Thursday, 24 July 2008

The anti-chick

I once attended a Pride Week function where the speaker talked about how each of us 'acts out' feminity, masculinity, or some other gender identity of our choosing. She was expressing the idea that our gender identity isn't something unchangeable that we're born with, or even something that's so completely bludgeoned into us by society that we have no choice in how we look or act. There's heaps of social pressure surrounding how we should be masculine or feminine, but we still have some say in the matter. A woman in the audience piped up, 'I know what you mean. Look at women from Southland - they look more like dykes than we do!'.

It made me chuckle. I grew up in rural Southland, and the woman's comment gave me a strong memory of the sort of women I grew up with: standard issue bowl haircuts, no-nonsense corduroy trousers. These women raised families, worked on farms and, as often as not, had paid jobs too. They were relentlessly practical because they had to be, doing everything from feeding out hay to doing the farm books to whipping up a batch of scones.

Like my rural foremothers, I don't quite get the point of girl stuff. I do enjoy mucking about with make up, clothes and hair dye from time to time; but these are leisure activities, not an oppressive uniform, and certainly not things that my life feels incomplete without. I had kids quite young, so I've never had the disposable income to get fancy. And I've never much cared. To me, elaborate clothes/hair/makeup/shoes are a barrier. If I can't run about with my kids, do stuff in the garden, carry out my dubious home improvements, I don't feel like me.

Consequently, I don't see the point of Sex and the City. I don't see the point of clothes that look great but make you feel cold. I don't see the point of fabrics which kids' snot doesn't wash out of easily. I don't see the point of trying to have nice fingernails when I'll only get dirt underneath them. I make some concession to the sartorial demands of the workplace, but most of the time I'm a savage. And it's not just that I subscribe to rather old school, second wave views of the beauty industry (although, by and large, I do) - I really enjoy wearing trackpants and doing messy stuff. Nor do I consider myself a tomboy; I just have my own way of being female.

For the most part, I get away with my slight lack of conformity, including in the workplace. I have a sense, though, that this is because I'm a good worker, and I can hold my own against people who might otherwise look down their noses at me. Despite my generally cheerful, self-actualised disposition, I do feel inferior from time to time when I compare myself to women with more money to spend on beautification than I have, and more knowledge of how to look good. I have bleak moments of not feeling like a 'proper' woman.

It's not all doom and gloom, of course. My partner of almost twelve years once told me the reason he was first attracted to me. It was because I had boots and a shabby green jersey and plenty of unladylike left wing opinions on everything. It's a description which most women would rather not have made of them, but I kind of like it!


artandmylife said...

I grew up in Southland too and have smilar attitudes. I was telling someone today how I am sad I gave away my lace up swandri. The girlie extras - described in womanomics is something I dabble with but having worked in the corporate world I can see when it is "neccessary" as well

barvasfiend said...


It's almost a truism these days that men do not find women attractive in the ways we are told they do - sex and the city styles, where the breasts are only identified by the nipples and the nipples are just another set of goose-bumps.

It is breathtakingly cheesy and a lot girl guidey, but being happy and lively is probably the most attractive attribute a woman can get.

If you are a miseryguts then you'll end up with someone who is "emo". Which could be OK if it weren't for the music....

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with barvas. What's most attractive in a woman (in anybody, in fact) is confidence, and all too often the whole Sex & The City thing disguises a lack of confidence. And while I can sympathise with any women who feels so put-upon she needs to hide behind a mask of makeup, I'm just not into that relationship-wise.

Dana said...

Haha, southland. My nana's from way up north somewhere but it was the same for her. I can relate to that view of life.

And I think I've been lucky in the men I've met - I dress "girly" when I go out, but I've always had men attracted to my outspokenness, and I'm certainly not quiet when a guy's being a sexist tosser. The thing I always think of in these discussions was going to a Navy xmas party and flirting a bunch of different guys, and how one young officer was like "holy crap! Her guns are bigger than yours!" to his mate - something he clearly found attractive. This in an extremely sexually regressive environment: nice boy, that. :D

Deborah said...

Hmmm - 18+ years of marriage and 3 children later, my husband still seems to be very attracted to me. Nice. It's a meeting-of-minds thing.

I do find the whole beauty thing very difficult, and I am increasingly worried about how to guide my three lovely daughters through it. We're lucky - we all have 'slim' genes, so that's one battle that won't be so difficult for us as it is for others. But we do have hairy genes...

I spent some years in my late teens / early twenties not shaving my legs, with the result being that I never got out of very long skirts or jeans in summer, and the only person who suffered from that was me. These days, I just wax and be damned.

I think that in part it's about drawing a line, between what's acceptable and what's not. I find breast enlargement surgery difficult to take, and I speak as a very small woman - 32A until I had had 3 children, when I finally got up to 32B. Breast reduction - I'm cool with that. I can understand about someone having had enough of managing with huge breasts.

But the big, big thing is doing what you do because you want to do it. Of course that's a very tricky thing to judge - how much is your own choice, and how much are you conforming to society's expectations.