This time of year, people in many countries tend to celebrate (whether by choice or by cultural compulsion) a series of pagan holidays that have been appropriated and significantly diluted from their source material.
In honor of this consumer-driven season of imposed cheer, many of us get a break from our daily obligations, like work or school. Many of us are forced into uncomfortable proximity with people we don’t necessarily like, such as some family members; many of us also strain under extra financial and social pressure. So it can quite be a stressful season. Because of all of these facts and more, it’s the perfect time of year to give oneself the gift of a Man Cleanse [TM].
(Man Cleanse is obviously not trademarked. No company would ever be foolish enough to take such an idea on, as it’s the antithesis to modern gender roles, and modern gender roles are the foundation upon which at least half of the global GDP is based. Can you imagine how much money powerful men would lose if more women threw off their shackles for the holiday season?! No, I’m just using the [TM] designation as humor.)
The goal of Man Cleanse is pretty simple, but proves difficult for so many women — especially women who have jobs and/or consider themselves heterosexual. It is the elimination of as much toxic patriarchal male baggage as possible.
So I encourage anyone to try this, at any time, but especially now. Here’s some suggestions.
– Stop shaving. Or waxing or plucking. Anything. If you feel that a boss or parent or Nigel will complain about the weeks’ worth of stubble on your terrifying legs or underarms, the weather is cold (if you live in the northern hemisphere); try wearing sleeved shirts, trousers, tights if your work mandates skirts (I live in tights for most of the winter, as they add a layer of warmth beneath my clothes, and I refuse to wear anything that’s uncomfortable, so contact me if you want recommendations), and/or socks. Also, if you can, tell these people to fuck off and mind their own business. If you can afford a lawyer or can find a good public-defense attorney, a lawsuit is an excellent holiday present for your sexually-harassing employer. And a well-timed stinkeye will probably suffice for a relative.
If you must, claim that you are too tired from holiday stress to shave your legs, and ask why these people care anyway. But really, stand by your feminist principles if you can.
– Eschew makeup. That shit causes cancer, and except in cases of people whose job is to be artificial (such as those who are paid to be in front of a camera), your face doesn’t really look that different without it. The wind and cold can give you a nice ruddy glow if you want one. Chapstick does a nice job on lips. Etc.
Again, plead holiday stress if anyone asks you, but if anyone asks you, remember that they are a fucking asshole.
– Leave the heels at home. Preferably packed in a box. Who wants to risk tendon injury, frostbite from inadequate foot coverage, or a slip-and-fall in adverse weather conditions? Again, anyone who begrudges you this lack of concession to femininity is a dickhead.
If you feel very un-glam in flats at holiday parties, remember that anyone who’s studying your feet is a shallow asshole. Claim injury if you must publicly validate your choice in footwear.
– Don’t worry how you look. You are a human being, and you look like one, which is great.
Evidently, one of the biggest reasons het or bi women stand by their femininity practices is that they want to remain in good standing with men. Which leads to the next step:
– Stop giving a shit about men. Whether it’s your father, your brother, your uncle, your grandfather, your Nigel, a potential Nigel, an in-law, or whatever, he’s not worth your time
if you can’t act like a genuine human being around him.
That goes the same for Aunty Anns, women who will judge your appearance and behavior and sell you out to men. They are only parroting the patriarchy anyway, and they do not deserve your time either.
If anyone gives you shit for kicking back and being a regular person at the holidays, they are double the assholes. Nobody ever goes up to Nigel and Uncle Perv to say, “Excuse me, but could you get your nasty asses together and be pretty instead of flopping like carcasses in front of the game all weekend?” (Although they should get up off their asses, just not to be pretty.) So don’t put up with that shit yourself.
– Stop putting up with shit. Nigel won’t stop watching porn? Brother won’t stop committing various indiscretions with a woman ten or more years his junior? Uncle won’t stop making ‘ironic’ racist jokes? Father won’t stop pretending like he was Father of the Year, Every Year, when in reality he jerked your mother around for decades (possibly even still to this day)?
Then stop being nice to them. You don’t need to go apeshit and tee-pee their cars (although if you do, send me pictures) or get into all-out screaming matches (although that would also be hardcore and I would give you as much support as possible through this blog platform), but at the very least, stop enabling. Stop trying to keep the peace by acting like you think this bullshit is all right. Even a subtle tuning-out, a turning of the head, an expression, can communicate wonders and it will make you feel better at the least.
– Go from there. Spend the holiday weekend in sweat pants. Refuse to do the cleanup and encourage female family members to do the same. Shit, you can even stop brushing your hair! (Secret: I haven’t even used shampoo on mine for two months, and no one can tell.) Take time to explore how it feels to not maintain your appearance. Depending on the amount that you are marinated in patriarchy (as we all are), this can be easy or hard, but regardless, please feel no guilt.
As long as you’re on a roll, tell Cousin Lech what you really think, to his face. Write a sarcastic letter to a former Nigel and burn it — or, if you know he won’t come after you, send it. Spend time with female relatives, to the exclusion of males; if these relatives are younger, encourage their creativity and teach them how to do something interesting with their time. Give your sister a copy of Gyn/Ecology and tell her to call you whenever she wants. Give yourself the gift of a new skill, like learning how to fix parts of your car or house or bike, or exploring an art form (like music or drawing) you’ve always wanted to try but were told you weren’t good at, or just turning on music and dancing alone in your house with the knowledge that nobody is watching.
Take whatever steps you need; even small steps are still moving forward.
Why is this important? you may ask. Joy, seriously, why do you care? Is it such a big deal that I shave my legs? I mean, I know you don’t, but whatever, you don’t have a Nigel! Also, cultural conditioning has done a number on me, so I feel so fucking ugly without my makeup — and I know you just don’t understand because you hate everyone and don’t give a shit about men and maybe are a lesbian and besides, you have awesome bone structure anyway so you never had to worry about any of this. Plus, I don’t give a fuck about shit like art and you know it.
In the grander scheme of patriarchy, individual actions don’t really matter, but at the same time, they do. Every time we submit, every time we conform, we are reinforcing the submission and conformity. Even in small, subtle actions like shaving our legs, or dyeing the grey out of our hair, or hiding our true feelings, or neglecting to pick up the pencil to just write without caring what anyone thinks.
Every time we do these things, a bit of ourselves dies. That might sound melodramatic, but it’s true: the more we strangle ourselves, the more we wither, and the further we stay closed off from an authentic aspect of ourselves as human beings.
In case you were wondering, an ex-Nigel once told me what femininity behaviors were really all about.
“I don’t really care if you shave or do makeup or not. I just want to know that you’ll do something for me. It gives me a little rush.”
So stop giving props to the patriarchy, and give yourself the gift of saying fuck, no. If it gets too uncomfortable, you can always go back to compliance. But you might find that rebellion is a really good feeling, and you can sneak small actions in under the radar. Besides, every time you do, it gets easier for some other woman to do the same thing.
PS: This patriarchal behavior bullshit is not your fault. It is not our fault, as women, either. I’m not blaming you, or me, or us. We didn’t get ourselves into this situation. But as much as possible, even a tiny little bit at a time, we need to get out.