Femmo Tatts

20 / 04 / 2015

For First Person this month we’ve had journalist and tattoo enthusiast Lisa Dib talking about her first, and definitely not last ‘Feminist’ tattoo and why this form of art can give a society dominated by mass-media produced concepts of what a woman’s body “should” look like the big ‘up-yours’.   

“Are you a lesbian”

This text came from my dear, albeit misguided, younger sister. It was meant without irony after I excitedly sent her a photo of my brand new tattoo- my first, and how divisive it turned out to be.

For reference, the artwork in question (your Honour) is a simple banner-style piece with the words “No Man’s Woman” therein.  The text comes from this Sinead O’Connor song which, as I slip deeper and deeper into the beautiful and challenging quagmire of feminism, becomes more of a mantra with every passing day (days that are oft-filled with sexist dirtbags, attacks of women’s rights and the occasional heart-splitting breakup.)

I had wanted a tattoo since adolescence but, thankfully, never found anything I loved enough to consider living with for the rest of my days. I recall ink designs that showed off my passionate obsession with music (which, as I age, rapidly turns into shrugging appreciation), previous boyfriend dedications (imagine!), artwork seized from teenage notebooks and, for far too long, a giant Gonzo symbol (a fist clutching a peyote pin; adolescent revolutionary that I was) on my arm – that’d be the Hunter S Thompson-led journalism movement, not the Muppet.

Thankfully, I never seared any of these images onto my body because I have, since the idea of them was incepted, tired of them. Much like the middle-aged footballer winces at his teenage tribal tatts, so did I breathe a sigh of relief that I would not forever have to explain Gonzo to strangers. But I knew, from the first moments of my foray into feminism, that I would be in the club forever, that I would die a raging feminist. So, a tattoo to mark the memory of the occasion.

Most of you probably have tattoos, so I won’t bother going into detail about the experience itself. It didn’t hurt that badly and it healed up nice. I was showing it off, as was my wont, feeling fancy and rebellious. But the same fools that scoff at women’s rights rallies platitudes such as “not all men” or “I suppose feminism is good, but…” etc, etc, ad nauseum, felt the need to put in their two cents.

Oh God no! You should tattoo some extra hair under your arms too” was one delicious comment upon my Facebook wall that I shall hold in my heart always. To think that people take the time to pick their knuckles up from the floor, wipe the warm drool from their jaw and compose such a heartfelt ode…it’s truly heartening, young ones.

It’s to be expected, of course; women’s bodies are considered public property. We are expected to be pure as the driven snow and feminine like a lace tablecloth. Any sullying of the delicate female form can be deemed disgusting and selfish. Female skin becomes the canvas of society, rather than their own; as a woman, tattoos are- apparently- reserved only for the butch lesbians of media stereotypes. Were I to venture forth the outrageous idea of mutilating my sumptuous womanly skin, it would only be appropriate to get something small and feminine- almost juvenile: butterflies, dolphins, stars. Maybe, in a pinch, a small scribble of inspirational text (“Love Life”, “Dare 2 Dream”, “Family”). And heaven forbid you get anything inked upon the zone over your back hindquarters. Quelle dommage!

It is the same sense of entitlement that makes school principals force clothing restrictions on their female, but not male, students. It’s what makes men hoot and slobber from car windows to apparently praise a woman’s choice of clothing, or body shape. The media’s overwhelming sense of entitlement over women’s bodies has created generations of women brainwashed into picking other women to pieces over arbitrary ‘flaws’. Women are not allowed to diet, get fat, get too skinny, eat too much, eat the wrong things, eat the right things, wear this, wear that, go naked, go fully covered, be prudish, be brazen, dress brightly, dress darkly, dress sexy, have large breasts, have small breasts, have no breasts, wear too much lipstick, run in the park, have tattoos, have piercings, have an unnatural hair colour, be bald, be bloated or menstruate. It’s all part of some strict and unfathomable set of rules laid out simultaneously eons ago and every day to-the-minute. We can’t keep up, so we shouldn’t.

I got my tattoo, and the subsequent two after, because I knew I could never be what a patriarchal society wanted me to be. This wasn’t a sad, pity moment for me. It was, in fact, relieving, exhilarating. I had gotten to a point where I no longer worried that my shape and face weren’t what Everyone Else Wanted. I realised there was no pleasing the invisible masses to which I had been playing. The unseen crowd in my head that I imagined looking askance at me if I wore something too small, not befitting to the occasion, too casual, or any other number of possibilities, were disappearing as I took more pride in what I thought.

I’ve been privy to all manner of derision (though, luckily, more praise than insult) including, but not limited to: how body art will affect my chances of employment, whether men will be attracted to a woman with tattoos, how women should apparently not have tattoos- ESPECIALLY on their arms.

In true feminist killjoy style, though, I have taken such thoughts with less than a grain of salt. Every word you sling against someone’s proud choices only furthers their resolve to spite you. I shall cover myself with feminist adages; I will get a full sleeve of lady hero portraits; I will get Ruth Bader-Ginsburg surrounded by rosemary around my ribs and a sepia daguerreotype of Tara Moss upon my spine; I will testify and tattoo until I’m a million colours because, and I hate to be so rude and un-ladylike, I couldn’t care less what you think of my body.