The Greys of Liberation

// 4 June 2014

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What exactly does a liberated Western woman look like? Is she the driven career woman, the stripper, the nun, or the housewife? In feminist circles, the debates over this issue are endless and admittedly often judgmental.

To me, the answer is quite clear: there is no set answer. Indeed, to attempt to even provide a rigid definition for another person can ironically be counterproductive.

Let me explain.

For me, who I am today is a culmination of all the people I’ve ever been in my short life. I’m on my journey towards authentic liberation as a woman, but I had to first experiment with different selves – and still am doing so.

When I was a teenager, I rebelled heavily against my more conservative, studious Indian upbringing. The hyper-sexualised Western world seemed more liberating than my strict background, in which I’d felt so controlled by cultural and familial expectations. Scenes and activities I later found objectifying I embraced in an attempt to construct an identity of my own. I looked at the likes of pole dancers and party girls with secret admiration.

Yet as I grew and gained more self-awareness, I eventually no longer felt this way. While I was beginning to construct an independent sense of self, I realised I was still unhealthily looking for the same validation I had as “the good Indian girl”, but now from men and my Western peers. I realised many of the “sexy” women I’d looked up to weren’t as free as I thought. I felt we’d been pressured subconsciously from society and the media to look and behave like a sex object.

I became disillusioned. I labeled women who largely used their sexuality for gain as disempowered – sell-outs who were emotionally either unintelligent or unhealed. I was wary of the sexuality I’d been sold that seemed so disempowering to my gender. I shunned my sensual side as I couldn’t trust my own impulses anymore; they seemed more a product of a patriarchal society and past conditioning than myself. Certainly I was becoming more liberated as I was starting to learn to think for myself. Still, I was not being my full self ironically for fear of not being a truly liberated woman.

Yet, I could never label either of these stages in my growth as more or less liberating than the other. Each part of the journey led to greater liberation, a blossoming of different aspects of myself, shaping the more balanced woman I am today. The only way I could ever grow and become more liberated is by being able to choose, at least consciously, to carve my own identity. Sure, I will never be 100% free of subconscious, environmental, and biological influences, yet I will always have conscious control. And as I choose to create my life, I grow into and learn more about what is truly liberating for me, even if I make some mistakes along the way.

So really, I’ve no idea what is liberating for you or what will be liberating for me in a few years from now. But thanks to all my various phases in life, I have a better idea of what feels liberating for me right now. Like when I let myself feel insecure or strong, allowing myself to be the imperfect, multi-faceted human being I am who’s still growing. When I belly dance, and experience a different, more sensual side to myself. When I achieve a goal and experience a sense of accomplishment.

I also have a stronger idea of what doesn’t feel liberating for me right now. Like chasing success because I am trying to prove my worth. Dressing a certain way because I feel societal pressure to look and appear sexy. Trying hard to appear confident, like I’ve got it all together, and acting like a “good, classy girl” – doing whatever it takes to not appear like the “trashy” or insecure woman we are taught to look down on. Judging another woman, rather than compassionately supporting her in finding her own personal liberation, however it may look like and differ from mine. Because by trying to suppress and define another for themselves, I inevitably end up suppressing and losing myself.

Perhaps, then, a liberated woman is one who defines liberation on her own terms. She makes her own life decisions in whatever way and order she decides aligns with her individual values. Whether that’s pre-marital sex or waiting, one career or 20 or none ever at all, a job as a sex worker or a life as a nun without sex. Maybe a liberated woman is simply one who lives her life according to what she feels is right regardless of what others tell her, whether that’s a patriarchal system or a feminist leader.

[Image is of a multi-coloured butterfly on a bright green leaf, by David Yu, shared under a Creative Commons license]

Comments From You

Kris // Posted 10 June 2014 at 11:46 pm

Thanks for sharing a some of the things that you have gone through. It can be hard to be so open about yourself, especially to be a little self-critical in public.

I myself have had struggles with concepts of masculinity that have played havoc on my self-esteem and self-image. I’ll not go into the details here as this isn’t really about me and I don’t want to attempt to undermine the feminist focus of this post. But much like you have said, I became more comfortable with myself as a person when I learnt to stop paying too much attention to what mainstream society said a man should be and to simply carry on living life in a way that was comfortable to me and that I chose.

I think that is the most important thing, not just for a feminist but for all of us; choice. I think a person should strive to be whatever they want to be (so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else, of course) and not what someone else wants them to be; not what society or community says they should be. I agree wholeheartedly that it is the freedom of a woman to choose that should be one of the objectives of feminism. I have heard some feminist make the argument that self-respecting women shouldn’t want to be housewives. I take issue with that. If a woman wants to be a housewife because SHE wants to, not because her husband (or family) tells her to be or because she feels pressured, then who is anyone to tell her otherwise*.

In saying that you have “a stronger idea of what doesn’t feel liberating for me right now”, I believe that you have touched upon a very important aspect of liberation – being self-aware. Understanding yourself: your desires, fears, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses – they are all important to living a life that is of your design (or as close to your design as you can make it!).

All in all, a this is a well written and thought provoking article. I look forward to reading much (much much) more from you in the future.

*For the record, I’d love the idea of being a stay-at-home Dad, if I found myself with a wife who wanted to go out and work and we had enough money that one of us could take care of the household, I’d love to take up the challenge.

Joy // Posted 11 June 2014 at 12:49 am

Word up! Go Sheena. You rock!

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