why having a boyfriend has made me a better feminist
Recently, I was slut-shamed. I was slut-shamed by someone whose facebook comments I questioned when they showed ignorance or a fundamental misunderstanding of the inequality that has propelled feminism, and he predictably got sick of me taking issue with the things he was saying, and deleted me on facebook.
When a friend jokingly asked him why he had “silenced” me, he said some things about me stereotyping him when I’ve only met him a few times, embarrassing him in front of his facebook friends, and not knowing when he is joking. He then came out with gems such as “I think she is a massive hypocrite especially when it comes to taking attention away from other women by flaunting her own looks” and described me as “overtly sexual”.
Of course, I shouldn’t have to defend myself. My expressions of sexuality, whether overt or covert, shouldn’t (and don’t) have any bearing on my ability to think about and argue for equality. But unbeknownst to him, he did touch on a truth (not to be confused with the truth) about some discordance between my present fierce feminism and how I behaved when I was single.
Prior to my current relationship, I didn’t have such strongly-held views about feminism. I refute that I was behaving as my shamer suggested, but as much as I hate to admit it, I was competing with other women for male attention (obviously with my brilliant wit and great sense of humour, despite the default assumption that it’s about looks). I valued myself based on how much boys liked me (even though I didn’t realise it in such succinct terms at the time) and trying to get them to do so was where I focused my energies, rather than thinking about all the ways in which women aren’t treated as equal to men.
Funnily enough, women slut-shaming each other is a really obvious way in which girls compete, and often without even realising they’re competing. All women know that the slut/stud double standard exists and that we are the ones who lose out, and yet they freely call other women sluts because no female wants to admit to herself that ‘calling that girl a slut is easier than saying I’m threatened by the attention she’s getting’. It’s easier to refrain from any kind of analysis and believe it’s because other women really are sluts (whereas you, conversely, are honourable and deserving of love).
Nine Deuce over at Rage Against the Man-chine wrote that “Slut-shaming is one of the chief ways that women attempt to compete with each other for male approval in a patriarchy that defines women’s worth by their physical attractiveness and limits their ability to distinguish themselves by other means”. So essentially, when I got a boyfriend and had constant male approval as a result, I was no longer competing with other women.
Having a boyfriend freed up both my time and energy to think about things other than getting the attention of men, and keeping said attention away from other women. It’s probably the least noble way to have become so much more involved in feminism, but I would like to think that the ends justify the means, and that it’s a permanent change nonetheless.
I no longer value myself based on male attention, but it was only through having a boyfriend and feeling loved and validated by him every day that I truly recognised and rejected this way of (de-)valuing myself. And this is very telling about how thoroughly ingrained such thinking is: I had to subscribe to and fulfill these requirements of how we often identify a “good” and “worthy” woman in order to feel good and worthy for reasons that had nothing to do with having a partner.
I don’t want women to think about their own worth in terms of whether men find them attractive, and I don’t want them to stop thinking this way only when they nab a man. I want them to realise this way before I did, and I want a partner to be a nice accompaniment to someone’s otherwise full life, not a path to validation.
And whether you’re a man or a woman, I really want you to stop slut-shaming
(Image credit: 1.)