Loving Your "Self" Is Rebellious in a Patriarchy

It is awfully hard to love yourself when the society in which you live deems your “self” less important than others’.

What does it mean to love yourself? Self-love, while a beloved buzzphrase and ubiquitous hashtag, is rarely examined. In this issue of Body Politics, we’re going to talk about how our society values men’s “self” over women’s “self,” and how this ingrained hierarchy of value and worth holistically benefits the patriarchy. 

A patriarchal society that favors, benefits and upholds men subsequently teaches women on a conscious and subconscious level that their “self” is inherently less important. A patriarchy is by design and definition a social system in which men have power (legally, culturally, socially, politically, monetarily) and women are subsidiaries or secondaries. A patriarchal belief structure tells us that men are more important in society, and therefore more deserving. Of power, of money, of space, of time, of worth. A patriarchal society is structured by men, for men. Women are the afterthought. A man’s “self” is prioritized in every way.

As feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “He is the Subject, he is the Absolute - and she is the Other.”

This means that when we examine our society, its laws, its priorities, its culture — every little bit of it — male “self” is prioritized. This is true across the societal spectrum: Politically, culturally, legally, scientifically, monetarily, each and every bit of our society. In a society designed by and for the Subject, the “Others” must try and squeeze in where they can. 

This places a lower value on the female "self," as it is seen to be secondary. This leads to women's "self" being systemically subordinated or outright denied.  

It’s no wonder a woman loving herself is fucking battle. 

It is awfully hard to love yourself when the society in which you live deems your “self” less important than others’.

A great example of denying women value to their “self” can be seen across topics relating to body autonomy. Women’s bodies are treated as collective objects in our society. From catcalling (yes I just cited myself I'm a brilliant iconic bitch), to commenting on women’s bodies on the Internet, to sexual assault statistics, to laws being written about women’s health and bodies — women’s bodies are not their own. The “self” is lost, or outright denied, when it comes to women. 

Our society goes beyond denying us self-love. It actively encourages us to hate ourselves. Self-worth is intrinsically connected to a fight against self-hatred and for self-love. Because when we're denied value and worth, we look at what's wrong with us in order to justify being treated as lesser. This helps the patriarchy survive, because we excuse its treatment of us by looking to our own flaws -- flaws that have been prescribed to us by our society. 

Deep-seated self-hatred makes us more dependent, more insecure, more submissive, and therefore more controlled. The patriarchy thrives off of women’s self-hatred, and reaps political, social and economic benefits. 

Our society exploits these prescribed flaws and the accompanying self-hatred, teaching women consciously and subconsciously to strive for “perfection” in order to be “worthy”. Our worth is connected to our physical appearance, yet another twist of the knife from the patriarchy and women's value of "self."  

The most obvious case of ingrained self-hatred comes in valuing our physical selves. Our relationship with our bodies is a difficult one. Society implants in us at a young age to hate our physical selves. Hate our bodies, hate our faces, hate our aging, hate our weight, hate everything. Our ideal physical attributes are shaped by cultural norms, which are determined by individuals with power. Women are taught to comply with these dictated patriarchal norms in order to be deemed desirable to those in power in order to have "value."  

While we are all as women conditioned to hate our bodies, it is crucial to recognize that some bodies are much more accepted or loved than others. Levels of deprecation for our appearances depend on an intersection of privileges, and we cannot fail to name our privilege in body positivity or body neutrality. As a cis, white, thin, able-bodied woman, society will affirm my body as a “norm.” This doesn’t mean that I don’t experience a berating of external pressures and conditioning to hate my body, but it does mean that I am experiencing this at such a different level than someone who does not fall into these privileged categories. Women are told to strive to be perfect in order to determine your value and worth, but that concept of perfect is a myth constantly perpetuated by our society. And realizing that this image of “perfect” is racist, sizeist, agist, ableist, and transphobic is mandatory if we are to dismantle it. 

Not only does self-hatred keep us in controlled states that lower our self-esteem, self-worth, and our concept of “self” as a whole, patriarchal societies quite literally profit from our self-hatred. Buy this to lose weight; Buy this to look more beautiful; Buy this to make your waist smaller but also your tits bigger; Buy this makeup to look ‘natural’; Buy this dress to “flatter your figure” aka look thin; Buy this diet supplement from this celebrity who has never taken it; Buy this filter to take away your cellulite; Buy this cream to reverse aging; Better yet buy into Botox because old women are gross! Our insecurities and packaged and sold back to us.  The next time you hate yourself, ask yourself who is benefiting from this hatred. Spoiler: It’s not you. 

Women are taught to seek external validation in order to confirm that we have lived up to these societal standards of worth. Then our society refuses to provide this validation, leaving us striving continuously for a perfection that simply cannot exist. 

Women then strive to be "enough" in order to "deserve" value, worth, and love. For if we are not enough, how could we be of value? It keeps us constantly hungry for external validation that we are "worthy." 

The cruel twist of reality is that there isn't a moment that women are simply deemed "enough." You're either "not enough," or you're "too much." She’s too loud, too difficult, too bossy, too ambitious, too bitchy; She’s not smart enough, she’s not pretty enough, she’s not motherly enough, she’s not caring enough. In this paradigm of too much or not enough, no matter the side you fall under, it's excusing why you aren't worthy, or why your value is lesser. It's two sides to the same coin. You're too much of something? That's why you're unworthy. You're not enough? Also unworthy. 

If we dare, if we FUCKING DARETH to love ourselves or hey let's be honest even remotely like ourselves, we’re criticized and chastised. We’re labeled cocky, self-absorbed, conceited, narcissistic, selfish, bitches, cunts — whatever the word, really what it’s saying is, how dare this woman love herself when society has been so fucking clear that she shouldn’t?How could SHE love herself?

And this is the fatal blow when it comes to a woman loving herself. We're trapped in a lose-lose situation. This double-edged sword is a weapon deployed against women in order to keep them submissive in a man’s world. A patriarchy *hates* women who know their worth and value and demand to be treated as such, because it means women will demand to be treated as equals, which completely underpins patriarchy.

I’ll leave you with this iconic quote from poet Nikki Giovanni: “Show me someone not full of herself, and I’ll show you a hungry person.”

Today’s a great day to love the fuck out of yourself hun.