Discover more from Other Feminisms
Escaping the Male Gaze
By seeking an escape from being a woman
The New York Times has been running a series of articles on “The Inner Pandemic,” looking at the mental health struggles of young people who had their childhood or adolescence disrupted by covid.
The most recent installment, “A Teen’s Journey Into the Internet’s Darkness and Back Again,” focuses on the difficulty of finding your social life directed solely or primarily through the internet. The article takes C. as the central figure. C is now 22, and first began receiving requests for nude pictures from adults at age 10.
C now identifies as non-binary, and, in their own words, sees that new identity as a position of greater strength and safety:
During the pandemic, C adopted the pronoun “they.” The change reflected their understanding that they have “power over how people perceive me and how I perceive myself,” C said. “Instead of accepting the role that was put on me, I’ve made my own.”
“Now that I’m alive, I want to be alive and pursue music,” C said. That includes being comfortable appearing in online music videos and other social media: “I’m more complex than just being a little girl on the internet who’s, you know, just for looking at.”
C added: “In my adult nonbinary body, I don’t mind people looking at me, because I feel like I’m in control now.”
In a previous Other Feminisms post, I was reflecting on the push to use gender neutral language around birth and maternity, and some commenters asked what women had to lose from broader language.
One of my concerns is that it sometimes feels like the only part of being a woman we get to describe as particular to women is being the victim of sexism. If that’s what it means to be a woman, who doesn’t want to find an exit?
A little later that week, the Style section of the Times ran a piece on TikTok filters that let you show the asymmetries of your face, mirroring first one half of your face, then the other. The best summation of the feature went to “Olivia Alicandri, a 22-year-old stage crew worker for Blue Man Group in New York City: ‘Guys, new body dysmorphia filter just dropped!’”
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I have trouble really internalizing how much younger girls have grown up seeing (and judging) their faces. I’m somewhat prosopagnosic, which I think leaves me less attentive to all faces, including mine. I grew up with a subscription to Zillions, the kids magazine put out by Consumer Reports, ran regular features on how ads misrepresent reality in order to deceive you. I didn’t want to be pretty—I wanted to avoid being a chump.
Some of the pressures for young girls have been constant, but it seems like there’s a much more pervasive visual yardstick to measure yourself against (and worry you fall short of). Growing up, I read novels, where I had a limited ability to imagine what the protagonist looked like, but on social media, it’s the first thing you discover.