I want to be freed from concepts such as ‘femininity’ and ‘womanhood’.
There is no doubt that there are many people who want to be freed from the plethora of societal expectations that exist in this world. However, when I compare myself – who wishes to be freed from these expectations – to people who subconsciously adhere to and promote them, I feel an indescribable sense of guilt. Is it just me? Nobody is imposing anything on me, and yet I get heavy-hearted and gloomy feelings that still haunt me. I am faced with the me who “can’t do things properly.” Life looks bleak, and before I know it, it is dark outside and the day is over.
Is there any possibility that I will ever be a ‘proper, feminine woman’ at all?
I have never had an interest in marriage and have mentioned this frequently to my parents since my university student days.
“I do not want to get married, I am sorry.” “I do not feel like I can live a married life, so I am apologizing in advance.” “I do not think I can show you your grandchild’s face, I am sorry.”
My parents always just laughed about it, but when I found out that my father was genuinely worried that I would never get married, the feelings of guilt that plagued me soared like never before. My wish to not get married concerns myself, not anyone else. Yet, these feelings rose uncontrollably, even though I don’t plan on changing my mind, nor do I have any plans of getting married just to make someone who is worried about me feel better. I felt ashamed and criminal, and my mind felt more and more weighed down by the feeling that I should be living by societal norms.
When I found out that the strong, independent woman I looked up to was actually married, I felt slightly betrayed; even though I have nothing against her or the marriage system. I realized that this was a result of me arbitrarily comparing myself and my belief, that the expectation to marry is one that shackles women, to the people who do not believe this (or do believe this, but also believe the benefits triumph the drawbacks). Again, I am faced with the me who “cannot do things properly.” I compare and trap myself in a whirlpool of “I should be like this” and “I should be doing that.” Even though no one is pointing their fingers directly at me, I still manage to feel terrible… I definitely have a screw loose.
Now that I am in my mid-twenties, my eyes are constantly drawn towards magazine features that go along the lines of “a list of things I want to buy before I turn 30”: lifelong items such as watches, handbags, and quality jewelry. On top of that, simple, high-quality clothes suitable for mature women that they can wear no matter what age they turn. Do all “proper” twenty-year-olds want and buy these things? If I spend my money on these things, would I become a “proper woman” as well?
But the clothes that I like, the bags that I want, and just the fashion that I like in general, are all not the kind to be listed in those magazines. That’s why when I see my friends and acquaintances, who are all around the same age as me, buying these bags and jewelry and sporting those high-quality basics, although I know it’s pointless, my palms start to sweat and a voice rings in my head;
“Oh no, they have got the hang of this being a ‘proper, feminine woman’ business.”
In saying all this, though, I do not think I will ever buy such jewelry or watches. I think I will continue to buy the clothes and accessories that I like and have bright orange hair no matter what age I turn. I am not your typical “proper, feminine woman”; none of the fashion icons I look up to are either, and I do not plan on changing. Yet, once you pass your mid-twenties, it feels as if people are screaming at you to “start investing properly into nice things.” The whirlpool of emotions never ends. At the end of the day, people’s impressions of you are affected by your appearance the most, so maybe I do have to invest in these lifelong items to become a “proper adult.”
One day, I came across a book. It was Mariko Yamauchi’s ‘あたしたちよくやってる’ (unofficial translation: We’re doing fine ).
It is a collection of essays and short stories that narrate the experiences of girls who carry similar sorts of conflicting feelings like me. “Oh, so it’s not just me,” I thought: feeling like you want to be freed from the shackles of society, even though nobody, in particular, forces them on you in the first place and feeling guilty for wanting to be freed from these shackles. Ultimately, if a toxic label or concept has been established, there has to be some drastic movement to dismantle it, otherwise, it will never change. There will be times where you have to go against the people who uphold these ideas. But the first step is being honest with yourself, and acknowledging, accepting, and embodying your beliefs. I am doing enough. I am already doing enough. I mean, this is who I am. I am doing just fine.
When I am scrolling through my feed and I come across a “proper woman,” I involuntarily compare myself to them and end up feeling bad about being where I am. Even in the times where I am “faking it ‘till I make it,” it all just feels hopeless and my self-confidence and self-worth take a huge toll. But I have discovered a mantra that keeps me grounded: I am doing enough, I am doing just fine! I want to tell people who are experiencing the same turbulent emotions as me: “We are doing enough, we are doing fine.”
Living life the way you want to can be suffocating. It is hard staying true to yourself; you are always resisting against someone and feeling some sort of guilt because of it. It may be painful to accept that you cannot live up to everyone’s expectations because you want to march to the beat of your own drum. Sometimes, your confidence that should be there with you will get pulled out by the roots. But compromising your individuality could quite possibly be the most painful act of them all. That is why I continue to gently remind myself:
I am doing enough, I am doing just fine.
Yamauchi, M. "あたしたちよくやってる" "We’re doing fine".
Translated by Ariel Tjeuw
Edited by Emiru Okada
Graphic by Emily Mogami