j4: (hair)
I have a kind of ongoing conversation with myself about shaving my legs. (Yes, that's the kind of boring thing I talk about, even when I'm talking to myself.) It's hard to transcribe the voices in my head because observing them tends to change them, but I've eavesdropped on this one often enough that I reckon I can capture at least some of it faithfully:

"Those legs are getting pretty hairy."
"So? That's fine."
"Well it doesn't look too good."
"IT LOOKS FINE."
"Actually you know what I really don't like the way it looks."
"Oh well then you're a slave to the beauty myth. Call yourself a feminist etc etc."
"OK so I'm not allowed to prefer smooth legs?"
"Well in theory you're allowed to, in an ideal world you'd be allowed to, but as things stand you can't have that thought without it being caused by oppressive heteronormative gender stereotyping."
"Right, so I'm not allowed to like what the patriarchy likes? Isn't that just a different sort of lack of freedom of choice?"
"Um... no! It's different. Because you get to choose the better option, not the one that makes women do painful stuff in the name of beauty."
"But shaving my legs isn't painful."
"No but that's not the point. It's mutilating your body just for the sake of -"
"It isn't 'mutilating' anything, any more than cutting my fingernails is. It grows back, you know."
"- and anyway by not shaving your legs you're supporting other women."
"How?"
"It shows women that they're allowed to have hairy legs."
"So I have to do things I don't like to show other women that they're allowed to resist doing things they don't like?"
"Yeah! ... No, wait, no! Gah, the point is you're not supposed to like smooth legs. Hair is natural, yada yada."
"OK shitting in the woods is natural but you know what I really prefer using an actual toilet and not having to use leaves to wipe and so do you, you hypocrite."
"That's different."
"Is not."
"Is too."
"Is not. PROVE THAT I LIE."
"Ahahaha I see what you did there. Bet nobody else will pick up on it though."
"This is getting a bit meta, isn't it?"
"Always a risk when talking to oneself."
[pause]
"Was that the fourth wall?"
"I wasn't counting."
[pause]
"OK, so ... back to the conversation. Hairy legs look scruffy at work. Shaving your legs when you're going to be showing them off at work is just like wearing a tie or something. Hairy legs look scruffy on men too, but men don't tend to wear shorts when they're trying to look smart."
"You're trying to change the subject."
"You're trying to evade my point."
"Ah but anyway you shouldn't be trying to conform by wearing skirts. Especially not short skirts. What are you trying to cash in on your 'erotic capital' or some such bullshit?"
"No, it's just, you know, it's AUGUST."
"Even in August, you shouldn't be focusing on trying to conform. If you were really serious about staying cool you'd wear like a kaftan or something but I don't see you trying that."
"OK, so maybe I'm conforming, but look, I have to conform to some social norms to be taken seriously in my job."
"Which means you're PART OF THE PROBLEM! You shouldn't cave in to that sort of pressure!"
"But I like my job and I like being able to help pay the mortgage and feed my family. Also I actually think it's totally reasonable to expect people to look tidy at work: it's about avoiding foregrounding the clothes so you can get on with concentrating on the important stuff."
"That's unreasonable! People should be able to see past all that surface stuff to the real person underneath."
"Yeah well people should be able to see past fonts and pictures to basic functionality when looking at prototype websites but actually they generally can't. So we work with what we've got and what they can do."
"You mean you're an enabler for being wrong and stupid?"
"No! I mean I'm conservative in what I generate & liberal in what I accept."
"Oh hark at you. Anyway your job should be the same. If it won't accept you with scruffy clothes and hairy legs, then it's a bad job and it's CRUSHING YOUR SOUL."
"I don't have a soul. Aren't you supposed to be an atheist too?"
"Figure of speech. Anyway. BAD JOB. Crushing your something-or-other-that-atheists-have. Get a better one."
"But I like this job. And I don't mind having to wear normal clothes and look like a normal person."
"Well you should! You are SELLING OUT and facilitating oppression!"
"Also I want to wear skirts occasionally. OK usually when all my nice trousers are in the wash, but still. Some skirts are nice."
"You don't really want to wear skirts, you're just - "
"Hang on, you can't play 'false consciousness' twice in the same argument. Penalty card."
"But that's the patriarchy."
"YES BUT -"
"No buts. Anyway it's not only work, I like to look smarter for parties and things as well."
"THAT IS ALSO THE PATRIARCHY! You are trying to conform to what men will like!"
"I am totally not. Firstly nobody has ever turned me down for being too hairy (and nor have I turned anybody else down for being too hairy even though all other things being equal I prefer non-hairy to hairy, but all other things never are equal). Secondly - "
"Are you nearly done?"
"- No. Secondly: I am married, so I already succeeded in attracting someone if that was what I was trying to do, and anyway I am currently too exhausted to be interested in trying to attract anybody, and besides if I was thinking about trying to attract people I'd be thinking about what women would like too - "
"Which is the same, because blah blah male gaze - "
"- shush. Anyway, I am not doing what you say I am doing."
"Look anyway if you must wear a skirt then just wear it with hairy legs."
"But it looks scruffy. I don't like the way it looks."
"Nobody will notice!"
"I'll notice. They're my legs. I am closer to them than anybody else."
"But you shouldn't care if - "
"I hope you're not trying to do that again."
"No! No."
"I will feel scruffy. And then I will feel less confident in what I'm doing. Maybe that's stupid but there it is. Think of it as a placebo."
"[silent eye-roll]"
"So anyway I am totally going to shave my legs because I am a free person."
"[outraged expression]"
"But... not right now. Right now I will just cover them up with these trousers that probably should have gone in the wash yesterday. Because that's what I feel like wearing. Not because I now feel even more guilty and conflicted about shaving my legs."
"Right on, sister!"
"[sigh]"
j4: (southpark)
This article advert on Netmums made me so furious I had to have a rant here. Let's take it line by line:

Sometimes it’s hard work just looking at celebrities on the red carpet.


Wow, if that's your idea of hard work, you need to get out more. Tell you what, we'll start gently: I'll do the celeb-watching for you while you come over here & do the hoovering*. If that doesn't blow your mind, you can help me assemble some flat-pack furniture**.

* I haven't actually done the hoovering since about 2001.
** The flat-pack wardrobe has actually already been assembled with gratefully-received help from [livejournal.com profile] invisiblechoir. But there may be more to come!

The glitz, the glamour, the hair, the dresses…followed by the comparisons, the feelings of inadequacy, the despair when we look in the mirror and see ourselves - an ‘ordinary’ mum.


Well, speak for yourself. I see the "glitz" and think it's a bit tacky, to be honest. But if you enjoy looking at celebrities, then that's fine... but it doesn't sound like you do enjoy it all that much, if it makes you feel inadequate and despairing. Maybe you shouldn't watch it? I mean, I'm not saying there's necessarily a correlation here, but when I look in the mirror, I don't feel the need to compare myself to celebrities, & I don't feel inadequacy or despair (though I'm no stranger to either feeling in other contexts!). I don't even see "an ordinary mum": I just see myself. I know I'm not "just a mum", and I also know (after not quite a year of being a mum) that there's no "just" about being a mum.

But Netmums and My Special K think that behind every ‘ordinary’ mum is an extraordinary woman and so My Special K have devised a personalised slimming plan to help you look amazing for that special event, party or holiday that you have coming up.


I don't get it. Is this extraordinary woman behind me so tiny that you won't be able to see her unless I lose weight? If she's so extraordinary, why doesn't she just say "Excuse me, can I get past?" and come and stand in front of me? If the extraordinary woman is me, why do I need a personalised slimming plan? If I'm that great, then why do you think there should be less of me? If I'm so great, why don't I carry on being the extraordinary woman I am? And since when did "amazing" mean "thin"? And even if it did, how do you know I'm not already thin? I mean, at the moment (not that it's any of your business) I'm 5'1" and approximately a size 10. Could you clarify at exactly what point I'm supposed to feel despair for not looking like "celebrities"? Also, which celebrities am I supposed to want to look like? I mean, I'd have to grow an extra eight inches in height to look like most models, and I don't think even Special K (the world's most joyless breakfast cereal) can help me there.

If you look closely many of those same celebrities that we put on an unachievable pedestal are actually just ordinary mums too.


Oh. So remind me, why am I supposed to be emulating them with your special slimming plan? I thought being an "ordinary mum" was what I was trying to avoid by eating the cereals of self-loathing. (And less of the "we" there. I don't put celebrities on a pedestal.)

Yes they’ve been preened and primed for the red carpet event you see them at, but do you think they look like that when their toddler jumps on their head at 5am?


Well, no. But then I'm not looking in the mirror when my baby jumps on my head at 5am, and I look better in the day than I do at 5am too. I'm losing track of how this comparison is meant to work.

So don’t despair,


I wasn't before I started reading this. Now I am actually starting to despair, but not for the reasons you think I am.

first step is to sign up to My Special K’s fantastic personalised slimming plan and then let’s investigate how those celebrities do it and what can we learn from them.


Look, I'm not a scientist, but I reckon you've got those steps the wrong way round. If we want to look like celebrities, why not investigate how they do it first and then see if we can do the same? Hint: they spend shitloads of money on their looks and/or have armies of people to do their hair, their makeup, their nails, their clothes. They almost certainly don't eat Special K. I reckon if you gave me a million pounds to spend on all that stuff I could make myself look like a celebrity without any additional help from a cereal that tastes like cardboard.

1. Making the most of your assets

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have hair like Penelope Cruz, or lips like Gwen Stefani? Ever noticed how celebrities always draw attention to their best feature? Whilst Penelope Cruz can most often be seen cruising the red carpet with shining, flowing locks, Gwen Stefani is rarely seen without her signature flash of red lipstick. So whether it’s your eyes or your thighs, identify your best asset and learn to make a feature of it.


My best features... well, that's a tricky one. Off the top of my head, in no particular order, I'd rate: my capacity for love; my writing; my musicality; the speed with which I learn new things. I find it hard to define some of the things I'm good at but they're definitely there. I've made a feature of these things by spending my time doing things other than staring in the mirror feeling miserable because I don't look like a celebrity.

Also, I'm now wondering how Penelope Cruz would cruz (ha!) the red carpet without her shining, flowing locks. I guess she could shave it all off and then her hair could come along later in a different Rolls-Royce and someone could roll it along the red carpet on its own. Or she could wear a very big hat.

There's also the possibility that e.g. Gwen Stefani's signature flash of red lipstick functions a bit like Clark Kent's glasses in reverse, i.e. when you see her without her signature flash of red lipstick you don't realise it's Gwen Stefani, so in fact you do see her without it all the time, but you don't see her without it. She might be standing right next to you RIGHT NOW. (Made you look.)

2. Work those curves

Quite often when we become mothers our bodies change and we don’t know how to dress our new curves. Take note of the likes of Kate Winslet, Salma Hayek, Jennifer Hudson and Holly Willoughby and embrace your curves. There’s nothing sexy about hiding under a black sack. Buy a dress (red is always good!) that clings to all the right places, add a plunging neckline and a little attitude and you’ll be red carpet ready in no time.


Hang on, a minute ago we weren't supposed to have curves, we were supposed to be slimming! Now we're supposed to be working our curves! Make your mind up, guys!

Also, I think there's some middle ground between "hiding under a black sack" and wearing a figure-hugging red dress with a plunging neckline, and it's the middle ground in which most of us live most of the time (thank goodness, otherwise every party would be like a version of The Matrix in which the teenage boy who made the woman in the red dress had been allowed to design all the female characters, and they'd all come at you like the excellent bit in the otherwise-appalling second Matrix movie where the army of Agent Smiths (Agents Smith?) attacks Neo, and you'd have to fight them off with super-fast bullet-time karate moves, BLAM! KAPOW! ... and that would get tiring after a while).

And furthermore, a) red is not always good, e.g. if you have red hair; and b) I bet there are people out there who think hiding under a black sack is pretty sexy, because of rule 34.

3. Never underestimate good underwear


I'm losing the will to live here, but let's go on:

Celebrities know the power of good underwear. You’d be hard pushed to find a celebrity that doesn’t love Spanx. Jennifer Garner, Jessica Alba and Brooke Shields have all publically declared their love of spanx and Kim Kardashian even stated that ‘Spanx are my best friend!’


I thought they were supposed to work their curves, not use corsetry to get rid of them? (Also, if we're going to wear the bodyshapers anyway, why bother with the cardboard-only slimming diet?) Also, I already have a best friend, and she's way more interesting than a pair of control pants (also way more interesting than Kim Kardashian).

It doesn’t stop at the bottom half though.


Underwear usually doesn't, unless you're a waitress in a topless bar.

A good bra is essential and can take pounds off your silhouette. Make sure you get a fitting done before parting with your money though – figures show that approx. 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size – and you can be sure it’s not the celebrities!


OK, this advice is fine. Get a bra that fits. It's more likely to take pounds off your bank balance than off your silhouette, but it will also help prevent boobache and backache, and that's got to be a good thing.

4. Time to make-up

Of course whilst celebrities have their own army of stylists, hairdressers and make-up artists the rest of us have to make do with our own talents on that special night. So why not learn a few extra tricks of the trade? If you’re not confident in the art of make-up go to someone who is and ask for a little help. You may be lucky enough to have a friend who could give you a quick lesson, but if not head to the cosmetic floor at one of the big department stores and ask for some assistance. The women working there are normally only too happy to help, especially on the quieter mid-week mornings, and purchasing their goods is not a requirement.


And I guess this advice is fine if you want to do the makeup thing. (I've always made do with my own talents on any "special night", and I've, ahem, never had any complaints about my talents.) Just so long as you know that the tangerine-faced No. 7 ladies in Boots aren't actually going to make you look like Kate Winslet.

Win a makeover for you and a friend!

Netmums are also delighted to launch our fabulous ‘Nominate a Mum’ competition. Perhaps you have a friend or family member who has lost their confidence since becoming a Mum?


Oh, Netmums. With inspirational advice like this article, how could any mum lose her confidence?
j4: (fairy)
[The subject line is to be sung to the tune of "Women and Men" by TMBG. I hope you enjoy this earworm as much as I am enjoying it.]

I rambled a lot in a response to a friends-locked post by [livejournal.com profile] monkeyhands, who said I should post my response somewhere everybody could see, or more precisely, "I would like to see you turn this stuff into a proper LJ post where people who aren't my friends can read it. But I realise you have Important Very Hard Coding to do. :) " But because I'm a Modern Woman and I can have it all, I got today's not-actually-that-important-but-entertainingly-Hard Coding out of the way (still whittling away at the XSLT to turn docx into TEI XML and back again without loss of style/formatting information - today's problem: right-to-left text in Arabic), done my volunteer shift at the Oxfam bookshop, and am now posting this stuff as well, go me. So anyway, I reposted the comment below, wholesale and unedited, and hopefully it makes enough sense without the full context. And then I went and rambled some more after that, too.

~~~

I should point out that the "geek as a gender" thing is not mine originally -- see explanation here.

geek work environments seem more meritocratic to me and I’d like to find out more about why that is

A couple of factors which I think may be relevant:

* geeks usually have some experience of talking to people in online chatrooms etc where you don't always even know somebody's gender. (This is a mixed blessing as some people just default to assuming people are male if they don't know their gender... but then that can be even more educational if they find out the truth & are forced to reassess their assumptions as a result.)

* geeks have often had some experience of being laughed at for being socially awkward, ie for failing to conform to rules that they didn't accept and don't understand. So when they get a chance to construct a micro-society for themselves, it may have fewer 'secret' (implicit) rules of interaction (and more explicit rules, and more insistence on codifying the rules - again a mixed blessing).

* related to the above -- programmers are used to 'communicating' (with computers) in a language which doesn't really have tones of voice or nuances; a language where if what you 'say' does the right thing, then at some level it's good enough. (There may be a more concise way to say the right thing, or a way to avoid having to say the right thing more than once, or a way that "just seems more elegant".)

In practice, I think it's often just substituting one set of implicit expectations for another, though. :-/

Also, there's a risk of a "geekist" attitude along the lines of "nobody who isn't a geek can possibly have anything worth contributing", the sort of attitude that refuses to acknowledge that things like literature and art and kindness can possibly have any value to society, because you can't express them in equations. But that's kind of at the extreme end of the geek spectrum.

“oh, they’ll be expecting me to buy the birthday card because I’m the only woman here”

I do get some of that, but I don't know to what extent that's because I'm female and to what extent it's because I'm probably the most sociable member of the team, the one who's willing to talk to people. (I mean, I'm not ruling out the fact that being sociable is related to being female, nature/nurture/Nietzsche/quack, but I am certain that being female is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being sociable.)

E.g. the year before last I got asked to organise the team's Christmas meal, which involved talking to people & asking them what they wanted to do and blah blah blah then ringing the restaurant and booking the table and getting people's menu choices. I don't like trying to guess stuff when I can ask the person who knows directly (and I work with people who do not worry too much about being socially gauche), so I asked my line-manager whether he was asking me to do the "social secretary" stuff because I was a woman; he looked pained, reminded me who else was on the team, & asked if I could imagine any of them organising a social event. I had to concede that he had a point. :-} I guess that's a bit of the "oh just give it here" problem, & maybe we should be trying to teach the less-sociable people to socialise, but that's problematic (morally and practically) too.

As you say, though, it's hard (maybe not always possible) to disentangle the sexist expectations from the other social/cultural assumptions -- and we have to be able to make some assumptions otherwise we'd go mad trying to analyse each social situation from first principles every time. On the other hand I think sometimes it's important to ask people about their assumptions. But that's often hard.

I don't know. I can only really talk about how I do things, and then only anecdotally, and a lot of it comes down to chance and selective memory, and social interaction is experimentally unrepeatable, and and and. And I'm not saying that because it's difficult to untangle we shouldn't try to untangle it, but my coping strategy (imperfectly implemented) for my own life is to focus my limited energy on fixing things I stand a chance of being able to fix; so I can't do anything about being female, but I can do lots of other things to try to work better with people and persuade them to work better with me.

Anyway. I should do some work otherwise I'll just be reinforcing the stereotype that girls just sit around posting to LJ when they should be working. :-}

~~~~

So much for the comment. Then I realised that in my list of disintegrating statements I didn't say much about my stance on the f-word. I don't tend to describe myself as a feminist; but then, I also don't tend to describe myself as a human being. I've said before that "All I know is that whenever I express sentiments that distinguish me from a feminist I get called a doormat", but that's just being facetious and doesn't really explain the problem.

I certainly don't think feminism is "over" or has "done its job"; I think there is still a sickening amount of inequality in the world, a lot of it relating to gender and sex and sexuality, because those are things that are important to people, and people commit terrible atrocities in the name of things that are important to them, and telling people they shouldn't care about those things is a rubbish way to fix that problem. I do think there's an enormous amount of cultural baggage associated with the word "feminism", not all of it helpful, and I think it's at best disingenuous to pretend that that baggage doesn't have any effect on how people react to the word. (At worst you're basically telling people "You mustn't accept the labels that the patriarchy imposes on you ... but how dare you refuse the labels that we impose on you?" which is a bit like telling women whose husbands are beating them up that they'd be much better people if they let another woman beat them up instead.)

I also don't see how "I'm a feminist and I'm not going to stand for your sexist bullshit" is actually a stronger statement than "I'm not going to stand for your sexist bullshit"; in other words, if you're fighting for the cause, I don't think it matters if you're not wearing the official uniform. In fact, I think sometimes the uniform gets in the way, because if you're always wearing the uniform, people start to see you as a role rather than a person, and that's not helpful if you're trying to get them to see you as a person and stop categorising you in according to their perception of your role. I'm not saying that there's no place for labels and causes; I'm just saying that there is also a place for action outside the labels and the causes, and that failing to wear the official uniform every day doesn't make you a bad person, and that "if you're not for us then you're against us" is a pernicious lie.

And talking of uniforms, I know I am just awkward and contrary, but to me the famous feminist tshirt has the unfortunate subtext of suggesting that a feminist has to dress in the wearisome conformity of the "alternative" subculture, the confrontational slogan tshirt, only available in I'm-only-wearing-black-because-they-haven't-invented-a-more-tedious-colour, only available in stare-at-my-chest-please. Where are the feminists wearing suits and ties, the feminists wearing actual uniforms, the feminists in spacesuits, the feminists in Laura Ashley dresses, the feminists wearing tracksuits, the feminists wearing silk negligées, the feminists wearing nothing at all, the feminists who are not even looking at the camera?
j4: (oxford)
Someone who really is my kind of feminist more or less warned me off a recent F-Word article about Oxbridge sex workers, so I can't blame her. Still, La Penny's rant shocked me: I'm frankly disgusted to see a fellow Oxford English graduate prostituting her literary learning like that.

Though if she must get her lit. out for the lad(ie)s then she could at least try to look like she's enjoying it.

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