One Man, on Women
In the few weeks that Su La Po has been in existence, I've allowed myself to become more inquisitive, soft, political. The stories of people other than myself have become the pinpricks in which I sew the quilt of my life; the earnest eyes of others lending a sort of gravity that suspends, expands, emboldens.
This past weekend, especially, has left me humming with heart.
I understand that we have a long way to go, that division is perhaps at its most visible for all of us. But this is a good thing, I think; like a beast rearing its head, an issue must be visible if we are to see it, understand it, transmute it to love. Sigmund Freud once said that “It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” We can't stare at our differences in disbelief anymore. We must slowly reach outside of our bubbles and make an effort to understand.
In this spirit, I asked writer Irving Chong to pen a piece about his idea of womanhood; what it endures, what it needs, how it has taught him to be a better man.
For it is not, I think, our differences which divide us. It is our inability to see, accept, and celebrate them as the things that make us one.
Enjoy this one. Irving did an amazing job. - Madison
The first time Madison and I exchanged e-mails, the main focus of our discussion was in how to use our backgrounds and perspectives to bridge our different worlds together. I believe the greatest of bonds begin at the intersection of passion and interest; it is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know.
Madison was kind to enough to share that much of her world has to do with fashion, the well-being of young girls and with taking a hammer to our idea of beauty while simultaneously celebrating the beauty around us. When she asked me what my world was composed of, my concept seemed wilder - My passions, interests, and hobbies crash, bend, and flow into each other. I then realized that what pulls me to the things I love are the stories they tell and the creativity they inspire. Underneath all of the noise, there’s one shining, silver thread that keeps my mind together: the story.
Madison, then, was curious to hear my thoughts on the idea of female perfection and all of the things her world experiences so differently. I jumped at the opportunity without hesitation. Because of this I had no base, though; nothing to help me find my footing in the ocean of history, experiences, and conflict you all understand so well.
The idea that a singular ideal of the perfect woman even exists threatens to drown me in a profound tide of uneasiness. I hope we are smart enough to understand that this is simply not possible. We aren't made on the backs of assembly lines; pop culture characters only exist in pages and on screens, and there isn't a road map that leads us all to the same, singular, stoic "perfect."
Because of this, I think of the women in my life; my friends, family, my role models. They are scholars. Artists. Scientists. Athletes. Musicians. Above all they are complex, smart, and ever-growing. These things fly in the face of the idea of a "perfect" woman. This is not because the perfect woman is not these things, but because perfection means there's nothing left to change, nothing to improve or grow. Growth is beautiful, and growth is strength. We never end the way we began on this earth, and this story is one of the most beautiful parts of human existence.
Instead of thinking about female perfection in the form of a picture or checklist or something whose sole purpose is to serve your needs, what if we made it tangible? What if female perfection was a thing we could feel, a brick structure to press our ears against and hear, feel, see? If we were to look at it, we'd see the bricks, first. These are the ways that media tends to represent women; our cultural expectations of what the perfect woman is. The mortar holding the bricks together is still seen, but harder to notice. It acts as our day-to-day conversations, those which reinforce the ideas we see, the subtext we absorb from IRL and online interactions, and the thoughts and ideas we glean from ourselves and others. We can attack the bricks all we want, but to take away their influence we must melt, dissolve, and chip away at the mortar holding these bricks together.
When I didn't know what I wanted to do with Madison’s question, I had an idea to list all of the parts of what I'd been taught a perfect girlfriend was, and point out how silly they were. I shared this idea with one of my best friends, and she tore this idea down. She explained to me that "this kind of female perfection, the ephemeral, silly idea of a 'perfect' girl that we know isn't actually real. It is so farcical and artificial that it's almost a parody... [it] isn't necessarily violent to my everyday life. It's [in] the little expectations where female perfection seems most pervasive and dangerous. The best conversations we have are about the insidious, almost invisible, yet super consequential expectations of female perfection that deeply interfere with our lives."
The conversations I've had about women having to worry about what their outfit will look like at 2AM, to listening to music that reinforces rape culture, to the sovereignty of female bodies and how to call out sexist and damaging comments are some of the most enlightening I've ever had. They've fueled my passion about women’s issues, strengthened my relationships with women, checked my privilege as a man, and revealed what I can do as a friend and ally. In these discussions, I never once felt like my masculinity was challenged, or that I was being attacked for the systemic misogyny that exists in our lives. In these discussions, I listened and reflected. My beliefs and values have changed as I've grown and met more people, and they will continue to change as I am exposed to more of the world and discover what works, what feels right, for me.
When I first began brainstorming I wanted this post to be perfect, I wanted to get it right, and in this effort of trying to attain something that doesn’t exist, I became blind to what I wanted to do. I was so focused on the bricks I forgot about the mortar. And in doing so I couldn't see the truth of these complex structures and systems: they change as my world changes, as my values and beliefs shift, and this process never stops. The hammering upon this wall will never stop, but perhaps we can build our own structures, we can work to make the wall we’re fighting against seem obsolete.
In it, together, we grow. And growth is as perfect a process as any.
Sophie X, Madison Schill