Thursday, January 17, 2008

on female appetite

We spend a lot of time thinking about women's issues here at Seal, which means we also spend a lot of time thinking about why things are women's issues in the first place. So often---too often---it can be boiled down to how we're socialized. I'm not one of those people who thinks the only differences between the sexes are biological, but I swear I could come up with fifty stereotypical gender-associated "differences" in under five minutes if put to the challenge.

This is all coming up for me because of a conversation I had last night with one of my friends about food. She's a waitresses on the weekends and she was saying how nine out of ten times when she's carrying out chicken and steak that the steak is for the guy. I want to understand why eating meat is so associated with masculinity, or as an acceptable (even healthy) indulgence for women on the rag.

Lately I've found myself craving---yes, CRAVING---hamburgers. I had the stark realization one evening last week, when I was delighting in the meaty, juicy goodness of my third hamburger of the month (and we're not that many days in), that I felt apologetic. I found myself justifying my desire to order meat. I felt like a dieter trying to explain why it was okay to be making this menu choice. I observed myself as a stranger. Who is this person who feels like she can't order whatever the fuck she wants off the menu?

But too often we women just don't. We order what's healthy. We refrain. We choose chicken over steak. Salad over pasta. Fruit over dessert. It's often about being conscious of our weight (and I'm all for being supportive of people who are counting calories), but it's also very much about being socialized to curb our desires. Too be too desirous is to be out of control. Is to be scorned. Is to be judged.

Which reminds me of something brilliant Sarah Katherine Lewis wrote about Britney Spears in her forthcoming book Sex and Bacon: Why I Love Things That Are Very, Very Bad for Me, which you must must read because it is brilliant:

"Of course she's demonized: Britney is female appetite. Britney wants. She wants food and sex and love and trashy, sexy, no-account boys. But it's not the outward manifestation of her appetite her detractors can't abide---after all, many female actresses and singers are heavier than Brit's ever been (Kirstie Alley, Missy Elliot, America Ferrara, Kelly Clarkson, et al.). It's the fact that Britney appears incapable of hiding her appetite the way every woman is taught to from childhood, whether or not the truth she tells with her body is deliberate. It's undeniably familiar to me and to every single one of my female friends. Every single one of us fights the same war, attempting to forge a tenuous detente between what we want (everything) and what we're supposed to want (nothing). The difference is, Britney's fight is public property. Her attempts to make peace with her own body and its desires are accompanied by a constant chorus of criticism meant to shame and punish. You try living with that."

Try living with it, and try wrapping your mind around why we feel like we have to. I want my burgers, and I want to eat them every night for a month if that's what I desire. I don't know at exactly what point I started believing that female appetite---my own appetite---existed to be squashed. But I do know that I've always been drawn to women who resist that impulse---whether they're blissfully unaware of it or whether they possess the self-awareness to articulate their battle. I wanted a theme for this year, and I think I may have found it: to embrace my desires unapologetically.


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