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we remain largely constrained by ideas of the feminine and masculine, where happiness and success are measured against outdated norms.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.
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.
This recent article in the NY Times on the trend towards modest dressing is one of several over the last year. The skeptic in me wonders if it’s a natural part of the buying cycle – sheer, short and tight have been in, shopping is declining, time to launch a new trend – loose, covered, and long. So the question is, are we looking at a trend or a fundamental shift? Let’s consider.
It’s fair to say you will consume what is available, and for those of us not inclined to wear low-waisted, tight pants, sheer tops and short skirts, the last decade has been a challenge. A change is welcome. But the change I’m look for is one beyond the buying cycle. Have we reached the point where we will no longer select clothing through the lens of the male gaze? And to be fair, it is a perceived understanding of what men find attractive. Mass media frequently underestimates their discernment often reverting to cliche. What options have they had? The infiltration of pornographic images into mainstream media, proliferated by the internet and sadly, the music industry, have inundated all of us with a narrow view on what is attractive. Fortunately, for the vast majority of women, the level-headed man does not embrace the cliche, though I think it is a particular challenge for young men and boys developing into men to keep a balanced perspective. It’s said that the formative years are where many of your life-long perspectives develop (guilty as charged – still love the clothes of the ’70s and that’s what I see coming back into play now) and so what the young of today have witnessed in clothes, behaviour and culture in the last decade will inevitably have an impact.
How will we know if it is indeed a shift rather than a trend? Hard to tell what the future holds. It’s really up to us to make the first move – to dress for our gaze alone. To rebalance priorities that focus on our taste and comfort, and for what helps contribute to a reasonable approach to consumption – one that doesn’t jeopardize financial security. If we can resist the lure of new for the sake of newness, break the compulsion to buy, spend our time on more rewarding (and often simple) pursuits than shopping, then we will be in control of whether it is a trend or a shift. That’s real power.
Nothing about this post is new. The relentless pressure to, if not look 25, then at least be seen to be working at it continues. It is, of course, behavioural control which if we worked together, would lose it’s power. So let’s work together on this one.
It’s one thing for women my age who are endlessly targeted with before and after images of what one sort of filler or another can do to change our features, it’s quite another when the women targeted are even younger, and from what I can see in the younger women I know, they are succumbing to the pressure in alarming numbers. When you’re my age-ish the issue is primarily one of employability. Does having a few lines and gray hair signal your thinking is beyond value? That seems to be the inference. (Though it does make me wonder why so many male CEOs and board directors are well into their 5th, 6th and even 7th decades.) I’m fighting the resistance there and we’ll hope I will succeed in overcoming the oppressors. If romance is what you’re after then any potential mate who defines him/herself by the age of their partner has issues and that sounds a bit exhausting at my stage of the game. I’d rather shovel some snow. That’s where I stand but I largely stand alone when it comes to naturally graying hair, and a naturally ageing face. I can’t really fathom the energy and expense required to be in your 50’s and have to try to look even 45. It would be a fulltime job for me.
When women in their 30’s and 40’s are choosing intervention to change the nature of their lovely faces, that’s a worrisome thing. Let’s face it, a woman’s 20’s are not the easiest time, and here’s just a sample:
What am I doing with my life?
How will I make a living?
Who am I?
Who are you?
Do I like this?
Is this normal?
Do I really have to put up with this?
You know what I’m talking about. It’s tough, and though it was a long time ago for me, I certainly remember those years as being full of ambiguity and indecision. What is easy, is that you look young. More like, deer-caught-in-the-headlights young. And that has it’s attraction. But once in your 30’s you’ve sorted a lot of this stuff out, and through the sorting out you’ve gained character, maybe become more of who you are (personality) and gained a modicum of wisdom. That will change you inside and out. It’s really only the relentless force of consumption that puts a negative lens on any of this. Yes, you won’t be mistaken for 19, but you’re all those questions don’t leave you reeling anymore. There is also the crushing pressure to have a family, whether that is really the right choice for you or not (more on that in an upcoming post). This pressure requires a mate, and so the all-consuming distraction is around attracting and securing said parent in a timely manner. The other scenario is that you nailed the partner/kid thing but the relationship did not survive the effort and you find yourself in your 40’s with a keen desire to find a better match. All reasonable motivations, all ripe for youthful interventions. Men are also being targeted for many of the same messages. There just seem to be a larger number of them who don’t seem to care. The parallel issue (and one that we’ve all commented on) is how an ungroomed/unattractive man frequently attracts his polar opposite. While I don’t think women are any better than men at spotting the ‘good’ in people, I do think that men have not been effectively marketed to, and so women may simply have lower expectations around what the potential might look like. If you’ve ever heard a man comment that he likes a woman with long nails then you know the power of advertising.
Now if we were all to stop this nonsense then expectations would reset. We could all stop sporting long hair and bangs into our 50’s when we’d really rather just let those curls curl, wearing short short, tight skirts with 4″ heels when we could wear a long, full skirt, or even a men’s cut suit (me), cut off those skinny jeans once and for all (and I don’t mean into shorts) and present ourselves fully as individuals – clean, mind you – but without fillers, buffers, paints and plasters.
What say you? Shall we go for it?
P.S. More on family life in an upcoming post. And I warn you, I don’t hold back.
I just read The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control and of the many things I learned from the book is that when emotions are at risk of getting out of control, a successful strategy is to picture yourself as a fly on the wall, watching the seen unfold before you. The vantage point helps you to see what is really going on, taking you (and your ego) out of the picture just enough to view the goings on with dispassion and hopefully more clarity.
That lesson alone is worth the price of admission. And then I thought, how often women feel they are subject to more intense scrutiny based on their emotional reactions to situations. In my experience, emotional intensity, or lack thereof, is more of a human quality than a female quality – maybe there is some quantitative evidence that women respond more emotionally to things, but most of what I see is anecdotal. What if we weren’t subject to gender bias thinking on a whole slew of things? What if we looked at all kinds of areas of our lives like a fly on the wall? What might I change? What would you change?
I’ve been doing more and more of that fly-on-the-wall-thinking, let’s call it FOWT for short. So from my FOWT perch, one of the areas I’m contemplating is time-wasters. Things that I do somewhat habitually that take time, cost money, and don’t add much if any value. One of them is the myth of variety. Two areas where variety seems to me anyway, to be a complete waste of time and money is food and clothes. I like something delicious to eat as much as the next person, but in my case, cooking is simply not my thing. After decades of trying to prove to myself (and my poor friends and family) that I can cook, I’ve finally thrown in the proverbial towel. What a relief – really for everyone. I leave it know to those who love to cook, and happily focus my scant talents on a few hors d’oeuvres and what I hope is scintillating conversation. As for looking after myself, I’ve come to rely on a routine of meals to get me through the day. An omelette for breakfast every workday morning (mushrooms, leftover potatoes, bacon, cheese when I’m feeling frisky), chopped crunchy vegetables (radish, celery, peppers, snap peas) and cheese or some bit of leftover meat or tuna for lunch, and a steady stream of nuts and greek yogurt as snacks.
Dinner is more of a hit or miss operation because there are other mouths to contend with. Eventually, I will routinize that one and have done with the whole damn thing.
The second area is around clothes and specifically work wear. The outfit above is terrific. She looks great and if that’s what many women consider workwear, it is pretty standard stuff. In fact, women have been wearing that outfit or versions of it since the 20th century. But activating my FOWT, that little voice inside my fly-like ear says, that is utterly insensible. The shoes speak for themselves, and I must admit that beyond the impracticality which is now trite, there is something going on with the fetish around women’s feet that eludes me. Surely women are not buying and wearing these things because men might notice them – men don’t and most women (if not all) are smart enough to get that. So she is wearing them for herself – because she can. Because they are structural phenomenons packaged in pastry-like filigree? Because your feet and legs ache at the end of the day? So the FOWT would say, stop it. Don’t do it. Stop wasting your money, give your feet/legs a break. Let the shoe manufacturers adorn our feet with shoes as beautiful and beautifully constructed as men’s shoes. Which, frankly, make me froth at the mouth – and for a fraction of the cost.
Moving up the outfit, bare-legged or pantyhosed – those legs in February in NYC are freakin cold. How does that make any sense to a fly whose own legs are lovingly wrapped in a furry coat. We shave off our furry coat so there’s no natural warmth left. That just makes no sense, besides the fact that if you go the pantyhose route (as most northern women do) the life span is about 3 wears, longer if they’re tights but if you get half a season out of one pair you lead a careful existence. And then, dear friends, the dress. And as much as I love dresses, these are for the summer and summer alone. There are few advantages in gender-based dressing but the one that we can really crow about is the summer dress. Nothing is better when it’s 32c with a humidex of 45c than the cool delicious pleasure of a cotton sheath. Yes, men will be truly our equals when they, too, can don a 100% linen, sleeveless dress with sandals (sans socks). Barring a temperature above 25c, there is absolutely no place for a dress for those of us who are still packing some kind of lunch, and I think that’s most of us.
The point this fly is hoping to make is that we do, in fact, have the freedom to question our choices. We should take more opportunity to flex our muscles and choose what makes good sense to that fly on the wall.
A nice reminder from The Sartorialist that college/university students need not rely solely on leggings and sweatpants for their sartorial choices. A little style usually helps to lift the spirits and with the Fall semester peaking followed by pre-Christmas exams anything that gives a hard-working college student a lift is worth it.
Shop your closet and see how good it makes you feel.