Inspired my own Fatkini post, because…. just read:
Well butter my arse and call me a biscuit: fat women are doing something that doesn’t involve Gok Wan with a pair of Spanx and people are freaking the fuck out. Must be a day that ends in whiskey.
I presume the handwringing over the fatkini hashtag – in which chunky chicks post bikini pics of themselves to Instagram and Twitter – is because photos of fat bodies are usually reserved for the obligatory cautionary whale pictures used to illustrate hard-hitting articles about the rise in diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We’re not used to seeing fat people unclothed in any other context.
On the day it was published, I read Daisy Buchanan’s article in The Debrief about #fatkini and frankly, I lost my shit – we’re talking Rubyyy-Jones-fucking-a-shoe-shit-fit, and I’m not even that fussed about the #fatkini movement. This blog post isn’t written as a direct response to Ms Buchanan’s…
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So I’m coming out of the feminist closet yet again.
I haven’t written feminist stuff for a while. I don’t like to complain. Positivity is something of a new religion to me – not complaining, focusing on happy sides etc., this stuff adds to my quality of life. But it’s easy to confuse that happy focus with the cultural imperative to Be Nice. To risk the tautology, it’s nice to be nice, and others can be nice to you too, often in response to your niceness. But sometimes in an effort to be nice, to not be a party pooper, you lose yourself, you risk your opinion, your values and your heart.
In writing this, I am not only complaining. I’m not only venting and letting steam off. I am attempting to change your mind. Or at least change the discourse. Or at least not stay silent while the mainstream machine rolls by, claiming all that is interesting in this life and changing it in its own image.
What is it about? THIS SONG.
Recently I was at a work party. I’ll write about the party itself separately. I heard that song being put on and just walked off. People think I’m crazy. Context: I teach children and regularly dance to this song, because that’s what children like and, limited as the interaction is, I have no chance to overturn their entire education and worldview by saying that it’s stupid.
But I do find it rude and demeaning, and if I’m off work? I don’t want to listen to this shit.
Because, as a musician, I TAKE SONGS SERIOUSLY.
I should put it on a t-shirt perhaps.
To me, a song is something to live for – and if not to die for, then at least to argue about, to chisel away at until it’s good. People will say I am making a mountain out of a molehill, that it’s just a stupid song at a party, not a big deal – just entertainment, just fun. But those very same people will be very vocal and passionate about their musical interests; those same people will express views that are in line with this song; and they will likely claim that advertisement and entertainment business have no influence on the way they view the world. Funny that.
A popular song constitutes cultural content. In various spiritual or psychological practices, the effect of repeating something regularly is very well known – heck, we all know that this is how you learn things. Not going into detail of how this works, but let’s just agree that engaging with a sentence or poem or an affirmation in a regular way influences a person, or at least the direction of their thinking. A song is a perfect vehicle for a worldview change – it has rhythm, often rhymes, engages the body and therefore enhances the memory by the performative aspect (kinesthetic learning). Still think songs are unimportant? Window dressing? Background noise? It’s not all elevator music. SONGS HAVE WORLDVIEWS. SONGS ARE POLITICAL. SONGS MATTER.
“Wiggle” is patriarchy having fun. I’m not always against being crude or even sexual (separate topic – who wants to be tagged as a “prude”, sex negative feminist?). But this is a song about street harassment, featuring a chorus of whistling and dudes pretty pleased with themselves (“Holla at her!”) and asking personal questions (“How do you fit all that in them jeans” is beat only by the infamous classic “What’s your favourite position”. That’s CEO, FYI, mofo). “Oh baby, let me come and change your life” (hahahahaha, he said “come”! #ohwait). “Got me in this club making wedding plans” (oh, a wedding, that makes it legit). And then the final piece of wit:
“Oh baby, you’ve got a bright future behind you”.
Whole lyrics perpetuate the idea of a woman who exists specifically as an object of man’s needs and attentions. She doesn’t speak (interaction strictly one-sided); her life can be changed by the male protagonist, either in terms of sex or career (she can become “a star”), and her sexual wiggle is aaaaall for him. And she knows how to do it, ’cause that’s what she’s FOR. Even the bubble bath is thrown in as something done to her, not for her. And what frustrates me is that we are so very used to this, that it barely registers, this insidious propaganda. Can you imagine a woman being lazily “serviced” by a “wiggling” man, with the implication that that’s his only purpose in life? If you’ve seen something like that, post some links, please, I’d love to expand my horizons…. though even if you miraculously found content that had exactly the same implications, mirrored with reversed gender, I’m still not sure it is something to aspire to. Is that what sex positivity means? Often it seems like one can’t criticise the sexual aspects of popculture, because it automatically makes you sex-negative, in alliance with conservative (wait for it) prudishness. Where’s my door number three?! And I don’t mean a middle option between sex-negativity and free-for-all availability which still somehow pertains more to women, and is cunningly exploited by capitalism. I mean a third perspective.
If I can cut out some effing WIGGLE ROOM for myself to live and breathe, I’ll be happy.
Because if I don’t speak up, patriarchy will go on as planned.
Revolution will not be televised.
So I protest, best as I know how. I protest against girls hearing this stuff from young age with absolutely no alternatives (it’s twerking and wiggling everywhere), and then being slut-shamed as having no self-respect – just because they engage with the prevalent culture, and, you know, want to be attractive. I protest against the cultural climate that doesn’t allow women to own their body or sexuality, ’cause there’s always somebody happy and entitled to comment and shame them for it. You can’t walk down the street sometimes, whether you’re wearing a mini or a hoodie, without getting picked on. You can’t dance without feeling like you’re asking for it. For the record, I love to dance, I love to be sexual in dance, hips and all. But these are my choices to make. I know I don’t have to. I’m frustrated by how tight the boxes are though. So frustrated by the assumptions that whatever I do, I do for the male gaze, or against the male gaze. If I dress up, it’s to be noticed, if I dress down – as I tend to – it’s to be left alone.
I’m frustrated, because so many of us don’t question the dominant message, aren’t ever taught to look underneath. Of course, we, as women/female identifying people, cannot – will not – ever be ALLOWED to be free. The very thought is preposterous. You have to assume your freedom like the air you breathe – but to get there, you have to TAKE it.
Yeah, songs like these make my teeth clench. But I am done taking shit from culture – from now I will be making my own message. Even if I’m leaving it on the cultural answering machine. Pick up, goddamn it. Pick up!
EDIT: Here I have previously included the entire lyrics. But you can Google them easily enough. I’d rather include this:
…. and the documentary that changed my understanding of media:
This is a bit of a private one, but:
I have been writing since age 7.
I have called myself a poet between ages 7 and 17.
Now I am 27, calling myself a poet again, one language later.
I’ve only been writing when I had to. Perversely, I was proud of it. I thought to myself, I only write when I have to, when I can’t hold onto the scream anymore. I write about breakups, I pull out the journal when I’m in pain or joy that cannot be ignored. I manage to not write anything else.
And then I thought, are you crazy?
Not only I get in trouble, emotions exploding, because everything in me overloading, overbalances and in certain circumstances I get a shitload of anger, tears, a breakdown that was completely preventable.
Not only I get ideas that scream to get out and I let them fade and die, like an insult to anybody who ever suffered any sort of creative block.
I wondered, how exactly can I be useful to people? This narcissistic exploration of own head liniment, lining, lines left behind by childhood, personal borders, orders of magnitude, interludes of thought, attitudes towards life – often dearly bought and paid, but not useful in the present day anymore….?
I can tell stories. I can tell the truth.
That’s all it takes.
Yes, it’s nothing new, but I am struck sometimes by the sheer stupidity and unwillingness to see that I discover in myself. I’m not even putting myself down – the blinds on my eyes exist for a reason. I’ve been a truthsayer since day one. I made a lot of people uncomfortable. And they made sure I was uncomfortable with myself. And believed them – I did the believing.
I’ll be leaving now – that mindset, that is. I might adjust this text yet, I might change it. But telling the truth, that one does not get old.
So many texts that wait for publication. The right moment. The permission I now give myself.
Are you crazy?
Yes, I am.
So I meant to have a blog about culture, general my-life-in-London with a slice of politics and feminism here and there (I still have somewhere a note I wrote after The Stylist has done an infuriating article on motherhood).
But it appears I shot myself in the foot.
I called this blog “London Pole”, and now every time I want to write, I am faced with the dilemma: what does this even mean? Am I meant to be representative of the Polish experience in London? (I feel very special and not at all representative). Am I trying to sell a brand that has long lost the shine of novelty? Am I trying to be somebody’s voice? (and whose? and why not just mine?).
See what I mean?
I’m not necessarily deeply involved in the Polish community and events – never have been, really. It’s not like I’m going to start going out and reviewing every single one, though I might go to few. It just looks like I imposed a limiting assumption. Therefore, a conclusion: my concept of being Polish is a limiting one.
Yes, I fear being judged for it. In our international environment, class and nation differences suddenly grow to different heights. Though uni-educated, I am the first generation of a working class background family to have this kind of cultural capital and clout. And yet, I’m also the ear picking up Polish accents (mine is not so distinguishable after my stint in Netherlands, it turns out); I’m the one making friends in Polish shops, when nostalgia creeps up and I need my home food fix. I even, god help me, went to a Polish priest to bless my food for Easter, because I missed my grandma so much. It ended with an
argument interesting conversation, which reminded me what institutional sexism means and why, in general, dating Polish men is a futile exercise, unless they are 1) Gender Studies graduates and, to narrow it down, 2) pansexual. It’s not a big group, though it does exist.
I cross the road when I hear drunk Polish men. Well, I cross the road when I hear drunk men, but with anything, anyone Polish it’s literally closer to home. I get embarrassed, because it’s personal and relates to me.
I have been writing in English since about age 22. But recently I’m missing Polish. There are things I want to write in Polish. I miss Polish books (last time I went home I bought two books on the airport and devoured them by the time I got home… right, first home was the one with mum, the second – the one with my partner. Ark.).
I have always had the vision of being a bridge, a go-between. But then for a long time I just disliked all things Polish – how can you be a bridge to someplace you disdain? I started getting over that (largely, though not solely because of nostalgia) and I realized that this disdain for your home country is a part of a larger phenomenon. While being in England I noticed every nation thinks they have the worst politicians and society on Earth – yes, even the Swedish! So, shockingly, it appears that all politics is full of cringe-worthy clowns, faux-paus is not reserved for Polish dinosaurs who don’t speak English, and there is institutional sexism in all Europe, not to mention the world (strangely, the last one does not make me feel better). Perhaps it’s an expat thing. All of us, expats, love to travel, but very often we leave our countries for a reason. All very well if it’s an economical one – better jobs! better paid jobs! any jobs! – but often, that’s not all of it.
Outcasts Outsiders, weirdos, wrong skin colour, wrong gender identity, wrong values; tall poppy syndrome, crab mentality, avoiding the boiling frog’s fate – you name it, sometimes it gets too hot in the hometown and it’s time to hit the road.
In the end, the kinship I feel is with expats of all kinds. That is one identity that I can claim freely. As for language, Polish is as beautiful as it is restrictive, and yes, I do miss it and mourn my proficiency, slowly eroded by repetitive English programming. It’s like a hole in my heart. But at this point, if I tried to leave English behind, it wouldn’t feel much different. My self, translated, was a door to new things. It was important, and I wouldn’t change it.
So where does that leave me? Well, I wrote a note! And I hope you don’t mind if I occasionally write one in Polish.
London at night.
Shop displays, eerie and still, with smooth-faced mannequins and monstrous patchwork horses, watching no one. Big delivery boxes marked MADE IN TAIWAN – in a few hours managers will carefully peel off all Taiwanese stickers, so that socially-conscious consumers can turn a blind eye, pretend not to know what they buy. I walk through this gentrified landscape, there is no one in sight, except occasional McDonald’s aficionado.
One long bus ride later, it’s a different story. An hour on the bus, where two girls, taking selfies and flushed with drink, insist on window being open. One failed closing attempt later we hate them silently from the back seats. Finally they leave (I immediately snap the window shut with a satisfying crack!), and soon after the bus terminates. Night bus in 25 minutes, so I walk – again, the streets are empty, but there are 24 hour Turkish groceries every so often, which I find reassuring. They feel familiar, safe and friendly – there was one everywhere that I lived in London so far. Their shop assistants always remember your name.
That reminiscent mood is broken by an inevitable London sound of police siren, followed by ambulance. Living here is like existing inside a film, but only as a movie extra – finding your way through the crowd, the AD long lost. You see perpetual car chases and get out of the way, and you don’t want to know, this once don’t want a starring role. Passing unmarked police cars – the next point to tick off on my journey home, an unobtrusive yet hostile presence in the side alley – always creeps me out. Faceless people with unknown agenda, I don’t know if my safety registers as a value, never mind priority. Maybe I watched too many movies. Though I don’t watch that many.
Finally home. My flatmates left the light on for me, so I sit on a couch, with its soft burnt-orange blanket. I got home safely, again – streets were quiet, suspicious cars did not take me away. Birds are singing outside. Nothing else matters.
… now, for some tea.