PAST EVENT:LADYFEST MCR speaks: Self Effacement

As well as promoting our events and activities we aim to bring you an insight into the thoughts of the members of our collective on various aspects of feminism and female experience. Jo Howard kicks us off. 

Let’s talk about Self-effacement.

It’s something we are taught to do from an early age. We deflect compliments, for fear of seeming self-satisfied, or worse “up ourselves”. We hide our light, because hells knows, that shit could probably blind someone!

I see this as a very British thing. It’s not nice to blow your own trumpet, says the received wisdom of the national psyche; leave that to the yanks. But think about it. Effacement, comes from the French verb “effacer” which means to delete, erase, clear, remove, wipe, obliterate, rub out, blot out, stamp out, need I go on? Do we really want to do this to ourselves?

As women it can be harder to get our voices heard. Sometimes, we are just not present in the positions of power, sometimes those with power defer to our male counterparts. Sometimes we are just too busy holding shit together to lift our heads up and say “Oi here’s what I think!” The patriarchy already effaces us, so if we self-efface it’s even more damaging to ourselves and womankind.

When it comes to our appearance, the media and the beauty industry pit us against each other. It’s a competition we are told and we’d better splash the cash to keep up with those other bitches because there is not enough beauty/light/love to go around. That competition belittles us, and as feminists or even just as sane women, we want to reject it. If we are complimented on the way we look, we may not want to be seen as someone who cares about that stuff. Perhaps we bat it off, make a joke so we don’t seem like we are engaging in that shitty cute war.

But here’s the thing, it’s nice to feel beautiful! If we try really hard to forget about the whole beauty industry, beauty is something that greatly enriches our lives. The beauty of nature has the power to astound us and touch our hearts. A cherry tree in blossom, a landscape of rolling hills dappled by sunshine. These things lift our souls! And you know what? We are a part of nature. We are part of the beauty of the universe and we need to reclaim our right to feel beautiful in elemental terms. Not I am beautiful like Jennifer Lawrence, but I am beautiful like a freaking mountain in springtime!

So next time I get a compliment I’m not going to say “oh but my hair’s so thin/I got that from Help the Aged for 50p/Yeah it’s good for covering up my XYZ” I’m just going to say “Thanks” and then store and internalise the good shit that’s come my way.

That’s beauty, what about art? If you create anything it’s incredibly hard to put it out there in the world for other humans to dissect. Self-effacement feels like a safety net. If I belittle my own work first, then it takes away the sting when others criticise it. But it doesn’t take away the sting. Not one little bit. Self-effacement in art is an act of self-harm that is born of vanity. When we diss our own work, even just a little bit, what we are really saying is “I want you to know that I am intelligent and I have good taste, in fact my wit and panache is such that I totally realise my own work is a pile of shit!” That’s fucked up isn’t it, but we do it all the time and it holds us back.

When I tell people about my choir I often point out that I am the musical director but I have no musical training and I make it up as I go along. I do this in case they are a better musician than me who might come along and call me because I don’t know music theory. But this is stupid self-sabotage! What do they hear? That choir is a bit shit, so I won’t go. That’s me holding myself back. What I should is talk about how we are women of all different ages and backgrounds, but we are

united in a certain punk spirit, jamming out the songs together and having a load of fun doing it. And I do, mostly, but that self-effacement gremlin jumps out at the most unexpected moments!

I’ve kind of resolved this year to put as much work as possible out into the world and have the balls (or maybe I should say the mammaries – I just like the idea of tit power) to not self-efface. To just go “Yeah I did this” without completing the sentence with “You might not like it / agree with me but… ” Because what’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone might give you negative feedback, but that’s OK. If you play the game of trying to pre-empt criticism, you are nor fore-armed, you are just crippled by doubt. If you get negative feedback, lick your wounds, give yourself space to decide whether it is truthful or constructive, then make some more kick-ass art.

We need more women to make art that gets seen, heard and experienced. We are so used to consuming art that’s produced by men that there is an inherent imbalance which is just not healthy. We can all do something about that. Ladyfest is brilliant collective action, because it works on so many levels. We support important causes, like Womensaid, we champion female artists and musicians, and perhaps what’s even better is that we work together to do it. I am astounded by the array of skills and talent this group possesses.

But to finish, I just want to say one thing, let’s experiment in our personal and professional lives with not self-effacing. Let’s just try not doing it and see what happens. Let’s not say “Yeah I kind of do a bit of art stuff”…but …”I am an artist!” Lets remove the kind ofs, the buts, the negatives and own what we do. Because it is ours and we’re coming! Watch out world!

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