It has taken me some two decades of cognizant selfhood (I’m 23, and assuming my “selfhood” began somewhere in toddlerdom), and I have finally realized that it is time I have stopped apologizing.
I am speaking to the cultural phenomena of women —myself included— endlessly striving to accommodate others and apologize for making anyone uncomfortable in their wake. Women in the western world are tirelessly cultured to make others comfortable at their own expense. In this devoted cultural accommodation, women diminish and degrade themselves in a social and physical sense. Some key features of this accommodation include censorship of personal opinion, too much negotiation and compromise, unnecessary apology, and adherence to societal pressures of body image and beauty standards.
As women, we accommodate in the social realm when we delete our controversial posts on social media, when we soften our language, when we hold our tongues altogether, when we put aside so much of ourselves for fear of judgement or oversharing or overstepping. So many aspects of a woman’s life are thus minimized in the public sphere by simply trying not to offend others. Fuck that.
In her essay appearing in Elite Daily, Lauren Argitar calls this trend “the proliferation of the shrinking woman” which I have identified here as the uniquely feminine demand to be slimmer, quieter, to give way to the men barreling toward us on the sidewalk, to disappear almost entirely. This cultural pressure to take up less space has astounding ramifications, in body image and in relationships. To continuously apologize for our actions and our bodies — this changes the landscape of our inner worlds, creating a deeply ingrained sense of unworthiness, a feeling that we cannot and do not deserve to fully participate in society. So we draw inward, collapsing into ourselves as we fold our arms, cross our legs, avert eye contact. We stay within ourselves.
(Picasso’s Blue Nude, c. 1902)
I am personally mortified by my own socialization to take up less space in the physical world and to be painfully apologetic in the social one. I have internalized shame and guilt for being myself, for feeling that my emotions are too exuberant and hysterical, that my body itself is a site of shame for taking up too much room —that the geography of my womanhood is too wild in its natural state without some serious diminishing and accommodation.
Women show their determination to take up less space in many aspects of their lives, most obviously through their fashion choices (spandex, waist training, general fat-phobia) and body image (I repeat: fat-phobia) and body language in public spaces. What would happen if women instead were determined to stretch outward? If we knocked elbows on armrests and shoulder-checked approaching men, if we didn’t apologize for the depth, complexity, and frequency of our emotions, if we didn’t privatize our experience of womanhood, if we weren’t humiliated by our periods— what would happen if women could intimidate by owning their own space, their voices, their bodies?
We are not somehow radical or exhibitionist for asking for acceptance of our bodies, our existences. How we move through this world is not shameful.
In the fourth-wave of our liberation, we have tried to overcome this feeling of being pushed inward in truly magnificent ways. With ever-expanding social media and awareness, incredible campaigns have come forth, such as #freethenipple and #freebleed. I am fascinated by the ways in which women work to reclaim space, particularly via art. In this post, I have chosen to highlight two works that speak to me profoundly: works that address the shame tied up in menstruation.
Have a listen to this spoken word performance, “The Period Poem,” by poet and activist Dominique Christina. Here’s her opening excerpt:
“Dear nameless dummy on Twitter: You’re the reason my daughter cried funeral tears when she started her period. The sudden grief all young girls feel after the matriculation from childhood, and the induction into a reality that they don’t have to negotiate, you and your disdain for what a woman’s body can do. Herein begins an anatomy lesson infused with feminist politics because I hate you.
There is a thing called the uterus. It sheds itself every 28 days or so, or in my case every 23 days, I’ve always been a rule breaker. That’s the anatomy part of it, I digress.
The feminist politic part, is that women know how to let things go, how to let a dying thing leave the body, how to become new, how to regenerate, how to wax and wane, not unlike the moon and tides, both of which influence how you behave, I digress.”
Dominique destroys the negative claim by the “nameless dummy on twitter” through beautifully romanticizing the experience of menstruation. I love how she talks of women as being made of “moonlight magic and macabre” in the same work that describes how we bleed with the moon and tides, as if having a period is a kind of mysterious and empowering privilege bestowed by nature on the lucky few.
Another art piece borne from the same ire to stick-it-to-the-man is a simply gorgeous photo series, as seen in Vice, by photographer Emma Arvida Bystrom. In her series, “There Will Be Blood,” Bystrom portrays women bleeding through their panties in the most casual, serene manner, in everyday scenes of their lives. The women are making no attempts to stop the bleeding, and their surrounding other subjects are in no way dismayed by the presence of blood. It is simply there, not disturbing the flow of life whatsoever.
(“There Will Be Blood,” Emma Arvida Bystrom)
Having a period is perhaps the most uniquely feminine life experience and it is so stigmatized from the male population with connotations of disgust and shameful diatribes. Privatizing our periods is the epitome of accommodating the patriarchy. Do not apologize for the divine process that allows life to flourish within you. And do not betray the holy geography of your body. I am not asking you to bleed on the good furniture, or to abandon shirts in the workplace. I am only reminding you that are entitled to your own being. And that you deserve to take up as much damn space as you want. Do not apologize for that.
I welcome you with outstretched arms and an open heart to Boshemia. A place born from the necessity to command space for the feminine.