September 14, 2020
Frida Kahlo and the Lean, Mean, Patriarchy
When I was in the 3rd grade, a girl in my class told me I had a unibrow.
I didn’t even know what a ‘unibrow’ was, let alone why it would be something to point out on another person. In the moment, I thought it was like pointing at a birthmark; it’s there, but it’s not too important. Lucky for me, she kindly explained its deadly significance by turning me to face her on the school bus and snidely drawing a single line across her forehead from the tip of her left eyebrow to her right.
“You should probably get it waxed off before someone else notices,” she said.
Again, I had no idea what she was talking about. Wax? Like, candles? The slimy residue of stickers when you peeled them off? The Babybel cheese packaging? I went home and told my mom. She gave me a long look as though deciding whether or not 8 years old was mature enough to unpack the nuances of conventional beauty and sexism. I bet her feminist ideals were fighting hard—equality! freedom! hairy pits!!— but years of bullying and trauma related to her own self image as a young woman probably tipped the scales quite a bit because she said:
“Do you want to get rid of it?”
I don’t blame her at all for asking, but it confused me even more. Why were our bodies so terribly imperfect? Had we always needed regular improvements and scrutiny like cars at an auto shop or cheese pellets running down a conveyor in a factory? And even worse; was I the defective cheese? I imagined a worker plucking me off the merry course of existence and tossing me into a discard bin and felt very, very strange.
And that’s the difficult thing. What are you supposed to do? Let your kid get bullied because they don’t meet a beauty standard or rip, wax, and make-up their bodies until they feel shaken and inadequate in their own skin before they’ve even reached puberty? It was only 2008 then—non-moustached Hillary Duff and stick thin Avril Lavigne types ruled the media I consumed, so it was sure that something would be said to me again, sooner or later. I was still a bit young yet for Bell Hooks and Judith Butler too, so my mom made the executive decision to get my unibrow removed.
And even though I disagree with the beauty standards women are commanded to keep, I’m grateful to my mom for waxing and shaving my Chewbacca-vogue look because (sadly) it saved me from a lot of social problems in the long run.
It’s a strange dichotomy that many female feminists inhabit. We genuinely support and root for equality between sexes, but we can’t shake the intense guilt of also wanting to imitate the pastel-coloured aerosol woman that lives in every little girl’s dreams whether she knows it or not. We hold banners of “equality now!” with one hand, and guiltily touch up our lip-gloss in the bathroom and an hour later because someone said our lips looked dry. Of course, now we have the image of the feminist who wears makeup and shaves but claims these choices as services for herself rather than imposed action by an oppressive society, and I think that’s so important to see. Few women are going to go cold turkey on shaving and makeup when it’s been the societal norm for 100 years, and hell, the makeup stuff is fun, so why then are we beating ourselves up about still wanting to do those things? If you want to shave? Go for it. Want to grow out your unibrow long enough to double-dutch braid it until Frida Kahlo rises from the grave to punch you in the face for stealing her brand? Also highly respectable.
As I got older, my mom gave me a ton of feminist material she’d read at about my age. One of the most powerful of these had to be the Scum Manifesto by Valerie Solanas—satirical as anything and written in a cold-cutting, don’t-give-a-damn way. Solanas was easily my introduction to radical feminism. (she also famously shot Andy Warhol in the foot for stealing one of her manuscripts, which as an angsty, anger-fueled teenager seemed super metal). And although I don’t identify with Solanas’ man-hating tendencies (many of the chapters in Scum literally encouraged women to eliminate the male sex) I can understand her rage.
It’s the sidelining, the little comments of, “lucky you’re a girl!”, the self doubt, the acting like ‘one of the guys’ in order to be taken seriously, the development of a quiet, demure constitution to not appear as ‘too much’ or ‘that girl’, the relinquishing of control in hetero relationships because, “look! He chose me! I’ve been chosen!” We all feel the anger on some level, whether we let it on or not. For some, it’s visible like in the case of Solanas, and for others, it’s like Offred playing scrabble with the Commander and plotting her escape.
And while it’s not a good idea to go in search of well- known artists with guns blazing, the sentiment has been amplified indefinitely across the globe by women’s minds and hearts, all screaming out the same message over and over:
“This isn’t fair.”