Archive | October, 2009

Sartorial patriarchy

15 Oct

I’ve been reading this awesome blog lately, I Blame the Patriarchy. Her witty, logically ironclad arguments railing against patriarchy and all things stupid (like the word “snarky”) enrich my brain not only with fun, conversation-stopping topics to bring up at parties (“Let’s talk about misogyny! No? No one? How about how organized sports are an institution of mass distraction? No? Fine, I guess we can talk about Justin Timberlake’s weight gain some more, then.”), but my vocabulary is benefiting from her rich lexicon of rad words (Rutting! Contrapposto! Crepuscular!)

Several of her posts touch ever-so-briefly* on the practice of women wearing high heels. She argues that wearing punitive footwear is obeisance to the patriarchal mandates of female attractiveness, to the detriment of one’s own feet. Which is essentially true. OK, not essentially – entirely. But did I run home and immediately throw out all my high heels? No, I did not. I naturally brought it up at the dinner table, and then later, after a few giant cupfuls of Mysterious Fruity Alcoholic Beverage, at a bar with a couple of thoroughly coiffed strangers.

The responses thus far haven’t been satisfying, so I fully intend to keep bringing up the topic at social functions until I am completely disinvited from every event other than the Annual Convention of Hairy-Legged Man-Haters (or ACHLMH, for those in the know), for which my invitation was surely lost in the mail this year.

My guess is that my wearing of high heels, sporting of long hair, and general conformity to cultural norms and ideals of Western femininity is not, in fact, a sign of being a bad feminist or even a hypocrite. It is, in fact, firstly a result of my upbringing, and secondly, a survival mechanism, much like Twisty says in her primer on feminist footwear. It’s a costume like any other, and one that I don on most days. The costume of “woman,” the costume of “employee,” the costume of “Country Fair attendee” and “Thirsty Thursday at the Bye-and-Bye,” etc. Putting on these costumes keeps me from getting beat up, from getting stared at (and therefore made uncomfortable and unable to enjoy myself in public), from getting lectured by my boss, from getting kicked out of restaurants. It reduces but does not stop the relentless cat-calling and heckling. Nothing will stop the cat-calling but the time it takes for me to grow old enough to no longer be considered fuckable, and therefore invisible to society.

This realization very much falls into my somewhat recent decision (don’t call it a choice) to consciously conform to the corporate aesthetic, despite its impracticality: Long sleeves and pantyhose in 100-degree weather? Check. Black leather pumps during an ice storm? Check. I have removed all my facial piercings, dyed my hair a normal color and often find myself donning creased slacks in the morning. The thing about this particular costume is: I am no more and no less a conformist than I was when I had pink hair, a nose ring, and wore tank tops covered in safety pins. I am just conforming to a different, but just as restrictive, aesthetic. I wasn’t making bold, individual choices to have pink hair and a tongue ring: I was going down a path blazed by thousands of faux-rebellious college students before me. And now, I’m not making a bold, individual choice to dress like a tool. I’m trying to fit in, just like everyone else. Not a unique soul exists anywhere in the world; everyone is conforming to something, whether they admit it or not.

The fact that I tend to latch on to topics like these probably has a lot to do with the fact that people, be they casual acquaintances, close friends or society-at-large, feel completely and utterly free to comment on my personal appearance and mode of dress, and are insulted when I rebuke them for doing so. I doubt this is unique to me; most women can relate. The mere fact that this is seen as totally acceptable warrants an entire diatribe, but suffice to say that comments that point out that I’ve missed a spot shaving my legs, or labeling me a materialistic sellout because my wardrobe’s morphed from fuzzy pink rainbow shit to black and grey creased shit say more about the value the speaker places on appearance than they do about me and my level of hypocrisy.

* It should be noted that I have not yet worked my way all the way through the entire blog. She may very well have touched not-so-briefly on any and all subject contained herein, and in fact may have conducted several thousand in-depth, long-term studies on the topic of heel-wearing, conformity and the state of being a corporate whore. More reports as I work my way through the archives.

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