Aesthetics, Culture, Choices


I understand that aesthetics are culturally embedded. In times of famine, fat is beautiful; in times of plenty, thin is beautiful. In an agricultural economy, dark skin means you are an outdoor worker, and thus lower class. In an office work economy, a tan means you have more leisure time outdoors, and thus are higher class.

I think of this now because suddenly I find myself knowing three different (dark-haired) women who don’t shave. Refusing to shave is a classic second-wave feminist act of defiance against our society’s straight male expectations for how women dress (and be) to attract the men’s attention, affection and presumably babies. By not shaving a women is declaring herself completely outside of and uninterested in that whole agenda.

Mentally, I can understand why some would want to make such a statement, but aesthetically I find it distasteful, especially as more fur is more visible. But here’s the thing. I think an awful lot of men should shave too. The problem isn’t that we have a standard of hairlessness so much as that it is a double standard. Frankly, I think that a far larger swath of our male population should not only shave far larger tracts of themselves than they currently do. They should buy mini- rider mowers and hire little gerbils wearing little Carhartt caps to do the landscaping for them.

Some jobs you can do yourself. But for big jobs, go with the professionals.


An Offering


So I have spent much of this afternoon reading people’s blogs about gender fluidity and figuring out that mess, stupid bathroom laws, parents who say that they love their children but refuse to go to their gay wedding because Christ doesn’t like gays, blah blah blah. And another blogger talking about being a very feminine woman and how to be a woman of action and a formidable women, and it all just sounds to me like being a person, although possibly a person in high heels?

Why are we all struggling so much to simply be who we are? (Um, probably patriarchy?)

Why do other people seem to want to force the whole world into these terribly narrow boxes with prescribed ways of being in the world? (Well, patriarchy…)

And why can’t I just give everybody who is suffering on the interwebs today a really big HUG? (Oh, honey, I can’t help you with that one.)

Muscles & Mascara Monday: Truthful Statements


“Style is fundamentally a truthful statement… There are layers and layers of truth; and style, whether in dress or life, art or literature, is involved in their discovery.” –Freya Stark

I have been thinking about makeup lately. I used to think that makeup was something women put a huge amount of time and money into to get the attention of men, who often don’t even bother to shave. O, patriarchy, why you so mean?

I am lucky enough to have clear skin and dark blue eyes so I always figured that if a guy needs me to “put on my face” simply to notice me, then he’s not a person I really feel like being noticed by. I still feel that the Manhattan style of makeup is over the top, but New York has always struck me as being a hard-edged city and maybe it’s just a form of protective coloration, layers of powder rather than a sword and buckler.

Boston, as an academic city (we’ve got thirty colleges just within a few miles of the city center) tends toward the mildly androgynous. We probably have more comfortable women’s shoes in just a five-mile radius than they have in Manhattan and Los Angeles combined. And women who work/teach at these colleges are not an exception, whether they are full-time, part-time or graduate students (and the undergrads in baggy sweatpants). This always worked for me. As long as I looked “professional” and teacher-like, I figured that nobody would care if I didn’t take the time to put on makeup before running out the door guzzling my coffee and trying to remember my lesson plan. I get good student evaluations every semester. The rest is meaningless.

But in January, I started going to the monthly lesbian happy hour, which is a fascinating sociological activity. Where else are you going to find a sample of about eighty women with such a wide variety of clothing styles in the same bad bar lighting? More than half of our sample look like any other women you might see on the train every day. But there are a few types who stand out.

Fashionista/International Femme: Makeup, long hair, dress, heels. An air of being exactly where she needs to be. Even if I wore the exact same thing, if I was standing next to her, no one would notice my existence. I have had friends like this.

Grad Student Femme: Shortish wash-and-wear hair. Casual clothing, such as skinny leg jeans. Comfortable shoes, minimal makeup. The glow of youth.

College Dean-ish: An excellent haircut, whatever the length. Makeup, but never too much. Classic jewelry. Professional clothes, more femme than not. Classic but comfortable shoes, probably expensive. An air of quiet authority.

Grad Student Butch: Short hair with a little product for style. No makeup. Men’s style clothes but not necessarily menswear. Comfortable shoes, maybe spiffy. The glow of youth.

Flannel Butch: Plaid flannel shirt, dark wash jeans, expensive sneakers. Most of the jewelry is in one ear. One or more tattoos. A. The glow of youth AND/OR B. An air of quiet authority AND/OR C. Laidback attitude.

Bowtie Butch: Short hair. No makeup. Menswear, including either necktie or bowtie. Men’s style shoes. Laidback attitude.

Perhaps if I saw the same people in the bright light of day, the differences might not be apparent. But in the dim light of a bar, the women who don’t wear makeup, especially if they are over 40, look kind of grey and washed out.

So I’ve made a couple of visits to Sephora, one to get help in picking a shade of lipstick and one to get a 15-minute primer on how to apply eye shadow the right way and get help picking good colors. The young women (and one or two men) who work there are all made up to within an inch of their lives. But when they ask me what style I am going for, and I say, “Sorta like Ellen,” and they say, “Oh! You mean natural!” they are gung ho in helping me achieve a look that is as little like theirs as possible.

My shift in thinking about all this is primarily a shift in thinking from more outward–what do other people see when they look at me–to more inward–can I see my best self when I look in the mirror, blue eyes, Polish cheekbones and all.

It also helps that two of the faces of makeup companies in recent memory have been Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Ellen Degeneres (Ellen the Homophobia Slayer), both of whom have fresh light looks that don’t scream, “Look at me! I’m wearing makeup! Ask me how!” Which is funny, actually, considering that is exactly what they’re getting paid to do… Ah, marketing, why you so sneaky?

A Gentleman’s Index Poem

Taken from the book The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal, by Philip Mason.


1 Reading List


Book of Snobs, The

Book of Courtiers, The

Description of England

Edwardians, The

Idea of a University, The

Ideal of a Gentleman, The

Knight on Wheels, A

Legend of Good Women, The

Way of the World, The


2 Qualities





Intellectual attributes


Moral qualities

Musical ability

Physical attributes

Ruling class








Women, attitudes to

I have been thinking about masculinity and femininity and this book uses both history and literature to examine the English idea of the “gentleman” and how it evolved from the time of the Norman Conquest through about World War I. He draws examples from Geoffrey Chaucer, George Eliot, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and others, all of whom as an English major I read in college, which means I absorbed this very English-ruling-class idea of masculinity without realizing it.

But I find it fascinating that Mason says in a footnote, “More than one critic who saw an early draft of this book wanted me to include some comments on the Japanese samurai. But I know nothing of Japanese culture, and I think it would take a year’s work to fit myself to write even half a page of useful comment on the samurai” (Mason 235, n. 23). This is interesting to me because I think I have also absorbed a lot of what I think it means to be a good me (masculine and/or feminine or other) from studying (primarily Japanese) martial arts for more than half my life. And although contemporary Japanese culture does make some strong distinctions between masculine and feminine, they are not always in ways Westerners would recognize, so I will have to think more about this.

Are You Being Sirred?


In winter I am regularly sirred at the grocery store, probably because at first glance the checkout clerks see the outlines of my fedora and winter coat and only at second glance do they take in my makeup, earrings and facial structure, and immediately apologize. It doesn’t really bother me, but with all the brouhaha lately, with short-haired women being kicked out of restaurants for trying to use the women’s restroom, and the far worse things transgender people experience, it has given me pause. I have started to consider how I might respond if such stupidity were to happen to me.

The most prudent response would be to offer to show my driver’s license. Of course when you go to reach for it, be careful, because depending on a) how much of a nutcase the person is and b) what state you are in, if they think you are reaching for a weapon, you could end up dead. Idiot country.

The great temptation would be, if it were a man telling me not to use the women’s room, to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did you need to use it first? That’s okay, I can wait.” And if it were a woman, to say, “You’re just jealous because I am prettier than you.” But I feel like the people who are freaking out about this stuff probably are short on sense of humor or irony, so I doubt I would actually do that.

Styling Saturday: Dashing Owl

1dashing owl_n

Vivienne Westwood says, “You have a more interesting life when you wear impressive clothes.” Now,  Westwood is an old British fashion designer, known for bringing punk clothing into the mainstream, so on the one hand, she would think this. On the other hand…I dunno if it’s true, but it sure feels true.

Maybe the part that needs teasing out is what do we mean by impressive? Webster’s Dictionary tells us that impress means “to apply pressure so as to imprint,” which is actually kind of accurate. People we are attracted to get sort of imprinted in our heads, like an afterimage that we carry around. I am not sure how being noticed and remembered by other people leads to an interesting life, and I also recall that “may you live in interesting times” is a curse in a few cultures. But being relatively invisible does lead to a less interesting life, so let’s assume she is right.


Dashing Owl is Dashing


Having always previously thought of clothing as a way

To keep warm and unembarrassed, having always

Considered the idea of using uncomfortable clothes to attract

A man to be ridiculous, patriarchal and based only

On the law of the jungle, which I never comprehended,

I suddenly find myself reexamining the idea of style.


Nature is teeming with style. Just look around. Is it

Superficial, a coating on the outside that hides the truth

Of the inside, like the blue that makes the robin’s egg seem

Like a stone? But that blue egg hides the baby robin, so

This is a kind of protective coloration, as the chameleon

Embraces his possibly hostile environment with such


Fierceness, predators can’t even see him. But what about

The opposite, the birds who need not even open their beaks

To proclaim who they are? Parakeets imitate the jungle

Flowers, and peacocks preen their rainbow bodies, spread out

Their brocade mantles to win the peahens: their attention,

Their approval, their love—things that all of us want.


Finally, I am learning to dress to win my own attention,

To carry an image of my variegated self, so I will know

My own true value, approve, then shoot my cuffs.




Although today in the West, “hospitality is rarely a matter of protection and survival and is more associated with etiquette and entertainment” (“Hospitality”), in premodern times, in hostile environments like the Middle Eastern desert and the Scottish highlands, hospitality was a cultural imperative. When the weather could scorch you, drench you, starve you and kill you even if all you did was sit there for, say, a six-hour stretch, you probably are going to need some help. So in these cultures, hospitality meant that if a stranger came to your door, even if that stranger was your sworn enemy who had killed your father because your dad had killed his dad, etc., you had to put him up for two or three days (the time depends on the culture, but is usually strictly prescribed), give him the best of your food and the best place to sleep and protect him from his enemies, even giving your life if you had to. And if you wandered into his locale, he would have to do the same for you.

I think of this now after spending the last two or three months going to lesbian meetups: museum tours, happy hours, a dodgeball game. For the most part, the women I’ve met at these events have been kind and welcoming, allaying my fears about not fitting in and recommending other groups or events for me to try out. (And yes, it did turn out that the dodgeball game was untraumatic. In fact, watching women throw these shiny red balls at each other reminded me less of middle school gym bullies and more like a larger than life garden salad tossing itself, albeit a salad that was high on tomatoes and very, very low on lettuce.) Admittedly, at the last happy hour I attended, I did encounter one or two rather odd ladies, but for the most part, it has been uniformly positive.

I can only imagine that when you and your community have faced the hostile weather of institutional oppressions, it’s going to make you a bit less likely to reproduce that oppression and a bit more likely to combat it.

Note on the Illustration: “In the Caribbean, Europe and North America, the pineapple became associated with the return of ships from extended voyages, and an emblem of welcome and hospitality that made its way into contemporary art” and architecture, particularly in port cities (“Pineapple”).

“Hospitality.” Wikipedia. 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

“Pineapple.” Wikipedia. 6 April 2016. Web. 6 April 2016.

Introducing Rowan Ellis, Who You May Already Know (Lucky You)


Answering the How Did I Get Here? Let’s Not Be Chronological! question. One person who helped me see the world through a Queer Lens is Rowan Ellis, a perky and insightful British woman who makes great little informative videos and posts them on YouTube. Ellis introduces herself in the following way:

“Hi, it’s Rowan! I make videos about pop culture from a feminist and queer perspective 🙂 Aside from that expect a mix of rants about literature, smashing the patriarchy, me being my hella queer self, writing tutorials, and British accent videos.   Book group livestream discussion every last Sunday of the month at 6pm GMT. New videos every week. Wanna collaborate? Send me an email over at: ”

Because I am a Huge Nerd, and in love with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and Hayley Atwell is my patronus, one of the first videos of Ellis that I watched that had a huge impact on my was Queering Agent Carter, which I embed below. Watch it! Talk to me about your impressions of both Carter and Ellis!


Alas, WordPress doesn’t support this “file type”; you will  have to do your own typing, but I promise you it will be Totally Worth Your While: