Monthly Archives: June 2014

The F Word: Inclusive Feminism, Self-Care and The Full Humanity of Women

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When I was nineteen, I wrote an entry on Feministing’s community blog called Myths Regarding Feminism Among the Younger Generation. Recently, I found that someone had copy and pasted this blog entry into a forum about feminist news in 2011, and it stirred quite the response about what feminism actually means and whether these are actually myths or truths. This discovery was the incentive for me to revisit this topic, four years later. Although now I would tweak some of these myths to represent my growing knowledge base about feminism (for example, avoiding the word “purity” from Myth # 3 which can be tied to the realm of slut-shaming), I recognize that this discussion is still extremely relevant to my writing about self-care for young women.

My book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, is geared towards the target population of young women. I can say confidently that this book could not have been written without feminism. As a marginalized woman of color who comes from a culture that promotes slut-shaming and restricts women’s choices, I personally found feminism to be my guiding light in making empowering choices for myself.  Feminism helped me to deconstruct the restrictive “rules” I learned in childhood within the context of a Bangladeshi family. This convinces me that a woman’s engagement in her own self-care, theoretically, cannot exist without fundamental feminist principles.

This is because feminism puts forth the “bold” notion that women can and should be able to prioritize themselves in a world that socializes them to be the caretakers for others. They now have more choices and options in how they lead their lives, how they wish to form relationships, what careers they pursue, and what dreams and ambitions they chase. Even if you shy away from the label of “feminist,” you have to acknowledge that your present choices and options are in fact, a result of the feminist movement. Feminism also means that self-care for women is not a luxury but a necessity. All human beings need to engage in self-care, but I believe feminism is especially needed in order to encourage women, who are often told to forsake their needs to meet the needs of others and be people-pleasing, to refocus on this.

Unfortunately, some people don’t want to be associated with feminism despite the empowering opportunities it can provide. While that’s a personal choice, I believe it’s a somewhat misguided one. Society’s resistance to feminism seems to stem from a fear of the stigmatizing stereotype of who a feminist is (as seen in some of the myths I discuss in my old post). Let me be clear: I don’t believe in the “cookie-cutter” feminist. Yes, there are feminists who follow the stereotype of feminists, but there are also feminists who don’t. Feminists come from all different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives. They are men, women, transgendered and gender-defying. They can be of any race, ethnicity and nationality. They can indeed be “feminine,” “masculine,” a mixture of both or a mixture that doesn’t fit into either; they can choose not to subscribe to these categories at all to identify themselves. They can care about their appearance, want to be “sexy,” be indifferent, dress in whatever way they choose however they feel like it at the moment. They can use reverse discourse to take back and reinterpret demeaning words that have been historically been used to disempower women, or they can choose not to speak those words at all. They can be able-bodied, disabled, or have a disability that’s not always visible. They can be highly sex-positive; they can be abstinent; they can fall somewhere in the middle; this can change at different stages of their lives depending on their circumstances. They can be spiritual, religious, atheist, agnostic, and so forth. Even more controversially, some feminists may disagree on certain key movements of the feminist movement like the pro-choice movement.

What, then, unites them? Fundamentally, a principle that society should acknowledge the full humanity of women and recognize them as citizens that deserve equal rights. Most importantly of all, feminism means acknowledging the full humanity of women. I want to stress this both in the way that women are viewed as well as how feminists view each other. Men are viewed in a more holistic light than women in this society; yes, they do face stifling gender roles as well and pressures to be highly masculine. They are also, to some extent, objectified in terms of how much money they make, their ability to provide and how physically strong they are. Deconstructing these gender roles and including the male experience should be included and discussed in feminist discourse. Yet often, men are not just judged by these characteristics alone; their whole package is often considered – intelligence, sense of humor, personality,  among other factors. Women, however, are highly dehumanized and objectified by the media and in turn, are socialized to focus on their appearance (another factor that complements their internalization of people-pleasing behavior). Studies even show that women tend to derive more of their self-worth from interpersonal relationships – something I believe is a largely (if not completely) influenced by this type of socialization.

Acknowledging the full humanity of women in feminism also goes both ways. It means feminists or those interested in feminism must recognize other feminists as human beings, capable of flaw, fallacy, “guilty pleasures,” and qualities that may oppose stereotypical feminism. Although feminism is tied to this principle of women having equal rights, it is also bounded in the philosophy that women have the right to make their personal choices. Feminists shouldn’t condemn or otherwise pressure other feminists for making certain choices in their lives so long as these choices are not violating the rights of others; that defeats the purpose of feminism.

Just because you as a feminist don’t believe in the institution of marriage, for example, doesn’t mean you have a right to condemn another feminist who might. Just because you believe a man holding the door for you is an outrageous act of sexism doesn’t mean there won’t be another feminist who doesn’t see it as a big deal and prioritizes other feminist issues. One feminist might focus on issues of domestic violence and street harassment; another might tackle the daily microaggressions like dating rituals or “chivalry” as a part of their activism. Sometimes, we may tackle all of these issues. We need activists and discussions on a variety of social justice issues, not just one.

We have to acknowledge our differences as feminists, celebrate them, and challenge ourselves to learn from them, because feminism and self-care, paradoxically enough, means acknowledging that our feminist identity isn’t the only part of our identity. We must acknowledge the intersectionality among our identities which include our culture, race, ethnicity, nationality, personality, religion, dating patterns, beliefs and values about marriage and sex, personal style, and a host of other intersecting identities that may even conflict with mainstream feminist identities.

This “conflict” should not be condemned; it should be explored. It can open up exciting dialogues about what feminism means to us personally and how that compares to the way the movement is working now, both at a domestic and international level. In my opinion, this diversity is a blessing. We have a lot to learn from each other on this journey. From men, women, and transgendered people. From ardent feminists, from people who claim to hate feminists, from people who don’t understand feminism and from people who want to learn more about it. Starting this dialogue is so relevant and is so crucial to the power of the movement and the understanding of its goals.

On an individual level, feminism means taking care of all of these complex aspects of our identity and recognizing that feminism is only one of them. Engaging in proper self-care means giving due attention to all the facets of our identity, and not just who we are “supposed” to be, how we’re “supposed” to act as feminists. We must use feminism to broaden our horizons rather than stifle us; if we do the latter rather than the former, we defeat the purpose of feminism and we only perpetuate the myths about it.

Feminism is about giving us the choice to engage in healthy self-care; it’s about giving us a right to our own unique identity; it’s about giving us a variety of options to choose from. It’s about recognizing our humanity as well; we cannot be perfect, cookie-cutter feminists in every facet of our lives, and that’s okay, so long as we’re open to understanding why. I’ve met “feminists” who claim to be all for women’s rights, but tear each other down for making personal choices they disagree with or condemn them for not following a certain script when using their voices on important issues. Being feminists means we support other women in making the choices that empower them, not judge them and deprive them of the right to do so.

When we approach feminism from a perspective of this openness, understanding and compassion, we open ourselves up to self-care in healthier and more realistic ways. Sometimes, what we want, how we feel, how we think, and what we know will be at odds with one another. Sometimes, they will be perfectly in sync. People are messy, complicated, nuanced and contradictory; so are life circumstances, sociopolitical movements, and the uncomfortable truths hiding behind the labels that threaten to pigeonhole us. As I wrote four years ago, being feminists doesn’t mean we are any less human or fallible. The exciting part about being a feminist is accepting that right to be human, embracing the freedom to be ourselves, taking care of ourselves holistically, and no longer being ashamed to take on the F word or the rich, complex identity that accompanies it.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Shahida Arabi is a graduate student at Columbia University, the former President of NOW-NYU and the author of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, a bestselling Kindle book also available in print. Her interests include psychology, sociology, education, gender studies and mental health advocacy. You can check out her new blog, Self-Care Haven, for topics related to mindfulness, mental health, narcissistic abuse and recovery from emotional trauma.

Creative Commons License Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, please contact me if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Rejection: Rumination, Redirection and Rejuvenation

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The Smart Girl’s Guide to Rejection: Rumination, Redirection and Rejuvenation by Shahida Arabi

Rejection can send us spinning in ruminations over our self-worth and desirability. Whether you were rejected from a job, within a relationship, a potential romance, or a friendship, rejection can threaten our sense of self-efficacy, self-image and self-esteem if we don’t learn to embrace and cope with it in healthier ways. Rejection can also maximize people-pleasing because we may feel like we are at fault for it and must try harder to win someone else’s approval.

Here are some crucial ways we can develop a healthier relationship with rejection and cope with it in productive ways. I call it the “Three R’s of Coping with Rejection.”

The Three R’s: Challenge the Rumination, Redirection to Something Better and Rejuvenating a Sense of Self

1. Challenge the Rumination

Challenge your irrational thoughts and beliefs. Rejection makes us vulnerable to cognitive distortions, inaccurate thoughts or beliefs that perpetuate negative emotions. When we feel rejected by others, we may engage in “Black and White” distortions where we perceive ourselves or the situation as “all bad” or “all good.”  We may also participate in filtering, where we exclusively focus on the negative details of an event rather than the positive ones. Most likely, rejection will lead to some amount of personalization where we attribute the blame of someone else’s negative toxic behavior to ourselves, as well as overgeneralization, where we interpret that one event of rejection as evidence for a never-ending pattern unlikely to change.

What do you think happens when you carry around these false beliefs? Most likely, you end up with a partial or full-on self-fulfilling prophecy, because cognitive distortions tend to affect our perceived agency in navigating constraints and opportunities in our daily lives. If we think we can’t do it, we often don’t even bother trying – we don’t get the job because we don’t believe we’re qualified to even apply for it. We don’t achieve healthy relationships if we believe we’re not good enough. We may end up having a never-ending pattern of bad luck in relationships because we sabotage ourselves in ways we may not even be aware of and maintain connections with toxic partners. Rejection can prompt us reject ourselves under these false assumptions and subsequent actions.

Try this exercise. Start by writing down a list of ten negative, false beliefs you hold about yourself, the power of rejection, and its connection to your perceived self-worth. These can include beliefs like, “Rejection means I am a bad person,” “If someone rejects me, it means I am not good enough,” or “I need people’s approval before I can approve of myself.”

Next, write down ten reevaluations next to these beliefs. These include thoughts that challenge the beliefs or provide evidence against it, like, “Rejection is about the other person’s expectations and preferences, not about my worth as a person,” or “I can feel good about myself regardless of someone else’s perception of me.” If it proves helpful, try to think of examples where these challenges were true. For example, you might think about how someone else’s expectations for a relationship differed from your own and shaped his or her rejection of you (or more accurately, the relationship itself).

Or, more importantly, you might remember a time when you yourself rejected someone, not because of his or worth, but because of your own needs, wants and preferences. Putting yourself in the rejector’s place enables you to gain a broader perspective that resists personalizing the rejection and helps you to move forward. You’re essentially reminding yourself that everyone, at some point, gets rejected by something or someone, and it’s not an experience exclusive to you or indicative of how much you’re worth.

2. Redirection to Something Better

Rejection doesn’t have to be a negative thing – it can be a positive release  of your efforts, and a redirection towards something or someone more worthy of you. What are the ways this specific rejection has freed you? Have you gotten laid off from a job and now have the opportunity to work on your true passion? Has the ending of a relationship enabled you to take care of yourself more fully and opened up time and space for friendship, travel, and new career prospects?

For every rejection, make a list of new opportunities and prospects that were not available to you prior to the rejection. Whether they be grandiose fantasies of what could be or more realistic goals, this will help train your mind into thinking of the infinite possibilities that have multiplied as a result of your rejection, rather than the limiting of possibilities we usually associate with the likes of rejection.

3. Rejuvenation of the Self

Remember that there is only one you and that a rejection of your uniqueness is a loss on the part of the rejector. We’ve heard this phrase, “there is only one you,” time and time again but what does it really mean? It means that your specific package – quirks, personality, looks, talents, dreams, passions, flaws – can never be completely duplicated in another person. You are unique and possess a certain mixture of qualities no one else on this earth will ever be able to replicate even if they wanted to.

Embracing our uniqueness, while depersonalizing rejection, enables us to remember that rejection can be a redirection to something or someone better who can appreciate us fully. Whoever rejected you has ultimately lost out on your uniqueness – they will never again find someone exactly like you who acts the way you do and who makes them feel exactly the way you did. But guess what? It means someone else will. Another company will benefit from your hard work, perseverance, and talent. Another partner will enjoy the beautiful qualities that make you you – your sense of humor, your intelligence and charisma. Another friend will be strengthened by your wisdom and compassion.

You are a gem and you don’t have to waste your precious time attempting to morph yourself into anything else but you just to get someone to “approve” of your unique brand. You are who you are for a reason and you have a destiny to fulfill. Don’t let rejection detract from that destiny. Let it redirect you to better things, remind you of how special you truly are and rejuvenate your sense of self rather than destroy it.

Copyright © 2015 by Shahida Arabi. 

All rights reserved. No part of this entry, which is an excerpt from the copyrighted book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care, may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

To learn more about minimizing people-pleasing and cultivating an authentic self, please see my book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self-Care available in Kindle and in Print.

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The ideas in this blog entry have been adapted from a chapter of this book and are copyrighted by law.

Creative Commons License
Self-Care Haven: Home of The Smart Girl’s Guide to Self Care by Shahida Arabi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. In other words, you must ask permission if you intend to share this blog entry somewhere, and always provide proper credit in the form of a link back to this blog as well as my name.