Independence or just contrariness?

I recently read two blog posts that made me think – but probably not in the way the authors intended.

The first was by a feminist who made much of the fact that she had no desire to be beautiful, and in fact took steps (with regards to dress and personal grooming) to ensure that she wouldn’t be considered so. The reason for it was that she didn’t want to look attractive to men; she would rather attract attention because of what she did, not what she looked like.

This sounds extremely praiseworthy – I think most people, not just women, would rather be noticed because of their deeds and skills rather than their physical appearance. (Except models, of course.) However, if you stop and think about it, the picture changes a bit.

While I can understand a woman continually pestered by male attention using this way to avoid it (but in the case of the woman above, this wasn’t the case – from her blog, she was in the same category as most of us: scrubs up pretty well, but not so startlingly lovely as to cause car accidents), it still means that she is allowing male behaviour and attitudes to dictate how she looks and the choices she makes. Instead of dressing to impress men, she dresses to un-impress them. Her own preferences are still subordinated to what men will think.

The second blog post was about following trends, or not. Not so much in the original post, but certainly in the comments, there was a great deal of self-congratulation from people who asserted that they would deliberately not buy an item, or do an activity, because it was trendy – even if they actually wanted whatever it was.

How does this make sense? How does this express your individuality? The way I look at it, it doesn’t. If you don’t buy the article you really like, or don’t try the activity you think would be fun, just because it’s trendy, you are still allowing fashion to dictate your choices. It’s just that instead of following fashion, you are deliberately doing the opposite. A bit like children doing the opposite of what their parents want, just to make the point that they can.

In both cases, we have people who think they are being independent by not doing what society expects of them, but if you look deeper, it’s not independence at all. In the first case, the person’s own preferences are subordinated to her perception of what men [don’t] prefer; in the second, it’s a pure “everyone is doing X, therefore I won’t do X” with no attention paid to the personal desirability of X.

In neither case is the person actually doing what they want to do. It’s still all about what other people think or what other people are doing.

True independence is not about just doing the opposite to what people expect of you. Independence involves thinking about what you want, and making your choice based on the advantages and disadvantages to you. You don’t decide whether or not to get an iPhone based on whether it’s trendy or not, but on whether you can afford it and you like the features. You don’t make your wardrobe decisions based on what men (or women!) will think when they look at you, but on how it makes you feel about yourself.

Independence is harder than it looks, because it means that you really do have to disregard the trends and expectations of society. Your direction is not pre-programmed: you cannot just be a swimmer with the current or against it. You actually have to think, and decide, this time, each time, do you want to swim with the current or against it? Or do you want to get out of the river and strike out in a new direction entirely?

OK, end rant…

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