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In Conversation with Mira Gonzalez

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Nowadays, the phrase “self-care” is used frequently. In the present day, feminism in late-stage capitalism is emphasizing “caring for oneself” in reaction to continued discrimination against disadvantaged communities.

This impulse is absolutely understandable, but I am uncertain of how helpful self-care is in actuality for the well-being of marginalized people and to what extent it serves as a tool to divert attention away from true activism.

Is the goal of self-care within the modern vocabulary to be physically and mentally healthier? Or, is it akin to when George W. Bush recommended that we go shopping to feel better after 9/11?

Currently, capitalism is emphasizing the idea of female empowerment that can be sold to the public. We have been told that women are now equal due to the fact that there are all-female versions of previously male-led films.

But, is this really a sign of progress? Representation is indeed important in working against systemic inequality, however there are still many issues that need to be addressed, such as the lack of legal abortions, the mass incarceration of women of color for non-violent offenses, and the fact that a woman is still most likely to be murdered in her own home.

Advocates of late-stage capitalism are energetically pushing women into roles traditionally occupied by men, as if a round peg can fit into a square hole, and insisting that we have to appreciate this or we are considered to be not feminist.

Rather than giving women the opportunity to carve out their own set of roles–to narrate their own tales–we are promoting the idea that the only feminism that is accepted is one that is accepted by men in a culture that actively discriminates against women.

Audrey Wollen, an artist and scholar, examines the female reaction to pertinent issues, and how emotional responses can progress political rhetoric.

I first encountered Audrey Wollen in 2015, when she was working on a series of self-portraits for Instagram. One photo particularly stood out: Wollen was in the nude, reclining on her side in bed, her red hair contrasting with her pale skin.

Her feet were so rosy that they almost matched her hair. She was facing away from the viewer, looking directly at a laptop set on a bed tray, on which a blurred image of her nude body and face could be seen.

This photo was a modern interpretation of Diego Velazquez’s 1651 painting ‘The Rokeby Venus’. It features a nude woman lying on her side, looking at her reflection in a mirror held by a kneeling cherub. This is the only known representation of Venus which lacks any hint of divinity.

Wollen, as an academic, has developed the notion of Sad Girl Theory, which views the sorrow and misery experienced by women as part of a wider pattern of political defiance.

This viewpoint re-examines the idea of the suicidal female who will not come to terms with her anguish. It is in a sense an investigative endeavor.

The theory does not suggest a futuristic course of action, nor does it urge further self-harm. Instead, it seeks to provide a structure to appreciate practices of feminine distress that have been disregarded in the past, as part of a longer legacy of political opposition.

Wollen desires to acknowledge the suffering woman as a significant factor in the formation of our current comprehension of protest.

Wollen and I concur that protests are necessary in modern society; however, as Wollen notes, they are often discriminatory. 

A socialist feminist perspective reveals a lot of issues with our current understanding of political action. 

For example, I am a strong proponent of strikes to obtain improved job conditions; however, how can people living from paycheck to paycheck, taking care of a family and without a union boycott their job? 

How can we create parity in a world where the main approach to counter inequality excludes anybody who is not able-bodied and economically privileged?

Mira Gonzalez had the opportunity to converse with Wollen, a New Yorker who is currently pursuing a PhD in women’s literature with a focus on feminism and suicidality.

They decided on Google Hangouts as the platform for their chat, in which they discussed a plethora of topics, including female friendship, chronic illness, and of course, Britney Spears.

I. OUR SELF HAS FAILED TO BENEFIT US.

What characteristics are seen in the concept of Sad Girl Theory? Mira Gonzalez inquires.

Audrey Wollen: Sad Girl Theory re-conceptualizes the idea of female sadness and self-harm as an act of political rebellion and a part of a tradition of fighting for change. I am intrigued by sadness in its capacity as a feeling and an action. How the image of the sorrowful, suicidal female in popular culture can be reinterpreted using a feminist perspective.

Throughout the ages, the concept of “political resistance” has been based on contrasting social norms that reflect gender roles: taking action versus remaining passive, being open as opposed to keeping quiet, and combative as opposed to gentle.

The mode of protest that has been sanctioned and shaped by a male-driven mindset is certainly valid and important; however, I believe it is worth considering other approaches that have been overlooked due to their femininity.

These forms of “activism” have been disregarded; we concentrate on the frailty of the suicidal girl, but overlook the power of destruction that is created by that same vulnerability.

MG: In addition to outwardly visible self-destructive behaviors and suicidal thoughts, does Sad Girl Theory provide an alternate interpretation of other facets of being a female within an oppressive patriarchy?

Specifically I’m referring to activities that are not violent, but are instead imposed upon females, such as applying makeup or being a mother.

AW: I consider femininity, and the work of sustaining it, to be a deeply sorrowful and exhilarating experience, that can be both pleasurable and frightening. I mean that in the most positive way.

The concept of the self has been unhelpful. It only applies to a minority of the world’s population; and when women have expressed their selfhood, they have usually done so in a way that has caused oppression.

Therefore, I believe that it is essential to challenge the notion that ‘self-destructive tendencies’ are wrong. Destroying the self may be essential for women to be liberated; and it is also a part of a woman’s beauty routine.

The labor of “making up” one’s face can be seen as a kind of self-invention, a self-denial which goes hand-in-hand with more visible forms of self-harm.

The archetype of the “sad girl” is intensely feminized in an aesthetic sense, often portrayed as glamorous and beautiful- yet this is used to discredit her, despite the fact that the methods of self-expression she employs make perfect sense.

Showing oneself to the world is often the only way she is allowed to exist in the public sphere.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Manifesto for Maintenance Art has a great impact on me–it recognizes and celebrates the maintenance/care work of women and the less privileged (“What will happen after the revolution, who is going to take out the trash on Monday morning?”).

There’s something about caring for someone else, or taking care of oneself without being overly self-centered, just a display. [I find that] it’s fascinating to observe girls putting on makeup [as they] ride on the train, as it reveals a ritual in public and shows that “Ah, beauty? Yes, it’s something I manually craft each day.”

Section Two: Britney Spears Chooses to Shave her Hair

MG: When I contemplate Sad Girl Theory, the person that immediately comes to mind is Britney Spears from 2007.

The act of her cutting off her hair was incredibly frightening, even though there was no physical violence involved. It was almost as if she was inflicting violence on herself and displaying it to the public, which is more frightening than if she had taken it out on someone else.

Had she been violent to someone else, it would not have had the same impact and she would not have received as much sympathy. Self-harm is the most effective way for women to express their aggression.

AW: Expressing it as self-harm when she shaved her head makes sense to me, since her long blond hair was in a sense herself”.

MG: I believe the real horror came from being exposed to the immense suffering that is required for femininity to be profitable. It was not only her refusal of the conventional standards of beauty that frightened us, but the realization of the torment that goes into making it marketable.

That’s where the true terror lies.

Her action was not only a form of resistance against the limitations of her celebrity, but could also be considered anti-capitalist, even if that was not her intention.

She made fun of, and refused to abide by, the unrealistic expectations of young female pop stars and showed a profound sorrow that cannot be sold through traditional methods.

She compelled people to readdress their own understanding of adversity by openly expressing how her body sometimes felt like an imprisonment. (Celebrities: they experience similar struggles to the rest of us!)

AW: It seems that sadness is often represented in various forms. It’s hard to find an emotion that isn’t also for sale. Britney Spears was using her “breakdown” as an aesthetic, making her sorrow something tangible that could be shared between young women as a sign of fellowship.

As soon as I saw her shave her head, I immediately thought, I understand that feeling.

In the photograph that kept reappearing, she was smiling–offering a moment of intense pleasure (and perhaps fright) to those looking at it. I find this to be rather special because I think that sadness can often be strangely enjoyable.

It can be a state of being filled with many emotions.

MG: Indeed, the smile gave a frighteningly chaotic atmosphere to the event. It depicted that while she was cognizant of the fact that she was damaging herself and her career, she was still attentive to the incomparable joy that comes with ruining something exquisite.

AW: The idea of “ruining something beautiful” reminds me of the amusement that both children and adults alike gain from constructing something, only to then take it down. The more intricate and intricate the structure is, the more joy it brings to demolish it.

MG: This could be interpreted as a representation of oppressive masculinity. Abusive males will falsely raise someone’s hopes only to shatter them later, so Britney was preemptively smashing her own expectations to prevent potential damage from someone else. In this way, she safeguarded herself from the devastation of others destroying something she had carefully put together.

III. MATERNITY CAN BE VIEWED AS SELF-HARM IN ORDER TO PREVENT HARM TO OTHERS

MG: The concept of the Sad Girl Theory looks to broaden the interpretation of violence to encompass more than just physical acts.

It recognizes that there is a form of internal violence as well. Society generally puts forth two distinct types of violence: “acceptable” and “unacceptable”–such as police officers killing black children being deemed acceptable while an individual smashing the window of a CVS during a Black Lives Matter demonstration being deemed unacceptable.

This thought process is, in my view, incorrect and should not be tolerated.

When it comes to self-harm, women receive contradictory messages. Although we are usually told not to hurt ourselves, we are also encouraged to attempt to conform to certain beauty standards which may involve inflicting pain upon ourselves.

For example, a person can be criticized for either being too thin or too overweight and for wearing clothing which is either too revealing or not modest enough.

Women are commonly seen as mild and peaceful. At most, they might be perceived as troublesome or mental, but they are never considered to be intimidating. This really bothers me since, in my experience, living as a female is a constant cycle of violence.

Thus, I think that Sad Girl Theory is closely associated with violence–particularly, it augments the definition of violence and broadens the part of this newly formed violence in the annals of political defiance.

However, I have time and again observed the idea described as a “nonviolent” stand against social standards. In your opinion, what is the part of violence in Sad Girl Theory?

AW: People frequently refer to Sad Girl Theory as “anti-violent” or “nonviolent”, which frustrates me deeply as I am aware of the true violence that is present in a girl’s attempts to hurt herself.

When encountering a fourteen-year-old with anorexia, one is likely to be intimidated by the intensity of her lack of action. It is not the absence of a particular action that causes her to be so intimidating, but rather her determination to not do anything at all.

MG: Recalling my experiences with starvation, I can say that I often did it as a means of intimidating someone I was romantically entwined with.

There was a twisted enjoyment in denying myself necessary sustenance, but that wasn’t the main purpose. My goal was to frighten my partner. When they made me feel inferior, I wanted them to be scared.

In my opinion, that wasn’t a harmless act. It was my way of responding to their actions with violence, although I was unwilling to hurt anyone other than myself.

In a society that discourages complexity, it is difficult to express that being slim is the ideal without implying that a certain amount of deprivation is acceptable.

The truth is, people do hope women will undergo deprivation, but not to the extreme that it would cause a disruption to others.

AW: Indeed. The anorexic girl is using the values she has been taught and pushing them to their logical limit. To put it in political terms, she is an accelerationist.

The British suffragettes had a motto of protest which was “Objects or themselves.” It meant that they would only carry out violent protest against objects like property, public or private, and not against people or their own bodies.

Examples of this are setting government official’s holiday homes on fire when no one was in them, Mary Richardson slashing The Rokeby Venus, which was a famous painting at the time, and Emily Davison taking her own life by stepping in front of the king’s race horse at the Epsom Derby.

I find this fascinating, despite the many critiques against them such as racism, imperialism and class inequality. I’m hoping to be able to take some of their more generative ideas, whilst disregarding the others.

The notion of “objects or themselves” is a powerful one. This perspective equates individuals with objects, demonstrating a proto-object-oriented ontology attitude, while still maintaining both an ethic of care and an ethic of resistance.

MG: Absolutely. They are extreme in the way they consider their own forms to be “not as essential” as those of others. They are ready to inflict pain on themselves in order to stay away from causing pain to others, which is a classic form of “motherly” conduct.

AW: Describing maternity as “hurting yourself to keep from hurting others” is a notably macabre yet intriguing idea. I am absolutely fascinated by the concept of a maternal practice of aggressive rebellion.

MG: Taking on the responsibility of another individual who will require dedication and commitment from you for the rest of your life is a challenging task.

AW: In other words, motherhood may not be biologically determined, but it is a social position. With this, comes a consistent sublimation of the self, as Helene Cixous claims woman is “the desire-that-gives”.

Many mothers prioritize others, including the “extension” of the self, over individualistic needs. In this sense, one could argue that mothers are the pioneers of communism.

IV. A WORLD BEYOND DAD

MG: It is quite common to see the stereotype of a man who is unable to express his emotions. Toxic masculinity has caused men to be isolated and left to cope with their emotions alone, leading to a perpetual cycle of thoughts in their minds.

When this cycle is not broken, the result can be violent outbursts.

Suffering specifically for women is usually not done in isolation. It’s like asking yourself, if I’m going through this, why should I remain quiet about it?

Why should I feel as though I’m the only one dealing with this if other females are going through it as well? Does Sad Girl Theory look to provide a metaphysical “area” for women to experience their suffering in a more open setting?

AW: It is not necessarily about creating a space for females to suffer more openly or with more visibility, as this implies that there needs to be some kind of alteration in behavior.

Instead, the concept is about understanding that girls are enduring difficulties already, and this theory provides an alternative way to interpret their actions. It is also a call for people to think differently.

Sad Girl Theory is a lens that can be used to interpret different stories that I’m not familiar with, and I hope that the process of applying this theory will continue beyond me.

We can still have a retrospective even in the present moment. I believe it’s possible to do something and consider it at the same time. However, Sad Girl Theory has no connexion to any future activities. Let’s not concern ourselves with the future.

MG: Obtaining autonomy by altering the manner in which one reflects on occurrences in the past is, in my opinion, an essential challenge of being a woman.

Society is designed to stop women from affirming that our encounters of subjugation are shared. That is why a lot of females are drawn to the internet, though we are continually subjected to mistreatment on it.

The truth is that we go through abuse everywhere, but on the internet we can at least converse directly with other women to verify that we are not insane. Why do you think there are so many components of society that exist particularly to impede communication between women?

AW: Interactions between females pose a threat to the existing order, which is why it is so often disparaged as “gossip.” This reminds me of the quote by Adrienne Rich: “When a woman speaks her truth, it paves the way for more truth to be shared.”

MG: Thus, the concept of “mean girls” is an advantageous idea for capitalism. If women come together, instead of quarreling, we would join forces against what subjugates us, which would not be beneficial for the wealthy men in power.

AW: In Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, she explains how the disintegration of the “commons”–which were areas where anyone could cultivate food without them belonging to any individual, not even the state–was a vital part of the growth of capitalism (of course), but it was equally catastrophic for the females of those societies, who were not given the right to own land. Women were totally reliant on the commons.

The commons were mainly a “feminine” area. Therefore, the inception of private property as we know it today required taking away the communal spaces of shared resources from women.

MG: Considering this, I am interested to know about your experience with female friendships. I personally had a lot of girl friends while I was young, but it was difficult.

Girls can be really harsh, and I was timid and sad when I was a child. I was often bullied which led me to focus on having male friends in my later teens.

At first, it was pleasant because they reminded me of my brothers, however I soon realized that being “one of the guys” meant they were permitted to act in a sexist manner in front of me.

Now, I highly regard my connections with women. Was your journey the same as mine? Or did you always have a strong appreciation for female friendship?

AW: As a child, I was raised in an environment with just females – my mother and my school. I was very intimidated by boys and did not understand that there were kind ones.

Despite the fact that the girls’ school was strongly influenced by masculine ideals, it was more of a system-wide issue rather than individual.

MG: Eventually, I came to understand that female friendships are only unsatisfactory when they are influenced by male standards. However, were you able to locate any kindred female pals within the chaos?

AW: In my mess of a state, I had people to cling to until the turbulence subsided. We held on to each other tightly, not daring to open our eyes, but still screaming. I often want to discredit what I say about the female friendships of my adolescent years as they are so emotionally charged.

Nevertheless, they were my first introduction to love beyond that of my family. Even now, I feel an immense amount of sorrow.

MG: To me, the sensations of female friendships during the teenage years can be just as emotionally harrowing as any romantic heartache.

AW: Precisely. They were emotional dramas of attachment and relinquishment. We were so devoted to destroying ourselves that our closeness was created through that.

MG: Female adolescents have a remarkable capacity for forming intricate relationships with one another, possibly as a result of the hardships they face. This leaves me wondering how guys in a similar situation are able to find contentment.

AW: Males are afforded many privileges, but emotions are not one of them.

V. “SOURCES OF AUTHORITY”

Technology has long been an important source of authority in society.

From the early days of the Industrial Revolution, when machines made it possible to produce goods faster and more efficiently, to the present day, where computers and the internet have revolutionized the way we communicate and access information, technology has had a profound effect on the way we live.

It has enabled us to do things that were never before possible, and has given us access to knowledge and resources that would otherwise have been inaccessible.

This has created a power imbalance in society, with those who have access to the latest technologies having an advantage over those who do not. This is why it is important to understand the technologies of power that are at play in our world today.

MG: I’d like to know more about your experience with chronic illness. Medical practitioners have for a long time neglected women who are unwell, resulting in serious distress and even self-harm.

It is worth noticing, however, the difference between being sick from a physical cause and the anguish caused by the patriarchy, even though the two are often connected. Could you tell me how having cancer has impacted your life and your outlook?

AW: Today marks eleven years since I was diagnosed with cancer and I am proud to say that I have been cancer-free for the past ten years.

MG: Incredible. You were quite young when you were diagnosed with cancer, right?

AW: At the age of fourteen, the tumor developed due to the surge of estrogen that came with puberty. It was almost as if the cancer was growing in unison with my new female body, and it nearly took my life. It’s very simple to interpret its meaning, which can be quite frustrating.

MG: I can scarcely fathom the tribulation of dealing with adolescence and cancer concurrently. Could it be that your personal experience with the disease acted as a stimulus for the invention of your Sad Girl Theory?

AW: It was a revolutionary experience. I developed a distinct outlook on entities like bodies, death, and gender.

Additionally, I realized how my body was subject to authority through the presence of white-haired, white-coated, white men, who had the ability to handle my body as if it were a science experiment.

Nevertheless, I perceive that my cancer was a magnified, highly intensified version of the realization every girl goes through: understanding that their physical being is an item that has been shaped and formed by powers much more influential than themselves. Mine just happened to be molded in a literal manner.

MG: I can understand why it would be difficult for you to process the transformation of your body as a result of puberty and medical science, as you had no say in either. It seems you had to make the most of the situation, as there was no opportunity to launch a revolution.

Could you tell me if your understanding of the lack of control you had over your body – as a female and a person afflicted with illness – had any influence on the development of the Sad Girl Theory? Was it a way for you to try and gain back some control over what you went through?

AW: Absolutely, because it not only suggested to me that the body is like a peculiar means of expressing ourselves any way we desire.

It made me comprehend that my ordeal was nothing extraordinary. It piqued my curiosity in other types of protest, even though I was not able to break a window, despite wanting to.

This experience alerted me to the shared area and the collective and common. It wasn’t about finding a similarity but noticed how my diversities were not any more particular than anyone else’s.

Sitting in pediatric oncology and observing the sick kids, many of whom will not live as long as anyone should, along with their parents, can be an incredibly humbling experience.

It puts into perspective the significance of the connection and support between them, which are much more precious than the self-defined boundaries that characterize the individual.

MG: There is something so all-encompassing and essentially feminine about letting people know that they don’t have to be physically able to fight the existing system.

By simply existing in their own body, anyone can be a part of the revolution, and their suffering – through a painful and unnecessary burden – can also be used to fight the status quo if desired.

Could be of Interest

The way to get rid of plagiarism is to change the construction of the text without altering the context and significance of the words. This can be done by employing different sentence structures and word choices to express the same idea.

The usage of mobile phones has seen an immense rise over the past few years. In fact, the utilization of such devices has become so widespread that it is difficult to find someone who does not have a mobile phone.

This surge in popularity can be attributed to the numerous advantages that these devices offer.

The benefits of using solar energy are numerous, ranging from environmental to economical. It is a renewable source of energy which is clean and non-polluting, and has the potential to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, it is a cost-effective option as the cost of solar power has decreased significantly in recent years. This type of energy is also incredibly reliable and can be easily integrated into the existing electrical grid. Ultimately, solar energy is a great choice for many reasons.

Culture.org is a massive library of articles encompassing a broad range of topics related to culture, travel, and the arts sourced from a variety of sources globally.

It is evident that there is a clear connection between the amount of time we spend on our phones and the amount of stress we experience. As we devote more and more of our time to these devices, we become overwhelmed and anxious.

This is because our phones contain a vast amount of information and data which can be overwhelming and can lead to feelings of stress. Therefore, it is important to limit our time on our phones in order to reduce stress and anxiety.

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