Tuesday, January 21, 2014

But You Can't Stand to See Me That Way

Normally a post like this (concerning fashion and image) would be on my other blog, but this is so... personal and about so much more than just clothes and image that I've decided to cross-post it.

(source: ichigo.miruku | reblogged here: tempestpaige | the above pictures are not me and are not mine; they are merely appropriate illustrations for this post found on tumblr)

I know that the manic-pixie-dream-girl trope isn't seen as very feminist but you have to understand that-to reference Kerry Washington- it's not often that we as Black women get to be seen as beautiful, delicate, eccentric, otherworldly, and fey, even when we have those traits! So it's a step up for me to even be considered a MPDG, you know?

There’s this...feminine persona that is widely appreciated and I see that it’s a part me a part of who I am. I identify with that narrative. But I also realize that few others see this persona in me, the way I do. I caught and still sometimes catch myself trying to massage away the aspects of myself that stopped others from seeing the manic pixie dream girl in me (my fatness, my blackness). I remember walking in this park in my town after I'd gotten off work and it was the perfect place to do a photo shoot. I was seeing myself in different dresses and poses and honestly? It was a lot of stuff that, I felt (feel) would never happen, and even if it did it wouldn't look the way I planned and would basically be an utter failure and I would be a pitiable laughing stock. Not because the visual concepts were shitty, but because I was too fat, too black, and too broke to ever pull it off. And it just dropped into my mind that I never got the chance to be the girl I wanted to be.

I’ve been using the phrase “the girl I am and the girl you want me to be" over and over for the last few years, and I finally understood what I myself meant by that. Between the girl I am and the girl you--whoever “you” is; my mother, my family, society at large--want me to be, I never got to be the girl I wanted to be and... That was a hard revelation, you know?  I'm 25, I never got to be the girl I wanted to be, and now that chance is completely gone. It hurt. I managed not to cry but only just. That revelation felt like an important part of my had died. After awhile of trying to keep my composure, I just thought, "Well, what about the woman you want to be?" And I had to resign myself, you know, and about face. That point in my life is gone and it hurts that I felt (sometimes, still feel) so unfulfilled. But, I can still be the woman I have in mind, the woman I really am.

It's true that this movie character trope is riddled with sexist male-gaze tripe, but it's funny. I mean this dream girl, basically a modern muse embodying every stereotype about women's mental instability, fickle nature, etc. wrapped up in one uber twee package. What should be appealing about that?

I think that my favorite online discussion about this trope is actually from two years ago on Racialicious and by Tami Winfrey Harris* and the comments are mostly well thought-out and insightful though they come from several different directions and perspectives.

On one hand the trope is particularly problematic, in that it promotes a two-dimensional character that is really only created for the purpose of helping a male character deal with his problems and to better understand himself or the world, and that it is also a part of this movement back to harmless unaggressive traditional womanhood and  promotes the idea of white female infantilization.

However, what I've seen in more recent years—most notably on social media outlets, such as tumblr—are attempts to subvert or invert the idea of the carefree, diy, soft-grunge, pastel goth, manic pixie, hipster muse, and make that adorable childlike girl the main character of the her own story. The focus is shifted to her ideas, her feelings, and her problems as a fully-fleshed out character, with the intent of taking back all expressions of femininity and womanhood.

That is not to say that there aren’t still a myriad issues; much of the inversion/subversion is just as alienating as the original trope, because even though the male-gaze is being removed, the race, body, and class aspects of this trope are never addressed: which, let's be honest, is not unusual for mainstream (read: white) feminism. Black women are almost never acknowledged to be these women. And poor (fat) black woman doing any of these adorable twee hipster things are pretty much never seen as adorable or twee or hipsters by the general media-consuming public. On some level, this seems like a compliment; at least we aren't being reduced to super-feminine stereotypes and being infantilized, right? And I would agree until I realized what this means is that as a Black woman, I was not seen as capable of being feminine and pretty and dreamy or, or, or... impossibly twee. A black girl dyes her hair unnatural iridescent colors and she ends up on the Ratchet Mess tumblog. A white girl does the same and she ends up on trending the same media platform and pinned to Pinterest boards worldwide. And not only that, but Black female children weren’t allowed to be children, even in this context. They are labeled as hypersexual even before puberty, where white woman can and do embody the idea of sacred childlike-(non) sexuality aka virginity. And while both of these are oppressive... I'm not gonna lie, the grass looks greener.

This is a problem in the Black community, as well, though the class, color, and body restrictions are slightly different than in the white community. However, there is still so much absorption of the white beauty ideal and the white feminine ideal, even among Black women. It's been remixed and refit to reflect the more of the African American aesthetic, but it is not removed... I remember going to a sleep over and apparently plenty of the girl had gas, we had all had barbecue food earlier so yeah beans, you've all been there. So the girls, the other girls, the thinner, lighter-skinned, looser-curled, socially-accepted-as-adorable girls, fart and laugh at each other and think it's so funny. They have none of the fear that I have, that if I joined in, people (they) would look at me with reproach and disgust. And they never wonder why it is they are allowed to talk about their bodies and their bodily functions and I am not. Not without losing all desirability and any credibility as a “lady”. They burp the alphabet in front of their boyfriends and everyone think "Oh she's so down to earth and approachable, a cute girl who’s not stuck up at all!" I accidentally burp as quietly as possible with my mouth closed and my hand covering my mouth and politely say excuse afterward and... People’s faces change, they sneer, they're distant, they don’t look me in the eye and I can’t help but think they’re wondering why I was even allowed to be at this party or in this group. They express the fact that they are horny and the reaction is “Wow, a cute girl who is open and accepting of herself as a sexual being; that’s so awesome!” I express the same sentiment and—even though I’m the one with the least sexual experience— the looks of disgust return. Anything that strayed from the hyper-feminine behavior expected of me sent me from being the slightly invisible, supportive friend to the scary fat black sex monster; a succubus ugly, utterly undesirable, and frighteningly insatiable. But on the other hand, the rest of the world is telling me that I had better not strive too hard for that which is impossible, to be seen as feminine and womanly and attractive or I would become the butt of the joke, only worth noticing to note her failure at being woman. I hold no bitterness (I try to hold no bitterness) but these are my personal experiences, and many other black girls and women can corroborate them with similar experience.

What the MPDG critics seem not to understand is that it is just as radical for a poor woman and/or fat woman and/or woman of color to declare herself a girl, as always having been a girl, as deserving of girlhood and the protections and value that come along with that, as anyone else. They don’t understand that it’s radical for a woman to say that the things she does because she is poor (knitting, gardening, sewing, biking, drink cheap beer,  whatever) have just as much, IF NOT MORE, value when she does them than when someone does so because it's trendy and in. That the embracing of the manic pixie dream girl role/aesthetic is not to reinforce oppressive gender roles but to be human.

Yes. It's true. Sometimes, I can be impossibly adorable. And *sorry, not sorry* everyone should recognize it. 

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