I can’t remember a time when gender, transgender, no-gender has been so debated. The rights of one compared to the others, the study of gender, the constraints and advantages. I would like to move beyond gender and do what suits me as a person. But as these articles point out, we remain largely constrained by ideas of the feminine and masculine, where happiness and success are measured against outdated norms.
I’ve just discovered Mark Manson and hope you enjoy his writing as much as I do.
The question I put to you, are you willing and ready to be truly equal? Would you miss any of the privileges your gender provides? Hmmm.
A few things to catch up on this weekend. Some mind-blowing (Cindy Gallop interview), some illuminating (women drinking too much), women have been in STEM for decades (Beatrice Shilling and Mercury 13).
How did I not know about this podcast?
The Role Models Podcast: The Role Models Podcast is a series of interviews that captures and shares the stories of inspiring women. These are far-reaching conversations with female leaders we look up to. We discuss how they got to where they are – including the lessons they’ve learned, the decisions they’ve made, and the challenges they’ve tackled. And start with this one with Cindy Gallop – a dose of straight talking.
Thanks to the wonderful blog swissmiss for the introduction.
“When I started designing, I wanted to make men’s clothes for women. But there were no buyers. Now there are. I always wonder who decided that there should be a difference in the clothes of men and women. Perhaps men have decided this.” Yohji Yamamoto professing his preference for gender-neutral dress way back in 1983 to The New York Times.
What strikes me is how long this notion that men and women should dress differently has stuck. And as constrained as women are by expectations around presentation (makeup, dresses/skirts/heels/purses) so, too, are men. And boys, judging by the recent protest by schoolboys during the UK’s recent heat wave. Why do girls get to wear skirts and boys not shorts? Or vice versa for that matter, as witnessed by this photo.
Now Thom Browne is adding his voice. Interesting message, execution of long and slim with heels will inevitably lead to the hobbling walk that has plagued many a great woman, but that’s not the point. Why not genderless dressing? What has taken so long to come around to this simple yet still radical notion?
As Browne told the New York Times, “It all started with these,” Browne says. They’re his own shoes from childhood; it’s a tradition in his family to dip a pair in gold and have them on display. “I was thinking about how we all start off the same — wearing almost the same clothes,” he says. “And then, it changes.”
While the women’s line has some playful yet traditional womenswear, then there is this example of what is good for the goose is good for the gander:
A women’s appearance is no longer an indication of her spouse’s wealth, nor need it be the lure to reel in the fish. Those notions are no longer relevant.
It might also be helpful if the prevailing idea wasn’t to radically change one’s wardrobe each year. Even if you can’t do (afford) the absolute classics, anyone can find a wardrobe that makes sense for the cold weather, hot weather, the roads we travel and the work we do. And if women could take more of the pragmatic from menswear, maybe men might be free to take a fraction of the liberties women take for granted and particularly as it applies for dressing in hot weather – if not a skirt, then at least shorts.
You may not approve of all his clothes but you can’t argue with Yamamoto’s thinking. Let’s give the last word to Yohji taken from a recent interview in Dazed.
“But, after almost fifty years in the industry, in which fast fashion has replaced craftsmanship, and globalisation has promoted homogenous idea of what’s ‘in’ across the planet, he’s come to have a critical distance from our cycle of trends. ‘Casual fashion became like garbage in the world. There are so many cheap, wasting fashions. Young people look so ugly.’ How can you avoid becoming a fashion victim? ‘It’s quite easy: don’t copy your friend,’ he enunciates. ‘Don’t be one of a group. Be yourself. Stay a little bit monotone – walk on our side of the street, don’t walk the mainstream of fashion. You’ll be polluted by trends.’
Who am I kidding? This won’t be the last word from Yohji.
Yes. Look what Sheryl Sandberg has brought to Facebook, the race to bring new women on board at Uber (how about replacing Travis Kalanick with … not Sheryl – she’s staying at Facebook) and the renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher finding the fine line between connecting with Silicon Valley and calling them on their responsibilities to their customers and broader society all the while maintaining journalist integrity. Read her ethics statement to get a sense of this straight-talking woman.
I’ve been enjoying Kara’s podcast Recode Decode where she interviews the founders, CEOs and innovators in the tech world. I feel smarter already.
I will commit to tracking the great tech women. Let’s call it Tech Talks. Are you a great tech woman? What’s your story?
If you happen to be a woman of my vintage you might remember the last of the pre-internet glory days of the fashion magazine, stalwart among the pages were the Estee Lauder advertisements. In my view, these were the most sophisticated, promissory ads – a life beyond the commonplace – country houses, elegant and refined clothes and the flawless face of model Karen Graham who appeared in a relentless stream of ads for almost two decades. She must have sold a lot of make-up and skincare products before she retired at 40 for a life of fly fishing. Yes, fly fishing.
Before we get to that, here is a sample of the spectacular ads shot by photographer Victor Skrebneski.
The remarkable thing about the campaign, and the time, is that she looks like a woman. Most of the ads today, unless called-out to women of a certain age, are populated by girlish-looking women. There is also a decidedly cinematic quality to the photographs. It’s not enough that she looks lively, she has a life – an adult life – an interesting life. It is the woman that is interesting, and she happens to be gorgeous and use Estee Lauder, apparently.
Back to the Karen Graham story, after retiring at the ripe age of 40, Karen followed her passion which led to a fly fishing company where she taught (and I believe still does) and takes people on fly fishing adventures. Can you believe it? How interesting! The shot in the bottom right below is of Karen as a real fly fisherwoman, and then some from a revived Estee Lauder campaign leveraging her new profession and with Karen then in her ’50s targeted to the likes of me.
She’s a great looking woman any which way you look at her. Most interesting is how she has allowed herself to age with grace and I can only imagine what that adjustment was like for someone so reknowned for being ageless and flawless.
Above left is a photo of her in her makeup selling days, without makeup and looking gorgeous and somewhat normal. The photo to the right is Karen now in her ’70s. Grey hair, makeup but not slathered on, obviously an acceptance of ageing has taken place.
The point of all this is that ageing is something we need to allow ourselves to do. To move towards, to accept changes, gradually, and get used to the changes so we can be happy with them. Succumbing to pressures to remain perennially 35 is exhausting, expensive and particularly female. To follow the path of least resistence is to allow yourself to have grey hair (if that’s what you want), to accept changing skin and lines (as men do so easily even in their ’20s), and to refuse to let the ageing process define your opportunities. Much has been written about accepting age – we can do a better job of making this easier, and the more we accept ourselves the more likely the culture will accept us as ageing, while still being more than capable of contributing to whatever endeavours we choose to pursue. Even fly fishing.
There are so many views on perfection: It is the key to success or a recipe for dissatisfaction. It can never be achieved, it is the only way to achieve. It can drive passion or foster unhappiness. What is a great woman to do?
We are all too familiar with the pressure to look perfect and the tired tale of the role advertising continues to play in convincing us that perfect hair, nails, makeup, clothes, legs, arms, abs – I could go on – is the route to happiness, success and romance. That is a load of nonsense and I hope you, dear reader, have let that go. It’s a bit like meditation, you have to practice releasing these thoughts consciously before it becomes second nature. The critical move is to start questioning the value of what you do on a daily basis to get yourself ready to face the world. Removing one bit of bondage at a time is a good way to test the value of your efforts.
What of other pursuits? Is perfection an idea or a standard? As an idea it enables you to think something through to what you hope will be its natural conclusion. You ponder and introduce new ideas, reject others. It leads to practice and improvement, accomplishment and confidence. As a standard it may become a relentless dictator, leading to processes and procedures that give the illusion of achieving perfection while driving those around you (not to mention yourself) absolutely crazy. When I think about the people I enjoy working with and for, they are the ones who look at a thing from every which way to arrive at clarity. The ones who try to turn perfection into a standard and a specific way of behaving and recording, can become rigid and critical, labeled as a merciless micro-manager – demotivating and alienating everyone in their path.
The quest for perfection seems to be rooted in criticism. Criticize the young relentlessly and you will render them slaves to perfection. This is so true of children but also true of people embarking on careers. Criticism can bring the brightest soul to their knees, and they recover their stance often through the pursuit of perfection, second-guessing themselves, working long, fruitless hours, and in turn rendering them in turn as employers who wreak the same havoc on their employees. I don’t think the perfectionist drive is gender specific, but I do think women have often compensated for a lack of power (perceived or otherwise) by subjecting themselves and others to standards of perfection that are not valuable. I know women of my generation, many of whom entered into professions and workplaces still largely dominated by men (and if not by men alone then certainly by male-thinking) found that on the outer edge of acceptance, the path forward seemed to call for pushing harder than everyone else – dotting more ‘i’s’ and crossing more ‘t’s’ . I understand all that very well. I also know that it is behaviour we don’t want to pass to the next generation of working women and certainly not to our kids.
A woman can and will be great without being perfect, distinguishing between constructive and ruinous criticism, by focusing her energy on the stuff that provides deep satisfaction. By letting the small things go, by actively leading a balanced life, pursuing interests for pleasure and accomplishment, without expectations of perfection. Don’t let perfection stand in the way of learning something new, doing something differently, or pursuing an interest. If you’re not perfect, don’t worry, you don’t have to be.
I would be interested in the role perfectionism has played or not played in your life. Let me know.