Monday, August 4, 2014

Unhappily Khaki: On Feminism and Femininity

I’m about to fuck this campus up with my FEMINISM, bitches.

When I was in college, I was the president of a feminist club on campus.  The picture shown above was taken on a day that I was walking around campus, taping up flyers for a meeting.  I was outfitted in gear typical to my fashion during that period of my life – olive green shirt, olive green hair-kerchief, lumberjack coat (?) (borrowed), blue nail polish, no make up. 

At that point in time, I was the most active in feminism as I have ever been.  I believed, passionately, in women’s equality – enough to balance a strenuous course load while single-handedly running a campus organization without help or encouragement from the student government, my assigned faculty advisor, or the majority of the student body.  I thought up topics for the meetings, I sought out speakers, I made a pain of myself to my friends – and strained my best eyeball – trying to give them The Eyeball that would make them attend despite their own course loads and interests.  I spent my own money on neon-colored paper and copies to print out the flyers that I then plastered all over campus one rolled-up bit of masking tape at a time.  I was that interested (and still am) in women’s issues – their health, their power, their happiness. 

You see, with the absolute exception of all bodies of water – both natural and manmade – I don’t like to dip my toe in.  I’m more of a dive in, full throttle kind of girl.  If I believe in it, if I love it – you know it.  I did that (and still do) with feminism.

Unfortunately, I also bought in (fully) to the idea that feminism is only done one way, has only one look, and that look is: khaki.  Variations on the theme include olive, tan, beige, gunmetal, etc.  You get the point. 

I swung from one end of the pole to Antarctica.  Once I learned how marketers shove stereotypical femininity down women’s throats according to a patriarchy-defined gender norm – and charge them more simply for the pretty packaging of targeted products – I swore off pink.  I swore off dresses and hair-do’s.  I stopped shaving my armpits and legs.

And I must admit, I felt free.  Showering took less time. So did dressing. My skin in my armpits and on my legs wasn’t irritated or itchy anymore. 

I also felt very, very smart.  I felt smart every time I paid less for clothes or personal products simply because I stopped buying those items in the women’s sections and sub-sections of sections. Or because I stopped buying certain personal products at all.  Take that, Wal-Mart!

Here I am all smart and not wearing makeup in a hotel room in Baltimore for Feminist Expo 2000.  I got myself and two other students to the expo in my 1984 Honda Accord.  We were the only representatives from Winthrop University. 

Ah.  Silly women with their tubes of goop and gloss.  What sheep. 
What vapid, superficial, air-hea --------------- wait.


Did I just say “silly women” back there?  What kind of feminist utters the words “silly women”???

Yep.  Exactly.

Little did I know that in my rejection of patriarchy-imposed femininity, in my self-righteous selection of muted colors, board shorts and billfolds over ribbons and lipstick and pocketbooks, I was starting to scoff at women.

I thought I was better than them because I did not behave like them, because I was smart enough to dismiss their gender performance and preferences and practices as empty, useless behavior.

Now, what does that sound like?

Sounds a little like patriarchy, doesn’t it?

The fact is that I was starting to hate feminine women, to judge them, and to think that I was better than them because I didn’t value what they valued. 

Or, more accurately, because I was trying not to value what they valued.

The truth is that I was very, very unhappy with my appearance.

Now, granted, this was at a time just after the atomic bomb of the Spice Girls had exploded and people were shaking off “girl power” fairy dust in favor of the grittier, hippy-er, goddess-ier Lilith Fair.  Tori Amos and Jewel and Short Hair Sheryl Crow and Fiona Apple.

Also, I was in love with Ani Difranco.

Still, I took it way further than most.  In my little corner of South Carolina for fucks’ sakes, I took it to Feminist Level Epic Armpit.

I won tickets to Lilith Fair at a local radio station.  With my mother fucking armpits. 

Yes, I felt free.  Yes, my armpits felt great so long as I stayed away from wet, roller ball applicator deodorant (FUCK-ouch!).  Yes, I spent less money on makeup but apparently made up for it by spending it on something else that was not important enough for me to now remember what it was. 

But I also felt deeply insecure, and ugly, and off. 

Clearly, this brand of feminism did not help me as the woman I am.  It simply fit me into another mold.  A mold that looks awfully, and suspiciously, like the patriarchal ideal that values masculinity as the standard. 

I, a woman who very much positively identifies with many aspects of femininity, didn’t feel liberated or empowered or beautiful in my own skin when I rejected femininity completely, throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I was rejecting part of myself.  Thus, I felt angry and odd and like other people were staring at me, which they were (the leg hair – I was kind of famous).

I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not mean, in the slightest, to disparage women who identify as masculine or butch or androgynous or etc., or imply that any and all women who DO identify with any level of masculinity are wrong, or that they feel, think, or act, as a matter of course, negatively toward feminine women.  I, in fact, very much appreciate butch women. 

The truth is, I was really put out that I was getting zero glances from the precious few butch women at a time in my life when I should have been having All The Sex. Not only was I wrongly submitting to a false notion of what it meant to be a feminist, but also to a false idea of what it meant to be queer. I hadn't yet discovered the femme identity. Note: Gender identities within the queer community can be just as oppressive as those of heteronormative society, but we'll have to save that for another post. 

It is a painful, confusing disconnect that comes when you misunderstand, or fail to accept, or don’t realize, or forget or otherwise somehow misrepresent your own damn self to yourself and others. 

I would never, ever go so far as to say that I felt what transgender people feel – not even close, or even in the same galaxy, because I chose the misrepresentation I gave to the world, whereas transgendered people are born, with no choice, into a misrepresentation that often (but not always) becomes a hell for them, and a financially/emotionally/physically expensive hell to escape  – but I will say that my experience of misrepresenting myself because I didn’t fully understand myself helps me to be more human, to empathize with transgendered people, because I do know a slim shade of that painful disconnect that happens when who you are is not what people see. 

Eventually, I shaved my armpits.  Eventually, slowly, then all at once, I slipped out of a fashion that was – for ME, because it wasn’t me - just as rigid, just as oppressive as the Female Beauty Standard.  I went back to reading women’s magazines that weren’t Bitch or Ms.  I started applying make-up again.  Check out my Blogger profile picture to get an idea. 

And you know what?  Beauty hadn’t changed.  Not one bit.  It was still there waiting for me, just as glossy and elusive and expensive as ever.

Because the beauty industry isn’t learning anything or paying attention to feminism, particularly the brand of feminism that denounces The Beauty Industry entirely.  Why should they?  The either lose you forever (which means they never had you), or they simply wait for you to come crawling back on broken nails and torn hosiery. 

The beauty industry ignores feminism unless it is to appropriate it, and feminism ignores the beauty industry except to criticize it. The two do not have a smooth, wrinkle-free relationship, you could say. It ain't pretty, you could say. 

So here I am in limbo. 

I really did love the un-rashed skin and time saved that came with not shaving.  I really did love the feeling of spending money more wisely (at least when it came to certain sections of the store). 

But, being the woman I am, I really do love beauty. 

And now I really don’t know how to do femininity, how to do beauty, and keep the good things I learned from my walk on the masculine side (and that’s what it was, by the way – unadulterated, homogeneous worship of all things Man, disguised as “neutral,” just as the term “mankind” is a “neutral” term that “includes” women; funny how the kilt hasn’t caught on as a “neutral” skirt for everyone, but somehow polo shirts and, yes, khaki pants are considered a “gender-neutral” uniform for just about every employee that exists on the planet), or adhere to the principals of bonafide feminism that I fully value and want to represent for other women and girls. 

For example, I really like pink.  And fairies.  I would really hate to see pink fairies go in the name of un-gendering toys.  How do we keep pink fairies, yet still tear down the tyrannical separation of girl toys and boy toys?  How do we keep the pink fairies and let girls play with them if they so wish and let boys play with them if they so wish and also create more neutral options and also encourage both sexes to choose from those options at least every once and a while, at least enough to keep the companies making gender neutral toys? 

In the same vein, I really like flowers.  I like them on my pens, and sanitary pad products and etc.  I like them.  I just don’t want to pay more for them because apparently flowers take more money to put on packaging.  I also don’t want “FOR WOMEN” on a package of pens, just because that makes me feel kind of, I don’t know, like, weird? It makes me feel like my pens are sanitary pad products, because those are the only products I can think of that really are exclusively for women.  We – men and women – can figure out what is feminine, and whether or not we like feminine stuff, without the “for women” edict being on there.  Because, and don’t let me knock your socks off here, but men buy all kinds of women’s shit, for a variety of purposes. Maybe they’re in a rush and can’t be bothered to pick something in a nice navy with a charcoal stripe. Or, maybe they’re a feminine kind of man, or something in between. I can tell you that seeing a man in an underwire bra is what got me started on underwire bras.  The lift and definition.  You wouldn’t believe unless you saw it with your own eyes. 

Also, can you please stop making SHITTY RAZORS FOR WOMEN and always REALLY, REALLY AWESOME RAZORS FOR MEN?  Just take the fucking Gillette ProGlide, remove “for men” from the damn thing, make it in ALL THE DIFFERENT COLORS, and you’re done.  Boom.  You rule the razor market. 

But, eh, to completely vaporize the point I made in the paragraph just above this one, how do I recapture the time lost and skin damage I saved myself from by not shaving and still look, dress, act like a feminine woman?  This one seems to be the hardest.    I haven't yet found the courage it takes to wear a cocktail dress with leg hair.  To date, coverage has been my option, thus pants.

BUT I FUCKING HATE PANTS because they are so ON YOU ALL THE TIME you ALWAYS KNOW THEY ARE THERE because they are always TOUCHING AND HUGGING YOUR LEGS with their pants-iness.  UGH.

Plus, it gets hot for a bitch. 

I thought about long, breathable, flowing, to-the-ankle skirts that would allow me to cover my leg hair and be a girl and also not-pants.  I thought about wearing these skirts exclusively all the time, in all weather (this can be done with the introduction of tights in the winter) because skirts are so not-pants.

I Googled “24/7, full-coverage all-season skirt wearing with or without tights.”

Know what I got?

Websites and blogs devoted to “modesty lifestyle” and “honoring your body for your husband” and “we make homemade fig preserves jam.”

And I ain’t makin’ any damn jam. 

Hmmm.  Maybe if I had put in that bit about trying to cover my uber-feminist, sensitive skinned, butch lovin’, ultra girly leg hair?

It ain’t easy being an enigma. 

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