Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Closet Full of Sunday Clothes and Nothing to Wear

Okay, so today is pants-to-church day, which is, what? a movement? an outward expression of ideology? A cold-weather referendum? I'm not sure.

But I do know that I feel a little bullied into it. If I don't wear pants, am I an anti-feminist? Or am I someone who just bought a wool pencil skirt from Goodwill this week and kind of wanted to wear it? Can I claim ignorance on this thing or is it too late?

I wonder if my relationship to Mormon feminism or feminism in general isn't perhaps a little strained. I like to think of myself as heartily 3rd-wave, not old-school feminism. I recently read a book by an old-guard feminist, which I mostly agreed with but her philosophies (everyone is out to get us) and methods (a print magazine will solve the problem) seemed a little off-putting. I love Julia Kristeva's feminism, a feminism that isn't essentializing, and in many ways, what bothers me about many so-called feminists is that they want to re-make the female experience in their own image. I remember reading the Vagina Monologues, the later addition, and not only is Eve Ensler so smug in "speaking for womankind," but it took until the later version for her to include childbirth in the episodes of things that happen with a vagina. Hmm. Kind of a big deal for a lot of people, especially people who aren't just your circle of friends.

One of the things about 3rd-wave feminism that I like is that it recognizes that the experiences rich, white women have with their sex is different, sometimes dramatically different, than most of the women of the world. For instance, almost everyone on earth is against female gentile mutilation. That's oppression, but then, is wearing the hijab oppression? How about wearing a halter-top? Who gets to decide? It's not just a question of developed-vs-developing world feminism, but within rich, pluralistic societies or even within any society made up of individuals (read: all of them), there are going to be variances in what women count as the course of feminism, as with any philosophy or idea.

 I don't walk around all day thinking, "I'm a woman, I'm a woman, I'm a woman." I'm more likely to be defining myself by my course of study, my career, my religion, my hobbies and interests. In fact, it was kind of an ironic bristle when an African-American curator, encouraging me to write about the genius painter Henry Ossawa Tanner* in terms other than his race (I heartily agree), suggested "You could look at his portrayal of women." Pwhat? And why not his glazes? Or his expat status? Or his troubled apprenticeship with Thomas Eakins? (Okay, I totally wrote about that last one.) Just like Tanner consistently resisted being labeled a Negro artist, but wanted to be an American artist, or a religious artist, I don't want to be seen only in terms of my gender, but in terms of all the cool things I do and think. I want the right to define myself.

And so my easy answer is this: feminism, or in a wider-term, human rights, is about agency to make choices for yourself. Having the say to pursue, without being mocked, threatened, or under-compensated, a million choices for your own life--make cookies, play lacrosse, study gamma rays, go backpacking, wear pink, write ghost stories, teach Italian, work backstage or in the spotlight, enjoy slasher movies, enjoy romantic movies, wear pants, wear skirts.

Which brings me to my sartorial choices for the day. I don't have a problem with skirts. I like skirts. The 4--nope, Goodwill, so now 5--grey pencil skirts I own testify to that. I often wear skirts to work, for instance. I look good in skirts, because they look formal and they flatter my bulky upper-thighs and let me show off my often-tanned lower legs.  Yes, I have to keep my knees together in some of them, but my zombie-day costume demonstrates that I can run plenty good in a skirt (I ripped the tags off of 72 runners in less than 3 hours, including some elite runners). But this isn't about the relative merits of clothing that encases one leg at a time or clothing that encases both legs together, is it? It's about signalling my allegiance with a group.

And this is where my easy answer of feminism breaks down: we aren't just individuals making individual choices. We are constantly being acted upon by societal forces, both revolutionary and reactionary. If I wear a skirt, I may be aligning myself with patriarchy, tradition, and the unfounded, non-doctrinal tyranny of The Way Things Have Always Been. If I wear pants, I may be giving into the peer-pressure of all my feminist friends, or desiring to align myself with the cool, progressive element, or see myself as a part of a business-formal crusade. I myself become less myself.

This pants thing has demanded me to take sides, and to align myself to factions, rather than just opening my closet, choosing something comfy and pretty, festive, appropriately warm or cooling, goes well with shoes that I like, or puts me in a good mood, or that I just barely bought.

Maybe I will just wear a skirt with pants underneath. Or bloomers.

UPDATE: No one gets to tell me what to wear...grr... I'm wearing my new skirt.

* This Wikipedia article, too, is so restrictive because (1) Tanner was not the first African American artist to have international acclaim--there were other artists patronized by European royal families (2) Tanner's influence wasn't just on African American artists, but also on artists in general, including his American impressionism contemporaries and (3) that dumb restricting first line. Anyway, that is all.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

No Good November

It wasn't all a wash. I passed my prospectus exam, but after tears and frustration and several frantic morning writing sessions. I had a lovely interlude of 2 weeks on a cruise/in Italy where I didn't have much stress or frustration. But over all, November was not good to me:

(1) My computer gave up the ghost (fortunately, I back up all the time)

(2) My brand-new computer, which I bought to fix this one, was stolen out of my hands (a class J felony). Fortunately, I back up all the time. And didn't get knifed when I chased after him. And everyone, as I told the 15th customer service representative, has been nice. Yeah, he said, everyone but the guy who stole your laptop.

(3) Aforementioned prospectus stress

(4) My flight to the exceptional vacation and vacation exception was delayed hours and hours, I missed my connection flight, spent 6 hours in the Heathrow airport and then only got 6 hours sleep in my hostel (where I arrived at midnight) and 3 hours of walking around town before going to meet up with my siblings, which was stressful, too, because we didn't know how to find each other and feared the worst. Sheesh.

(5) My rat has breast cancer. I knew she was a short-lived animal when/ so I bought her, but I don't want to think about my little friend being in pain and suffering. I keep thinking that maybe I should have done something...maybe it's because of all the carcinogenic bits of bacon I kept feeding her.

(6) After zero progress with my crush I've given up pursuit and am willing to say, "if he doesn't like me, I won't like him." It was painful to like him so much, but at least there was hope.

(7) I was not a healthy eater and feel a little sick with myself. I went running and was sloppy. I used to be stronger than this.

But guess what? It's December now. I have an advent calendar full of fun on my wall and plans to go home, and parties to throw/attend, and lots of fun research to do, and a race coming up, and last night I danced with maybe five boys. Maybe six.