This is not about therapy. It is not about dealing with anxiety issues. It does not contain sweeping generalisations or advice. It is just one person writing about how they have understood anxiety from a socio-cultural perspective as opposed to a psychological one. I have been a ‘fat’ person almost all my life. I have almost always been told by spiritual gurus and parents alike – that I am attracting patterns to myself. Patterns of ‘fatness’, of low self-esteem, of bad relationships, of abusive friendships, of financial insecurity and of fear and anxiety.

Some postmodern feminist scholars (Sara Ahmed and Sandra Bartky among several others) that I recently read seemed to have an interesting perspective on this. Individual existence in a vacuum is myth and therefore ‘individual choice’ is a myth.

Think about it before you dismiss me. Let me take an example here. I thought that I am stuck in a pattern where I invite insecure, jealous, abusive and competitive people in my life. Until I realised – literally the whole world including me – is all of those things! And this is not me being a cynical nihilist. This is because so much of our socialisation today is geared towards toxic competition. From the time our education begins, we learn to compete – on every account possible. We learn that we need to stand out and that we need people to see us, love us, praise us (and not appreciate us – because I have realised there is a difference between praise and appreciation).

Imagine living in a body that had to painfully learn to pull itself down because the world was telling me that I did not deserve stuff, all the time.

This being the dominant narrative, it is difficult to escape it because one cannot live in a void – without friends, family and everyone else. As a young woman, I was always told I need to be of a certain size with a fair complexion, long hair, no blemishes or scars on my body, among others. I was told that seeking out a nice man and locking him down is important. And this exact same thing was or is being told to all the other women on the planet. Leave alone that our lived experience of relationships has left us feeling dissatisfied. Leave alone that people are refusing to believe us, trust us, appreciate us for who we are. We still need to get them to like us.

This is not just about being a man, woman or of any other gender identity. This is about whose responsibility is it, that we end up being insecure people. Here is where those postmodern feminist authors make an interesting point. They say that modern day capitalist societies are built around the idea of resposibilising the individual. In other words, making us think that all of this is somehow our fault and that we must therefore be able to fix everything. Take our bodies for example – a huge industry is built around generating revenues from sales of food. Another huge industry is built around losing weight or cosmetically altering our appearance. Insecurity is being sold to us in all packet sizes. Would you then, still agree that everything is your own fault?

Also read: What Postmodern Feminism Taught Me About Power

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Similarly for relationships – right from when we are little – boys are made to understand that emotions are unreasonable and their ‘masculinity’ is linked to how rational they can be. Can you imagine living in a body that is constantly pushing out emotions (it is impossible to not have chemical reactions in a human body) and yet not being able to understand them, process them, relate with them and being mindful about them? Similarly as a girl, growing up was about people thinking I’m dumb because I ‘wore my heart on my sleeve’. Imagine living in a body that had to painfully learn to pull itself down because the world was telling me that I did not deserve stuff, all the time.

Even our ‘fear’ has to feel different as a man or as a woman. We must feel fear, joy, anxiety differently and we must feel it for different things.

Every time I fell out with a friend or in a relationship, I would think – next time I shall be more careful picking friends and relationships. But how? Where would I go looking for people who are not socialised to be insecure and to blame themselves for it? Thus, anxiety is the biggest witness to the mayhem in our lives. It is the pervasive emotion that all of us feel. And what is sad is that even the emotions we experience are gendered. We colour them with our own gendered socialisation. Even our ‘fear’ has to feel different as a man or as a woman. We must feel fear, joy, anxiety differently and we must feel it for different things.

It made me liberated to realise that individually attributing responsibility for phenomena that all of us are experiencing is pointless. And the beauty of feminism is that it does so – not by holding us accountable for our mistakes but by showing us how historical divisions of power in society have led us to this point. It helps us see why and how our emotions have been disciplined to favour some emotions over others. And most importantly, why it is important to let this socialisation go. We did not create this mess alone and we should not have to deal with it alone. We are allowed solidarity. We are allowed respect and we are allowed to share our insecurities without being judged or used.

Also read: Is Impostor Syndrome, Or Feeling Like A Fraud, Gendered?

I have then, tried to be more conscious about what I experience and how it is socially constructed. And how I can resist it by resisting my socialisation. For example, I stopped laughing at those who cry in public – men or women. Instead, I now cry in public (the metro rail very recently). I stopped ever using the words “don’t be a little girl” or “be a man”. Instead, I started with “be strong, be courageous, be confident and be brave”. I started telling myself and those around me “you are enough and no one is judging you.” In the process, I also learnt what feminism is not. It is not ‘men versus women’. It is about breaking age-old beliefs and seeking each other’s help in living together. It is about experiencing emotions consciously. It is about helping set each other free.

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About the author(s)

Mahadevi is a researcher in critical gender and policy studies and uses a postmodern feminist lens to look at issues of marginalisation and violence and how these structures are produced by everyday practices, norms, values and beliefs.

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