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Posts Tagged ‘iconic self’

Well, I never thought of Alice In Wonderland as a particularly feminist fairy tale of a movie, what with Johnny Depp and all. Alice is, you might note, not much taller than a teapot. But HuffPo blogger Marcia Reynolds apparently sees past the Mad Hatter to find several models of womenpower jumping off the 3D screen:

What I found even more interesting than the 3D effects was the way the three female characters used their power. The Red Queen chopped the heads off of anyone who disagreed with her. The White Queen, due to her commitment to peace and the sanctity of life, could not defend herself. Alice had to learn how to claim her power, slay evil, be benevolent instead of brutish when the situation called for compassion and above all, take charge of her own life and destiny. The distinction in the uses of power is important to realize for all women, young and old.

Interesting, that. Reynolds goes on to mention other movies, too, where the girls, no longer “damsels in distress”, become take-charge chicks, who not only claim their independence, but their power, too. Even more interesting, she draws a comparison from the likes of Shrek’s Fiona to today’s twentysomething women:

How is this shift playing out in society? According to the Bem Sex Role Inventory, an increasing number of college-age women demonstrate qualities that are traditionally used to define masculinity, such as being self-reliant, independent, able to defend one’s beliefs, willing to take risks, and able to make decisions easily. However, these women also score high on traditionally feminine traits such as sociable, compassionate, understanding, and eager to work with others. The results demonstrate that women aren’t becoming more like men. They are becoming stronger as women.

As self-images go, darn good: You can do anything! You can do everything! The scary old dragon? Slay it yourself! And you can do it in Manolos… But here’s where the message slides down the rabbit hole: With all those options, with all those expectations, comes pressure. Pressure to commit to one option, when you now know something better might be waiting right around the corner. Pressure to please that iconic self, whether it be Alice or Fiona. Pressure to do it all — set up shop in the corner office, but don’t forget the cupcakes.

And pressure to be perfect when, in many cases, good enough is, you know, good enough. As we learned from Barry Schwartz, the guru of choice psychology, when options increase, expectations do, too. You tell yourself that with so many options, one of them must clearly be perfect. But when it it turns out to be merely good, you can’t help but be disappointed. You should have made a better choice.

That’s where we still have work to do: navigating the choices, dealing with the expectations, and understanding both how far we’ve come — and how far we have to go. Which, in a silly kind of way, brings us back to Alice and his Deppness:

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I can’t take more.”

“You mean you can’t take less,”said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.” *

* From “The Annotated Alice” by Lewis Carroll.  Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., p. 110

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What do you think Betty Freidan–or Betty Draper for that matter–might say to the idea that, come 2010, women everywhere would be finding their purpose right in their own backyards? Tending to the chicken coops in their own backyards, that is?

Don’t think that would fly?

Peggy Orenstein offers an interesting take on the Extreme-Homemaking-as-Feminism trend in a piece entitled “The Femivore’s Dilemma” in this week’s New York Times magazine, and while I can get behind the sentiment (I’m a card-carrying Pollanite; I’ve seen Food, Inc.; I buy my organic, grass-fed beef from a friend of mine every Saturday at the farmers market and can rant for hours about the environmental degradation wrought by the food industrial complex, and don’t even get me started on the antibiotics…), there’s just something about the phenomenon that ruffles my feathers.

Here’s a bit from Orenstein’s piece:

All of these gals–these chicks with chicks–are stay-at-home moms, highly educated women who left the work force to care for kith and kin. I don’t think that’s a coincidence: the omnivore’s dilemma has provided an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper. ‘Prior to this, I felt like my choices were either to break the glass ceiling or to accept the gilded cage,’ says Shannon Hayes, a grass-fed livestock farmer in upstate New York and author of ‘Radical Homemakers,’ a manifesto for ‘tomato-canning femininsts’.

I mean, on the one hand, it’s earth-mamma cool. Back to nature. Slow. Sustainable. Simple. Hormone-Free. It’s badass in it’s way, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to accept a brunch invitation from any mother hen who’s literally escorted the eggs from the backyard to the table, never mind who brought home the bacon. Plus–full disclosure–I have several friends who raise their own birds. I dig it. (And, you know, brunch? I’m free.)

But is it really feminism?

Hayes pointed out that the original ‘problem that had no name’ was as much spiritual as economic: a malaise that overtook middle-class housewives trapped in a life of schlepping and shopping. A generation and many lawsuits later, some women found meaning and power through paid employment. Others merely found a new source of alienation. What to do? The wages of housewifery had not changed–an increased risk of depression, a niggling purposelessness, economic dependence on your husband–only now, bearing them was considered a ‘choice’: if you felt stuck, it was your own fault…

Enter the chicken coop.

Femivorism is grounded in the very principles of self-sufficiency, autonomy and personal fulfillment that drove women into the work force in the first place.

It’s such a romantic idea. Living off the land! Chopping the wood for the fires that will heat your home and bathwater! Hunting, foraging, toiling and tilling… you know, working. But how empowering is it really? For an answer, read what former New York City-living, former women’s mag editor Jessie Knadler has to say about her new life–which involves involves all of that… and axe-wielding, produce-canning, jerky-drying, and water-hauling–in the post she published in response to Orenstein’s piece, on her blog “Rurally Screwed.” (Um, awesome, that.)

The irony is that while there’s no question I’m more resourceful and frugal and self-sufficient in my new life, I actually feel like less of a feminist than ever… Instead of feeling proud of myself for all my physical accomplishments, I sometimes find myself wishing that Jake would do more manual labor for me. You know, because he’s a dude and I’m not. I sometimes find myself wanting to hole up in the house and assuage my guilt for not helping him dig a trench to China by baking him cookies, or making him a nice casserole, or some such. Suddenly, dusting the end tables doesn’t seem so bad. Betty Friedan would probably roll over in her grave.

Yowch. I’d say anything that makes dusting the end tables look good qualifies as a pretty serious Con. But what really bothers me about the whole thing is this: is the Extreme Homemaker yet another ideal to which we must aspire, like the cupcake- and Kleenex-brandishing Office Mom? Another iconic self? A perfectionist response to the dilemma of having too many choices and feeling a little insecure about the one we’ve chosen? It kind of reminds me of this quote, from Sandra Tsing Loh in the Cautionary Matrons piece I wrote about awhile back:

In our 20s, the world was totally our oyster. All those fights had been fought. We weren’t going to be ’50s housewives, we were in college, we could pick and choose from a menu of careers… We were smart women who had a lot of options and made intelligent choices… We were the proteges of old-guard feminists… We were sold more of a mission plan and now you guys… Well, sadly, it all seems like kind of a mess. There is no mission. Even stay-at-home moms feel unsuccessful unless they’re canning their own marmalade and selling it on the Internet.

As Orenstein notes, even Hayes acknowledges that such an existence, taken to extremes, can be isolating and crazy-making:

Hayes found that without a larger purpose–activism, teaching, creating a business or otherwise moving outside the home–women’s enthusiasm for the domestic arts eventually flagged… ‘There can be loss of self-esteem, loss of soul, and an inability to return to the world to get your bearings. You can start to wonder, What’s this all for?’ It was an unnervingly familiar litany: if a woman is not careful, it seems, chicken wire can coop her up as surely as any gilded cage.

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So, if you’ve spent much time on this blog, you know that the issue of too many choices tends to come up from time to time. (Like, daily.) As do the kind of offhand musings that naturally follow a riff on the perils of option overload: like, oh, it would be so much easier if I didn’t have these options, or, wow, wouldn’t it be great if someone else could just decide for me? Despite the fact that I believe, if it came right down to it, we really wouldn’t trade all the options we have, I don’t begrudge anyone the fantasy. And, you know, I relate. But this–wellll friends, just imagine…

Long story short: a blog called IvyGate got its hands on six pages of fashion guidelines for Cornell sorority’s Pi Phi’s upcoming rush. Among the directives: No muffin tops! We love a boyfriend blazer! And, my personal fave, If you’re wearing cheapo shoes, make sure they don’t look it. Heaven forbid.

I should admit that I have exactly zero experience with sororities–and that I do not come without some preconceived notions. But, rather than spewing some easy snark, I wonder if maybe the limiting of choice is actually part of a sorority’s appeal? I mean, if 3/4 of your closet is off the menu, that’s gotta make getting dressed easier, right? So, what about all the other stuff? And what if there was a grown-up version that offered a list of rules regarding everything from what kind of job to get to what kind of car to buy to what kind of person to sleep with? Or maybe something not quite so formal–maybe something more like aligning ourselves with a certain crowd, a crowd with persnickety tastes? …an iconic self‘s persnickety tastes, perhaps? A stringent set of rules, no matter how like totally ridic, will–this much is certain–make decisions easier. The question is: would you rush?

And FYI, here, in their entirety, are the rules:

CLOTHING.

Round I & II: “Casual chic”

Bottoms:

Yes:

  • Medium-to-dark or black skinny or straight jeans
  • Dark skinny or straight cords
  • “Denim-legging” is appropriate as long as it’s done right: aka, not from American Apparel and worn with chic, cool chunky boots over them and a longer top. NO camel toe.

No:

  • Super “Flared leg” pants
  • Cropped pants. Ugh.
  • Bleached/very light or TORN jeans I don’t care if they’re in style.
  • Khakis
  • Leggings worn as pants
  • Muffin tops or extreme low rise!!

Tops:

Yes:

  • Blouses: flowy, pretty material.
  • Sweaters or other long-sleeved shirts, V or Crew.
  • Cardigans (with longer tank top under preferably)
  • Blazers: Yes, please! I love a casual top with a cool boyfriend blazer over it

No:

  • Summer pattern/colors, too tight or too short shirts or blouses!
  • Low-cut
  • Sleeveless
  • Tank tops
  • Frumpy
  • Preferably no short sleeves– recommended: full coverage aka elbow length, 3/4 length, long, thin layers.

Shoes:

Yes:

  • Nice flats: Tory Burch, etc. More evening-ish, understated. Patent leather good.
  • Heels: mid-height. This round is still “casual”, so no sky-high hooker heels! I’m thinking mid-height Mary Jane heels, or mid-height chunky kate spade, etc.
  • Boots: love. Chunky or simple/elegant, heel on the lower side to flat. Worn OVER pants.

No:

  • Open-toed!
  • WHITE
  • Strappy
  • High-heeled/going out boots.
  • If you’re wearing cheapo shoes, make sure they don’t look it.

**And, a call to action: I spent an obscene amount of time scouring the Internet, desperately seeking a clip of the vintage SNL “Delta Delta Delta” girls. Came up with nothin’! Free book for the first to help me help me help me.

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Let’s revisit your school picture from seventh grade, shall we? No doubt, it’s tragic. Beyond the unfortunate hair, what you probably see is a very uncertain self lurking behind that all-too-eager smile.

For many of us, life took an abrupt left once adolescence reared its awkward head. Maybe we were one of the cool kids. Maybe we were irretrievably awkward. In either case, we were filled with self doubt. Self-definition came in the form of how someone treated us at lunch or whether the phone rang that night. So silly. And yet.

You have to wonder how much of that insecure self stays with us into adulthood, whispering in our ear, making us second guess our decisions, and nudging us to replay invisible patterns etched long ago. Are we still looking for approval from erstwhile best friends? Is there a part of us that still wants to please the arbiters of seventh grade taste — or show them up? Hello there, mean girls! Take a look at me now!

This all came to mind this week, thanks to two heartfelt essays by screenwriter Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who clearly took a hit once she hit double-digits. In the first piece, from the LA Times, she addresses her battered high school self:

To describe me as unpopular is an insult to those who were chess geeks and 98-pound weaklings. I was friendless; I was hated. I spent four years eating lunch alone, sitting by myself, feeling alienated. All this time later, I am still unsure of the subtlety that separates the girls who attract from those who repel. But anyone who has experienced the narrowed eyes of someone regarding you with contempt, or understood that the two girls whispering nearby were talking about you, knows when a cause is lost. My social status was assessed immediately. From my first day at school, nobody greeted me. Nobody offered to show me around. When I asked a preppy-looking girl where chemistry was, she said, “Up your ass, loser.”

The second essay, which ran a few days later in Salon, provides the backstory of how she went from popular to pariah the summer between sixth and seventh grade, and then jumps into the present, where Brodesser-Akner reveals that she is now friends with her tormentors on Facebook:

After accumulating college friends and ex-boyfriends, as we all do when we join Facebook, I took a chance and looked up Barbara. With the nervousness that accompanied me on every bus trip to school following my fall from grace, I pressed the button that would send her a friend request. Immediately, I received confirmation: She had agreed, finally, to be my friend. Brave now, I found Alison, then Amy, then Nancy. I was euphoric. Here I am, back in the inner sanctum. I sort through their pictures, their posts, their lives. I cheer their triumphs, their babies’ birthdays, photos from their ski trips. I cobble together the story of how life has been since we knew each other, deliberately, forcefully forgetting how it was we parted.

I check their updates and their statuses with eagerness each day. Like an addict, I am euphoric when I am practicing my addiction, remorseful and self-hating when I’m not. I am shocked at how easily I have forgiven these people. I am filled with the warm light of acceptance; I am wrapped in the cozy blanket of belonging.

Happy ending, right? Except for the fact that she has been pummeled by many of the anonymous comments that followed her essay.

Which leads me to wonder if our inner seventh grader is an indelible part of our iconic self. Could that tattered adolescent baggage be one reason we are so eager to please? Why decisions come hard? Why we judge ourselves by others judging? Is there still a tiny part of us that worries about being mocked by the mean girls?

I can’t help thinking this lingering desire to fit in impacts women more than men, especially as we navigate the somewhat unfamiliar turf of the workplace. Because we are unsure of the rules, do we take reactions more seriously? Are we more tentative? Continually looking over our shoulder to make sure those jerks in the corner aren’t whispering about us? Worse yet, do we avoid even putting ourselves out there, sticking with Mr. Safe Path, so we can avoid the risk of rejection?

I wonder. But meanwhile, even as I type this, I hear an annoying little voice, whispering in my ear: What will (choose one) think? To which the only possible answer is: Who cares.

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graduationOne of the problems with decisions is we sometimes make them before we’re ready. Sometimes we’ve forced ourselves into a box. Sometimes we entered that box with a skip and a smile. Sometimes it’s been a full-court press to please the iconic self. But as the saying goes (or did I make this up?): Decide in haste, repent in leisure. Quite possibly, a few years down the line, we’ll look over our shoulders, second guess ourselves, and wished we’d opted for Door Number One, wondering what for the love of God were we thinking.

I bring this up not because of that Hefty bag full of extremely unfortunate clothing I donated to the Good Will this weekend — but because I just came across a Newsweek essay (and cover story) advocating a three year college degree.

I vote no, as in Absolutely Not.

I can think of any number of reasons why the argument, proposed by Sen. Lamar Alexander, former education secretary under the first Pres. Bush, is an idea that stinks. But chief among them is the fact that making a choice that you won’t regret in the morning is often a function of growing up. Which is, in good part, the work of higher education.

But sure, I get it. Three years versus four means saving a boatload of money when it comes to tuition and living expenses. For the vast majority of students, it means a smaller debt load tucked into the diploma. For most kids, that’s crucial. And yet. An accelerated degree means choosing a path at, oh, age 18. (Think back to your adolescent self — would you really want that person to dictate your grown-up life? Gives me the willies just to think.) Then sticking hard to the program for three years without a taste of anything else, and jumping into the real world at just about the same time you’re legal to order your first martini.

Hmmm. Can you even qualify for a lease on an apartment at that age without your parents to co-sign? I digress.

But let’s back up. Sure, the plan could work for some students, those super-focused and dedicated souls who knew they wanted to be doctors or lawyers or engineers when they were five and never blinked. College in three? Done! Straight to grad school? Yes! And more power to them. But most of us? Not so focused. Where’s the time for exploration? Reflection? Discovering passions? Isn’t that part of what college is all about?

What I see here is a recipe for regret. Or a return ticket to university life some ten years down the line. Undecided? Here we come.

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