Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Cost Of Femininity

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

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.

Friday, November 16th, 2007

I am spreading this meme. If you haven’t seen this on your flist already, please take a moment to read about Pretty Bird Woman House, a women’s shelter located on the South Dakota side of the Standing Rock Reservation. I will quote memlu here:

In recent weeks the shelter has suffered a number of damaging and potentially final setbacks. The phone lines were cut, then eventually repaired. A group of unknown men vandalized and raided the shelter, walking out with clothing, toiletries, computers, anything they could carry with them. After a second break-in the staff deemed the house temporarily unsafe. They relocated to unheated, donated office space.

The day after they moved, arsonists set fire to Pretty Bird Woman House.

PBWH is dependent on a number of grants, some of which require that they provide shelter to battered women and their children. If Pretty Bird Woman House cannot provide this shelter, they will lose the money they need to continue helping the women of Standing Rock Reservation.

Both the links above have information on how you can help PBWH survive, and continue to give assistance to women and their children in danger and in need of shelter and help.

Please, please consider making a donation. You can do so here. Currently PBWH has collected 18% of the $70,000 needed. They have until January 31st of 2008 to collect the remaining eighty-two percent - - so consider donating in someone’s name as a Christmas present.

If you cannot donate money, please consider donating material goods such as clothing, toiletries, and other non-perishable items. Goods (and checks if you would rather make a financial donation off-line) can be shipped to the following addresses:

USPS ships to:

    Pretty Bird Woman House
    P.O. Box 596
    McLaughlin, SD 57642

–and FedEx, UPS and DHL ship to:

    Pretty Bird Woman House
    302 Sale Barn Rd.
    McLaughlin SD 57642

Thursday, April 5th, 2007

I apologise for not responding to the thoughtful comments on my previous post. They changed my hours at work, and I’ve had less time to do things as a result.

I’ll do my best to respond tonight. After a nice long nap.

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(Matthew 6.2-8, NRSV)

I remember this passage from early in my childhood. It was couched in the old language of the King James bible then. Its a message that I so sublimated that I had trouble finding the actual passage when I started this entry.

The message of doing what’s important without letting people know has been a part of my thinking for most of my life. Be it in acts of charity and compassion or faith or politics or my own personal life I don’t talk about how I express these things. I don’t talk about what I do.

Over the course of the last year I’ve watched Anna renew her interest in Feminism. I’ve read over her shoulder and talked at length with her. I’ve learned a great deal. I’ve also had to do a lot of thinking.

A year ago I thought of myself as a feminist. If asked I might have even said as much. The last year has forced to question whether or not I really am a Feminist.

I have seen in countless discussions men claiming to be Feminists and making points that are baldly misogynistic. I Blame the Patriarchy discusses these so called Feminists. I’ve seen time and again how little I understand what being a Feminist really is. Mikey in the comments of this post is a prime example. I wonder how different I am from the men who claim to be Feminists while harbouring scorn and contempt in their hearts.

Better not to “sound a trumpet” and instead learn and discuss and act the part of a Feminist as best I understand. Let those men, the hypocrites, bleat out what they supposedly are. Let me be judged on my quiet actions, or so I thought.

Its been pointed out to me that I’m conceding a battle for the very word Feminist in doing that. I also realise that I’m taking the lesson of Yeshua* too far. Humility is all well and good but nothing comes before compassion. Everyday in Feminist discussions men who cal themselves Feminists are preaching hate. Its not enough to be learning how to think as a Feminist even if I try act like one. Not if I allow myself to be less than one.

I haven’t claimed to be a Feminist to anyone except Anna in about a year, quite possibly much longer. It was a mistake. I gave power to the messages of hate male, so called Feminists, are preaching by my silence. I allowed the word to me stolen from me. I may not know very much yet, I may not be very good at it yet, but I am a Feminist. I believe in the radical idea that women are people.

*-A brief explanation of names. The name Joshua is the english equivalent of Jesus. By the same token Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Yeshua.

If truth is beauty, why don’t people get their hair done in the library?

Monday, March 12th, 2007

Beauty is a weird thing. And a contentious subject. Look at the whole size zero thing that’s currently rampaging through the papers. Beauty is, and always has been, something important and long debated. It’s a fact of life that you can go far with a pretty face or a good figure.

I missed all those girl traits – I actually don’t have that bad a body image. I’m no looker (It has been claimed I’m beautiful, I’m sure that’s a matter of perspective…) but I’m not about to through myself into the land of plastic surgery or anything like that. I am me. The universe made me the way I am. I learned this looking at a photo of my great great great grandmother. I have her eyes. Her eyebrows. The resemblance is strong enough, that you’d think we were sisters. I look a little like my mum. A hint of my granny. My face carries history – mine and my family’s. It’s an odd mix of genetics (you can see the little pieces of where I’ve come from) and history. There’s a reason why I have such a badly broken nose or the scar on my eye. As I get older, I’ll get lines and creases. Little markers of the life I have lived. And that doesn’t bother me.

I know that I’ll never be universally beautiful. And I’ll not be one of those women who resorts to plastic surgery (I have contemplated getting my nose fixed, but that’s only cause it would possibly cure my migraines) and ends up looking like a cat who’s been sat next to a firework that’s just gone off – all huge eyes and startled expression. I’ll continue to be me, but me marked and stained by time.

This is how I currently see myself:

I’m short. But I kinda like being short. I tend to like my guys taller that me, so this is a bonus! Plus, I’m the same height as Wolverine is in the comics…

I’m podgy. I’m a size 14/16, which is positively awful to the fashion world. I have a little podgy belly, chubby cheeks and a comfy sized arse. I could stand to lose probably about 2 stone. But to be horrendously honest, I don’t care. I like the way I am. I go out at the chest (lots), in at the waist (a bit) and out at the hips. I could starve myself forever and I’d never be thin. I have, as they have been called, wide, childbearing hips. I have a solid bone structure. I’m a Pict – short and dark and broad.

My face is…well…me. I’ve been told that my best feature is my eyes and I tend to agree. Huge, dark, expressive. I have a crooked nose. I have those little quirks that only those who know me exceptionally well ever pick up on – the dimples in my ears, the mole on my lower lip. I get dimples in my cheeks when I properly smile.

All this, it’s part of me. And, yeah, maybe I would be more conventionally beautiful if I had implants and tucks and laser procedures. But I think I’d lose part of my individuality. I’d be sacrificing myself in the pursuit of something else. Someone else.

Men and women (mostly women, but no one’s safe from a little vanity) spend a ridiculous amount of money trying to become more perfect. More beautiful. And yes…some people are universally beautiful. Some people will turn heads wherever they go. Good luck to them. Genetics and lifestyle clicked together and everyone sees how beautiful they are. But some people are only beautiful to those who love them. My granny told me this. If you love someone who is universally beautiful, they are beautiful to you because you see the flaws. You know the dimples and moles and little imperfections that make up who they are. And that’s the beautiful part – you know the secret of their flaws. And if you love someone who isn’t beautiful, they become beautiful because their features become precious. You’ve kissed and held and gazed at their face, and you can see the beauty that everyone else missed. And again that’s part of the beauty – you know the secret, that they are truly beautiful.

Maybe it’s because I’ve spent so much time working on what’s inside me. I worry about the flaws in my personality and in my soul, rather than the thickness of my waist or the shininess of my hair. I understand the need to look good – of course I do. But it’s not everything. And sometimes, in our pursuit of perfection, we miss the beauty that’s already there.

The fashion world can rage as it will. It can tell me that unless I’m 5ft 10ins, 7 stone, leggy, pale, and with cheekbones that you could use to cut meat, I’m not a worthwhile person. But I’m never going to believe it. And, to quote Melle, the more they go on about a size zero epitomising beauty, the more I want to eat lard to better jiggle my rolls of fat at them. It you are a size zero, be happy, be healthy, be well. But the same goes for anyone else, no matter what size or shape or colour they are. Because there is beauty there. Real beauty.

Look at my friends: Every shape and size imaginable, and something beautiful about every single one of them: Don’s gentle smile; Anna’s curvy figure; Kirsty’s cheeky grin; James’ eyes. Seriously, I could go on. My friends are people who are beautiful.

After all, I’m shallow. Aren’t we all?