Halle Berry received the SeeHer Award last night at the Critics Choice Awards. During her acceptance speech, she talked about starring in and directing Bruised, and asking someone she knew about what he thought of the film afterwards, honestly. He told her that he felt uncomfortable “seeing a woman get battered and beaten”. And she was like, if it made you uncomfortable just watching it, imagine how it feels to live it.
Should stories always make us feel uncomfortable? Not always. But they shouldn’t actively not make us uncomfortable – it’s often the discomfort that gets us to empathy, which is the point that Halle was making.
Towards the end of her speech, Halle talked about the complexities of women, how those complexities make us human and, therefore, imperfect. “We will never be perfect” is probably something a lot of us struggle with – wanting to get it exactly right, all the time. But perfectionism is often a barrier to progress. In writing, the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten was from Duana, who in turn got it from one of her own mentors: “you can’t fix nothing”. The first draft is never going to be the last draft, so you might as well start writing, something, anything, so you can get to work on making it better.
But perfectionism doesn’t just have negative consequences for the individual, it can also set us back as a collective. Last year during an interview with Shayla Stonechild, activist and co-founder of Matriarch Movement, she told me that “perfectionism is a function of white supremacy”. For years, Black and Indigenous scholars have shown that dismantling white supremacy means disabling its tools – one of them being the pursuit of perfection. Because perfection is based on a standard, and who sets that standard? Standardisation is determined and maintained by the status quo, the dominant culture. Perfectionism and respectability politics go hand-in-hand and as Tema Okun wrote in The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism to People Who Don’t Want To Know, perfectionism limits our behaviours, it doesn’t allow for multiple drafts, it doesn’t allow for mistakes, which means it doesn’t allow for growth which makes it “difficult, if not impossible, to open the door to other cultural norms and standards”. In this sense, then, perfectionism perpetuates a kind of cultural prison where few ever become good enough.
Knowing this is one thing. Deprogramming from it is another and it’s another area of frustration – the irony of wanting to be perfect at being imperfect, LOL.
More on the BAFTAs and the Critics Choice Awards later today.
Yours in gossip,