Thursday, 13 March 2014

"What's Your Dream?"

"Femme Maison" by Louise Bourgois

Remember the guy on the street at the beginning of "Pretty Woman" (not to get started on that movie) who stands around Hollywood asking, "WHAT'S YOUR DREAM"? I can hear his voice in my head: "What's your dream?"

What is my dream? What's yours?

Naomi Wolf's from 1990 seems to me a pretty good one, pretty compelling, pretty grounded in personal and general experience (as she saw and felt it, as she found it in her research).

Wolf writes, "Our culture gives a young woman only two dreams in which to imagine her body, like a coin with two faces: one pornographic, the other anorexic" and she calls on us "to demand a better dream" (199).

Wolf wants us to be free, to love ourselves, to be ambitious, to be individuals (and sisters, and citizens), to choose "a woman-loving definition of beauty" (201). Further exploring the metaphor of the Iron Maiden, she describes "an urgent social expedient that [makes] women's bodies into the prisons that their homes no longer [are]," saying, "women's bodies are not our own but society's" (184, 187).

In her chapter on "Hunger," Wolf says, "Whom a society values it feeds well," and she describes the proliferation of eating disorders and disordered eating among women and girls (189). For Wolf, food, weight, hunger, and physical health and wellness are political issues, ultimately about power, who has it and who doesn't. She writes, "Hunger makes women feel poor and think poor" (197). I can't help but remember the hunger young women in my life felt during those years of our adolescence in particular (though perhaps women in my life now are hungry, too).

I'm struck by Wolf's conclusion of the chapter: "Everyone is telling her to be careful" (217). This resonates with me. It is not my dream to have to be careful, yet I have felt in various ways throughout my life that being careful is the message I receive from my culture. Wolf wants us to "be shameless. Be greedy" (291). Is this too bold? Does she go too far? Wolf is interested in courage and freedom--as, I realize, am I.

Wolf talks about literal, physical hunger, but she is also interested in what she calls a "spiritual hunger" (279). She references Betty Freidan's Feminine Mystique several times and "the problem without a name," exploring a domestic's imprisonment's transition to a new kind of imprisonment in the Iron Maiden. Her dream gets us out of both.

"The pressure of beauty pornography and the pressures of achievement combine to strike young women where they are most vulnerable: in their exploration of their sexuality in relation to their sense of their own worth," Wolf explains (213). In my experience, this is profoundly true. In a beauty economy, essentially a beauty caste system, it is difficult (to impossible) for young women to feel valuable, worthy, powerful in our current world of images.

Since I started this post, we're nearing the end of Wolf's book from 1990 and asking ourselves what (if anything) has changed. I'm not convinced that Wolf's dream has been fully realized, of course, yet education and awareness have to be part of getting there.

"Torture of Women" by Nancy Spero Siglio

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