February 14, 2012

What about beauty?

by Lady Di

Hey Lady,

I’ll keep this brief because I have only moments to write today, but I wanted to discuss that post on FB about beauty in connection with women’s lives. My favourite line in the whole post is as follows: “My confidence in my body will NOT depend on whether or not the majority of dudes think I’m fuckable.” I think, this gets at the heart of the issue. Until later.

Your friend,
Lady Di

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Hey, Lady!

Thanks for your note. Valentine’s Day seems like as good a time as any to talk about beauty, doesn’t it?

I think that the post you’re talking about is this one, “Why YOU are beautiful, full stop” (originally posted Feb. 11 on The Master: The Life of a Graduate Student February 11, reblogged yesterday on Feministing, and currently making the rounds on Facebook). The post itself joins in the recent chorus of critiques of the skinny woman vs. “real woman” meme that’s itself all over Facebook these days. You know the one: a photo of Marilyn (or Liz, or whoever…) juxtaposed with a photo of some modern size 2 woman, with a cutline that favours Marilyn because she’s a “real woman.” This particular post is a response to a much-Facebook-shared image of three tall, sexy, underwear-clad women, who are (according to the labels on the image) size 4-8, size 12, and size 16. The labels further characterize these sizes as “women’s ideal,” “men’s ideal,” and “national average,” respectively.

The author problematizes the image (1) for implying that it’s ok to be larger than a size 4 “because men are okay with it,” (2) for embracing other beauty ideals — such as an hourglass figure, clear skin, long hair… — even as it challenges body size ideals, (3) for excluding the many women whose weight falls above the national average, and (4) for opening up a space to critique the bodies of size 4-8 women.

The post concludes that “this photo should NOT be used as an excuse to tell any woman that she is not real or that her body is somehow offending those attempting to cultivate positive body image. A woman’s confidence in her own body should not come about comparatively–whether it’s comparing her body to the national average, to what men deem fuckable, or to what other women’s bodies look like.”

I like this blog post a lot, and also the post linked towards the end of it. And, elsewhere on Facebook, I appreciated various folks’ supplementary observations  that the women in the offending image are all white and able-bodied.

But, I yearn for the day in which we can stop debating who gets to count as beautiful — and not because we disingenuously claim that everyone is beautiful. Frankly, that’s just false. Some people just aren’t beautiful. And some people aren’t smart. And some people aren’t talented. Oh, and while I’m at it, it is not in fact the case that anything is possible if you believe in yourself. (Every convocation, the Chancellor of Our Glorious Institution opines that “What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve.” Um, no. ‘Fraid not.) Also — you are unique, but probably only trivially so. Can we please just stop lying to people about how awesome they are, and instead figure out how to treat everyone — beautiful and ugly, smart and dumb, talented and not-so-much — with care and fairness and respect for their humanity?

I totally get that beauty is such a highly-valued commodity — especially, but not exclusively, for women — that we’re kind of obliged to talk about it, and to care about how we evaluate beauty. But wouldn’t it be better if it weren’t so godawful important for women to be beautiful?

Beauty should be like left-handedness — sort of interesting when somebody has it, useful for some things, inconvenient for others — but no more.

Happy V-Day, Lady!

Your friend,

Lady Day

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February 9, 2012

Are you wearing a bra?

by Lady Day

Hey, Lady!

So, as I biked in this morning, I was composing in my head the post that I planned to write today. It concerned a criminal harassment case in which I was recently involved (as the complainant), and some of the lingering effects on me of that experience. But that post will have to wait because something crazy just happened.

As I walked down the hallway outside my office, I bumped into a (male) undergraduate student whom I’ve taught twice before, who is not currently in any of my classes. We began chatting about stuff and the conversation turned to evidence, especially types of evidence besides seeing something with one’s own eyes. I was in the middle of uttering a sentence about electrons when the student interrupted to ask, “Wait a second. Are you wearing a bra?” I was utterly astonished. (Well, strictly speaking, I was utterly fucking astonished.) All I could think to do was to say “That’s an inappropriate question.” His response: “But it looks like you’re not wearing a bra.” Me again: “That’s an inappropriate question.” (Ok. I grant that his response was a comment, not a question, but cut me some slack here. I was kind of stunned by the whole exchange.) He said “Ok.” I turned on my heel and walked away, went into my nearby office and closed the door.

Two weird things about this (apart from the obvious weirdness of a student asking his professor this question, and moreover, interrupting an academic discussion to do so):

1. Part of me really wanted to tell him that I was (am) wearing a bra because I didn’t want him to think that I was the kind of woman who would come to work without one. (WTF, right?)

2. After I walked away, I felt guilty about embarrassing him and almost turned back to tell him that I wasn’t mad at him.

But I was mad at him.

And I was mad at myself. Why? Well, for starters, for feeling so strongly the urge to tell him that I was wearing a bra, but also for thinking even for a second that it makes any goddamned difference whether a woman wears a bra to work or not. And for not having a better strategy for dealing with the situation.

And mostly for failing to elaborate to the student what exactly was so inappropriate about the question — for failing to make clear to him that when I’m talking electrons, there’s no reason for him to be checking out my breasts. That even though it’s just a biological fact that human beings see and think about each other’s secondary sex traits, those whose relationship is professional must not reveal to each other that they’re having these thoughts. That, in particular, when a man draws attention to a woman’s secondary sex traits in a workplace setting — while she’s fucking talking! — he is, intentionally or not, conveying the message that her body is more important and interesting than her brain. And that when he, as an undergraduate student does this to me with my umpteen degrees, he sends the message that no matter how smart I am or how well educated and accomplished I am, he will always be in charge.

And, he probably didn’t mean any of that. But, after centuries of women being reduced to boobs rather than brains, I’m afraid that what men actually do and say matters a whole hell of a lot more than what they mean to do and say.

So, now I have to figure out what to do. Is it possible that the student has some kind of diagnosable condition that could explain such behaviour? Would it matter if he did? I informally told my department chair over lunch. Should I make it more formal? Should I email the student and elaborate why what he did was wrong?

Sigh. Yet another day sidelined by an asshat (to quote our heros Margaret and Helen) dude and his views on how and where women should be.

Your friend,

Lady Day

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Later the same day:

The student came by to apologize to me. I was meeting with another student at the time and couldn’t speak to are-you-wearing-a-bra guy. So, I said, “I’m afraid that I don’t have time to talk to you right now. I’m in a meeting.” He said: “It’s ok. It’s quick. I just wanted to say I’m sorry I offended you.” I excused myself to the student with whom I was meeting and stepped into the hallway to speak with AYWAB guy. I asked him whether he was sorry that I was offended or sorry that he did something wrong. “You know it was wrong, right?” Him: “I could tell you were mad. And, I thought, ‘Oh no, I made Mama Bear mad.'”

Just in case the Mama Bear business sounds crazy — which I guess it fucking does, but… — I actually think this student is very fond of me and feels very comfortable with me and that both the offensive question and the Mama Bear remark are outgrowths of this. Granted, this raises a whack of other issues: Are students for some reason or another more comfortable with female than male faculty? Because we’re not so scary maybe? Because we lack scholarly gravitas maybe? And, are they as inclined to think of male professors as papas as they are female professors as mamas? Gaaahhh!

Anyway, I said, “I was mad because you shouldn’t have done it.” I started explaining to him what was wrong with the question, and he kept saying he was “just joking.” I explained why it’s an inappropriate joke — why people whose relationship is professional rather than personal ought not to joke around in a way that sexualizes each other. He apologized again. “And you won’t do it again?” I queried. He said he wouldn’t do it to me again. “Or to anybody?” I pressed him, “You get that you ought not to ask anybody questions like that?” “Not even as a joke?” he asked, looking genuinely disappointed and puzzled. (Aaarrgghh!) “I don’t have time for this,” I said, “I’m in a meeting. Thank you for apologizing. It was brave of you.”

Ok, Lady Di. I’m sure you disapprove of that last bit. Thanking him for a half-assed apology that doesn’t reflect real remorse, and I kind of disapprove of it too. But I thought it was brave of him, and I was glad that he made any effort at all. (See how we learn to scrape for crumbs after a while?)

I don’t know what will come of any of this. I have an appointment (made before AYWAB guy came to my office to apologize) to discuss the matter with my chair. And I have the nagging worry that AYWAB and I only had half the conversation we should have had, but I don’t really want to have to resume it.

Sigh.

February 8, 2012

And so it continues

by Lady Di

Hey Lady!

I went to see Angela McRobbie at Insert-rich-dude’s-name-here University last night. She gave this very compelling paper that analayzed Neoliberalism, feminism and the family. It got me thinking about the intersection of family politics (at the micro level), the state and leisure. I wanted to shift some of her ideas into more of a third wave analysis, but overall throughly enjoyed her ideas and analysis. But my take-away from last night was not only related to her substantive ideas, but also her presentation style. I am intrigued…maybe even fascinated by female academics (especially of her generation as the numbers of female professors would have been even lower than they are currently) who are unapologetically smart and confident without being arrogant. Dr. McRobbie’s cool confidence was as compelling as her ideas. We’ve come a long way baby!

Your friend,

Lady Di

February 7, 2012

And so it begins.

by Lady Day

Hey, lady!

I just found this awesome blog and I emailed you and said, “Check out these righteous, foul-mouthed ol’ ladies tearing strips off dumbass conservatives!” And, you were all like, “We need a blog like that.” And, I was like:

…So, if I just happened to create a little WordPress blog and made you and me administrators, and anonymized us and our institution, and occasionally posted to it when angry or impressed or whatever, maybe you would too? No pressure at all. And probably it wouldn’t turn into anything and nobody would ever see it, but you never know…
 
And, like, maybe we could call it Hey, lady! and we could write back and forth to each other (as time permits, no pressure at all) about feminism, academe, kids, food, asshole drivers, politics, etc. and begin each post with Hey, lady!

Then, I didn’t even wait for your reply. And now we no longer need a blog like that.

Your friend,

Lady Day