...Feminism has taught us that activities that appear to be self-destructive are invariably adaptations, attempts to cope with the world...

Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue

When I moved in with my father, I think that part of what I was acting out in my eating patterns related to the issue of inequality. When I lived with my mother, it felt like living in a condition of poverty in comparison to the extravagance of living with my father. With my mother, food was controlled, portioned out, money was stretched as far as it could go. With my father there was no keeping track, there was wastefulness, a focus on immediate wants, no limits. At my mother's, there were always siblings around, and my mother. At my father's I was often alone, before and after school - I was left to raise myself.

As for Freud's penis envy theory, my guess is that it was not about the penis itself, but about the power in society that those who possessed the penis seemed to have (and still seem to possess). As girls learn about the world, it makes a kind of sense to me that they'd notice that their mothers didn't have the same kind of power as their fathers, and that this might result in a kind of resentment - so it may have always been a feminist issue that Freud didn't recognize because he didn't question all aspects of prevailing attitudes of the times.

It seems like Freud's theories about castration also relate to the state of feminism/sexism at the time, i.e., as girls get older they begin to realize that the ones with penises have more authority and power in the world. Such that a girl does not actually long for a penis, but for its psychic equivalents - power, options, resources, and that if she feels anger toward her mother, maybe it relates to the mother's submission to male dominance.

My relationship with food partly represented the confusion that resulted from the two different styles of parenting. My parents' marriage had probably failed at least in part because their approaches were at opposite ends of the spectrum. It was flattering that my father thought I was grown up enough to make all decisions on my own at age 13, but the truth was that I was having trouble reconciling the extremes.

Feminism has pointed out (long ago, but I think these ideas are still relevant) that men feel more important and entitled to more because they earn higher salaries, have more power, respect and status due to having more 'important' jobs. Women tend to defer to men's needs and preferences above their own, channelling their energies into supporting the one with the 'important' job and responsibilities. I think this was probably the situation in my parents' marriage. When they divorced, my father had things for himself, including horses, which are fairly expensive to keep. His lifestyle differed from ours, which always felt so pinched in comparison. When I moved in with my father, I couldn't help but be confused related to issues of equality. Why was my standard of life so dramatically different with each parent? And when I moved in with my father, I probably realized that my father didn't really understand what was involved with raising children - he didn't put as much thought into my existence as my mother did, and hadn't understood or valued her contributions.

My excessive eating filled me with guilt. I may have been saying: give me limits, punish me, parent me. Or, I may have been unconsciously trying to take more for myself, make things more equal. I felt guilty that the others had less, but at the same time, may have felt it was unfair that all of us had less, that he could be allowed to be so extravagant. It hardly seemed equal or fair that one member of the family should have more than all the others put together. I was unconsciously questioning my father's fairness. I did not consciously add things up, but when all of his habits and extravagances were added up, there would have been quite a discrepancy.

At age 16, upon the death of my mother, I became a kind of housewife with three younger siblings, three dogs, two cats and a father who was experiencing a serious crisis regarding his responsibilities in life. Most of the time, I was the oldest person in the house, the one who was always there. I cooked and cleaned while taking Grade 12 through correspondence courses. For the first time I became aware of my siblings as individuals, and I developed a sense of responsibility not just for practical considerations, but for their emotional wellbeing.

It was partly about ideas I had been brainwashed into accepting regarding female roles, but that is not the whole story. I was the oldest, and there is a feeling of responsibility that goes along with being the oldest in any given situation. When you are a babysitter, there is a kind of relief when the parents return home and you can let them take over responsibility again for the wellbeing, and the survival of their children. Our father was not OK. There was nowhere for him to go for help. I became aware that the others needed to be 'protected' from harm he did not intend to inflict.

My mother had divided our tasks mainly into male and female tasks. I began washing the dinner dishes from a young age (about 7, I had to stand on something to properly reach the sink) and doing various cleaning chores, and didn't learn to clean/fillet fish like my brothers, and they were the ones to cut the grass. When I moved in with my father, I still had to wash the dinner dishes and do some cleaning, but I also had to feed horses, muck stalls and mow the lawn - however, expectations regarding these chores were erratic and even chaotic.

My mother associated a too-noticeable fitness with fatness or non-feminity (the problem might have been too noticeable muscle), while my father seemed to expect me to be stronger than males, even or especially those considerably larger than myself. I did very often have to lift large bags of feed and shavings, as well as bales of hay and straw, and for my size probably was exceptionally strong.

In my father's family, the sexism was pronounced. Males were more important and valued. But my mother came from a family in which both children were girls, and in which children were treated as special. My mother may have been the favourite, which may have given her something in common with my father, but maybe it was a puzzle to her that he would not see her as his equal, because he had been raised to see himself as more important than the women in his life and to devalue their contributions.

While I don't think my father's mother was a natural nurturer, I think it was fairly clear that she 'worshipped' him, and that her attitudes had something to do with his own feelings of entitlement in life. It may have also had something to do with his feelings of dissatisfaction in all his adult relationships, or the tendency of all these relationships to revolve around him and his needs, rather than the needs and interests of his partners.

...Many of the changes thought to be intrinsically connected with puberty are actually connected with the last struggles of the little girl to retain her energy...

...If she cannot strike an equilibrium between her desires and her conditioning this is when she breaks down, runs away, goes wrong, begins to fail in school, to adopt forms of behaviour which are not only anti-social but self-destructive...

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

My mother wanted me to be petite and feminine, and reinforced this message through giving me a subscription to Seventeen magazine, giving me birthday and Christmas gifts of grooming products and jewelry, and by criticizing my weight and appearance.

My father would have preferred me to be an athlete, a horsewoman, or someone who was streetsmart. His attitudes regarding food were unrealistic, not well-considered. It is one thing to admire a healthy appetite in a woman, another thing again to think this is an area for competition: e.g., that a woman should be able to eat as much as a man. (My father was 6'1"+, muscular and athletic, I was 5'4".)

In school, one of the things that was 'exceptional' about me was my ability to understand what my teachers were asking of me. In subjects in which I lacked natural talent or ability, I could make up for it by understanding the particular personalities of my teachers, which helped me to deduce what information it was most important to focus on. It seems odd that at the time I was at the 'peak' of such abilities (age 13-15) that I'd have at the same time been 'out of touch with reality' when it came to my parents' expectations or with societal pressures. Instead, it makes more sense to perhaps conclude that I had assessed things accurately, and did not see a realistic path for myself in which I could 'succeed'.

In a highly competitive family, with all siblings competing for parental love and attention, as I entered my teens I was realizing that I could not offer what either of my parents most valued. I did realize that I was more 'attractive' when I could attain a lower weight, and that I did have some athletic potential, but it did not actually come naturally to me to maintain in either situation, and I struggled with my failure to do so. I was not at that time aware of my own strengths and preferences, and spent too much time trying to gain my parents' approval and love. I was in the midst of an identity crisis.

Women have gained many rights over the years, but appearance issues very often prevent them from being able to take advantage or or enjoy these rights. Women face constant pressure and judgement regarding their appearance, and it can take a tremendous amount of energy to deal with their appearance or take a stand against the pressure, energy that ideally could be channelled into their interests and careers.

Resources, support systems, ties to life, family, the community affect a woman's potential to cope with the negative pressures associated with physical appearance. And, if those in your family and social group reinforce some of the messages that are 'harmful', how do you 'educate' everyone? More energy is needed for that, as you will inevitably face people who will dismiss you as an ugly fat bitter chick (the physical becomes synonymous with the character traits) who is jealous of pretty thin girls, you will be ridiculed, or you will be seen as someone who constantly whines about the unfairness of life, even when your intent is not to judge, but to try to make change, or promote greater understanding. The trick is to find others who support your views, but if you do not find such people, or if you find those who think you are blowing it out of proportion, you must find energy again to keep aiming at change.

..What happens to the female is that her energy is deflected by the denial of her sexuality into a continuous and eventually irreversible system of repression...

...The female's fate is to become deformed and debilitated by the destructive action of energy upon the self, because she is deprived of scope and contacts with external reality upon which to exercise herself...

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

At age 16, I became, through circumstances, cut off from the world. I was isolated from the outside world, and the message that was reinforced to me was that everyone had given up on me.

In spite of family tragedies and disruptions, I did continue to perform actions consistent with a wish to attend university. After doing Grade 12 by correspondence (and being cut off from the world for a year), I entered Grade 13 and got a part-time job, managing to save over $3000 (CDN) for university.

I needed to find situations in which there were other people I could put feminist ideas into practice with. It was important to me not only to achieve academically, but to eventually choose a career. I could not imagine that I would not be able to support myself, and my ideas about relationships revolved around the idea of equality - that both partners would contribute, that they would be intellectual equals as well as share important ideals, compatible interests and hopefully some natural chemistry.

How do we educate men as well as women? And if men don't want to give up certain kinds of power they have now, what incentive is there to see things from a different point of view?

One thing that is difficult to articulate is the distinction between a kind of unthinking acceptance of 'female' roles, and my own efforts through the years to question every part of my own role/roles. It is difficult for me to be lumped in to the category of not being aware enough to rebel - and I think I have been put in this category often enough. My questioning and rebellion do not have outward effects that others can recognize.

Was I a 'female eunuch' already at age 16? Germaine Greer defined castrates as 'cut off from their capacity for action' and 'divorced from their own reality and sexuality.'

There are some men who cannot make a decision in a woman's presence - everything depends on her preferences, likes and dislikes, and the man bends over backwards to keep her placated. I would suggest that telling a woman 'kind lies' to avoid hurting or upsetting her and to preserve the peace or keep the relationship could be seen as ways of denying men's selves and fostering/justifying their own dependency, but also ways of reinforcing the idea that women are helpless or weak and cannot handle harsh realities.

In my long-term relationships, I seem to have acted out the earlier familial dependence. As time goes on, and I stop going out as much, and I contribute less, it seems there is no way to ever address the inequality.

...Ultimately, the greatest service a woman can do her community is to be happy; the degree of revolt and irresponsibility which she must manifest to acquire happiness is the only sure indication of the way things must change if there is to be any point in continuing to be a woman at all...

Germaine Greer, The Female Eunuch

One of my later rebellions against this role had to do with family occasions. I no longer wanted to be the one to wash up afterward. I no longer wanted to be the planner, the baker of cakes, the one who made sure the present was bought. I couldn't have that as my primary identity. Once the window for the development of my potential had closed, I withdrew further from these traditional roles rather than cling to them. I had performed certain tasks willingly, of necessity, in times of crisis, but I never identified myself with those tasks.

I think I am seen now as kind of cold or heartless, or irresponsible, maybe shallow, but I think that my walking away had less to do with being 'ill' than it did with an at least somewhat feminist and individualistic agenda - I had done what I could to help the others survive, and now the survival of my self depended upon me questioning my previous roles.

I am getting older. In spite of knowing what I should or could do to improve my situation, I still seem stuck.

...if up until now you have let events and people shape your life and you find yourself alone/dependent/helpless, you can still take control of your life, get an education, training, a job, you can begin to support yourself...

Germaine Greer, The Change

I am still dependent. I am trying to understand why that is, and this attempt at psychoanalysis represents that I am still trying to change.

However, just as those who have studied evolution would not suggest that we are born blank slates, I would suggest that it's not as simple as simply deciding to no longer be dependent. Each of us has a complex history, and in some cases it may take a lot of time and effort to figure out the best ways to most effectively combat our experiences and conditioning.















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