I had an interesting experience at work the other day. I work in Tech Support, and a lot of call time is spent waiting for software to finish installing, starting up, that sort of thing, so I spend quite a bit of my time on small talk, with my mouth on autopilot and the rest of my brain typing up case notes, or knitting.
Customer: “So whereabouts are you based?”
Melle: “We’re up in Scotland.” (knit knit knit)
Customer: “Oh, what’s the weather like up there?”
Melle: “It’s been snowing the last couple of days, actually.” (knit, kni–crap, dropped a stitch)
Customer: “[laughs] I’m so sorry.”
Melle: “Yeah, I mean, I love snow, but when I have to trudge through it to get to work — not so much.” (dammit where’s the proper-sized crochet hook dig dig dig)
Customer: “And you in heels and all.”
Melle: “Oh, I wear boots, actually.” (dig di–wait, what?)
Yeah. Thankfully, by the time most of my brain had caught up with what he’d said, I’d already managed to move the conversation along. But it got me thinking, about all the assumptions that lie in the one sentence, and how they reflect the assumptions society has of women, and of femininity.
Because in that one sentence, we get the assumption that because I’m female, I must be wearing heels. All the time. Even when there’s ankle-deep snow on the ground and I’ve had trouble not slipping and falling on my ass even in Doc Martens. Because I am, after all, a woman, and therefore femininity, as perceived by society, must be my first priority..
(I think this whole thing baffled me all the more because of the field I work in — female geeks aren’t generally perceived as being very feminine, and I’m much closer to the stereotype of the (female) geek than I am to any “pretty woman” stereotype. Maybe it’s my voice or something that makes me sound young and girlish and “pretty”? I dunno.)
And femininity, according to society, means work and hardship, and no comfort at all. It means shaving your legs and armpits regularly, trimming your eyebrows, wearing heels no matter the weather or circumstances, wearing make-up, having hair that’s neither too short (i.e. above your earlobes, because then it’s mannish) nor too long (i.e. below the shoulder, because then it’s too “young”) and preferably straight and thus requiring a shitload of daily styling to at least not look like ass, and regular cuts, and nails which are at the very least trimmed, but not all the way, and even.
Oh, and you should be at least relatively slim, but that’s kind of assumed as the default, because if you’re fat, you can’t ever look feminine, so why even try? You should probably also be white, and at the very least have “good hair” or relax it, but again, “white” is kind of assumed as the default starting position, really. And that’s not even getting into the cost in actual money (razors, tweezers or waxing, haircuts, manicures, etc.), or clothes, whose cost lies mostly in money and comfort.
You know, considering how much the patriarchy wants us to believe that men and women are just inherently different, dammit, so we’d best accept that and not call anyone on their essentialist bullshit, it sure as hell seems to take a shitload of work (and money, and lack of comfort) to be a woman.