I don’t think we place enough weight on the role that socialisation (learning to fit into the society we’re born in) plays in the development of our personality. We know that socialisation is important to our development, but what I’m not sure people understand is that when you’re brought up to want something (and you don’t end up rebelling against it), you genuinely want it. It’s not performative and it’s not lying to fit in. Society doesn’t just make us feel like we want something, it actually makes us want it.
For example, if you want to wear a white dress at your wedding, you want it because society told you to. But you also GENUINELY WANT IT, as honestly as I want a cup of coffee right now, or I wanted a shower when I woke up. Every fibre of the ‘what do I want to wear to my wedding’ part of your brain wants that dress. Being told that you shouldn’t have one is akin to being told that you aren’t allowed to have a cup of coffee. Your wants and needs are being denied, and it feels bad because they are real wants and needs.
I first started thinking about this because I couldn’t understand why it was that I liked make-up and pretty dresses so much. I wasn’t raised to like them, in fact my fairly radical parents went to great lengths not to expose me to gendered behaviour. Yet, there were influences. I still watched TV, I still knew what make-up was and who it was for. A child’s desire to fit can easily make it attracted to a certain toy, way of speaking, item of clothing or type of behaviour. I wanted to wear make-up when I was older, I felt a burning desire for a really pretty dress, and yes, it was because my friends and the women on TV had them. I’d learned that make-up and dresses make you pretty, so I felt pretty in them. Kinda sheds a light on why we find it SO difficult to define beauty, doesn’t it!?
When we criticise something like make-up as ‘anti-feminist’ or damaging to women in some way, we are wrong. To say that would be to say that I am not allowed to do something that makes me feel good. We can’t simply overcome the way we were raised, especially when it’s something as relatively unimportant as putting stuff on your body to feel good. Getting a career, maintaining our mental health, enjoying life, these things are far more important. Let’s go back to the first example I gave; the white wedding dress. I’ve spent a lot of time being vehemently against them. However, after thinking about the idea that the ‘wants’ we learn from society are real and valid, I realised that actually, if you want a white wedding dress, it would be hurtful to hear someone say it was a bad thing. The white dress is steeped in the history of female oppression. It was wrong that society taught you to idolise it. But it is not wrong for you to want it. The same is true of nearly every ‘feminine’ behaviour that one might claim to be a result of a misogynistic society. Taking the man’s last name? Stay at home mums? Taking sexy photos? Think of anything you like. It isn’t just that women have been told they should want these things. They really want them.
At this point, it sounds like I’m being really patronising. ‘Leave women alone to do all the silly things they like doing, they’re not hurting anyone’ … but actually no, it’s much more important than that. We live in a society where we are simultaneously praised and put down for doing things that we want to do. We should have sex when men want us to, but if we have sex too much we’re sluts. We shouldn’t dress in revealing clothes but if a woman covers her hair she’s being oppressed. Society is not on our side, because society is not angled towards women’s wants and needs. I can’t think of a better way of telling society to fuck off than picking a few of the things it taught me to like and celebrating the shit out of them. I will tell you how beautiful you look in your wedding dress because it’s true, I will try to recreate that YouTube make-up look, and I will argue until I’m blue in the face about a woman’s right to cover, or uncover her body in front of others.
Counter examples, where people are raised to think, or want something that negatively impacts other people, only serve to highlight how ridiculous it is that we sanction harmless desires like wearing make-up. Being raised as a racist? A homophobe? These are serious problems, and honestly, I think a lot of people who have these feelings may need real help. You do not need counselling because it makes you feel good to post sexy instagram pictures.
It doesn’t matter whether society taught you to like something, hours of deep thinking taught you to like it, or it came ready made in your brain at birth. If you like it, do it, wear it, live it. Celebrate other women for doing the things that make them feel good, so we can finally enjoy ourselves without society’s permission.
What do you think? I would love to hear some feedback on this!