It’s a ritual entirely on its own. Propped up with empowerment, yet riddled with insecurities. It’s a ceremonial dance—women preparing their faces and their smiles for the world, while coddled inside the sheltered confines of the bathroom mirror. Unforgiving cruel nature is a blatant reality we choose to ignore.
It’s a habitual practice, one that I’m sure predates female moon-dances of an earlier era, a time before bathroom mirrors existed, when women had solely the light of the moon and the power of syncing menstruation cycles to give them strength. Transcending race, culture, and often time sexuality, the notion of gathering around a mirror to participate in an age-old custom, one that is particularly drenched in stereotypical ideologies of femininity, has left me with an uneasy feeling in the deep, dark recesses of my feeble, female brain.
And here’s why.
The act of crowding around a mirror, the art of “getting ready,” is a lot like going into battle. We’re gearing up for war, and the mirror ritual is that ancient psychedelic-shaman-drink that’s downed before picking up your sword and rounding up Chancy, the trusted stead. It’s that good shit that helps you see an alternative reality, makes you feel fearless when you’re about to take on the enemy.
The mirror is sacred and it leaves women with some sort of mystical prowess, magically binding hearts and minds, leaving behind an intoxicating Ya-Ya Sisterhood mentality. Conquering the world is an easy feat from within the bright, hopefully flattering reflection, of the bathroom mirror or best friend’s bedroom. We support one another, reminding ourselves that we’re capable of not only slaying the dance floor with our confidence, but that we’re also smart enough to cure cancer or win a Noble Peace Prize.
I’ve lived all around the world, and what I’ve found is that the female mirror dance is always the same. I was living in Malaysia, when I had one of those miraculous epiphany moments—you know, the hit-by-a-freight-train kind of moment—realizing that women from all walks of life deal with the same insecurities when performing the mirror cha-cha.
I’m parked in front of a huge mirror, ironically found in the kitchen, getting ready for a wedding with a couple of girlfriends. Makeup is scattered across the table, the smell of burnt hair is wafting through the air, and something by Justin Bieber is blasting from the TV speaker. I’m perfecting the last curl on my unmanageable head of hair, while my girlfriend is smoothing out the creases of her hijab. We chat about random shenanigans and search for the right shade of lipstick to match our outfits.
We come from different cultures and we wear different clothes, but as we’re staring simultaneously into that mirror, it hits me—we’re both women living in a man’s world. She’s stressing, saying that her body looks “frumpy” in her dress, and I’m freaking about the dark circles under my eyes. It’s a mess. In reality, we’re being ridiculous. She looks gorgeous, her body curvy and flawless, and really, who cares if I look a bit tired? I’m a hard-working woman, after all.
“Come on, let’s not talk like that, we’ve got this,” I say to our reflections. It’s a safe and comforting space, and all are welcome, as long as you’ve got something nice to say.
But here’s why I’m pissed. Here’s where I lose the logic that is the mystical fucking mirror: why the hell, do we as women, have to go to such lengths to empower each other in the confines of a closed space? Do you think men are sitting around a mirror building each other up?
As they scrutinize over every single little personal flaw, magnifying faults in a fucking mirror, are they turning to one another and saying, “No way, you’re crazy, man, you’re so handsome. You got this!”
No, it doesn’t happen. At least not to the same extent as it does to women, and certainly not with the same underlining negative connotations. And you know why? Because sexism is a real thing that impacts our lives every, single, day.
Men don’t need a mirror or a brotherhood to feel good about themselves, the whole fucking world is their god damn mirror, and it’s constantly telling them that their opinions, and their desires are more important than ours.
When we look into that mirror, when we gather in our safe space, we don’t see opportunity, we see everything that’s wrong with ourselves.
Think about it. Really sit down and think back to the last time you got ready with your girlfriends, or just checked yourself out in a mirror.
If you’re a man, and have had the privilege of being a fly on the wall during said Ya-Ya encounters, think critically for a moment about what you observed and experienced. What sort of language was used and how was it communicated? Focus on mannerisms, topics of conversation, and perceived solutions to problems. If you’ve never had such an experience, then take this time to read, absorb, and most importantly, fight the urge to discredit experiences that you hold absolutely no claim over.
And it will happen. Confused emotions crossing between anger and resentment begin to boil over, as you fight the urge to scoff and jeer at what you may perceive as crazy, man-hating, bra-burning feminist antics. When you feel your eyes about to roll into the back of your head, or you hear yourself saying out load, “here we go again,” take a deep breath, dig deep into the analytical part of your brain, and just listen.
Listen when I say that our reflection isn’t always confidence based on our experiences living in the world. More often than not, it’s applying a bunch of makeup—but not too much makeup because no one wants to look gaudy and unnatural. It’s scrutinizing our bodies with hateful glares, and criticizing our flabby arms and stretch marks.
It’s trying on ten different outfits, and taking a thousand photos with our arms bent awkwardly at our sides, our necks craned so far back that it’s a wonder to me how anyone could possibly believe that it’s somehow capturing anything real. The goal, as I’ve come to understand, is to appear tiny, as if our real width is something to be ashamed of. Why? For what reason? Can someone please tell me why being tiny, rather than strong, is the main purpose of the arm thingy?
And then comes the positivity, the affirmation that, “Hey girl, we’re in this together. It’s us against the world. Men suck and we’re beautiful.” We praise each other and we build each other up, because if we don’t do it, who else is going to? We talk about freeing our sexuality and being who we are. We go on and on about how we’re not going to take shit from anyone, especially a man.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s feels fucking great hanging out with my main babes, talking shit and complimenting each other. I love seeing my friends blooming with confidence and I’m the first person to point out the importance of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, so to speak.
But I’m also not naïve, and I understand my privilege in the world. As a white woman, I must work twice as hard to gain the same respect and affirmation that men are simply given on a daily basis. To my non-white babes, my Trans sisters, or any women that are a part of the LGBTQ community, I cannot begin to understand your lived experiences, but what I can acknowledge, is that fact that you must work that much harder to be granted with even a fraction of the respect that men, particularly of the Caucasian variety, hold dear.
And you know what, I’m just, oh so fucking tired of it.
I’m tired of having to wear a wedding ring for the sole purpose of discouraging random men from talking to me in an inappropriate manner. Apparently a ring means that I’ve already been claimed by another man, and thus only now deserve not to be harassed. I’m off the market boys, so let me see those manners! The notion that I could have been claimed by another woman isn’t even a blip on this notorious respect radar.
I’m tired of having my opinions and my ideas subdued. It’s physically and emotionally draining having to hold my tongue and listen to someone’s condescending explanation as to why the world is the way it is.
I’m exhausted from looking over my shoulder to see if that guy who harassed me on the subway is following me. Guys, my neck hurts.
I’m tired of being told I shouldn’t have looked at that creepy guy on the subway, because it’s clearly my fault that he started harassing me in the first place. In creepy dude’s defense, I have been told I have some fierce eye contact abilities. Call me Medusa.
It’s aggravating to hear time and time again that the happiest day of my life is going to be the day I get married or have babies. I’d much rather win a Pulitzer than ever get married, and I’m pretty keen on still maintaining my person-hood, even if I decide to have children.
I’m tired of hearing men talk about how they can somehow relinquish all parental responsibility to their wives whenever it suits them. It’s frustrating to see men treat women as if there only purpose is to support their dreams and their desires.
I mean, men attend one softball game and they’re dad of the fucking year. Women hire a nanny to help at home, so they can fulfill their passions and live their dreams, and suddenly their maternal abilities are called into question.
What’s frustrating is that we know these are double-standards. We see the issue, point-blank, smacking us in the face every single day, so why are we still dealing with this crap? Why are we still feeling inadequate?
Why am I still hearing people say that women simply are not as sexual as men? As if that somehow explains infidelity or excuses sexist behaviour. Can someone please tell me why I’m still being told that I’m over reacting? Maybe I am overreacting, but maybe it’s because there’s little to zero change happening. I’m tired of screaming in pantomiming fits of exaggerated rage that it’s 2017!
I don’t know how many times I’ve been told, “Well, unfortunately it’s a man’s world.” As if that statement somehow rationalizes sexism. It’s like saying, “I’m hungry and I really want a pizza, but I’m not the biggest fan of tomatoes, so I’m going to stay hungry until a pizza without tomatoes magically materializes.”
I mean, that’s ridiculous. If you don’t like tomatoes, then just change your Domino’s order or make the pizza yourself. The point is, from pizza to equality, we create the world we want to live in through our language and our actions, so stop telling me that because it’s a man’s world it’s my responsibility to accept the sexist shit that happens to me.
I’m tired of being called a bitch and a whore because I wouldn’t respond to your text message. Why would anyone in their right mind think it’s alright to talk to another human being with such hatred under any circumstance, let alone if their pride is wounded.
It is exhausting being told that I should relax and eat whatever the hell I want, but criticized when I put on a few pounds. Guess what? The movies are lying to you, it’s near impossible for most women to eat a burger and pasta every day without gaining weight. And yes, even when we exercise.
And you know what I really hate? Being pushed aside when I make it clear that I have no interest in having sex with you. We’re always great friends, until you realize that I’m not down to fuck you. I suppose my feeble, female brain just isn’t quite as intriguing as what is underneath my clothes, eh?
Now, before we all get our boxers in a bunch, let’s think rationally for a second. I’m not here to hate on men. In fact, I have some pretty sensational men in my life. Men that respect women, men that are proud to call themselves feminists, and influential men that help me to grow and learn as a human being. They exist, and they’re fantastic.
I’m also not here to speak for all women. We make up half the population in the world, and that means there are a hell of a lot of opinions, desires, lived experiences, and perspectives floating around. I am by no means assuming that I understand what it’s like to be anyone other than myself.
But I am here to tell you about my experience as a woman. I’m here to tell you that it’s pretty tough out there, beyond the safety of the Ya-Yas.
I’m here to say that having a vagina is awesome, but it isn’t always easy. We put up with a lot of shit, so much so, that I’m constantly asking myself, why is everyone so hell-bent on judging and making dangerous assumptions before taking the time to listen?
Point being, I’m not expecting men to say, “I understand,” but I am expecting men, and everyone for that matter, to listen to what other people, including women, have to say. I’m expecting, that as an individual, that my thoughts and concerns will not be disregarded as overemotional drama. And hell, this might be a stretch here, but I am expecting genuine respect, not this we-have-to-be-politically-correct-for-HR-purposes-bullshit-respect.
Maybe, just maybe, if there was more listening and mutual respect for human beings, there would be more kumbaya shit going down, and probably a lot more consensual sex. Just a thought.
So, at last, hopefully you understand my dilemma. I love feeling empowered by the strong and confident women in my life, and I love having those bathroom mirror moments, but I also hate the reason why we need to have said moments in the first place.
At the end of the day, we’re all just looking into a god damn mirror, but it’s important to recognize that reflection isn’t simply subjective, it’s in part constructed by the crap we experience every single day. And for some, that experience is a hell of a lot easier.
Do you have a story you would like to share? I’d love to hear about your experiences and your perspectives. Ideally, I would love to publish a series of stories told by women from all walks of life. Click here for more information.