I’m supposed to make it clear.

Maybe I liked this book so much because I feel a closeness with Roxane Gay that I also feel with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie when reading “Americanah” and listening to her TED Talk. By consuming their work, I felt as if a giant weight had been lifted off my chest because I often feel like I can’t ever live up to some blurry “ideal” of my existence; I’m not a good enough Indian or a good enough feminist or a good enough person and the self-haranguing never ends. Am I not a feminist because I’ve listened to “Every Man Gets His Wish” by Lana del Rey 725 times in the last three months, am I not a feminist because I get gel nails for my boyfriend since he hates acrylics, am I not a feminist because I like to wear dresses and skirts and have long hair? I think Adichie said it best; one of the most tragic aspects of the patriarchy is that we raise girls to perform pretense as an art form. We encourage a borderline Kafka esque tendency in women to exist as a set of contradictions, beautiful and untouched, experienced yet innocent, competent but not frighteningly intelligent, sexy but decidedly not sexual. It’s something that the best of us have taken to such an extreme level we’ve lost ourselves; we don’t know who we are except for what we’re supposed to be. We spin on this axis of extreme anxiety that we must meet every single item on this metaphorical checklist to being a woman because otherwise we’ll lose everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve.

People have said I don’t give many fucks and to be quite honest, I really don’t, at least not about the things most people care about. I don’t wear makeup on a daily basis because it’s not my problem if my tiredness offends you, I twirl when I walk, I’ve stopped regarding it as an inherent error in my creation if a boy doesn’t love me, and that doesn’t mean I’m exempt from this conditioning. I’ve been living with an imaginary turntable of things to do in my mind for so long that caring has become second nature to me; I care about school, I care about my loved ones, I care about my hair, and the rest of it will come together because I’m capable of dealing with so much more than whatever I’m going through at the moment. Roxane Gay stated this phenomenon in the following way:

“I don’t believe in safety. I wish I did. I am not brave. I simply know what to be scared of; I know to be scared of everything. There is freedom in that fear. That freedom makes it easier to appear fearless- to say and do what I ant. I have been broken so I am prepared should that happen again. I have, at times, put myself in dangerous situations. I have thought, You have no idea what I can take. This idea of unknown depths of endurance is a refrain in most of my writing. Human endurance fascinates me, probably too much because more often than not, I think of life in terms of enduring instead of living.”

None of us are strong, it’s merely that we’ve become so capable of pulling ourselves together at short notice because of far too much practice, and just because I find so much to criticize and think about, doesn’t mean I’m not hopeful for a better future.

This diverged from my thesis at hand but basically, I loved this book because we’re all “Bad Feminists.” None of us are perfect because we’re human beings, and the idolization of anybody, even ourselves, is the “Do not Pass Go, Do not Collect $200” path to self-ruin. One of my favorite pieces of writing is Maya Angelou’s “Letter to my Daughter” and whenever I feel incapable of existence or otherwise out of control, I read the copy I have saved in my phone, specifically this part:

“I have made many mistakes and no doubt will make many more before I die. When I have seen pain, when I have found my ineptness has caused displeasure, I have learned to accept my responsibility and to forgive myself first, then to apologize to anybody injured by my misreckoning. Since I cannot unlive history and my repentance is all I can offer God, I have hopes that my sincere apologies were accepted.”

In other words, self-acceptance and self-improvement aren’t mutually exclusive elements and moreover, we have one lifetime on this earth in our bodies, and it’s our moral imperative to make the best of it, to love as much as possible and to live more ethically than the world around us currently is.