In the summer of 2014, after three years in the UK, I proclaimed myself ‘not a feminist but…’ on Facebook. I shared a Huffington post article on gender differences in social interactions with which I claimed to resonate a little. A friend commented and asked why I considered myself not a feminist and I remember not being able to articulate why but feeling flooded by images of women that hate men, women that are using their gender as a form of privilege while being too whiney to just deal with shit, women that don’t have the sex appeal or power that I have that are just bitter about their lack of sexual power and end up blaming man for their ugliness. Fat women that are sad about their fatness. Women without accentuated waist lines. Angry women that are a nuisance and never seem to shut up. Emotional women that lack the cool head of common sense. I saw all these women at once in my mind’s eye with disgust and did not want to be associated with them. That’s what the idea of feminism conjured for me then.
I was brought up in a patriarchal society in post-communist Romania. A society in which I felt no lack of access to contemporary intellectuals (Borges, Vargas-Llosa, Kundera, Hesse, Eliade, etc), they just never happened to be women. No one talked about this absence. Women represented in literature were muses, elusive goddesses that gift men inspiration to actualise their geniuses and torment them with their sexual powers. Where I grew up women were and had to be pretty. You also had to be interesting in a sexual way and wild but not too wild. The lack of feminist thought, discussion or any sort of understanding of feminism in my circles led to me never feeling that sexism was in action. I was, in fact, a pretty, sexually interesting woman so I had nothing to worry about. I spent most of my youth either luring men into my den or hustling to be a muse. With various degrees of success, I achieved both.
When I moved to the UK I became surrounded by men that seemed to be immune to my powers. They were not the intellectual poet/artist type I knew how to play cat and mouse with. They were cold, rational, focused and very naive. They found more pleasure playing board games and beer pongs than showcasing their intellectual superiority in deep poetic exchanges. It confused me. The roles were so clearly defined in Romania, I knew what I had to do and I did it well. In the UK I was lost.
One night in Birmingham, post coital, after a shared bottle of wine with a 19 year old British boy, I felt compelled to leave his student accommodation completely naked in order to go to the courtyard and feel the British wind on my body. It was an important relation to establish to the natural forces of this new land I found myself on, the wind was calling my skin, ALL of my skin, and I needed to answer. My poetic gesture completely freaked him out, scrambling to cover me and find me a taxi out of his universe.
I didn’t find an absence of sex in the UK. I was desired and consumed. But I found an absence of the sensible, the feminine. The tension of poetic foreplay, the deeply imaginary, the detailed nonsensical pleasure – those routes heavily traversed by men and women in their established roles in Romania, they were shut. And they weren’t just shut in sexual relations, they were shut in thought. Everything I learnt was calculated, cold, rational, scientific, measurable, structural.
So in 2014 I blamed feminism for it. Look what you did, you undesirable women, you closed the paths to pleasure with your emancipation bullshit by demanding you are treated as more than sexual beings, damning us all to a life of rational stale expression. Are you happy now?
But the problem persisted in the UK as it did in Romania – no one said anything about feminism. In my music technology course I had no women teachers and only two women colleagues with whom I didn’t know how else to interact with but in competition. I learnt of no women composers, theorists, producers, etc. With my survival instincts tingling, I started morphing myself into what that context and society showed as marks of success: an analytical mind, a mind that reads and calculates each move. I had to crush instinct and pleasure to fit in. And I did.
Today I read Helene Cixous and I’m moved to a deep organic resonance with her text. The impulse compels me to blast the text on Facebook for other people to read but I am reminded of the only other claim I made on there about my feminism from almost 10 years ago, ‘I’m not feminist, but…’. Things are very different today. I feel no shame but compassion.
Cixous wrote the text in the 70s. I read it wishing that it didn’t take me 31 years to find. I read it wishing that someone gave it to me in those teenage years, sat me down and assured me that the path I instinctively feel is right need not be corrected. I read it and it heals me from the tension. I’ve come a long way. We still have so much more to go.
To write. An act which will not only “realize” the decensored relation of woman to her sexuality, to her womanly being, giving her access to her native strength; it will give her back her goods, her pleasures, her organs, her immense bodily territories which have been kept under seal; it will tear her away from the superegoized structure in which she has always occupied the place reserved for the guilty (guilty of everything, guilty at every turn: for having desires, for not having any; for being frigid, for being “too hot”; for not being both at once; for being too motherly and not enough; for having children and for not having any; for nursing and for not nursing … )-tear her away by means of this research, this job of analysis and illumination, this emancipation of the marvelous text of her self that she must urgently learn to speak. A woman without a body, dumb, blind, can’t possibly be a good fighter. She is reduced to being the servant of the militant male, his shadow. We must kill the false woman who is preventing the live one from breathing. Inscribe the breath of the whole woman.
(Helen Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa, 1976)