From a young age, before we even begin to process what labels are and how we fit into society, social conditioning is already at play in full force. The cartoons we watch, the media we are exposed to, the toys and material we are offered, and cultural components of our history all finely curate the meticulously constructed ideologies of gender that we are so familiar with, despite feminism’s rigorous efforts to dismantle and challenge it and its cohorts. As part of the narrative girls are expected to cultivate in order to live a full and prosperous life, men are our nucleus — they make us feel whole, hence why we call them our “other half”.
(Although, I hadn’t realised we were born only in part of an entire human being unless in a committed relationship?)
Of course, as the feminist discourse has evolved to establish alternative routes for womxn beyond the nuclear family concept in which womxn’s primary existence is to foster a family with a lawful wedded husband and typically in the position of an unemployed housewife (that way, although not always, we can often have almost nonexistent independence and little to no control over the household economical decisions), it is pretty devastating to notice how vital a role men still play in our path to happiness; whether it’s for social acceptance, financial security, job opportunities (look at how many industries where men run the systems and companies comparatively to womxn), or even satisfying our sexual needs. Our struggle against being absolved of any agency over how we choose to live without the input or influence of a man and his needs prevails today. Thus, it should come as no surprise to find almost every other womxn that we encounter finding glee, at the very least, or blatant empowerment at best from bewitching a man or men into wanting to sleep with them, because we are beholden to believe that our sole purpose is to entice a man into wanting us or wanting to be with us. It is within this realm that we witness the Pick-Me-Girl ilk, anti-feminists, the victims of fauxpowerment and more recently, the thot woman, to name a few, and disappointingly, these womxn fall into the trap of placing their personal needs secondary to being the object of a man’s attention. Sure, some do get a kick out of having men drool and grovel after them but of what substance does that make a womxn, a person, whose prime goal is to stroke men’s egos, wrap them round her finger and simply toy with their emotions? If that’s all that is of interest, admittedly it is not my business to judge, but I can’t help question what sort of legacy you choose to leave, what example you hope to set, what kind of person you expect people to think of you.
Suppose then a womxn of this mindset is captivating every man in sight and thus feels emboldened, in power and in control (a deluded version of feminism whereby catching men’s attention is a form of empowerment) but alas, another womxn materialises of equal allure, causing one man to stray his eyes away from the former womxn. The pillar upholding her confidence begins to quake because she has lost a fragment of the power she believed she had and rather than reflecting on how precarious this bedrock is for her self-esteem, she looks upon the second womxn with envy and possibly disdain, as opposed to admiration or indifference. She sees her as a threat to everything she was taught was of value to her as a womxn and as a person.
We are foie gras fed that womxn are each other’s competitors (which has transcended beyond just looks as well but is far more potent in this department), especially where men are concerned, and are not adequately reminded that a man’s sexual desires will undoubtedly be split between multiple womxn, even when in a relationship. We are after all living creatures of primitive nature at our core. Monogamy and (romantic) love are arguably societal myths we have been taught to adopt and adhere to. Yes, a man can opt to engage with only one person but that does not automatically suppress his urges from sexually yearning for someone else. The same can be said of womxn. Although womxn are caught in this conflicting dichotomy of being the sole object of men’s fantasies but also perform the ultimate wife duties, it still reinforces the notion that we are appeasing the male gaze and wants, which constantly churns out the fallacy that two or more womxn of a particular trait (such as beauty or intelligence but more ostensibly, sex appeal) cannot coexist. That podium is built for only one womxn at a time and enthuses womxn to not only fight for that position, but to retain it too for as long as possible.
It’s totally warped.
It would be naive to presume there’s only one womxn who’ll be the epitome of every man’s fantasy, but it is notably absurd to assume that if an attractive womxn snatches the spotlight in any man’s gaze, that she will be the only one he wants. She is not, and will not, be the only attractive womxn to enter his periphery because she is not the only attractive womxn alive (now or ever, to be honest). There have been attractive womxn preceding her and there will be after her.
There is a crippling sad truth that very often womxn who heavily rely on men lusting after them have been subjected to some form of sexual abuse, violence or exploitation at a young(er) age. When a young girl is not only indoctrinated through subtle and subliminal messaging embedded in the culture they are raised in, but are then further compounded with those very ideas by men who intimately involve themselves with them through grooming and/or violence, it comes as no surprise that an impressionable mind would inadvertently adopt notions of being only valued as a sexualised body and object. These deceptions of self-worth and empowerment are carried throughout our lives and conjure up insidiously in other facets of what we do, making it profoundly arduous to shake off completely and unless we recognise these pressures we, as womxn, put on ourselves, we will continue to feel insurmountable strain to perform for the likes of men and their desires.
I’m exhausted with society expecting me and all my sisters to adapt and conciliate men and their needs, even if it means stabbing other womxn in the back to do that or to demean them. My needs are my utmost priority, nobody else’s, but I suppose the world we live in has very different presuppositions. Being a womxn also automatically, still to this day and for many people, means that by nature we are maternal, conveniently connoted with taking care of others before ourselves. There is no harm in being thoughtful and compassionate to those around us, but how can we take care of others if we don’t look out for ourselves first? Akin to when advised on airplanes to put your oxygen mask on before your child’s, it’s not being selfish, despite my vehemence that there ain’t nothing wrong in being selfish, but rather being pragmatic.
It would be an understatement to claim the patriarchy has been cruel to us womxn. It has severely harmed our efforts to self-actualisation and self-love, and continues to do so, as well as to extend that love and appreciation out to our sisters. We involuntarily perceive other womxn as threats rather than friends because we are shown from headlines like “Sexiest Woman Alive” and “What Men Want” that our purpose is to serve others rather than ourselves. What about what I want? Why am I not sexy enough for standards besides the ones I set myself? In fact, how much of my understanding of what sexy means has been influenced and carved by my external environment?
Our social landscape is already saturated with conflicting opinions that seem to hold more significance than our own, to the point where we are relinquished of any agency in dictating how we wish to live (but get to impose what we think about how others live). Yet the cacophony of ideas centred on womxn’s interactions with men take precedence above anything else concerning a womxn’s existence, thus diminishing the critical importance for womxn to commit the radical act of loving themselves, particularly in a society guilty of underscoring a man’s love and attention as more imperative than the love we can give ourselves. This is further deepened by the intense, rapid surge of social media as a platform for young girls and womxn alike to avert their focus on how desirable they can present themselves, under the illusion that it is empowering oneself because we are in control of framing the lens towards ourselves, when actually, it continues to uphold the pervasive male gaze. We are inundated 24/7 with images of one beautiful womxn after another, with added interest to her appearance, penetrating the psyche of everyone who is exposed to such media that the most prized and valuable trait of being a womxn is her aesthetic — anything else is nowhere near of equivalence.
(A book I urge you to read which examines the constraints womxn are shackled to despite our ceaseless attempts at sexual liberation and insisting we are free when in fact, we are not, is Unscrewed by Jaclyn Friedman — literally one of the best books I’ve ever read).
The truth is, men come and go. Nothing is ever permanent in our lives except ourselves, which means if we assert our self-worth based on the validation of say one man, should the time come that he leaves (by choice or otherwise) we lose full sovereignty over who we are without them, and then what? Frantically source the next candidate to fill that void without really investing in a more meaningful and worthwhile relationship, just to superficially satisfy our sense of self-worth? All the while, neglecting the nurturing and care we deserve from ourselves, not from others, to ensure we are not an “other half” of a pair but a full, wholesome individual.
When it comes down to it, the only person we can absolutely count on every day is ourselves because that’s who we are stuck with — not our partner, not our pet, not our parents, not our siblings, not our friends… It is ourselves we go to bed with every night and ourselves we wake up with every morning.
Seeking validation from men is undoubtedly transient and fleeting because life is full of fluctuations. It isn’t lasting and it’s dependent on others, which I’m certain many of us have found in our experiences that this can prove to be disappointing. Even my own journey of having faith in myself and loving myself constantly vacillates on a day-to-day basis but one motto I encourage all of us to live by is if you don’t see yourself as worthy, how will anyone else see you as worthy? We cannot depend on the ever changing opinions and thoughts of others (especially men!) to crystallise our presence in this world. We need to start really believing in our value as humans, as womxn and as civil, compassionate people in order for others to also believe in us rather than complying a womxn’s social currency is merely her looks and sex appeal. To risk copyright by referencing an example from Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, if I give you a $5 bill and tell you it’s worth $5, you are going to believe in it because I believe in it, even though what we are actually holding is a piece of paper stating it is $5. Its physical state means little against the shared belief that it is worth $5.
In light of what I’ve said, if I waltz about with the conviction that I am pretty darn awesome, without the compulsion to relentlessly boast but rather simply carry the confidence in knowing that I am, people will respond by most probably believing in it, too. It’s a matter of law of attraction. It also implies I also will not tolerate time-wasters and wastemen. Similarly, if you incessantly demand the attention of the men floating within your vicinity because you don’t feel secure enough in their absence, you will repel self-assured people; instead drawing in those who are willing to exploit your insecurity for their own ego. Examples of relationships where someone deploys tactics of destroying their partner’s self-esteem to ensure they will never feel worthy of anyone else guarantees them a stronghold, even if it means an unsettling, unhappy relationship.
I suppose the crux of what I’m trying to address is womxn have to own their narrative. It is not the men, or anyone else, in our lives that give us purpose or direction; that is up to us. By submitting ourselves to others is prohibiting us from living the full lives we aspire to and surrendering control of every right to be who we long to be and how we do that. It is no use in striving to be the best or most ‘whatever’ for anyone besides ourselves, and as corny as it sounds, we ought to be investing our energy into being the best version of ourselves, not of the elusive model carved out by society’s capricious expectations. There’s only one you.
Without a solid foundation of grasping who we are at our core means we roam this earth as a hollow identity whose only source of validation is through the eyes and depictions of others, and that’s not a life I personally would dream of having — neither should anyone.