On Guilt

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, ever since I posted this entry on facebook and it got so much response from people either commenting on the link or talking to me about it in person.  It seemed like I had touched a nerve.

One friend talked about her environmental guilt, how she occasionally wants to eat a kitkat or meet a friend in Starbucks without feeling bad about it.  As she pointed out, “there isn’t a way to avoid EVERYTHING that’s clearly wrong in terms of the globe and what is ethical and what isn’t” but this doesn’t necessarily help those of us who feel the weight of the world on our shoulders.

Another friend admitted to “feminist guilt”. She says ” I constantly suffer from feminist guilt over all sorts of things, especially my love of clothes and make-up but I’m of the general opinion that there are bigger issues to tackle that aren’t going to be sorted out by my abandoning eyeliner or floral dresses.”  I can also sympathise with this, having been made to feel bad about myself at a feminist meeting at climate camp when I realised that I was perhaps the only woman in the tent with shaved legs.  A Canadian girl I met in India told me that she had taken a Gender Studies class in college, but had been made to feel uncomfortable for wearing make-up.  As she pointed out to me, this is a massive problem with the feminist movement.  After all, most women do remove body hair and wear make-up, so you have to worry when some feminists manage to alienate the majority of people that they seek to represent.  I spend a lot of my time trying to convince women that I know that they are feminists (they all believe in equality) but so many times I hear them say that they can’t call themselves a feminist because they wear make-up/dresses/high heels shave their legs.

It appears that a lot of this guilt is irrelevant, but it got me thinking.  What other things do people feel guilty about?  What parts of themselves do they feel betrays the bigger picture of who they are?  For years I felt bad for being addicted to rubbish TV (most recently characterised by a Gossip Girl habit) because I felt that I should only enjoy “serious” or “political” culture.  But we can’t all be serious all of the time, and everyone has their guilty secrets.  But they shouldn’t be secrets at all.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be political.  My token Tory friend admitted that buying clothes also makes him feel guilty, but because he feels that he shouldn’t be spending the money.  And of course, for women at least, a lot of guilt comes from things that we eat or drink.  (Although actually, I would argues that women’s feelings about their bodies is a political issue)

On this note, I’ll leave you with a quote from a deliciously trashy novel that I’ve just finished reading.

“True strength is being able to eat a bar of chocolate without feeling guilty” (Dorothy Koomson)


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