An open letter to Anastasia Steele (and others)

Dear Ana,

dear anaYou don’t know me, but I met you recently. And I realized I’ve been surrounded by girls like you for my entire life.

I haven’t read the entirety of your story yet. I read 370 pages of a book written about you, called Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m going to read the rest of it soon, but by the time one a.m. rolled around, your story was making me a little nauseous and upset. I spent my mostly-sleepless night thinking about you, with a knot of worry churning in my stomach. And I realized that since I’m not your friend, that I can’t text you or call you, I needed to write you a letter. There’s a lot of things I want to tell you, Ana.

We have a lot in common. We’re close to the same age, we both love classic British novels, don’t have enormous amounts of money, and live quite simply. We both have the ability to trip over empty air and we both blush when confronted.

We both have never been in love or a relationship, and we both don’t really see it in our near future. We, along with millions of other women, have succumbed to society’s unwritten rule that to be desired we have to be as beautiful as a twentysomething A-list Hollywood actress.

On page 24, you say “I wonder if there’s something wrong with me.” When Christian Grey leaves after you have coffee together, you think “What was I thinking?” assuming that someone good looking and upper class wouldn’t be attracted to you. On page 92 you say, “God, I hope I don’t let him down. He’ll find me lacking in some way.” Page 188: “Could I feel any more inadequate?” These are just some of the many, many, many instances, Ana, where you express your insecurities about your worth as a woman in the first 370 pages of the book about you.

Like you, there are millions of girls who think they aren’t good enough based on their appearance and/or their previous sexual/romantic experience. Modern culture has constructed a timeline of milestones that need to be followed in order to be considered normal: first boyfriend(s) in middle school, first broken heart(s) in high school, lost virginity before/during/after prom, first one-night stand during frosh week. These are basically designed to make us feel left out if none of these happen to us.

By the time we reach our age, Ana, without having a significant other, we are faced with the horror of the next ten years’ worth of our friends’ Facebook engagement announcements. Judging from popular movies, TV shows, and books, our reaction is supposed to be distraught, bitter, alcohol-induced, and followed by a series of one-night stands.

Being single in our society is portrayed as a terrible omen. And you’re not the first, or the last, to wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you aren’t being chased by mobs of Colin Firths and George Clooneys–or anyone at all.

fiftyshades-gallery_0 copy
They made a movie about your book, Ana. I wish your story had warranted THIS tagline.

Ana, just because you’ve never had a boyfriend doesn’t mean you’re not worthy. Of course you are. From what I know about you, you’re nice, generous, smart, and it’s relatively fun to be your friend.

Please don’t validate, or invalidate yourself, based on your relationship status, Ana. You are an individual, not an extension of someone who wants to have sex with you.

Regardless of whether people flirt with you, want to date you, want to have a one-night stand with you, you are a person. One entire human being. You are not less of a person because you are single.

It’s okay to be single and happy. It’s okay to be single and lonely. It’s okay to fall anywhere in between, with happy days and lonely days tossed together like trail mix. It’s okay and normal to be insecure, but this does not mean you are unworthy of good things.

Like many young women, Ana, I’m worried you fell for the first man you are insanely attracted to regardless of his personality. I’m worried that movies, TV shows, and books have too greatly romanticized the idea of a young woman falling for a broody, hot-and-cold-mannered, rich man who inexplicably turns out to be marriage material. We’ve grown up in a world of Mr. Darcys and boys who pinch you in class because they “like you” but this doesn’t mean falling for a now-rude, now-polite person is healthy for us.

Of course there’s something magnetic about a man who is charming and warm one day and cold and distant the next. He’s dangerous to like because you never know if he’ll like you back–and when he does like you, oh, that’s the best feeling, isn’t it Ana?

But he’s not always the healthiest man to love, especially for women who have never been in love before.

This is what I’m worried about, Ana. Unlike most young women, you are the main character in a franchise that has (for some reason) become incredibly popular. It seems as though you jumped into a rocky relationship with a man based on sexual desire, and his behaviour on nearly every page is very, very, questionable. I’m not talking about his sexual tastes–honestly, the healthiest times you two interact is when you’re getting it on. It also seems like it’s the only time you actually like him. Maybe this will change over the course of the books about you, but even if your relationship does get healthier it doesn’t change the fact that it’s unhealthy in the first 370 pages. This is why I’m writing this letter.

I really hope you learn to love yourself, Ana, and make healthy choices for yourself.

Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robes copyYou aren’t worth any more or less by being single or being in a relationship. Need I remind you that Elizabeth I, Jane Austen, and according to their Wikipedia pages, Anne and Emily Brontë (whom you mention you enjoy), never married? They remain some of the most famous women in history. They’re totally valid and worthy, right? So why do you think you’re not?

I think that more emphasis needs to be put on female strength rather than the apparent innate need for a significant other to validate our very existence. I love that you get to have lots of orgasms, because let’s face it, the media doesn’t really show female orgasms as a real thing, just an elusive myth.

But no offense, Ana, you’re kind of a disappointing role model. I wish you were’t, because there are so many women who feel the same way as you. I really want you to be strong, autonomous, independent, and healthy. And I want you to know what is good for you and what’s not, and when to walk away from something that is unhealthy and harmful. These are the kinds of women we need to be spotlighting in “romance” novels/movies.

It’s important to be your own best friend. Think of your closest friend. You know how beautiful and kind and smart they are from your perspective? I want you to learn to see yourself this way. I want you and women (and everyone else), to be content with yourself, to know you are more than your relationship status, and to be able to look at yourself naked in the mirror and think yes, I am pretty dang beautiful, and I am totally a human being worthy of happiness, whether or not that means being in love or in bed with someone or being single.

I don’t need someone to tell me I’m beautiful to know it. Yes, it’s nice to hear it, especially on days I’m feeling sad or lonely, but most days, most days I already know I’m beautiful–not to mention awesome.

So, dear Ana, and all of the women like you, I hope you grow to love yourself as you are, and not wait until your Colin Firth (or Jamie Dornan) comes along to sweep you off your feet. He might never show up, anyway, due to lost connections or unfortunate coincidences, so it’s best to love yourself as you are now. And if you don’t, maybe it’s time to start.

Thanks so much for reading this, Ana. I’ll be thinking of you. And when I meet the Anastasia Steeles of the world, I’ll be trying my best to show them what I have tried to show you in this letter.

Love,

Libby

14 movies with strong female characters to watch on Valentine’s Day

(Alternate title: 14 movies with strong female characters to watch on Valentine’s Day instead of Movies that Portray Women as One-Dimensional, Subject to the Sexual Dominance of Toxic Masculinity, and Lacking Physical/Emotional/Sexual Autonomy.)

Welcome to my third annual Valentine’s Day blog post.

To summarize what I have said in years past, February 14th is a commercialized “holiday” that celebrates the societal pressure of exchanging expensive objects and/or feelings and/or bodily fluids. Basically I think it’s dumb.

I’m not hating on celebrating love here, don’t get me wrong, but I think commercializing love and creating a culture where happiness is based on whether or not you have a significant other is downright ridiculous.

It creates an environment where love and sex are glamourized without being discussed in educational ways.

Valentine’s Day is a great time* to talk to the people you love (and/or random strangers!) about consent, healthy relationships and safe sex. Have discussions about feminism, marriage equality, intersectionality, and LGBTQ+ issues. These are vital when it comes to maintaining the healthy relationships the media keeps telling us we need.

Love and relationships are more diverse than the media lets on, and it is important to bring these discussions to the table with your partners, parents, children, friends (and almost literally everyone else).

With movies like Fifty Shades of Grey hitting theatres on Valentine’s Day, it’s especially important to talk about consent and the difference between a healthy relationship and an unhealthy one. For this movie to be released on Valentine’s Day–the most “romantic” day of the year–it should not go unnoticed that this film (and its sequels) is causing debates about manipulation, abuse, consent, and BDSM.

These are good conversations to have.

Valentine’s Day is also a perfect day to support portrayals of women in media that are actually, you know, awesome.

So instead of spending $50 to see a movie where women are yet again diminished to nothing other than a submissive, vulnerable, materialistic, sexual being, why not watch a movie starring some strong women in the comfort of your own home?

People are perfectly capable of existing without a romantic relationship, in case you thought you were going to crumble into dust because you’re single. No worries. You are not going to crumble.

So as per internet tradition, I’m providing you with some alternate ideas on how to spend your V-Day, whether or not you’re spending it with your partner, your parents, your friends, or your cat.

This year I’m going to throw some movies at you starring badass ladies who don’t need no man.

Or even if they have a man, they are not entirely dependent on him for literal survival.

1. The Hunger Games

Katniss not only faces the physical and psychological challenges of the Games, but also society’s obsession with beauty and romance. She kicks ass (literally and metaphorically), fights perceptions of material beauty, and literally overthrows a government with the help of some very badass female and pro-female characters.

2. Mary Poppins

A business woman who takes no crap from no one, Mary is a sharp-witted realist who don’t need no man and just enjoys their friendship. (Suggested by Cassie.)

3. Little Women

Jo March, her sisters, and Marmee have been my heroes from childhood. Unconventional, independent, and unafraid to defy society, they are all talented, autonomous, and role models to those around them. Ripe with female relationships and highlighting female strength, just watch it. Please. (Suggested by Cassie.)

4. Elizabeth the Golden Age

She’s a warrior. She’s unmarried. She doesn’t need sex, romance, or a man in order to rule as the greatest monarch in British history and kick patriarchy’s ass in the process.

5. The Messenger

How often do we see a woman pull an arrow out of her own chest?

6. The Help

I don’t recall any moments where these women backed down because the patriarchy told them to. Not to mention teaching girls about self-esteem and the value of treating others as equals. (Suggested by Jordan.)

7. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

In which total of three (THREE) female characters are formidable business women who balance sky-high careers with relationships, family, marriage, and politics. (Admittedly they are all white, heterosexual, and cisgender women…but I mean, it’s a start and still deserves a pat on the back because this is still far too rare a sight in film.)

8. Mulan

Because Mulan.

9. Frozen and/or Brave

Yes I went there. No you cannot see Frozen or Brave too many times. And Elsa, Anna, and Merida make up quite the matriarchy if I do say so myself.

10. Jane Austen movies

Because who doesn’t love sassy, fierce, independent women ahead of their time? (Emma suggested by Sarah.)

11. The Iron Lady.

Because female politicians. (This is on my personal to-see list.)

12. Clueless

It’s based on Jane Austen’s Emma who is one of the most badass female characters in classic literature. Sooo. (Suggested by CassieSarahJordan. I haven’t actually seen it, yet. If this many different people suggested it…the people have spoken. Also read this article).

13. The Color Purple

“It’s a movie with such strong female characters and how strong they freaking are. The support they give each other defines the way women should treat each other.” * *

14. Thelma and Louise

“So many feminist overtones. It re-scripts typical gender roles of society and it’s in general a great film about strong and capable women, and the struggles they face.” * *

*It’s always a good time to talk about these issues!

**Jordan kindly offered these brief descriptions since for some reason I have yet to see Thelma and Louise or The Color Purple and I feel like these are important to include.

~

I only posted 14 movies…well, because Valentine’s Day is the 14th. I know there are more movies out there, so leave them in the comments below or tweet them to me @LibbySometimes!

2014’s V-Day Post: 28 Things to do on Valentine’s Day (Illustrated with Harry Potter Gifs)