Feminist Awakening

CN: ableist language, sexist double standards

Ariel India recently released this commercial:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xogBz71IHAo

It reminded me of my childhood. Seeing my grandma get up at 6AM every morning and tend to the chickens, the dog, the cat, her grandchildren, her husband. She’d cook every meal, every day. She’d served my grandpa who was always in his rocking chair in the living room in front of the TV. When everybody was fed, she’d go downstairs and start her chores. She’d water the plants, start the laundry, she washed a lot of it by hand and used and old wooden board and scrub brush to get tough stains out. If the cars needing washing, she’d wash them. She was the one who painted the house when it needed a fresh coat.
She drove my grandpa around.

Sometimes, she’d climb up on the roof to sweep up. Many times I saw her walking along the edge of the house to clean the windows. My brothers never volunteered to help her. I would sometimes volunteer but most of the time, she told me to help. I needed to learn this stuff anyway since I would be a wife when I grew up.

My grandmother would be running back and forth, and my grandpa would yell to her to bring him some water. I asked mami why he couldn’t get it himself. She told me not to ask him or grandma because I’d get in trouble. Then she explained that she wondered the same thing when she was my age, that she even told her father to get the water himself. Grandma hit her because mami was being “disrespectful”.

I noticed the disparity in the chores I and my brothers got. My older brother didn’t do anything. My grandma did everything for him. To this day, he doesn’t do his laundry or serve his own meals.
My younger brother had a few chores but once he was done he could go use the PlayStation. Once, I cleaned the room and bathroom I shared with my younger brother. So mami said that my brother had to clean the bedroom windows by himself. He thought that was fair.
So, there I am playing some Namco game and in comes grandma yelling at me and calling me lazy. I explained that I had done my chores. She made me turn off the game and help my brother wash the windows.

In kindergarten, we had a large classroom and at the back was the play area. One side was “the house”, it had a bed, a kitchen, table and a small sofa; the other side was “work”. It had tools and hard hats and work vests. I never liked playing house because it wasn’t fun to me. I had these chores at home, when I’m playing I wanted to get away from that. So I went over to the “work” side. The boys there told me I needed to leave because “girls do not play with tools”. I told them my grandpa had taught me how to use tools and mix cement. I told them they were “stupid” and went back to the house. One boy comes over and asked one of the girls for some juice. I tell him he could get it himself. The girl was “busy” washing dishes.  All the boys and girls told me that that’s how marriages work. And so they made me the baby, because babies don’t speak. After that I spent play time a the art table.

I didn’t know the word feminist. I just knew that the way I was treated, the way I saw women were treated was unfair. I didn’t learn the word feminist until I was in my teens. And then I realized, ‘THAT’S ME’. I had always felt like maybe there was something wrong with me because why couldn’t I just play along like everyone else? But no, I was fine. There was a word for what I was and discovering it was a life changer.

Feminist Awakening
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Body Mod Revolution 

My lovely friend Alyssa recently wrote a post about body mods and how they’re helping her take control over her body. Her post inspired this one.

I grew up thinking tattoos were worn by “bad” people. These people didn’t obey the law, they cursed, they were probably atheist. Good ladies also didn’t have tattoos. Outwardly I thought those people were outrageous. Inwardly, I envied them.

I wasn’t allowed any creativity with my body or features. I had lots of curls but my mother constantly shaved my head because my “hair was too much deal with”. Once I became old enough to say I didn’t want the haircuts, she’d take me to beauty salons to have my hair relaxed. I remember crying because those creams burned my scalp. I was told to suck it up because ‘beauty is pain’.
In the past year and a half I’ve stopped straightening my hair. I realized why I hated my curls and have learned to love them. I cut my hair on my own terms and dyed it purple.

I was always fat and told I should be skinny. I wasn’t allowed, and I’m still not, to feel comfortable in my skin. I am fat but don’t I know I’m beautiful? I’m not fat, just chubby, thick, curvy, voluptuous, full-figured. Anything but fat. But, I am fat and I own that.

I didn’t bother doing my hair or my make up when I was younger because I didn’t believe those thing were for me. Those things were for pretty girls. “Don’t you want to have a boyfriend?”. “No”, I said lying. “Any dude who wants to be with me will have to deal with me without all the prep”. I didn’t think I’d ever have a boyfriend since I was convinced I was uglier than sin.

At 17 I got my tongue pierced. Kids in school said I didn’t look like the type to have piercings other than my ears. I got made fun of and accused of being a “poser”. I was much too meek to have a tongue ring. What they didn’t know is that under the insecure little girl who thought she was ugly was a BAMF who didn’t give a fuck what they said. I’m currently stretching my earlobes.The next piercings I’d like are a vertical labret, tragus and daith.

At 19 I got my first tattoos. They’re tiny wrist tattoos and they’re pretty cliche; one’s the peace symbol and the other the equality symbol. I do plan on covering the equality symbol. I’ve grown past wanting equality. I demand justice.

I’m currently not able to afford tattoos so in the meantime I’ve come up with ideas and designs for them. I want the ink I get to have meaning to me.

Thanks to Alyssa and another friend, I’ve started embracing my Taíno heritage. I want to get the sun petroglyph because that’s one of the things I miss most about Puerto Rico. The sun just doesn’t feel the same in the States.

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I want the Flor de Maga (Thespesia grandiflora) because it’s Puerto Rico’s official flower. I want them on the right side of my torso.
PR 2011 (262)
At right, the flor de maga in the garden of my grandma’s house.
I want sunflowers because they’re my favorite (obviously). They’re big and bright and provide edible seeds. I’m big and bright and hope my writing helps “plant” a more just world. Sappy? I’m aware. Meaningful to me? Yup. Those are going on the left side of my torso.

I want the words Paz and Justicia on each arm. I want them in Spanish. While Spanish is the conquistadors language, it is also the language I grew up speaking. It’s the one I’m handing down to my daughter. The Spanish I speak is peppered with indigenous and African influences. It’s the language el Yankí has had to learn how to speak. It’s the language that makes people upset they have to press 1 for English. Es complicado y es mio.

I want the feminist symbol either on my back or on my legs. Feminism has saved me time and again. I would not be who I am without it.

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I want my and my daughter’s birth flowers to form a heart-shaped wreath.

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Lastly, I want the lyrics “my heart is broke but I have some glue“. Nirvana is one of my favorite bands and that particular line has always spoken to me. I have different problems but I have a way to solve them or cope.

It’s taken me a while to like the body and features I was born with. My hairy body defies gender norms and conventional beauty standards.
My current and future body mods defy abusive exes, close minded family, and transmisogynistic beauty ideals.
The tattoos honoring Puerto Rico and my embracing my natural hair defy racist and Eurocentric beauty standards. My fat body is taking up space and I unashamedly call attention to it with body mods. I’m taking femininity and making it my own.
I’m slowly looking how I want to look, and that is a revelation and a revolution.

Body Mod Revolution 

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Growing up I was told it was rude to speak ill of the dead. I was told no matter how horrible the person was in life, we should respect them in death. I never questioned this until one of my grandma’s sisters died.

I got the news about my aunt and I felt like dancing. I thought I was being rude but then I thought, this aunt made my life miserable. Any chance she got, she reminded me how ugly and fat I was. She would tell me I would end up “jamona” (a spinster) because of how unattractive I was. I was 12. My grandma would tell her sister about my “bad behavior” and this aunt would say that what i needed was “un buen puño a la cara” (a good punch to the face). I was 7. She would make my school uniforms and I dreaded being measured. She always had something to say. “Oh, you’re so fat. You’re fatter than I am. It’s a miracle you fit through the door.”

She died when I was in my teens. I remember calling my grandma to offer my condolences. But I lied them. When I went to Puerto Rico, I visited my grandpa’s and another aunt’s grave. I left flowers for both of them. I didn’t ask to see that one aunt’s grave and grandma didn’t push me. I told my mother I was happy tia was dead. I would never say this to my grandmother. Not out of respect for that dead aunt, but for respect to grandma. That aunt never showed any respect to me, so I don’t see why I should respect her because she finally dropped dead.

I firmly believe it is OK and even cathartic to be happy someone died. If that person made your life miserable? Pop open a bottle. That person abused you? Merengue on that grave all you want.

My tia didn’t have any influence over legislation. Her opinions and ideas didn’t have the power to sway a population. Scalia on the other had opinions which hurt a lot of marginalized people. I will not judge anyone who is glad he’s gone. I’m sure no one is going to his family and saying they’re happy he’s dead, and I would never advocate that. But I don’t care for the for the posts I’ve seen chastising the people who are happy he’s dead.

“No hables mal de los muertos, que no pueden responder”. Don’t speak ill of the dead because they can’t defend themselves. Well, when she was alive I tried defending myself from her verbal abuse and I was told I was disrespectful.

Death doesn’t mean that person’s bad deeds are forgotten. Death doesn’t magically erase the pain that person caused. But death does guarantee that I’ll never have to listen to her opinions ever again.

Speaking Ill of the Dead

Barbie and Representation

Mattel recently revealed what they’re calling “The Evolution of Barbie”. It includes three new body types (along with new hair and eye colors, and funky new hairstyles) that will sell alongside the original doll. These body types are curvy, petite, and tall.

I love Barbie. I had about 30 of them when I was little. Most of them were the white, blue-eyed, blonde Barbie. I had a few brunettes, one Teresa (she was the Hispanic Barbie), and the Puerto Rican Barbie which was part of the Dolls of the World collection.

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(image is of two dolls. Both dolls are brunettes. The doll on the left is the Happy Birthday Barbie doll. She is wearing a pink and white ball gown with balloons and ribbons print. She has a party hat on her head. The doll on the right is wearing a pink and white dress. She has a pink flower in her hair. She is the Puerto Rican doll.)

When I was little, I hated my big nose and my huge curly hair. White skin was prized and I was always told it was a good thing I wasn’t darker. It wasn’t until recently that I started appreciating my natural hair. My mother was constantly buying hair straightening cream “para matar el rizo” (kill the curl).
I always liked the brunette and darker skin dolls best but I was always given white Barbie. So I would take my mother’s brown eye shadows, crush it and mix it with water and dunk my blonde Barbies hair in. It lasted until I decided to wash my dolls.

I got the message that my natural hair wasn’t beautiful. I was always told I was too fat. I would hear people say girls looked like a Barbie if they were thin, white and pretty. I would never be a Barbie. But I could pretend. My Barbies had fantastic adventures. They were singers, cops, teachers, spies, feminist bad asses who didn’t need Ken. Although that was mostly because I only had one Ken. So that Ken played different characters, while my Barbies had different names and personalities, I still remember most of their names.

My Barbies provided me an escape from my unhappy childhood.

It’s a little tough being a feminist and a huge Barbie fan. For a while I thought I was a bad feminist for loving Barbie. I didn’t realize I could appreciate Barbie but also critique her shortcomings. I was also hesitant to apply any critical thought to Barbie because I was worried it would tarnish my childhood memories of her.

Once I had a daughter, I realized I needed to look at Barbie (and all other media directed towards her) critically. My daughter doesn’t look like Barbie, and she never will. That is ok. That’s what I need to hear when I was little. Barbie was an unrealistic standard. I didn’t need to look like her to have worth and be loved.
Barbie didn’t make me have self-esteem issues. It was the adults around me with fat-phobia, anti-blackness and colorism who caused my self-esteem problems.
My daughter knows that her curls are beautiful. That her light skin doesn’t make her any better than someone darker.

Barbie has been pretty good in showing racial diversity. I always could say Teresa was “for me” but never “she looks like me” because Teresa was thin.

Having a fashion doll who’s curvy is a huge deal. Not only will chubby girls finally see themselves in a doll, but they’re also getting the message that they too can be fashion forward and fun.

Curvy Barbie is not without her problems. She could be bigger. Her figure is the “acceptable fat”; an hourglass shape. That’s a problem plus-size modeling and the body positivity movement have as well. But, I’m glad that Curvy Barbie is here. It’s a step in the right direction. Curvy Barbie is the doll I wished would have existed when I was little. Needless to say, my inner child is excited for this.

I’ve posted a review of Curvy and Tall Barbie! Click on links to read them!

Barbie and Representation

I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

I’ve started therapy at a new clinic. My therapist is a WOC who identifies as a feminist so she gets points for that. We’ve talked about growing as girl children in machista families. She understands where I’m coming from with certain things.

However, every time I mention the word ugly she stops to ask if I really think I’m ugly.

No, I don’t. By conventional standards, I am ugly and not very feminine looking. I’m fat, I have stretch marks and cellulite. I have jiggly and flabby skin. I have scars from self injury. I’m tall. I have short hair dyed an unnatural color. I have piercings and I’m hairy.

But I really don’t give a fuck if I’m ugly or not. Not anymore.
When I was little all I heard from my family was how fat and ugly I was. So, as I got older and the other girls were trying on make up and exploring their femininity I decided that those things were vain and frivolous. They were weak and I wouldn’t be.

I had internalized the misogyny hurled at me all my life. I would be one of the guys, not like those other silly girls. I shunned anything that could be called feminine while simultaneously adhered to other rigid gender norms like shaving. And why did I shave? Because hairy women are “ugly”. Men don’t like hairy women. So while I shunned certain aspects of femininity to protect myself I also chose to follow some to also protect myself. I was a mess. A chill girl mess.

As I’ve matured into my feminism, I’ve learned that femininity isn’t weakness. Once I learned to let go of that internalized misogyny, I realized femininity is powerful. I wear make up and dresses now because it makes me feel good about myself. It makes me feel pretty. Not pretty for other people. Pretty for me. I don’t shave because it’s too much hassle and I was only doing it for other people.

I’m going to have to explain that being ugly isn’t the worst thing. I’ll have to explain what I mean when I use the word ugly. I’ll have to spend part of my therapy session explaining 101 feminism/social justice stuff. And that’s exhausting. My thinking I’m “ugly” isn’t more important than treating my PTSD.

On a typical summer day, you’ll find me wearing a pretty dress, make up on my face all while my pits and legs are hairy. I’m not beautiful by conventional standards and that’s OK. I never will fit into the white ideal and I don’t want to. I’m beautiful for me.

I’m not beautiful and that is OK.

Birthday

Growing up I had my whole life planned out. I saw how miserable the women in my family were as wives so I decided I would be a Career Woman and never marry. Then I decided I would marry and have children after getting a Ph.D. I’d live fabulously ever after in a mansion with two daughters and one son and some movie star husband. I had the children’s names picked out. I had my wedding planned down to the color of the table cloths. All this would happen by the time I was 30. All of this planning and I was only about seven.

Obviously most of that was a child’s fantasy. As I got older I realized I didn’t want children or marriage after all. But I still wanted to go to college. Growing up that’s how I heard adults measure their child’s success; with whether they had a degree or not. I felt neglected and lonely as a kid so I thought this would be the perfect way to finally get some validation.

I’ve dealt with, and in some cases I’m still dealing with, mental illness, extreme poverty, homelessness, single motherhood and domestic violence. All things which prevented me from going to school. I did complete two semesters but the system being what it is, I had to decide between school or work at the time since the shelter I was in preferred I was working. Currently, I’m not in the right place mentally for school.

As I get older, I’m realizing I don’t need a degree to matter. While I would like to go back to school, I’m not as upset with myself as I used to be. I do have days where I think I am huge failure but most days I think considering the circumstances I am alright.

So I don’t have a huge mansion, but I did finally leave the shelter and have my own apartment.

I don’t have a husband. Thank misandry for that!

I have one child and she is just about the greatest kid alive.

I’m not living a fabulous life but most days it isn’t half bad. I have a loving support network of friends. I have this blog, that while it may not be widely known, some people seem to like. I have my mom who’s extremely patient and understanding. We’ve had many ups and owns but I can count on her.

Through all the shit I’ve gone through, I’ve come out more compassionate, caring and stronger. Which isn’t to say that those things were blessings. If I had to choose character over having an easier life, I’d choose easier life every time. But I have to deal with what I got. Life and lemons and what not, right?

No, my life isn’t perfect and these last few sentences aren’t meant to erase the bullshit I deal with daily; a racist, sexist, classist, ableist system, mental illness, poverty. I wish I was financially stable, I wish I wasn’t disabled. I wish my bodily autonomy had been respected. I wish for a complete system overhaul.

In the meantime, all things considered, I am glad I’m the person I am.

Birthday

“You matter”

You always see posts asking you what you would say to your child self. What advice would you give to teenage you? I usually reply with a joke but I’ve been thinking what would I have needed when I was a child that could have prevented at least some of the hurt I’ve gone through.

I needed someone to tell me I mattered. Someone to tell me my value didn’t lie in my appearance or intelligence. Someone to stand up for me when certain family members made fun of my weight or art projects. I needed someone to nurture my creativity and curiosity.

I needed someone to tell me morality had nothing to do with food. I needed someone to validate me when I protested my brothers being fed more than me or being let off the hook for behavior that would have gotten me in trouble.

I needed someone to introduce me to the words sexist and feminism. I needed someone who didn’t make fun of my interests.

I needed someone to tell me being pretty wasn’t a goal.

I needed to know someone cared about me.

To my teenaged self,

Life is pretty rough. It’ll get rougher. Actually, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it will. And surprisingly, you’ll always manage to get through it. But you don’t have to do it alone. Let people help you, ask for help. You’re strong, yes. But you aren’t Wonder Woman. Trusting people is hard. But you manage to learn how to tell who’s trust worthy and not. Trust your gut more.
No is a complete sentence.
Feed yourself when you’re hungry.
Your thoughts and opinions matter.
You aren’t defined by your mental illness.
You’ll be wrong sometimes but that doesn’t change that you are a person with worth.
Be the geekiest geek who ever geeked. The nerdiest nerd who ever nerded. In a few years all the stuff you were made fun of for liking will be cool. Then you can have smug superiority over all those poser losers.
Don’t ever lose your ability to laugh.
Have I mentioned trust your gut more? Because you should.
Embrace your feminism more.
For fucks sake, stop being such a chill girl.
Misandry
Finally, no is a complete sentence and trust your instincts. They’re good instincts and so are you.

“You matter”

When Santa stopped being real

I wrote a letter to Santa once. I remember it still. I asked him how he was, how the elves and his wife were and to please be careful on his trip. I asked him if the tropical weather bothered him. It was 1995 and I asked for a specific Barbie doll. I never got a response and I didn’t get the Barbie I wanted, although I did get a Dream House and another Barbie. I was happy.
That Christmas Eve, I went to bed earlier than usual. I woke up sometime in the middle of the night. I heard mami talking to someone. I go check and she’s sitting next to the dream house and the Hot Wheels race track my brother was getting. I asked who she was talking to. She told me I had just missed Santa. She told me to go back to bed. Which took a lot of will power because the Barbie dream house from 1995 was amazing!

The next Summer, I was looking for something in mami’s dresser and I found the letter I had written. At first I was upset because I thought mami forgot to send it which would explain why I didn’t get what I had asked for.
But I got to thinking, where would mami send it? I had all these questions but I didn’t want to push it.

We never left Santa milk and cookies. We left him Pepsi and Lays potato chips. I asked my mother why we couldn’t leave him milk and cookies like I saw on TV. She said Santa had that in all the other houses; he appreciated the variety. Then I asked if we could leave Doritos instead. She said Santa didn’t like those. I didn’t believe her because everyone loves Doritos, right? Then she told me that Santa couldn’t eat Doritos because the cheese dust would make his white beard orange. That made sense to my child mind, so I left it alone.

One Christmas I got a talking teddy bear. Grandma told me she had a scare when she was wrapping the presents because the bear had started talking. I had thought Santa brought them all wrapped! Mami explained that that year he was very busy so he left them with grandma and mami to wrap them.

I was eight years old when I finally stopped believing in Santa. I was looking for something in our armoire (curiosity didn’t kill the cat but it certainly made them question things) and I found lots of wrapped gifts with my and my brother’s name on them. I asked mami about them. First she said those were for other children who had our same names. I didn’t believe her but I left it alone. That Christmas, what do I find did under the tree? Those gifts I had found in the armoire! I asked mami how come the presents were the same ones I had found. She said they weren’t, she just used the same wrapping paper for our gifts.

Then it all hit me. Mami doesn’t like milk, she doesn’t like Doritos. Her favorite snack combo is Pepsi and chips. Then I realized I had heard voices that one Christmas Eve because while she was setting up our gifts she started playing with them. A huge doll house and Hot Wheels race track, who could blame her?!

As I get older I look back at those memories fondly. I don’t have any resentment towards my mother for telling me Santa was real. Personally, I don’t consider Santa a lie in the sense that it hurts a child or their relationship with their parent. It was a fun fantasy. I also think mami was very clever thinking on her feet the way she did. She never missed a beat when I had questions about Santa.

I do think she’s wrong about not liking Doritos, though.

When Santa stopped being real