December 23rd, 2010
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 posts over at Ellen Beldner’s blog that I just stumbled upon:
Recently, every time I get dressed to go out — heels, skirt, jewelry — it strikes me how incredibly non-functional are the clothes that make women look feminine, especially in high fashion. When I wear heels I can’t run, I have to take small steps, I have to balance carefully, I have to take cabs. Small evening-appropriate bags are absurd: I can rarely fit keys, phone, wallet in one of the small and sleek bags that are favored for evening. Big earrings: attract attention, and if they snag on something, you get hurt. A tight skirt? Can’t walk. Padded bras? Typically very awkward. Full skirt, short? Gets blown about by the wind, and I have to dedicate extra attention to ensuring I don’t pull a Marilyn. Full skirt, long? Yeah, try to do anything functional: you spend half your time keeping it out of the dirt or needing a red carpet underneath. (Don’t get me wrong: I love ballgowns.) Makeup: you have to periodically check it to make sure it hasn’t gotten smeared in the wrong direction. Fingernail polish: oh god, the dreaded chip! There goes another half-hour to redo my nails plus an hour of drying time when I have to be really careful about what I do with my hands (or $20 if I go to a salon) and you have to do it every five days — maybe more frequently if you wear darker polish that shows chips; I wear neutrals, which mostly don’t.
I doubt I’m saying anything new on the subject; there are legions of feminist scholars who have written books and papers and discussed all of these issues. But the above excerpt from Kipnis crystallized the conflict that I feel every time I dress in a way that looks feminine. Because when I dress like that I am less functional. I can’t ride my bike or walk to the BART — I have to drive or cab or be picked up. I specifically avoid walking through my rather-sketchy neighborhood when dressed like that because I get way more untoward attention than when I’m wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
I don’t have a huge beef with anyone trying to look attractive, but it sucks that the definition of female attractiveness is so tightly bound to female helplessness. Perhaps this is also true for male fashion, but I can’t say because I’m not well versed in it and don’t feel its codes the way I do the codes of female dress. Surely, too, dressing to helplessness is also a marker of social class and wealth — I don’t need to walk so I can wear high heels, I can wear a white dress because I can afford to have it cleaned, I don’t need to run because I am safe and protected and have other people to do my work for me, I don’t need a big purse because…. I have a boyfriend to pay for all my drinks and drive me around.
Isn’t there something funny going on when we have (1) a many-thousands-year-old tradition of telling women that their only acceptable sphere is the home; (2) a lot of prejudices against women taking the helm in the valued spheres; (3) almost zero men ever actually making the decision to handicap their wage-earning ability to raise children or take care of housework?
How often is it that the woman (versus the man) hamstrings her earning potential and her ability to support herself, by quitting her job in order to raise children? Or, forget the capitalist earning potential — how often does she give up a passion or a dream because she’s not getting 8 hours of sleep tonight and has to toilet train the toddler and is presumed to manage the household? Is it not almost exclusively women who can mentally infantilize themselves because somewhere, in the back of their mind, they always have the socially acceptable recourse of marriage? Isn’t it still mostly men who grow up with the mental gravitas that they will always have to look to themselves and be their own last recourse? I’m not saying that this is the idealized state of the world — to be able to only count on yourself, without trust or fallback when shit happens. But I’m saying it’s gendered and I’m saying it’s bad that it’s gendered. Why is it still moderately radical and weird to choose not to have kids — it is — or for the man to work part time while the woman is a fulltime career behemoth?