I’m Not Going

So I saw a post this morning on Tumblr about Krystal Lake, a black Home Depot employee in Staten Island that wore a cap embroidered with the saying “America Was Never Great” to work, in obvious protest of Trump’s presidential candidacy.

The cap created a stupid-ass social media firestorm, of course, and that, of course, aggravated me.

So I posted on FB about it:

“Americans” love to say that this nation is the “best” because of the Constitution.

One of their favorite amendments to highlight in said Constitution is the Second Amendment, granting Americans the right to bear arms.

However, the First Amendment–which comes before the Second Amendment, incidentally, says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

So Ms. Lake is acting within her Constitutional rights to speak freely and petition the government, which has allowed the presidential election process and this year’s race to degenerate to such a undignified level.

She is being an American in the truest sense. In as much as one can be a “true” American.

That’s why these “Americans” that take issue with people like Ms. Lake–who voice their dissent of what is happening in this country–kill me.

I don’t care what they say. They don’t actually love America. They love how America privileges them.

Because if they actually loved the process of America–the continual building and maintaining of a relationship of the people to freedom and agency and governance–which is what true democracy is–then they would be able to appreciate Ms. Lake’s exercise of her freedoms, even if they disliked her message.

But no. “Americans” want to have their psychological dicks sucked, like America is a prostitute for which they paid money, and, when it stops or refuses, they get all outraged and violent, like a fucked-up-ass john.

These “Americans” that support Trump–and claim to be patriots–don’t love America. Even when they’re telling people like Ms. Lake to love it or castigating them for not loving it.

What they’re really saying is “Take your report of the awful truth about how the country treats anybody that isn’t white, male, cishet, able-bodied, and/or decently affluent and get the fuck out of here.”

“How dare you make me reflect on or feel guilty about being a beneficiary of this unjust political and economic system or cultural hierarchy.”

It’s self-interest. Not patriotism.

It’s an excellent illustration of the fact that “Americans” wouldn’t recognize or acknowledge actual, change-making greatness if he or she walked up to them wrapped in a flag, with a one-dollar bill stuck to his or her forehead, a copy of the Constitution in his or her hand, singing “The Star Spangled Banner” at the top of his or her lungs.

Especially if he or she wasn’t white.

Since the pretty much sums up how I feel about the ridiculousness of people taking issue with Ms. Lake’s cap–for God’s sake–I’m going to dedicate the rest of this post to talking about something else:

Self-righteous white people’s penchant for telling black people like Ms. Lake–that have the “audacity” to complain about the social, economic, or political climate–to “go back to Africa” if they’re so unhappy here.

This is the equivalent of beating someone’s ass and then telling them, when they complain about the bruises you gave them, to strip the bruises off if they hurt so badly.

(I had a more explicit metaphor involving sexual assault and genital herpes, but I went with this one as not to trigger anyone or trivialize anyone’s experiences. But you can imagine how it would’ve gone.)

It’s fucking absurd to tell black people whose lineages stretch back at least as far, if not further, than your average white American’s to go “back” to Africa.

It’s an impossibility based on racist and faulty reasoning.

Black people descended from Africans that were KIDNAPPED during the Atlantic Slave Trade and COERCED into coming to America are not the same as the children or grandchildren or even great-grandchildren of diasporic blacks that emigrated to America BY CHOICE in the last century.

From 1619 to 1776–that’s one whole century of slavery and colonialism–there was no “America” as we know it. There was no democracy for Africans to prefer to the leadership of their own land–no Constitution guaranteeing a set of rights that they couldn’t get at home.

So there was obviously no immigration for a “better life.” There was no seeking political asylum. There was fucking CHATTEL SLAVERY, and that was that.

There were slave codes that forbade reading, writing, marriage, assembly, ownership of land and/or weapons, free movement and travel, and defending oneself against attack by a white person.

Bastardized religious brainwashing.

Total political and economic disfranchisement.

Separation and estrangement from family and friends.

Rape as a means of control and demoralization.

Forced reproduction.

Beatings and killings.

After the Revolutionary War, the creation of the nation, and the institution of the Constitution, so-called freedom–trademarked “American”–was then available, but slaves were still slaves.

They played pivotal roles in building America to the height of its greatness–shit–in building America, period–but they were not full citizens.

They had the desires for legitimate citizenry mocked by having to watch and listen while all around them white people created the vocabulary with which they would proceed to talk about America–a vocabulary centered on how “free” the country is–while they were being held in literal and metaphysical chains.

This didn’t mean, though, that they were exempted from having to labor to build this nation.

While white people constructed all sorts of concepts of what America is, people of color–the majority black and the majority of them slaves–constructed buildings and bridges and railroads and all the physical structures and many of the landmarks and inventions that would make America great–that would house all the economic transactions, political deals, and debates that would shape the country from the inside out.

Too, they were having whatever memories and practices they had of their homes in Africa beaten out of them by masters that understood that people that have no concept of a different or better life don’t try to change the miserable lives they have.

And the whole while, these incredible black people, while bearing up under the yoke, were having children.

Children born HERE.

Children whose first language was English.

Children whose concepts of themselves, home, and country were uniquely (and I say that with immense sarcasm and disdain) American.

Then, after 1808, except for in the case of a few illegal traders using “whaling” as a cover, whites stopped kidnapping and bringing Africans over here to enslave.

Black people that had come from Africa continued through the circle of their lives. As they died, their remembrances and teachings died with them. A traceable, cogent link to African cultures and practices died with them. They left children and grandchildren that only remembered living here. That only remembered how to live here.

The salt water and blood violence did their job.

The black people in America began to “belong” to it.

They began to feel as invested in it as white people because that’s how people feel about home, no matter how horrible it is.

They are attached to it.

They want it.

They find some nourishment–no matter how piddling–in it.

I and every other black person born here–whose parents or grandparents or great-grandparents did not emigrate here in the last century–WE are descended from slaves.

This is not a point of shame for me. It’s a historical fact. It doesn’t make me feel weak or insignificant. It makes me feel proud and–yes–entitled.

I am entitled to my American-ness because all the dead in my lineage that I know by name and/or face are buried here, and they lived here, and they worked here, and that worked helped to make this country what it is.

America has never existed, even in its nascent form, without black people.

There were black people at Jamestown, which white historians designate as the starting point of the country. The start of the historical narrative.

So I have just as much of a claim to America as any white person, and maybe even more than a white person whose parents or grandparents or great-grandparents did emigrate here in the last century.

I have a right to be angry when this country fails me because it’s made promises to me.

I have a right to complain because the Constitution says I can. You know–if you want to be pedantic about it.

And I don’t have to leave if I don’t like what the fuck is happening here.

Just like all these discontented Trump supporters, who want back the suppressive America of its youth, I can agitate for change because THIS IS MY COUNTRY.

No one can tell me to go “home” because THIS is my home.

I won’t be relocating until God says so, so–

There. Or rather here.

White Americans may never fix what they’ve broken in and about this country, but they won’t silence me with their ignorant jeers about leaving, either.

You hear me?

And if they want to mad about that, then they can blame their ancestors, who made this my home when I never asked for it to be.

Just like I do.

 

 

 

 

 

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Who You Calling A ‘Queen’?

So, thinking about the title I would give my politic–feminist or nah–has gotten me thinking about another title that’s circulating in black culture these days.

“Queen.”

I don’t get called “queen” very often, but when I do, I notice it’s in very specific situations.

Before or after I read poetry in an artistic venue . . .

When I am out and about with my daughter . . .

When I am encounter men or women that you might call “Afrocentric” . . .

Younger men–in their late teens or early 20s–call me queen.

Younger girls refer to me as a “queen” when talking about the fact that I’m educated or I don’t work in, say, the sex industry.

People that are visibly impressed with my afro will call me “queen.”

People trying to sell me things call me “queen.”

And I understand that it’s totally meant as a compliment.

It’s meant to signify my so-called respectability or dignity.

To put me on an idiomatic pedestal.

But I don’t want to be on a pedestal.

First of all, because we place objects on pedestals.

Secondly, because the things we place on pedestals are in a likely position to fall and break.

Hence, I don’t like the category that people create with the concept of “queens.”

It feeds back into that concept of the “good girl,” which comes out of patriarchal thinking about what makes a woman “worthy.”

(In other words, it objectifies women.)

You can see this in all the memes that contrast “queens” with “hoes” or “THOTs.”

Chauvinistic thinking determines who gets crowned a “queen.”

Women that conduct themselves in a very circumscribed way get to be “queens.”

You don’t see many people calling sex workers “queens.”

You don’t see many people calling poor women “queens.”

You don’t see many people calling lesbians “queens.”

You don’t see many people calling transwomen “queens.”

“Queens” are cishet, feminine, middle class, “accomplished” women.

“Queens” are women in traditional wife, mother, and sister roles.

They are usually called “queens” in instances when they are being self-sacrificial or living up to the standards for “proper” female behavior established and maintained by men.

Sometimes, “queens” are high-powered, single women whose main focus seems to be making money and accruing power.

Religious women or women in roles like community activists–women in the throes of loss–widows and mothers that have lost their children–are “queens.”

Women that show their racial pride by wearing natural hair and diasporic garb are “queens.”

And I’m not saying these women don’t deserve recognition for their strength, tenacity, focus, work, wisdom, generosity, beauty, or pain.

But by calling only specific types of women “queens,” we elevate these women above other types of women. We create a hierarchy.

Hierarchical relationships–relationships in which one group is more respected, treated better, and unfairly rewarded for fitting into arbitrary boxes–create resentment, and resentment creates division.

Division–particularly in the black community–makes it easy for problems and oppression to persist.

Too, when we call women “queens”–when we propagate this title that a woman must earn–then we make it possible for her to have that title ripped away from her for doing the “wrong” thing.

We create a fear of losing the title that makes it easy for men or certain social factions to control women.

But back to the trouble with creating yet another hierarchy in the black community.

I get the appeal of using “queen.”

I get how flattering it can be to be called a “queen.”

Black people, understandably, want to raise their self-confidence in this place that spits–nay–shits–on black lives and culture.

And so do I. Of course I do.

I just don’t think we need to “queens” or “kings” to do this.

Especially when these titles are used exclusively.

When only some of us are “queens” or “kings,” then the use of these titles is nothing but an echo of the false, racist division that white people make between “niggers” and “safe” black people, or the division we black people make between “niggas” and “respectable” black people.

It’s another tool of oppression.

Audre Lorde said you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools.

Binary thinking is a definite tool of the kyriarchy.*

Racism flourishes because of the black-white binary, in which black equals inferior.

Sexism flourishes because of the woman-man binary, in woman equals inferior.

This goes for the poor-rich binary (classism), the gay-straight binary (homophobia), the cis-trans binary (transphobia).

I could go on. You get the picture, though.

Binaries are perpetuated to keep certain groups in power.

Binary thinking is one of the most powerful and effective tools of any cultural system that aims to oppress.

Black people cannot afford to continue to think in binaries if we are to get out from under racism.

While we bicker back and forth–divide ourselves up into categories that–yes–boost our self-esteem–but do not better our material conditions–white people profit.

We can’t be so easily–or needlessly–distracted.

There are–as I have said before–all kinds of black women.

There are as many ways to be a black woman as there are black women in this country.

And around this world.

I don’t know whether there are some actual queens left in Africa (another reason I don’t like the title is because it generalizes ancient African history–it assumes that African nations were run like European empires or that African leaders acted like European leaders), but I do know that American women don’t need false titles to elevate us.

We need men to be able to call us by our names, see us as dimensional, flawed beings, and still respect us.

We need them to stop measuring us for imaginary crowns that carry no real power or influence and–hey–start measuring more of us for–I don’t know–wedding rings or give more of us their last names–if they want us to understand how much they love and honor us.

Not that I’m saying marriage is the ultimate prize–or even a prize–to which women need to aspire.

But I’m saying, though–

You–men–already have means for showing black women respect and allowing us our dignity.

You don’t have to invent any more.

We–women–already have means for showing solidarity and support.

We don’t have to invent any more.

We don’t have to be queens. We don’t need to be queens.

We’re women. We’re fucking amazing enough as plain old women.

We have to get to a place where we believe this whether someone else is telling us–through the use of a title like “queen” or some other similar, superficial method–or not.

We have to know our worth beneath every name we are called or not called.

*Kyriarchy is a “social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission.” It encompasses “sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, economic injustice, colonialism, ethnocentrism, militarism” and other dominating hierarchies that can be internalized or that are institutionalized.

 

 

 

 

 

Tomato, Potato

So, there is a body of feminist scholars that can’t get behind all this critiquing of bell hooks’s critique of Beyoncé and “Lemonade.”

They think that hooks’s critique is on point because feminism is about destroying the patriarchal power structure and its materialist products, institutions, and various other manifestations.

So, like, poverty–which women experience at disproportionately higher rates than men. Or violence–military, sexual, or otherwise–which women often experience is a way that is specific to gender (think military rape or rape as warfare or rape period).

These supporters of Ms. bell think that her point that Beyoncé is a capitalist, and so she cannot effectively help women get outside of patriarchal thinking and action, is the point.

Because they think that feminism, again, is about–and I’m going to quote my very intelligent, passionate Facebook Friend, Ms. Jessica Garraway, on this–“collective liberation of women and the dismantling of oppressive hierarchies.”

According to Ms. Jessica–and many other academics and activists I am reading around the Internet–black feminism has lost its foundational “anti-capitalist and anti colonial emphasis.”

She writes:

The shift in the focus is divorced from the original emphasis. It poses no threat to the power structure . . . That’s what feminism was[–]a movement to change material conditions . . . [The] politics are lacking and do not go far enough. They do not challenge the very foundations of what causes patriarchy and white supremacy in the first place. 

Feminism is suppose[d] to be about freedom but REAL freedom. Not the illusion of freedom presented within empire. The reason such a shift is even possible is because of the material gains made in the 70’s. What does feminsm [sic] offer now to women in poverty or stuck in a abusive relationship? How does it work to change their material conditions?

. . . feminism is suppose[d] to be about global solidarity with those oppressed by patriarchy. Women can’t just choose to not be bombed by drones if you are a feminist in Yemen[,] for example. Only collective action and solidarity can stop that. [To be honest,] I’m seeing a lot of similarities with black feminsm [sic] now and what we rightly call out as white feminism. The most marginalized are not centered. Because they are both neoliberal feminism[,] which is about individuals making it within oppressive institutions at the expense of others[,] not creating new ones.

To which I responded:

“If feminism is, by definition, a movement to tear down the power structure in the material world, then I am only marginally a feminist . . . Most of the work I do is on self-acceptance, self-motivation, and self-definition. Agency and autonomy. Along with . . . not exploiting and oppressing others.”

To which Ms. Jessica responded:

I think that is important work[,] too. I’m not saying it is not influenced by feminism/not feminism . . . [W]riting that is done with your focus is important and can be powerful . . . That work has led me to be an overall happier person and . . . act in movement spaces with confidence. I know my worth. If you do not have a feeling of efficacy[,] it’s hard to act in a way to build towards something larger than yourself because you don’t believe in your own power.

She is right, though, when she says: Women are also tethered in ways that [cannot] be fixed by internal work because it’s a matter of their material reality/there not being support networks for them to survive and escape physical violence. Women, particularly those in poverty[,] need a movement to break the chains.

I don’t know exactly how these chains can be broken, and, I have to be honest, activism is not my avocation.

I am a writer and thinker; I am a teacher and supporter. I don’t have a sacrificial enough nature to be a true freedom fighter.

I am more about the present and my own individual wellbeing, life, and livelihood than a truly revolutionary motherfucker can be.

Still, I do feel a pull, as I told Ms. Jessica, toward the work of helping black women and girls love and accept themselves and each other–cherish and enjoy themselves and each other–in the face and within the confines of a society and racial community that make them feel worthless and needless and, shit, unsafe.

After my exchange with Ms. Jessica, and reading all this dialogue about Ms. bell and Bey, I really am wondering whether I need a new title for that work–for the ethic by which I live (described here).

In my last post, I called my brand of feminism “femme feminism.” But maybe it isn’t feminism at all.

I am all about helping black women and girls, as Ms. Jessica says, “understand . . . that we as individuals exist and operate within the confines set for us.”

I am about helping them to negotiate more happily and healthily within and without those confines.

I want them to understand what is the truth and what is patriarchy and draw closer to the truth–that they are just as capable and valuable as any other type of woman or any man or boy on this planet.

That they deserve respect, fair treatment, safety, freedom, and a wide range of reaffirming choices for their lives.

Feminism, as it has been traditionally defined, is not this, or it’s not just this. It centers on ridding society of those confines, not operating within them.

So maybe I am not a feminist. Maybe I am something else.

The work that I try to do is conjunctive with feminism, as I see it. Which is why I’ve been using that title to describe it.

As Ms. Jessica said, you can’t break the patriarchy without first believing that you can.

You have to have a sense of yourself before you can act as a destroyer or builder of institutions out in the world.

The inside work helps facilitate the outside work, but I understand and agree that it doesn’t replace the outside work.

It doesn’t erase the need for the outside work. I get that. That makes perfect sense to me.

Still, the inside work–of building up black women and girls spiritually and emotionally–as individuals–is what I’m comfortable doing.

It’s what my particular gifts–writing and speaking–have led me to do, what they lend me to do, and it is what I enjoy doing with these gifts.

Because, as another very intelligent, very passionate–and she calls herself a “womanist”–black woman that I’ve read on the Coalition Zine tumblr pointed out:

I can deconstruct the things [black women and girls] enjoy and say and do . . . [T]here is always something there that can be deconstructed in a sterile academic sense. But . . . [t]here are ways to locate one another and meet people where they are without shutting them out and standing over them in the process. I find asking people why they love the things they love creates more community and proximity.

If true feminist work is tearing down power structures in the materialist–in the outer–the “real”–world, then, we have to be real about that:

It does shut out a lot of black women, and I do mean a lot.

Because we’re not all Harriet Tubmans. That’s just the way it is.

We’re not all revolutionaries and radicals. Just like we’re not all pop icons or iconic writers.

I can say honestly and without shame or regret–I am not willing to put my life or physical safety on the line to “deliver” people that are not blood relatives of mine.

I am too attached to my life and health, and I am too cynical to sacrifice them, to be a cog in a wheel (progress) that seems to be moving forward at an infinitesimally slow pace.

I don’t want to be oppressed, but I also don’t want to be killed.

I don’t want to be an agent of the patriarchy, but I don’t have the heart to be one of its saboteurs.

But I can ask questions and bring up points and share ideas and try to make them feel better.

So maybe I am a black feminist idealist instead of a black feminist activist.

Maybe I am a black feminist ideologue instead of a black feminist scholar.

Maybe I am a black feminist phenomenologist instead of a black feminist theorist.

Maybe I’m a black female idealist, ideologue, or phenomenologist and not a feminist of any kind.

O.K.

I don’t have a problem with not being a feminist if I’m not a feminist. Just like I don’t have a problem calling myself a feminist if I am a feminist.

I just want to do the work that I want to do and have that work reach the people that need and want it.

I just want that work to do whatever healing and unifying and manifesting it can.

In the vein of a piece like “Lemonade.”

In the vein of a celebration like “Black Girls Rock!”

In the vein of a TV show like Issa Rae’s “Awkward.”

In the vein of Warsan Shire’s poetry.

People can call the ethic of these kinds of things whatever they need to or feel is appropriate, as far as I’m concerned–for the sake of clarity, acuity, reality, and authenticity.

They can call them “feminist,” or they can call them otherwise. I guess it’s up to them.

They can call me whatever, too. I don’t much care. As long as they don’t saddle me with names or titles that are disrespectful or dismissive.

As long as they don’t call me a mindless product or willing victim of the patriarchy or misogynoir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Femme Feminism, or Exactly How “Pretty” Hurts

I’m using a Bey reference in the title not because I am going to write about Bey, but because all of the discussion surrounding “Lemonade” is what inspired this post.

A few days ago, iconic black feminist bell hooks posted a critique of “Lemonade” to her blog, and, since then, Bey supporters and detractors have been going back-and-forth about whether she was “right” or “wrong” to read the video as she did.

I  don’t think you can ever say that a person’s interpretation or opinion of a piece of art is “right” or “wrong,” but I did have this to say about Ms. bell’s blog post (on Facebook) after I read it:

Beyoncé is a pop star, not a feminist activist or scholar.

The work that bell hooks accuses her of not doing is not necessarily her work to do.

As she says, rather condescendingly, at the beginning of the piece, her job as a pop artist is to sell product. That she incorporates even a modicum of thoughtfulness into what she makes to sell is what I think gets people so excited about her product, since so many other artists make a lot of mindless shit.

So, yeah, [“Lemonade”] is flawed. As is most shit that humans make. And bell’s critique makes valid points about how it’s flawed.

But it also reeks of bitterness. Because Beyoncé’s music gets a level of attention that bell’s scholarship never has and probably never will. It’s made more “important” by the public. But that has more to do with the public’s conditioning and ignorance than anything else.

People don’t want to be educated or enlightened for the most part. They want to be entertained.

I happen to think Beyoncé does this well.

But bell can certainly disagree. She’s a wise woman. She says “Beyoncé’s representations of life can’t stand as truth.” And she’s right.

Everyone has their own truth. That a lot of black women’s runs perpendicular to Beyoncé’s story and artistic narrative is a happy coincidence that makes her a ton of money and fans and gives her fans a ton of validation and enjoyment.

That bell’s [truth] doesn’t necessarily run perpendicular to a lot of black women’s is unfortunate.

That her work is grounded in theory, though, rather than experience or emotion–doesn’t nullify the worth–however little–of Beyonce’s work.

Nor does it nullify the worth of bell’s.

The way I see it, Ms. bell’s (I’ve added the title since my Facebook post because she is an elder, and it is befitting of her level of wisdom and accomplishment) critique of “Lemonade” is a scholarly version of what many bloggers have to say about the work and Beyoncé as a feminist figure:

She can’t be taken seriously as a feminist because she engages so consistently and deeply with the male gaze and issues of cis-hetero love and sexuality.

Because she is aesthetically and ideologically femme.

It is just as Zeba Blay writes in her piece on Huffington Post:

“If you’re a fan of Beyoncé’s, and if her work resonates with you, it’s obviously frustrating to see Beyoncé’s feminism constantly questioned and critiqued, labeled as a gimmick or a shtick. Too often, Beyoncé’s feminism seems to be held to a higher standard than her white counterparts (the Taylor Swifts and Miley Cyrus’s of the world).”

I also agree with Blay, though, that “From hooks’ essay has come important discussions about the ways in which we underestimate femme feminist women [and] . . . what we should (and shouldn’t) expect from our feminist pop cultural icons.”

I have already written about the latter issue on this blog (here); now, I want to write about femme black feminism. Or maybe I’m writing about feminism, period.

How oppressive it can be for women that want to look a certain way.

In a second blog post, in which Ms. bell refutes claims that she is anti-“femme,” she writes:

“Throughout my career, I have insisted that we decolonize the black female body and celebrate its diverse manifestations. When anyone suggests I am anti-forms of feminine beauty, they are misguided. Highly critical of sexist defined notions of beauty, I can openly declare that I am against all forms of beauty that uphold systems of domination (race, sex, class, sexuality). Those who judge my appearance as existing outside a norm world of femininity must believe that femme glamour is only present in those who don traditional markers (makeup, big hair, stilettos, dresses).”

This sounds good, but thing is–the definition of “femme” centers on traditional and even stereotypical representations or enactments of feminine beauty and sexuality.

The word is used to describe lesbians that look like and play a sexual role that is similar to cis-hetero women, and it is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a lesbian who is notably or stereotypically feminine in appearance and manner.”

So people aren’t incorrect when they define “femme glamour” as the embrace or appearance of traditional markers like make-up, heels, and dresses.

My argument here is that they are also not anti-feminist or failing at feminism.

To me, femme feminism–black, white, or otherwise–is understanding that, yes, you have been conditioned to characterize “femininity” and womanhood in certain ways–ways that were conceptualized by men and can feed into patriarchy and paternalism–but you can destabilize these characterizations by looking how “they” may want, if you want, and/but acting like you want. Being “feminine” on your own terms.

For some women, so-called “sexist defined notions of beauty” are oppressive, yes. These women should feel empowered to refute these notions of beauty, and feminism should definitely be a means of attaining and exercising that power.

But, for some women, wearing make-up–for example–is something they want to do.

They’ve read all of the tracts; they totally get that their natural beauty is sufficient; they understand the capitalist plot behind pawning off a standard of beauty that requires women to buy copious products to maintain it; but they still want to wear make-up.

I am one of these women. When I was younger, I wore make-up because I thought I looked underdeveloped and “plain” without it. Now, I wear it for artistic effect. I like a bright red lip drawing attention to the pleasing shape of my mouth. I like black eyeliner emphasizing the shape of my eyes. I like to contour my cheeks and play up my blessed, beautiful bone structure.

I like my face without make-up, but I like my face with make-up. I like looking different every day. I like playing with colors and types and intensities of shimmer on my skin. It’s fun for me.

I like wearing make-up, but I don’t wear heels for health reasons. I don’t like dresses because I don’t like having to think about how far apart I spread my legs when I’m sitting. I don’t like thongs because they’re uncomfortable. I like perfume, but I don’t like lacy underthings. I like jewelry, but I don’t like gems. I like flowers, but not on my clothing or bedclothes.

Yes, I do consider what I look like to men when I get dressed and “do” myself up every morning. Because I sleep with men. Because I love men. Because I want to be attractive to men. I am cis-hetero. I am a sexual being. I am a romantic. I am human. I want to connect with men. Not at the expense of my humanity, freedom, dignity, or health, but still.

And I should be able to want that–to feel that way about men–to look the way I want–without being accused of missing the “point” as a feminist.

And let’s not pretend that non-femme women don’t create certain appearances in order to be considered sexually attractive, too–at least in part.

Let’s not act like they’re wrong, either, for wanting to be considered sexually attractive.

Or simply wanting to like the way that they look. Or feel comfortable in their own skin.

Because, shit, we all do.

I think that’s the bottom-line.

We are all just seeking to feel comfortable as the people we are.

Feminism is supposed to be a vehicle for that, as I said. Not another dictatorial framework that makes us feel bad about ourselves as women or as people.

For me, feminism is the exact opposite of that. It is about having the choice to be whatever type of woman you want and having your choices be respected.

I wrote, on an earlier version of this blog:

My fundamental belief is that women should be allowed to do the things that make the most sense for their live, as long as they are legal and ethical, without being blocked by government actions, unfair laws, cultural expectations and/or attitudes, unhealthy relationships, or unwise decisions.

I’m talking about something as simple as a black woman wanting to relax her hair or wear it natural to something more serious like a woman (of any race) opting to terminate a pregnancy, have a baby without being married, or adopt a child with her lesbian lover . . .

[Feminism, for me, is] not anything other than living the type of womanhood I need to live . . .

[It] means speaking truth to stereotypes and myths of blackness and womanhood. Working to be empathetic, supportive, and respectful of other women in my everyday interactions.

My ethic is loving myself as deeply and religiously as I can; respecting, supporting, admiring, and honoring other women as much as I can; respecting, supporting, admiring, and honoring men as much as I can; and fighting against all things that violate my freedom of being as hard as I can.

It’s loving myself and others in useful thinking, plain English, and everyday action.

Here’s the thing, though: When I say I don’t want to be blocked by cultural expectations, I don’t just mean patriarchal expectations.

I also mean I don’t want to be blocked by “feminist” imperatives that I refute certain standards of beauty in order to prove that I’m a feminist or even just an intelligent or self-aware woman.

When I say I seek to fight against all things that violate my freedom, I also mean notions of feminism that equate traditional cis-hetero “glamour” with superficiality, ignorance, and, ultimately, disempowerment or weakness.

Ms. bell writes:

One can critique modes of glamour and still appreciate glamour. It’s not a binary either or world. That is why we have a feminist politics that works to liberate the female gaze, so we need never choose who is more committed to being beautiful. Truly, it is more essential and relevant to ask ourselves in what ways do how we live and work manifest commitment to justice and feminist politics.

It reads like she is assuming that a liberated female gaze will not see beauty in femme-ness because its origins are patriarchal, but, fuck it, I do.

When I was in grad school in Chicago, I had a lesbian professor that regularly asked these snide little questions about my relaxed hair (at the time), heels, make-up, and regular visits from my boyfriend every time I came to her office. It never failed. She would look me up-and-down at least once during any meeting we had, bite her lip as if she regretted having to do what she was about to do, and then ask “Do you always . . .?”

Every time, it felt like she was passive-aggressively saying that a “real” scholar wouldn’t look the way I did or do the things I did.

But I earned straight As in my doctoral program. I earned an A in her course. I took German for the first time in my life, five days a week, for five weeks, five hours a day, and got an A. I was a brilliant and accomplished student, a skilled thinker, a dope-ass writer (naturally), a bad-ass femme, and a black feminist, all at the same time.

That she couldn’t imagine that I could be all those things at once was a reflection of her limited thinking, not mine.

She was stuck in a binary, in which one is either “glamorous” and frivolous or “austere” and serious.

She was thinking along the lines of the patriarchy–that a feminine woman is lesser somehow–without seeming to realize it.

(This is what I meant when I wrote “pretty hurts.”)

Despite what Professor X thought, though, I am not lesser because I am “feminine.”

I define “feminine”–or “femme”–for myself.

I have arrived at my definition after years of experimentation, too.

I absolutely went through phases when I wouldn’t wear make-up, I wore my hair faded, I wore dresses every single day, I bought all of my underwear from Victoria’s Secret, I wore baggy jeans and tennis shoes, I wore flannels, I wore clunky platforms, I wore sheer shirts and tight jeans, heels every day, earrings every day, decorative scarves, I got tattoos, I wore newsboy hats and blazers, and here I am.

I wasn’t just spit out by the “machine.” I understand the constructed nature of beauty standards–the way they are used to impose power–but I still reserve the right to like what I like. To do what I do.

My uniform right now is a tunic, leggings, and flats. I wear black, white, grey, and shades of blue only.

I wear peach perfume and a full MAC beat when I feel like it.

I have an afro that I’m trying to grow to astronomical lengths.

I don’t own one dress.

I paint my nails metallic black.

I get my eyebrows waxed on a regular basis. I shave my legs and pits.

I wear full-on cotton briefs because my ass is big and comfort-plus-coverage is my ethic when it comes to waist-down undergarments.

I wear underwire bras because I’m a bit self-conscious about my boobs (I’m a 40DD), but I still want them sitting up prettily when my boyfriend looks over at them. When I look at myself in a mirror.

I am a femme of my own feminist making–I do what I do because I choose to do it and not out of ignorance or coercion–I grapple with what I do day-to-day and year-to-year and calibrate it–I make sure that whatever I am doing in the way of creating my appearance is, in fact, a choice and my choice–that I am doing it for my pleasure first and foremost.

It is essential to me to live my politics by looking how I want.

It is also essential to me that I be accepted–as a femme and feminist–by feminists that are not femmes.

Because I accept them. I embrace them.

And we’re supposed to be sisters . . .

Right?