I started pontificating about what I’ve been told I should and shouldn’t wear over the years in my newsletter this past week and I keep finding, utterly by accident, other blogs about taking back our own sense of style, in various forms.
As I mentioned in the newsletter, I used to like super-girly clothes as a kid, but much to my mother’s displeasure I wanted to climb trees, jump ditches and play in the mud while dressed like a princess. As I got older, I thought I had to dress more like a boy to be taken seriously, to be thought capable of science and math, and to show that I didn’t care if no one thought I was pretty enough to befriend or date. (And even then guidance counselors still pushed me toward business instead of anything we now call STEM despite my having taken five science classes in high school and four maths, including calculus. Did they not have access to my records in guidance?)
In advertising, I was supposed to dress in cutting-edge designer fashion, but made poverty wages, so that never worked out. As a teacher in a correctional facility, I wore dark colors (because the place was filthy), cheap things I could wash a lot (because the place smelled terribly), and baggy pants with boxy jackets (because I was aiming for androgynous and needed pockets).
And I’ve spent a lot of years not wanting the “girly” thing because I wanted to be equal. But you know, bedazzled cases don’t make phones work less well; purple ink doesn’t make a message less powerful unless the reader let’s prejudice in the way; pretty notebooks work just as well as ugly ones; a pink skirt doesn’t make a mind any less sharp; lipstick doesn’t decrease competence but too often we think it does.
And we think it does because that’s what we’re told. In movies where the “tomboy” knows how to fix trucks but not how to pick out a lipgloss and her friend has a closet full of frocks but can’t work a screwdriver. By our peers, professors, and bosses, who tell us to grow up, to put our hair up, to use blue or black ink, to dress in staid colors, to be “professional’ when they mean “masculine.”
But we’re also told the “girly” gets the boy and we’re told that’s supposed to be our primary directive. Because the girly girl will find a boy to fix her truck and besides, lipgloss is easier than fuel injectors. *hair flip* *eye roll* *more eye roll* *even more eye roll*
We have a hard time accepting women as dimensional people. But we’re getting better, slowly. This review points out, specifically, a scene in which the women of the family (on Jane the Virgin) put together a piece of furniture with tools they own and call by name without any of the silly nonsense so often put forth in TV as comedy. Mindy Kaling’s character on The Mindy Project dresses in bright colors, florals, and patterns when having meals or meetings or engaging in comedy shenanigans, but she’s never “othered” in ridiculous scrubs in hospital scenes. When it’s time to actually act like a doctor, she does and she’s portrayed as competent, even successful. (Granted, she can’t seem to work a screwdriver but New Yorkers (and to some degree, Bostonians and Chicagoans) can be a bit odd in the stuff they never had to learn to do because public transportation, landlords, and a densely-packed environment never made it necessary. (It’s why the “city slicker” stereotype exists and it’s often played for laughs against the “rugged woman” trope — ha ha, that blonde can shop wood and you can’t, don’t you feel less of a man? *rolls eyes* *rolls eyes again* *hurts self rolling eyes so hard*)
Yet, that trope relies heavily on the idea that “pretty” and “competent” are opposing ideas. Part of the reason it’s played for laughs is because the audience is supposed to assume that the hot blonde can’t do anything menfolk can do, so when she shows up the “city slickers,” it’s supposed to be a bigger insult to their manhood. Yet, as women, we’re never allowed to forget that our primary duty — aside from birthing lots of babies and raising them in a dark hole somewhere so no one can see us breastfeed or messy or fat or without makeup — is to look good. To smile for strangers to make them happy — don’t worry those strangers will tell you if you’re not smiling and get angry if you don’t want to. Even our TV “ugly ducklings” are prettier than most of us see ourselves as being.
But, for me, it’s time to stop trying to be what makes everyone else happy. I want to wear lipgloss while camping in the desert? I don’t need your approval. I don’t need the snide remarks about how dumb that is. Lipgloss does two things: it makes you feel prettier and it moistens the lips (that second one is key in the desert). It also often has SPF in it. Bonus. I want to run around town with my hair looking a hot mess because I don’t have windows in my Jeep? Hey, I like my truck. It’s fun. Way more fun than an Audi or a Toyota. I want to wear pretty dresses or leggings with loose tank tops or flip flops or heels or yoga pants to everywhere but yoga? Done. And I like playing with makeup — love Halloween — but I don’t like messing with much of it daily. I’m a mascara and lipgloss kind of woman and I’m never going to figure out “contouring concealer.” I’m more likely to learn Ruby. Or Chinese.
And I’m going to try to stop feeling bad that I can’t fix my own damn truck, but I’m going to find that damn Chilton manual I misplaced just in case magic happens.
Oh, and if you want to bust out of your routine and find some “happy” with a silly, super-girly thing you can pair with cowboy boots and tell the world “fuck it” in, Sarah Sapora of the SarahPlusLife blog is running a tutu giveaway.