We all have rough time periods and to honor them I am sharing a bit of humor. Hope you enjoy! xo
Preparation for this paper took some unusual turns and I did not arrive at my intended destination. Conversations that occurred surrounding this gender bender with girlfriends went so far as to include a spontaneous dress Jan up, like a girl, session for her date. My girlfriends were concerned about my wardrobe; in actuality they were concerned about my ability to appropriately express my feminine side. I was trying to get them to focus on the topic of gender bending. “Gender: self-expression, not anatomy,” (Leslie Feinberg FTR pg 133), it is here they decide how my hair should be fixed, the shoes, the jewelry; the only thing they didn’t critique was my underwear. They avoid this as they know I do not wear a bra. I think they were just relieved that I do wear underwear. Having a latex and rubber allergy makes conforming to my societal norms impossible. In this impossibility I have learned to exist comfortably. I can only imagine the hoops I would have had to jump through had that one little garment been added to this equation.
Fridays became a female ritual. Two women have graced me with their wisdom, naivety, love, support, camaraderie, and their voice. These two women represent two whole different generations. I met them at the beginning of the summer of 2010, during the process of moving and beginning my new life as a graduate student.
These two women have been brought together by me, and now these women are hen pecking me. I have a date, a prospective date, “to be a woman who belongs to no man is to be invisible, pathetic, inauthentic, unreal,” (FT 175). We logically rebel against this theory yet during the evolution of this experience I wonder about the legitimacy of our rebellion. I think they may be, actually they are, more excited about it than I am. I am the only realist in the room. I have grown accustomed to being alone; I have lots of practice. The idea of a man is enticing. Spending time reading with my cat and getting ahead on my homework is too, without the addition of chaos.
Kat had an advertisement on craigslist searching for housing it read mature law student with two dogs and cat seeks living arrangements. I had a similar add posted, so I contacted her, thinking that two heads were better than one, and they were. I looked at things for her as she got ready to move to Laramie from Northern Montana. I was living with friends in Fort Collins at first and then in a temporary apt of a fellow grad student who went home for the summer. I found Kat a residence and once she moved and I was swamped in summer school she found me an apartment.
Mar is 24 years old and from Estonia. She is a fellow graduate student, second year, in American Studies. We were introduced and immediately became fast friends. Her youth is energizing and maturity has always surpassed her age. She can be naive in experience, but can’t we all. I enrolled in a summer course in American Studies with her to get my feet wet in my brand new department and immediately wanted to adopt the adorable Estonian.
I am 38 balancing out our mathematical triptych age equation. We are all strong independent intelligent experienced women with extraordinary goals. Mar in a foreign country and Kat and I returning as very nontraditional students in an age of technology that is overwhelming. We all have great respect for each other as we all come from quite different backgrounds and “worlds”. It took a bit for all of us to get our bearing this semester and settle into our individual routines. We decided we were not getting to see enough of each other all together. This was something that the three of us wanted to change, so now we have lunch or coffee every Friday.
I may tag the day as feminine Friday now, as the experience was delightful, torturous and amazingly intriguing all at the same time. Kat is a first year law student. She had her first big torte test Friday and received her first grade from a paper. Mar is trying to corral her elusive thesis and I am just trying to get the lay of the grad school land. We are all in concert about avoiding the pitfalls in our own quests for education.
Feminine Friday meeting started as it usually does; what do we want to do, where we should go, are we going to eat etc. etc. We originally planned on going to the park for a picnic, Mother Nature had other ideas. It was raining, and we were grateful it was not snowing. I was at the library and Mar was in I.T. when Kat called from finishing her test; we all decided to just to go to my apt. I already had fruit smoothies made and could make Vietnamese coffee. Kat was waiting for us at my door. Here is where we are professional women, listening to each other’s trials and fears, encouraging each other around a kitchen table with food. We all have attainable goals even though at times it is only the other two that think this; while one of us wallows in what have I gotten myself into line of thinking.
The rehash of the week begins. We receive excellent advice from each other and fresh blood flows for projects and attitudes. Grades are rationalized, study habits evaluated and just the need to go get our hair done, so we can face the next set of trials. I am purposefully letting them go first but they don’t let me be silent long and Mar looks at Kat and lets my cat out of the bag. Jan has a date.
The guy who asked me out on a date this morning has no idea what he started. I wonder how he would feel being the instigator of this entire mess. School is no longer important. Subject matter of educated conversation is thrown out the window. Who is he? What is he like? How did you meet him? Is this the first date? Where are you going? What time? I believe the word for this is interrogation. And then something happens that I have never had happen before. I am not asked, I am told to go to my closet and show them what I am going to wear. Now granted I don’t usually respond well to demands; however I find myself mellowing a bit with age so I am not on the offense, yet. In the past it has always been I will wear what I feel like wearing. I have pointed out and my girlfriends are quite aware of the fact that I am 38 and single, not getting any younger; I am obviously doing something wrong. I break with standard Jan protocol; I go to the closet and try to focus on what I should wear tonight.
Last week Kat and I had gone to the homecoming parade without Mar. Kat had loved my outfit that day. I wore a full on Jan has artist attitude outfit. I didn’t have to teach, I didn’t have to deal with students or school and weekends are my focus on art time. I woke up in a mood and decided to wear the tights that were a gift from my cousin who teaches fashion design in Italy. I have been saving them forever and well I am done saving, I am going to enjoy them. Kat thought I should wear that to my date. Mar had not seen it. The ensemble was all black and white, a black skirt with tights that had a very bold geometric black and white design. It screamed I am an artist. “Put it on,” I am told by Kat who wants skeptical Mar to see this outfit, it is on, but the minute she saw it there was an emphatic “NO!” It is too girl next door. The shoes have no heel. The tights are too loud. I shouldn’t scream I am an artist on the first date. But I am an artist, I say. “Yes but don’t look that crazy on the first date,” They say. I am very proud of my tights, and I take it a bit personally that this is not appropriate. I have a white sweater I wear with them that is very school girl. The older friend concedes to the arguments of the younger friend. Not first date material. They are now one voice; they are defining my elusive femininity.
I am educated in an unusual way on this day; it was a seminar on the discourse of my superficial femininity. Mar says that I am adorable, but it is not feminine enough. It is adorable, it is sheikh and it is hip Kat chimes in. But……….it is not sexy. It is too artsy, it is not feminine. She repeats this several times and then she says that if my date were to show up looking all eccentric in an odd outfit on the first date I would not date Pinocchio, he is not masculine.
Pinocchio becomes the mantra for the afternoon of dressing Jan and show casing her femininity. I have empathy for poor Pinocchio now. I have had women suggest a top or pair of pants they had seen me wear that they thought was flattering, I have never had to produce a full blown fashion show, ever. I must admit there were several moments where I was irritated, but I adore these women and maybe they are right. Maybe the reason I have not been able to drag a compatible cave man home is that I hide my femininity or display it improperly according to what Kat calls our “instinctual femininity.” They are in constant total agreement about thumbs up or thumbs down that they can not verbalize, this is what Kat defines as instinctual. The differences in their age or birth countries does not matter here, it is instinctual. The idea that the definition of feminine is instinctual and allusive may be one of the better definitions I have yet been given. “The basic feminine sense of self is connected to the world,” (Chodorow FT pg 124).
Jeans are not on the menu, according to Mar. No tights, no jeans, OK now Jan is uncomfortable. I am understanding that I am “just an object, a work of art, to look at, not to know, total appearance, bearing no personality or will,” (Densmore FT pg 151). I think the most interesting thing about this statement is that this sensation has been instigated by fellow females in my experience, not men. I begin to evaluate this idea also. Could it be that I just interpret it that way from women and as a compliment from men? “Women can also engage in bad faith; usually this comes from denying their potential as freely creative subjects and accepting their role as Other or object,” (FT pg 138). It can happen to me just “like all ‘powerless people’ who are forced to lie to survive, women run the risk of forgetting that they are lying or when they are lying,” (Adrienne Rich FT pg 153). My femininity may be a lie.
They love me and I greatly appreciate, respect and love them in return. It is just a bit overwhelming to be descended upon and hollered at while getting dressed. I couldn’t focus. The diametrically opposed experience was listening to them debate sex education while I was performing like a monkey, abstinence vs. sex education seemed like a lot more fun than working up a sweat trying to please these two women with my appearance. No put on red. No those shoes are not sexy enough. “Love, though supposedly valued, is valued only within a devalued and powerless realm” (FT Pg 97). I have definitely come into contact with the powerless.
I am quite comfortable doing gender opposite roles, I am however uncomfortable being perceived in the gender opposite role of personal relationships. I am a girl that can take care of herself, change her vehicles oil and curl her hair yet still has the image of her tall knight in shining amour to rescue her. Today I need rescued from this femininity nightmare.
I was trying to enlist their support for my paper I did not realize that the paper was happening before my eyes, it is only now that I see I was experiencing my gender bender paper with them. Another very intriguing aspect to this whole scenario is Kat has chosen a life without men. She is not a nun, she has had men in the past yet for the last ten years she has quite consciously chosen to live without them and here she is helping the 24 year old define my femininity. “True knowledge can only be achieved by the individual in direct contact with reality. ‘Things which we have not ourselves examined, and occurrences which we have not ourselves witnessed, but which we receive on the attested sensations of others, we may believe, but we do not know’ (10)”. (FT Pg 27). I now understand that I have never dissected my femaleness and now that is in pieces all over my bed room I am learning how deeply entrenched this feminine self is in all of us. It seems to know no bounds as the 49 year old from Montana and the 24 year old from Estonia are in synchronized chorus on their epistemology of femininity.
The jewelry needs to be dangly. What does that have to do with me? I don’t own dangly jewelry. I also don’t own a sexy red top. I am obviously deficient here. Is this why I am an unsuccessful dater? I don’t appropriately display my gender. I have the heels. I have several pairs I have never worn. I am saving them for a special occasion. I have racks full of adorable dresses that I am also saving.
You need to wear heels I am told, but my heels are open toed and it is October in Laramie, WY, I think to myself, my toes are going to freeze and fall off. Is this what being a girl is about? I have been told and like to think that I have common sense. You shouldn’t wear open toed heels the week before Halloween at 7200 ft. I can’t compute. I can’t comprehend. I tell them all I have is open toed heels and they look at me like yea and ……….. I feel like I am supposed to start modeling them anyway. I refuse. I like my toes warm. I am not going to wear those shoes. I get out my knee high boots that have some heel. They have side zippers and I think they are cute. They do not have enough heel. I look better in the brown ones than the black ones. The brown boots have side zippers but do not go up to my knees, they are shorter and since I am not that girl I do not even know what the proper term is to describe those boots. The beige slip-ons are too clunky, yet they have enough heel. I am glad my shoes can’t take this feminist stuff personally, or they would need therapy after this session.
A comment was made in passing, “How tall is he?” I said I thought around six feet, this was a blind date, and thought to myself if he was shorter and I wear heels that’s OK I just will not be attracted to him. I have this odd hang-up about height. I am five foot eight and I have this collection of shoes that I love. They make me feel feminine. I feel pretty and cute when I wear them. Shoes are a frequent a downfall of my species I am told. It is just that I save these shoes to wear on dates, or out with my significant other. They are quite neglected recently and dusty. I want to wear them, so if this guy is not tall enough to handle me in my boots that is fine. I don’t want him anyway. I want to be able to wear my heels without feeling like a masculine Amazon woman. A man shorter than me is the equivalent of an ice cold shower. I am a bit ashamed of this and have tried to over come it, but how do you overcome what you’re attracted or not attracted to. Shorter men make me feel masculine and for me that is undesirable.
I try a cute short skirt that Mar bought me this summer hoping to calm the two headed beast in the kitchen. There is no way that she will say this isn’t feminine. I was wrong. The blue skirt and black top and boots were trying to hard, and it isn’t appropriate for my age either. The ironic thing is that I am no longer thinking about pleasing the poor man that has been torn apart before even being met. I just want these two women to like what I am wearing. I try my green skirt it has a slit and is longer, Kat calls me a grandma. My head is now spinning I went from slut to grandma in 2.3 seconds. Anyone who thinks being feminine is easy needs to be tossed to these two lionesses. “Women’s primary energy is wrongly channeled into making themselves pleasing to men” (FT Pg 61). There was plenty of wrongly channeled energy in my kitchen.
I beg for a reprieve, can I please try some jeans on. Kat says yes. YEAH! I put on jeans and the brown boots. They approve. Mar says red top. I still don’t own a red top, at least not an appropriate one. I try on a couple, one causes her to state that “the girls” are going to poke her eyes out, she is referencing my nipples. She never mentions a bra though, and I am grateful. I try putting a jacket over the top of various red tops, this is not working. I put on a very clingy long sleeve brown top and a brown jacket. Kat likes it. She is now making comments like “if you have an ass like that you should flaunt it.” She likes my ass in these jeans.
Andocentric men do seem to be attracted to certain body types. You have your breast men and your ass men. I have always attracted leg and ass men. Kat states that she sees why. It is decided to down play Jan above the waist and show case the below. The jeans and the shoes are sexy, I am told. The jacket is working for the top. We have reached some sort of victory. I take a breathe of air. It seems I can see the end of the tunnel, wrong.
Jewelry, what do I have. It needs to be feminine, again with the word feminine. In all my time with these women we have never so tightly focused on femininity. I can’t label any of us feminists, yet here we are focused on making Jan feminine. I find jewelry to match the browns. It is low key. Mar is not pleased. She remembers something green hanging in my bathroom. Oh no, I think, that is way out of my comfort zone. I love this piece of blown glass, I bought it in Venice, Italy, but again I have never worn it, and this is not the night to start. I put it on though, I am now a very obedient Pinocchio, wondering if it is 2 p.m. yet. I have another appointment at 2. I am not ready for my friends to go home, but I am ready to put on what I want and leave for 20 minutes.
The green necklace gets the red-light, thank god. I get to wear my low key brown. I am done, I have to be done with this charade. Nope, Kat starts in on my hair. “You are going to wear you pretty hair down aren’t you?” I told her I was even going to shower and wash it. She laughed at me.
The alarm on my phone starts going off. Praise be! I am free. I seduce them into staying and continuing their lively discussion of Roe vs. Wade and abstinence and throw on the clothes I had gotten to choose to wear all by myself today and run out the door. It is raining still. I make my appointment with a Resident Assistant to discuss an exercise they are required to do for empathy. It is a hand holding exercise with your same sex. This is what my gender bender paper was originally planned for. I was going to do the exercise with a lesbian and I wanted pointers on where we should go and if there was any opinion on how I should dress to get the best of it. Back to the subject of clothing, I do not believe I have ever talked about clothing this much in one day, and I am related to a clothing designer. I think this is getting ridiculous.
While walking home it begins to dawn on me what just happened.
Upon arriving home I was pleased to see that they had stayed and continued their lively discussion. It was now getting late though and since Jan’s femininity was secured for the evening they felt they could go. They both wanted updates on how the experiment progressed and finally ended. Kat stated that at least I would have another good story to entertain them with.
I began exploring the afternoon of femininity with them and got my rough notes down. One of my students is the president of the karate club. They were giving a free self defense course at 5. I look at the clock. I can make it. I am well aware that after the femininity experiment my level of nervousness about the date has been accelerated to the point of needing to go get my mind off it. Karate is way more up my alley than dressing up like a girl. It was suppose to last for 2 hours and that was perfect. It gave me enough time to get home, shower and then go on a date without sitting around being nervous. Also it turned out that another one of my students was going to the course and she was also an RA and had done the hand holding exercise. I am fond of killing two birds with one stone. I have not yet realized that the stone had already been thrown.
I get home, take a shower and get dressed. My timing is perfect. I get to the agreed destination 5 minutes prior to the allotted time. I order a drink. I have also come to realize that even though I am a non-drinker, dating requires one, just one. He is late. “Men are judged by their actions, women by their appearance,” (FTR pg 91).
I use dating as a form of entertainment. I do not take his lateness as disrespect. I just wonder how late he will be. I have already been invited to join another table of 3 men so my femininity must not be in question. If he doesn’t show I will just finish my drink being entertained by these men. I am an anthropologist and even my own behavior entertains me, obviously. “The male cichlids failed to find the courage to mate unless the female of their species responded with ‘awe’, how one measures ‘awe’ in a fish is a question perhaps better left unanswered” (Millet FT pg 115). I decide that my femininity experiment was a success since I have inspired ‘awe’ unintentionally on the table next to me. Measuring ‘awe’ in fish or man though, I agree with Millet, may be an exercise in futility.
I see him enter the door, oh no, he is a lot shorter than me. I am wearing heels. I am so much taller than him I do not want to stand to greet him, I go to shake his hand and he refuses saying that where he is from they hug. I love hugs, but now I can see over the top of his head and I have stood directly in the stream of frozen water. He is attractive, he is very intelligent both of which are very important to me. Unfortunately he is still short. I begin to feel guilty. I begin to feel like a towering masculine Amazon woman. I can’t derail this train. I have tried. I am glad that this man cannot read my mind. In my mind a woman should not pity a man on the first date that is the signal for doom.
Friends show up at the designated location. I admit, I told them too stop by. It is a frequent stop for them so it was not out of their way. It seems they approve. This only makes me feel guiltier and manlier. My date asks if I would like to go somewhere else for wine. I am grateful at this time that he is already aware of my weekend of homework and this allows me to bow out somewhat gracefully. All that hard to work to make me look and feel feminine has gone down the drain. I am ready to go home and wear what I want. My friend’s theory was successful. I felt cute and feminine until my height hang-up became a reality and my homework definitely sounded better than feeling masculine dressed up feminine.
I head home, I call Mar. She can not comprehend why his height is a deal breaker. She is the optimist, give him a chance. She has however given this advice frequently and while I adore her for it, I would rather be alone than with someone that I have settled for because I was too lazy to continue to search.
Undressing, taking off my femininity was a relief, when I got home. I curled up with my cat thinking that studying with him, and to add some irony his name is Figaro, this evening would have been a more effective use of my time. Although then I wouldn’t have been able to write this paper or get to know myself better.
I have a much better perception of my own ideals of femininity now as allusive as that instinctual definition may be. I now feel confident about verbalizing my own personal femininity and I can now rationalize some of my reactions with some semblance of logical reasoning.