I want you to imagine something with me. You’re at a store that sells practical, frumpy socks. You have $100 in your hand. You could do a lot of things with that $100: buy a new pink crushed velvet sweater with a cashmere collar, get every third fingernail painted in pure gold, eat 100 corndogs from 7-11. So. Many. Options. You’re reveling in your new bougie life as you walk up to the sock seller and ask them what you should do with the $100. What do you expect the sock seller to say? They’re going to tell you to let go of those cashmere/gold/dog dreams and hand the money over to them.
Because that’s the sock store’s job: to stay open, not to make all your dreams come true, girl.
Now imagine that instead of a sock store, we’re talking about patriarchy or one of its many nasty step-children, e.g., diet culture. Patriarchy is the sock store, except there aren’t walls or salespeople or a dazzling array of deeply dissatisfying foot coverings. You can’t see patriarchy, but it’s there. Every day you wake up with physical, emotional and psychic resources (the $100 in the aforementioned scenario). And every day you’re taught to hand all those hard-earned resources over to patriarchy. Because that’s patriarchy’s job: to stay open, not to make all your dreams come true, girl.
You were taught not to invest in yourself. You were taught to invest in the culture, which is bolstered by patriarchy, racism, etc..
In some ways that is the social contract between the individual and the culture of which that person is a part. The cultural trade-off is a little like the terms of going on a date with a douche bro: “I will give you something and you will give me something.” Usually the exchange is unfair and predatory (like dinner for sexual contact, or protection for submission). It is that unfairness that maintains the current balance of power. If the person in power always gets a little more than they’re giving then they remain the more powerful party indefinitely, right?
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It’s important to recognize what patriarchy is asking from us. In my opinion it’s a big ask. Namely, that we will volunteer a lot of resources in order to sustain it and in exchange we might get privilege and a sense of normalcy or belonging. And these terms may work for the individual who can successfully align with the status quo. If you are queer or a person of color or disabled or trans or fat, however, the terms are a little different. We are asked to hand over a bunch of resources and energy, and all we get is the right to look like we’re not “bad” citizens. Our job is to uphold the very culture that marginalizes us and bolster it through our second class citizenship so that the hierarchy can remain intact
For a rad fat woke brown bitch like me, those terms just don’t cut it.
My vision for my life is extraordinarily misaligned with the culture’s idea of what my life should look like. The culture’s idea for my life is that (1) I have children to maintain a new generation of consumers/citizens, that (2) I get married in order to bolster heteronormativity, that (3) I have a job where I make as much money as possible so that (4) I can reinvest that money in the culture through home and car ownership and the acquisition of small consumer goods, and that (5) I not rock the boat. Further, as a fat brown woman I’m expected to strive for whiteness and thinness, living my life in shame because I am not fulfilling the ideal embodiment of femininity.
If you know me at all you will understand that on this “Ideal Brown Fat Woman Checklist™” I’ve probably got like half of one check mark.
My vision for my life is very different from the one the culture has for me. So since I'm not down with the checklist I have to create new rules and new ideas for what my life can look like.
So what does change look like?
It looks like taking a cold hard look at out how much you’re investing in patriarchy and asking yourself what you’re getting out of that investment. Really. Something that helps me think about all this is imagining that my life is a really cute non-profit. If I wanted to partner with another non-profit, we’d have to share a vision. Otherwise working together just wouldn’t yield positive, useful results.
It’s important to be strategic and intentional when it comes to the people/ideas/entities with which you’re aligning. If your vision for your life doesn’t align with patriarchy’s vision then you owe it yourself to divest — and re-invest in you.
To me, re-investing in myself looks like prioritizing my happiness over conformity, creating friendships with other women that are based on connection and trust rather than competition, wearing tiny clothes rather than over-sized infantilizing dresses, speaking out against injustice rather than upholding it out of fear, building a career that centers integrity and intuition and my weirdness and my joy, refusing to feel like my body is a problem, taking my time to make romantic decisions, prioritizing my healing, and trolling patriarchy as often and hard as I can.