Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Caricature-izing Femininity

My sister is visiting me here in Brum, UK, with her girl friend. This past weekend we took off on a long road-trip since it was bank holiday weekend. On Sunday afternoon as we sat in a rickety booth in Maggie Dickson's in Edinburgh eating veg haggis (for the uninitiated- YUMMY), sis says that she was finding the city to be quite gender-normative. Now granted we cannot talk about the whole city here since we were mostly in the theatre/ arts quarter where the Fringe festival was happening and I am sure we were floating in a lot of tourists. That said, she had put into words something I had been sort of feeling since I moved to the UK last year.

There isn't enough variation in dressing, attitude, hair, looks...within gender while at the same time there is quite a distinct divide between the genders. So for instance, I see women who are all following the same fashion trend (say WIDE belts slung low over the hips), long-er hair, and high heels tottering around on cobbles in all weather. Everytime I look around, I see women scurrying to keep up with male partners. Their stille-toes however, won't allow them to stride so they end up taking these fast mincing little steps which looks ridiculous rather than sexy. And they always end up walking behind the man (talk about allegorical positioning of the sexes) who can stride and lead the way. Even in the coldest weather, you can see these women wearing hardly anything. They are supposed to look sexy- but goose bumps and a funny walk don't do it for me- but of course, they aren't doing it for me anyway- so hey, WIN-WIN!

Gray on a man – distinguished and even sexy. Gray on a woman – past shelf-life. Admittedly, more and more men are also facing the pressures to conform but nowhere close to what women have to deal with. The hair color industry is reaping the rewards of our conformity to vain ideals. Meantime, studies telling how toxic hair color really is can find hardly any readers. Who cares about health if you can look young and sexy?

We are being shown a caricature of the perfect, sexy and feminine woman with constant images over all media of women like Paris Hilton (blonde, thin, lanky, baby voice, and no substantive messages to detract from her femininity – that would probably spoil it all), Jessica Simpson (same with added bonus of boobs and I’m not talking about the guy she recently divorced), Sienna Miller (umm, I really don’t know what this woman is famous for other than what is called her “Boho” style and the boob that she hangs around), Britney Spears (formerly sexy, now that she is pregnant again, she is losing her spot as a sex bomb while Christina Aguilera continues to retain hers)… This could go on ad infinitum if we looked at all the latest film starlets who are getting the roles, the “super” models, etc. It is as if they are the ultimate in feminine ideal and the last word in sexiness and we can only ever hope to aspire to it.

While I began noticing these trends in the UK, they are definitely not limited to this part of the world by any means. In terms of the ubiquitous “ideal” of the feminine, your personal take on it and how diligently you want to go about tracing it back to its roots- you could say Hollywood was to blame, or the cosmetic industry, or the multinationals, or male-dominated cultures or what-have-you. I want to argue that the supply chain is not where the focus should be if any real change is to be affected in our thinking on this subject. We, as women, need to educate ourselves and think for ourselves.

Why is what is feminine and sexy being defined into a narrower and narrower range? And why are we letting it dictate our own sense of our worth and how we should appear? On the one hand, facial and body hair on women is considered gross (ok perhaps not by you particularly, but you know many people do) and unsexy. On the other hand, as any woman who has been with a partner knows, that whether or not they have passionate sex and how often has nothing to do with whether she shaved her legs and armpits today or at all.

We are told that it is the biological imperative that impels us to be as feminine and sexy as possible. However, feminine and sexy used to encompass a wide range. Well, really it still does except we refuse to acknowledge how much variation there can be in the feminine and how lovely and rich that diversity can be. Women and curves used to be synonymous. Now, curvy is a euphemism for large or fat!!

We don't all have to look like we came from the same mold. Healthy women can come in all kinds of sexy shapes, sizes, colors, hairdos and attitudes. Most pictures you see in magazines are airbrushed so don't go b(u)y those. Aim for feeling at peace with yourself and healthy. You do not have to work on being feminine by buying products or coloring your hair or talking softly or dieting or whatever. You are by definition the epitome of femininity! Don't let the caricature of womanhood being projected all around you pigeonhole your lifestyle, outlook, demeanor, philosophy and attitude. Be You!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Our first day here

Well, it is a sunday evening here in the UK (20th August, 2006) and I am trying to set up this blog for April and me to continue a partnership we started a couple years ago now. April is a young scholar who is very interested in natural living that is harmonious with the earth. She is a committed local activist who is constantly involved in policy issues that might make her community a better place to live in. She is very interested in natural birthing and parenting. She is a mother of two and is working on completing her Ph.D in Public Policy. We will hear more from her personally in just a bit.

I met April at SUNY Albany when I was still doing my doctorate there (also in Public Policy). I finished that a couple years ago and decided to try living this side of the Atlantic for a bit and took on a research fellowship that would pay me to get here and be here for a bit. I am also interested in some of the issues April is passionate about. On the other hand I also have some other topics that really get me going- some of these are women's rights, animal rights and issues of empowerment and political involvement.

What we hope to do with this blog is to engage in a dialog on issues of importance to us - these could include a topic in the news currently, something that has us pondering at the moment, or just something that has riled us. Even if we disagree, iinstead of trying to impose a judgment on anything we take issue with, we will try to reason about it and try to show why something works for us- or not.

We believe reasoned dialog is what the world needs. We believe humans are an intelligent animal and each of us is capable of contributing positively to this planet we live in and all our co-inhabitants lives. If we humans cannot give anything positive at least we can be aware of any negative impacts we are having and learn how to get along and leave something more than a husk of a planet for the future.