Unfortunately, there were a lot of wins for the patriarchy in 2016. Laws that restricted access to abortion were passed all over the country. Brock Turner raped a woman and served only 3 months in prison, exposing the dangerous and despicable rape culture that is the norm in the United States. Multiple states passed or attempted to pass “bathroom bills”, requiring that people only use the bathroom that matches their assigned sex rather than their gender identity, laws which are openly discriminatory to trans individuals. Worst of all, a highly-qualified female presidential candidate lost the election to an openly sexist bigot. And 53% of white women voted for that sexist bigot instead of the highly-qualified woman.
These are only a very few highlights of a particularly shitty year where women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community suffered while white, heteronormative, conservative men thrived. For a feminist in America, 2016 was particularly disheartening. I always realized that being a feminist meant fighting an uphill battle, but this year was the first time I felt like feminism was actually losing.
On this last day of 2016 it would be easy to recall all the patriarchy’s wins this year and get lost in despair. But sitting idle in overwhelming feelings is the opposite of feminism, which is action rather than inaction. So, on this last day of 2016, I want to reflect on the ways I chose to fight the patriarchy this year.
1) I Chose Recovery from my Eating Disorder
The feminist in me was born when I realized that I was ruining my life with an eating disorder. I entered outpatient treatment and began to read as much as I could about eating disorders. It didn’t take long to discover feminist literature proposing that eating disorders are a repressive tool of the patriarchy used to keep women from rising above their station in the world.
I read about how beauty standards, set by white, straight, men, are used to convince women that they are imperfect and that if they work hard enough they can be perfect. I learned how this pursuit of the elusive “beauty” kept women so preoccupied and set up so many barriers to entry that women were unable succeed at the same level of men. I recognized the way that the pursuit of beauty and the affection of men pits women against each other in order to keep them from banding together and overthrowing the cause of their misery: the patriarchy. I deeply identified with the feeling of being made to feel small by being continually silenced and ignored, and I saw the connection between being made to feel small and actually trying to have a smaller body. I realized that I was a victim of the patriarchy, as are all women.
Instead of languishing in my victimhood, I became angry and pursued recovery from my eating disorder with a fervent drive. I internalized the idea that my recovery was an active form of rebellion against the patriarchy. I refused to conform to the patriarchy’s standards. I refused to be silenced or ignored. I refused to be made small. I refused to be distracted by the pursuit of meaningless physical goals.
In 2016, I committed and recommitted to the active rebellion of recovery. I have made immense progress in my recovery and I have also stumbled. I have come to accept my larger body as the body I am intended to have, and I have relapsed in to bingeing as a way to manage my emotions. I spent hours in therapy. I practice intuitive eating and mindful eating. I wore a bathing suit in front of hundreds of people as part of my job as a camp counselor. I was active in ways that made me happy rather in ways that I thought burnt the most calories. I wore the clothes I wanted when I wanted and most of the time I felt okay. I learned to take care of myself, to take time to pause, to take time to eat, to take time to read a fun book, binge Netflix instead of food, and let myself rest.
In 2016 I learned to love myself more than I ever thought possible by choosing recovery every day and telling the patriarchy to fuck right off with their beauty standards.
2) I stopped giving a fuck about bras
I started getting breasts when I was 10 years old and I have always been, shall we say, “well endowed”. When I was young and developing, I was pretty immediately warned that my breasts would cause me trouble. I was told that my large breasts would have an inappropriate effect on men. I was also told that it was my responsibility to manage these effects. Instead of men being responsible for their reactions to my breasts, I was responsible for controlling my breasts so they wouldn’t have such an effect on men. Being the defiant pre-teen that I was, I went out and bought a shirt that said, “My eyes are up here” emblazoned right across my large breasts in bright red with an arrow pointing up to my face. Apparently, pre-teen me was a feminist and older me got lost somewhere along the line.
In my teen years, I was told that I could use men’s reactions to my breasts to get things that I wanted. I internalized the idea that it was empowering to manipulate men with my physical appearance. I know now that many women identify with this. Using our bodies to manipulate men is one of the only times we can exercise power over men. I started to wear revealing clothing, lean over counters, and smile coyly when men stared. Side note: when I say men, I actually mean men, not boys my age. Boys stared too, of course, but more often than I’d like to admit full grown men engaged with my sexually suggestive manipulation even though I was only a teenager. I soon learned that using my body to exercise power over men came with consequences that I wasn’t necessarily willing to face, but always felt obligated to face.
Obviously, I have a part in all this. I was choosing to use my body to exercise power over men. However, the patriarchy is what makes this power play possible. The patriarchy strips women of their real power and gives men power over them. Women are then taught that their bodies are magic objects with the power to make men temporarily unable to control themselves, and if women are clever, they can use this magic object to their advantage. The patriarchy perverts the already perverted power structure between men and women.
The ultimate patriarchal tool of control is the bra. Men, I would like to inform you that most bras, especially bras that are designed to make breasts look “good” or “hot” are supremely uncomfortable. The underwire pokes into our sideboob. The underwire digs in to our chests under the weight of our breasts. With larger breasts, like mine, there is always spillage over the cups, which makes us have to adjust our bras multiple times a day. The best time of the day is when a woman gets home and takes off her bra. And I am entirely sure that if society didn’t operate under the myth that breasts drive men to insane behavior, bras would not exist and women would be infinitely happier.
In 2016 I decided that it was not my responsibility to control my breasts or people’s reactions to them. I always thought I couldn’t get away with not wearing a bra because of my double D’s. This summer I proudly wore sundresses without a bra. It was insanely comfortable. My boobs were out everywhere and I got catcalled all the damn time, and I didn’t give a single fuck. My breasts were not on display for anyone, I was not trying to provoke a reaction, I was just being comfortable and free.
I used to spend a ton of money on push up bras and sexy, lacy bras to make my breasts “look great”. In 2016 I discovered the Hanes Cozy ComfortFlex Bra. It’s a super thin microfiber bra, without an underwire, that holds my breasts in place and that’s about it. It’s the most comfortable bra I have ever worn. It doesn’t pinch like sports bras or poke like underwire bras. It’s like pajamas for my breasts. I pretty much only wear these bras now, unless I’m wearing a dress which requires a “real bra” in which case, I grit my teeth and curse the patriarchy.
In giving zero fucks about making my breasts “look good” I am rebelling against the idea that my breasts exist for male gaze and I am prioritizing my own comfort and happiness.
3) I used my vote to support female politicians
I’m not going to pretend that I was on the Hillary train from the beginning. I fell hard for Bernie in the primaries. I believed he was authentic and I agreed with pretty much everything he said. I also fell victim to the propaganda machine that made Hillary out to be a corrupt devil. I still think she’s been involved in some shady shit. I’m not a rah rah Hillary cheerleader, but I did vote for her and I did so happily.
For a while after she won the primary I was one of those people who groaned, “I’ll vote for Hillary, but I’m not happy about it”, but after the DNC I was happy to vote for her. When I saw her accept the nomination I cried. I didn’t expect it, but I cried hard. I didn’t know how overwhelmingly happy I would be to see a woman nominated to run for President. I was energized by the idea of actually having a female President. I really wanted her to win, and not just to prevent Donald Trump from winning. Despite all the supposed “scandals” she was one of, if not the most qualified candidate to ever run.
I voted a day early and felt a surge of pride as I colored in the circle next to her name on that ballot. And Hillary was not the only woman I voted for that day. I took my local ballot and filled in the circles next to the names of multiple women running for office in my state. It’s not just about electing the first female President, it’s about supporting women in every level of government. I didn’t vote for women based on their gender, I voted for them because I believed they were the best candidates for the jobs for which they were running and I believe that women need all the support they can get.
This country claims to be a democracy, which means that my vote counts for something (even if the electoral college makes my vote basically meaningless because I live in Vermont). By using my vote to elect women, I did my part in ensuring that there are more women in local and national government, which lessens the number of positions in the government held by white men. In fact, the only win for feminism on election night was the fact that more women of color were elected to Congress than ever before. Using my vote to dethrone men and crown women in our governmental structures in 2016 is a direct blow to the patriarchy.
These are just a few of the things I did this year to fight the patriarchy. I also stopped using beauty products, which I wrote about for The Tempest. I connected with more women and made deeper friendships based on equality. I discussed feminism with my husband and we brainstormed ways to make our marriage more egalitarian. Most importantly, though, I used my voice to speak out. I wrote a lot this year. I was published for the first time and then many more times after that. I wrote in my blog, which gained new readers after I was published. I used my voice to express my hurt and my anger against the patriarchy. In 2017 I hope to use my voice even more and I hope to continue to fight the good fight. And in honor of Carrie Fisher, a badass feminist we just lost, I plan to “be a general”:
So, to 2016: get the fuck outta here. To 2017: let’s do this.