Feminism and Catering to the Male Gaze

One thing I have found particularly hard to navigate as a feminist is finding a balance between respecting women’s autonomy and ability to thrive in a male-dominated society, and denouncing practices and institutions which have their roots in patriarchal ideology. More specifically, how to find that balance in my own actions.

I partake in practices which, despite my claims that they are “for me”, have roots in my desire to cater to the male gaze: wearing makeup, dressing in revealing clothes, sharing provocative pictures on Instagram, and the like. (This is not to say that I do these things specifically because they cater to the male gaze. I used to. Nowadays I do them to make myself feel good, but I think deep down the reason that they feel good to me is because in the past I have learned to associate them with male approval.) There are some such practices that, through some work, I have managed to cease finding desirable or pleasurable, such as shaving my legs and underarms, but others I want to keep around.

Obviously I can do what I want with my body, but sometimes I wonder if I should actively try to rid myself of aesthetic preferences which, at their core, stem anti-feminist ideology. As a feminist and an activist, I wonder what my own responsibilities are with respect to this issue, and I also wonder whether or not it would be better for me (on account of my identifying as a feminist/activist) to speak out on such issues and challenge other women to be more reflective and critical of their actions. Or, should I simply accept that living under a patriarchy has placed impossible demands on myself and other women, and respect and support us in whatever way we choose to respond to those demands without challenging our choices?