This January, in the midst of a rattling breakup and everyone tweeting their lofty New Year’s resolutions, I decided to start a journal where I only wrote positive things to myself. Affirmations, decisions, and support for myself, because if I’m not my strongest advocate, who else is going to be? And while I strongly identify as a feminist, and try to emphasize that in my real life/journal life, that definition morphs everyday. I still constantly question what that means for me. Is it ok for me to do blahblahblah…. is it wrong for me to blahblah? Et cetera.
Looking through some of the passages in this new journal of mine, I noticed an underlying theme where I would affirm my sexuality; that it’s ok to feel sexy, it’s ok to have crushes, it’s ok to have feelings for more than one person at a time. “Dear Self, it is ok that you still feel sad about ____, it’s time to accept that as a reality that may never change.” I realized I was constantly telling myself that I was still good and ok after having these thoughts. Seriously, there is literally half a page where I just wrote in huge letters: “You are strong, you are good.” I can say I’m a feminist as many times as I want, but I know that I still feel guilty about some of my feelings and behaviors, which ironically makes me feel even WORSE for being a “bad feminist.” Lolol I know. (Any Catholic feminists out there? Is feminist guilt comparable to Catholic guilt?)
So, if I’m telling myself that I’m ok constantly, that means there’s a part of me telling myself that I’m not ok.
One thing that rattles around in my head a lot (and reared its head in my journal) is the topic of hookups. When we talk about hookups, it’s redundant to say there is a change of tone depending on the subject, male or female. We all know that guys are generally congratulated on hookups, and women not so much. But I think a step further is that this self-exploration is not celebrated in the way that other things are. We try on different personalities, different career paths, different interests, so why are we told this is so bad in the romantic/sexual sphere of our lives? It’s never like, “oh congrats on discovering yourself!” it’s, “lol remember your embarrassing slutty college phase?”
Tracing our steps backwards, I think it’s deeply damaging to tell kids, specifically young girls, that they should hide and be ashamed of their sexuality. When young girls are given the sex talk it typically has the tone of “protect yourself, protect your honor,” and with guys it’s very different. More of a “be safe, go get em tiger,” pep talk. The media propels these ideas further. This doesn’t go away, and it’s crazy to me that I’m almost in my mid-twenties and still trying to assess these values our society holds over our heads and come to terms with them. The ideas instilled in me haven’t gone away, they have taught me that I should be ashamed, that I am a bad representation of what a good person is (a person who is a woman). They have conditioned me so that every time I have a certain feeling, a certain experience, a certain thought, I feel shame and guilt. I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs, feeling guilt at the sound of a ringing bell.
Last year my friend took a class on adolescent sexuality, and I have to admit it was more interesting than any of my classes, so I got super invested in her readings and kind of pretended I was taking it too… We ended up discussing it a lot, and I walked away with a conviction I had always known but had never before held with high esteem in my mind. I believe in science, and science says that humans are sexual beings. We have evolved by being sexual, and to be sexual. The human race needs sex-having-women to survive, but we demonize them. Come on y’all. Women’s sexuality shouldn’t be on someone else’s terms; it should be on ours. When we go through puberty we start having these fuzzy urges that embarrass us- but they are good and ok, and telling kids to repress those feelings feels wrong. It leads to slut-shaming; not only kids calling each other names, but to us calling ourselves names.
I am my biggest shamer. Sometimes I feel all dark and twisty inside (shout out to Grey’s Anatomy ). I think that starting this positivity journal was a call to arms from my inner sad Saf, saying “please stop telling yourself you are wrong and bad.” So I’m pushing out the dark and twisty. Anytime a negative feeling starts to surface, I tell myself the following:
I refuse to be ashamed of the choices I make, regardless if the outcomes are good or bad.
I refuse to be ashamed by others’ ignorance of human sexuality, or by the beliefs they project onto my behavior.
I decide who I am, and refuse to let someone or some experience decide for me.
I also decided that instead of trying to program my brain to override my quirks and insecurities, to “fix” them according to backwards ideals, that I need to appreciate these things that make me human. It doesn’t work to tell yourself to stop these things, your quirks aren’t wrong. EVERYTHING YOU DO IS OK & GOOD (thats what I tell myself). Because it’s impossible to turn back the clock and undo all the experiences that caused me to be this way, I just reframe my negative thoughts. You have a crush on literally every man that blinks at you? Well, you’re just able to appreciate the qualities that make people interesting and attractive.
So in the spirit of positivity and acceptance, we all need to stop with the shame and the guilt! Do you girl. Do you guy. And I beg of my generation to instill in our future children that it is within human nature to be a sexual being, and that is never something to be ashamed of. Science rules.
By Safia El Hmamsi
(Photo courtesy of DCA Fine Art)