Apologies and Arguments

I got into a bit of trouble about my last post, and I’m gonna either clear that up or make it worse. Here goes:

If I gave the impression that the women in my book group were shallow or simple, I am so so sorry. If they were, I would have no problem either voicing disagreement or walking out. No, they are intelligent, varied, complicated, feminist women who are grappling with the same stuff that I am. That’s why it’s so hard to disagree. It is easy to disagree with an enemy; easy to make someone ‘out there’ into an enemy. But they are not out there. They are in here, with me.

And here is where I disagree: I don’t think that we women realize how subservient we are. As I have written, we are both victims and perpetrators of Martyrdom. It is easier to talk about our children than it is to talk about our dreams. Things might really explode if we actually legitimize and fight for our dreams—not just in the book group but in our families, our culture, and our fundamental way of life.

About those innate differences: It is a matter of specifying what, exactly, is innate. We can say people are innately shy, but ‘shy’ is a combination of sensitivity and anxiety which interacts with experience to generate an expectation of danger around people. We should break down gender differences similarly, but no one can in normal conversation.

I think women have gotten too comfortable with the idea that we are innately different from men. Many of those differences–our conversational style, our ability to cooperate, our pleasure in self-decoration–have everything to do with our lack of power in this culture.

Hey, I do take pleasure in decorating myself, and I do a good job of it. But I’m very aware that, as a woman, it really matters how I present myself. There are many days when I wish I could just throw on my suit and tie, do my job, and not have commentary about my outfit. But I’m not going to mention this every time I get a compliment about my quirky style. And please don’t stop noticing my efforts!

See, I’m a perpetrator and victim of fashion (as opposed to fashion victim). We have to live in the culture even as we question it, and that is the struggle I was trying to describe in my last post.


2 thoughts on “Apologies and Arguments

  1. UMOUM says:

    Elena, you make some critically important points about female subservience. I agree that a great deal of self-decorating done by women is a reflection of that subservient and useless attitude. But, just maybe, there’s more to self-decorating than that.

    I started out my girlhood years lamenting that I had not been born a boy. Boys were the ones who got to be strong, climb trees, be heroes in adventure stories. So I went about building my muscles, climbing trees, playing war games with the boys, and I felt very accomplished when told by my many boy pals that I was “almost as good as a boy.” I never heard my girl pal, Irina, express the wish to be a boy, but she beat me up one day. The boys had warned me she was “on the lookout” for me. Why, I can’t remember. I remember just standing there, meekly, while Irina, having caught up with me, flailed her arms in my direction. I think she managed to hit me once or twice, but I don’t remember that, either. I just remember standing there, waiting for her to be done. And I remember the hatred, and fear, in Irina’s eyes. Girls being boylike? And yet, from early on, I liked dressing up and thought nothing of the contradiction. I remember in particular a green and white polka-dot dress in which I felt pretty. I remember the special occasions when I got to wear my naturally curly hair loose, instead of the neatly controlled pigtails I wore day to day. I also remember being mortified one day when I realized that one of my boy pals had been watching me through the window while I played dress-up, by myself, with my mother’s old ballgown and necklaces. Was it after that I had The Dream? In The Dream I was getting my wish and slowly turning into a boy. At the same time, I was feeling nostalgic for my girlhood, remembering the fun I had had dressing up, wearing girl clothes and pretty things. Still in The Dream, I came to the conclusion that I’d just as soon stay a girl after all; and, in that nice way of dreams, I got my wish. I remained female and never again complained about my birthright.

    Came puberty and the years of courtship, active sexuality, and all that comes with that. Clearly self-decoration was part of the game. I submit that guys self-decorated too, but that’s another discussion.

    Now, in my late sixties, I no longer have my young looks, and that doesn’t matter.
    I still enjoy my femininity, the capability of the female body and the female face to make itself beautiful and interesting. It is, I think, a kind of beauty that does not exist in the male body or the masculine face. And the pleasure I take in self-decoration is not linked in any way to strategies of sexual pursuit, or any other pursuit for that matter. I enjoy it for the aesthetic pleasure it gives me. Most men are unaware of me anyway. When one does decide to pursue me because he thinks me a “pretty lady,” I’m unimpressed and uninterested. “Prettiness,” such as it may be, no longer seems like a valid reason to spend time with anyone. I would happily develop a friendship (and, possibly, a relationship) with a man who shares my interests, and challenges me in the way some of my women friends do. Self-decoration has nothing to do with that, though.

  2. Thank you, Mum, for your perspective from the other side of sixty. Today at lunch with Katie Berry (expert on Permissive Culture and facilitator extraordinaire), I stumbled as I said your age. Partially denying my own, I still think of you as 54. At the lunch, Katie made your point–that there can be more pleasure in self-decoration as women get older. For her, that came from not having to decorate. She feels enough power now that the decoration can be its own purpose.

    And that was kind of the point I was making, not that decoration is subservient but rather that decoration is necessary as a form of power for women. That we need it is a measure of our subservience, but I sure wouldn’t recommend giving it up. I argued at lunch that once women reach a certain age, they can be free of it if they want to. I was thinking of several fairly androgynous female leaders.

    On the other hand, I am watching the coverage of Nancy Pelosi. Respected as an experienced leader, her fashion sense is still drawing a crowd. If she were male, would this be true? Does it matter?

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