How Much of Your Personality is a Performance for the Male Gaze?

Last week I got a message from someone saying something along the lines of, “I know you always talk about reclaiming your femininity but what does that actually mean?” and BUCKLE UP because I’m about to casually destroy your self-concept if this is something you haven’t explored before. 

To shamelessly understand what it means to reclaim your authentic femininity, you’d have to understand who stole it. And since women already internalize centuries of toxic male conditioning, European beauty standards and sexual oppression, we’re not taking this L, this is all men.

So before I get into this I want you to watch this 5-minute clip explaining the [white] male gaze.

Okay, welcome back, how irritated are you?! I know, I know. This is exactly why reclaiming our sexuality and femininity on a personal level is so important. 

Separating male influence and patriarchy from “Western” society is nearly impossible, and although women have been fighting and protesting to dismantle our racist, misogynistic systems for centuries we’re still up against a beast. In our hospitals we’re seeing women’s pain being invalidated to the degree that Black women are dying 4x as much as non-Black women. In our court systems, we’re still seeing predators punished like they stole gum from a convenience store and not the sacredness from our bodies. In boardrooms, we’re seeing a small increase of representation but once the meetings are over it’s back to invalidating, mansplaining, denying, and silencing. At home, we’re still seeing domestic violence take our mothers and sisters after screaming for help into a black hole of underfunded community services. In North America, 40-51% of women experience violence in their lifetime- and most commonly from the men we love. Systemically- we have a fucking long way to go and like Emma Lazarus would say, “Until we are all free, none of us are free.”

So, what the fuck?! How can we as individual women rebuild our internal compass of knowingness and expression if the entire world is built by men and for the male gaze? How do we feel free when we’re constantly being consumed, judged, exploited, mocked, and stalked because of our womanhood? Does it matter? Is it that important?

Fuck yes it is. 

How much of who you are is really you and how much is actually a performance for the male gaze? Reflections for you to journal on:

Mirroring Mama:

I grew up with my mother, older sister, and brother. I was hyper aware of how my mother talked about her body, expressed herself, and how it made me feel. My mom was fat and talked about her body 24/7. She would talk about gaining and losing 2, 3, 4, 5, lbs everyday, sometimes multiple times, and she would force us to validate it. I could not have cared less. Parallel to this internal fight she was battling, she would project on me and constantly call me too skinny. I developed an eating disorder at 11 years old because of the constant judgement of my mother and sister. But when I stop to think about it, did this obsession with their bodies start with them or with society’s extremely oppressive beauty standards? Was it my mom and sister who created these insecurities in me or were they just a mouthpiece for the patriarchy? Are women naturally judgemental of other women or was this competitive lens we view other women through created in a patriarchal environment? Matriarchal values involve community, nurturing, love, and intimacy with our sisters. Is that reflected in our behaviour or have we betrayed what comes innate to us? How much of our body dysmorphia is because of oppressive and narrow beauty standards that were created by men? What percentage of our insecurities are actually internalized patriarchy? The way my mother talked about herself negatively impacted my own self-talk, how did your mother’s affect yours? Have you ever paid attention to how you felt about your mother as a child? Did you ever watch her body, the way she dressed, the way she did her hair and makeup, and did it ever change how you viewed womanhood as a child? Your mother was a product of an even more oppressive period for women and beauty, how much of that did she project onto you?

Check out/bookmark this article on The Mother Wound to learn more about this.

Seeking Attention:

Due to my early trauma I was ALWAYS hyper-sexual. At sleepovers, at school, on the playground, in my room alone- always thinking about sex. I had men in my life looking at me for pleasure as young as 5. The male gaze is all I know. I went through my life feeling like I was under constant scrutiny, like I was being watched. It didn’t matter if I was walking down the street or in my room, I never felt alone. I’ve always had this deep, weird feeling like there are eyes burning into my skin. So from a young age everything I did was filtered through “what would men think of this, am I attractive, do I look sexy?” which is so gross because I was a CHILD when these thoughts started to manifest. One instance stands out to me that always makes my skin crawl because it was so casual. My best friend and I growing up always used to try and look as grown as possible and walk down the side of the highway in Bolton to get attention. Do you know how fucked up you have to be at age 10 to think grown men hitting on you is flattering? That feeling never went away and only got worse as I grew up, constantly inviting harassment and by virtue of ignorance- allowing abuse. Only in the last few years have I been unpacking all of this. So, when did you first notice yourself as a sexual being? When did you first notice men looking at you with desire? When did you notice you had sexual power? How did it make you feel and did it impact your behaviour in any way? Did you enjoy it, want more, and intentionally seek that attention? Did it gross you out and make you want to cover up? Really try and dig into your memory bank to find some of those initial feelings about being watched, getting attention for your body, and how you behaved moving forward. How much of your need to be desired by men is wrapped in genuine interest and how much of it is conditioning you to seek that approval?

Authentic Expression:

Up until a few years ago the only blueprint I ever followed was the one laid out by whoever my favourite person was at the time. As a child I didn’t really have a solid identity. I was the good, quiet, book smart nerdy girl who loved learning. I was made fun of, ignored and bullied. My personality and expression was to take up as little space as possible, not be seen, and just do whatever the cool kids did. I became a leaf at the mercy of wherever the wind blew me. I was told to be the tree, I pretended to be the tree, but I was always the leaf. As I got older and transitioned from middle to elementary school I was hyper-focused on identifying behaviours and aesthetics that would make me acceptable. Okay well, she’s got boobs and wears tight jeans, she’s wearing Holister and Uggs, she’s got long hair and is super flirty, how hard could this be? Very.

In grade 5 I was sitting in a class with a supply teacher, decked out in my baggy white man t-shirts and the 3 bras I stole from Value Village. The group of popular boys threw a glass of water on my chest and exposed the rainbow of colours on my chest. I suppose coming to school one day as an “ironing board” and having boobs the next was pretty obvious. That didn’t stop me, I just got better at making fake boobs. Instead of multiple bras I would just stuff them with socks and wear a tight tank top underneath to hold it all in place. That was exposed too. One time I bought an old, raggedy pair of Uggs from one of the popular girls- I *paid* to take her old boots off of her because it was my only chance at even coming close to having the coveted Uggs. They lasted a few days before they fell apart and I went back to peasant status. (I never left)

So, okay cool, I definitely wasn’t getting in with the Abercrombie, American Eagle pretty girls but I tried. So I moved to the grunge, goth, punk girls. Success. I had found the dark, hyper-sexual expression that I was looking for. Did I necessarily enjoy it? No, I felt like a fucking loser showing up to shows in the basement of a church wearing a tutu and corset, like why?! Because acceptance. Because friends. Because fitting in felt like survival. This pattern of adopting personality traits and then abandoning them over and over again became my normal. Constantly morphing and adopting and releasing and adopting and morphing to become the perfect version of a woman that everyone else but me accepted- was my only mission. Those early threads of doing everything I could to be seen as a Real Woman carried on my entire life. In relationships I quite literally was a carbon copy of whoever I dated. Always the cool, chill, fun, girl because I would never say no. I’m down for whatever you’re down for babe!!!!!!!!! Except I was absolutely not fucking down for whatever. The amount of country music I’ve listened to while my ears bled…

I once dated a heavy extrovert for 2 years and neither of us could understand why I was never happy- most likely because I wasn’t even me at the time, I was the cool, fun, chill girl!!!!!!!!!! I love sports!!!!!!! Totally love partying with your friends all the time!!!!!!! That shit came to a screeching halt one weekend when all of his friends and I took the subway downtown and at once point I was so not into it and so turned off by his fratty, hockey bro friends that I literally just stood up at the next exit and got off the subway without saying a word. I was just tired of being miserable and doing whatever everyone else wanted. And all of it was for men. All of it. All the boys I let put their greasy ass hands on me in highschool because I wanted to be liked. All of the men I met up with behind schools to give them a blow job to feel a moment of affection. All of the men who hurt me because I stayed on dates well after my gut played a 26-minute red flag symphony. The men that I’ve been absolutely disgusted by staring at me as I walk down the street. And yet I catch myself sucking in my stomach or fixing my hair because I still want to feel like people are attracted to me even when I’m repulsed by them. What the actual fuck?! At what point do we shake ourselves and reclaim all of this energy spent on making sure we’re acceptable to men? To ANYONE else? How exhausting.

There’s… a lot of unpacking to do. Our personality is literally the product of a million different memories, traumas, conditioning, advice, and some misdirected positive reinforcement. Our authentic, natural, innate, passionate, magical self has been buried time and time again. But we are in there. The real soul inside of us is underneath it all and we need to take responsibility to unpack it and dissolve the layers. We have to be humble and adopt the perspective that evolving who you are is the most organic self-love you can have. Trying to stay rigid or doing what you believe is expected of you to receive love is self-sabotage. It’s abuse. If you attract people by being inauthentic doesn’t that mean you need to remain inauthentic to keep them? Doesn’t it mean that every time you trust your gut you’re betraying their idea of you? 

Humans are resilient as fuck- we can reinvent ourselves over and over and over. We can die a million deaths and feel a million heart breaks and still rise. Buddhism calls this “samsara”. It’s the idea that until the day we die, and then forever more- we are constantly going through death and rebirth cycles. It’s not only natural and normal it’s the healthiest way to live. What could be more self-sabotaging than staying rigid in your beliefs or behaviour because a past version of you thought they knew better? We need to normalize changing our minds. We need to stop pushing this “you’ve changed” idea like it’s a bad thing. I have maybe 50 more years on this planet and I intend to explore every single nook and cranny of my potential- NO ONE ON THIS EARTH WILL EVER COME BETWEEN ME AND MY AUTHENTIC SELF. Especially not the crusty ass patriarchy.

But getting to this point requires the brutal dismantling of everything I know about myself. It requires me to go through my personality with a fine tooth comb and asking myself what is working for me and what’s not. Asking who shaped this part and that part of me. It’s the painful exploration of which parts of my soul have been reactive to pain and no longer serve me. It’s loving myself enough to let go of who I think I am.

Personality is a survival mechanism. You may think you’re just a shy, quiet, sensitive person but when you trace that behaviour back, I bet you learned somewhere along the way that the quiet, shy girls are less vulnerable, take up less space, and aren’t seen as much- and maybe in your world that meant survival. 

Maybe you’re someone who has a hard time expressing anger or sadness because anytime you ever expressed your feelings you were shut down, made fun of and those emotions were used against you. 

Maybe that hyper-sexual side to you is actually a trauma response because you felt rejected and neglected growing up and realized getting attention through your sexuality felt like power. And you craved that. 

What about your rage? You know when someone brushes up against your triggers and you go into a black-out of overwhelm and can’t control yourself? Trauma babygirl. Having unregulated emotions is the brightest red flag that your soul is desperate for healing. That you have been ignored, punished, rejected, and belittled too many times for showing your feelings and now they spill out whether you like it or not. 

Well I hear you. I see you. I am you. I know you’re hurting because you’re confused and don’t know where to start. I know you’re exhausted from always trying to be “better”, I know you’re overwhelmed and wish you could have it easier. So let me help. Because the real you is absolutely fucking perfect.

I’m not going to give you some big dramatic homework or give you a bunch of journal prompts. But what I want you to do while you move through your life every single day is to stay ultra present in your body. That in itself can be fucking torture if you’re avoiding yourself. So stay present. Check in. Talk to yourself. Ask yourself each time along the way if what you’re doing is serving you. 

When you’re grocery shopping, stay more present in your body, talk to yourself. Ask yourself if everything you pick up is something you actually want to eat or if you feel it’s what you need to. Are you buying foods that make you happy? That comfort you? Are you denying yourself pleasure? Are you buying things you know make you feel like shit?

When you’re getting dressed, what are your go-to outfits? Are they ones that make you feel like the real you? Are they “Human Costumes” that everyone else wears, that you adopt to feel normal? To not stand out? Who is your expression for? You? Men? Other women? Other weirdos? 

When you’re being intimate with someone, check in with yourself. Personally being present during sex was one of the hardest things. It made me hyper aware of my body, every roll, all the hair, the way the light hit my cellulite, I was so in my head my whole life that I never experienced a true orgasm from someone else until the last few years. So when you’re being intimate does it come natural to you? Do you dissociate to fake orgasms or moan louder or put on a performance for the other person while all of the cells inside of you go numb? How much of your intimacy is organic and natural and how much is constructed from your idea of porn or what is expected of you?

It’s a lot. I know. I don’t know why I always have to write blogs that tear people’s souls apart but I don’t know any other way to live. I physically cannot stay above the surface because the real healing is in the ooey gooey centre that we’re all avoiding. 

So if I brought you to a place where any of these reflections have hurt you, please reach out to a friend, and if there isn’t anyone who would understand you can leave a comment here or message me. 

I love you so much that I’m willing to hold your hand and walk you into the fire. I’m willing to sit here with you and show you the ways that your pain is not your fault because I believe that you have infinite potential to be a more authentic, happy, expressive human. But you can’t get there until you learn to unlearn first. 

This world has an appetite for cis, white, hetero sugar-free oatmeal. And we are a 5 star breakfast buffet with all the fucking fixings. Oh you want an omelette with 45 different veggies and sauces? We have it. You want pancakes with chocolate and syrup and sprinkles and smoke bombs and fucking fireworks? WE HAVE IT. We are everything, we are all of the things, we are infinite beauty and power and wisdom and alchemy and potential and we don’t need anyone else’s opinion on how we express that.

So first, let’s excavate this human shell to find that spicy, electric soul of ours and light the entire world on fire.

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