Archive for December, 2009

It’s So Predictable: A Review of “It’s So You”

T-Rex recently lent me a copy of  “It’s so You: 35 Women Write about Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style.” This collection is edited by Michelle Tea, perhaps best known for her lesbian novels “Valenica” and “Rent Girl.” Furthermore, the anthology includes writings by such names as Jenny Shimizu (known for dating Angelina Jolie and modeling for Calvin Klein), Kate Bornstein (author of “Gender Outlaw” and “My Gender Workbook,” among others), and Debbie Rasmussen (of Bitch magazine). I was pretty excited.

However, as I read through the essays in this collection, I quickly became bored. Now don’t get me wrong, I love fashion as much as the next girl. However, most of these essays recount the same story with minor variations in details:

First, I was poor/ I was a child. I didn’t have fashion sense. I wore what people gave me. Then, I tried really hard to fit in. It didn’t work. So, I started to dress punk/goth/crazy/80s/like my grandmother. I tried on identities. Now, I have my own style, and I can express myself without totally embarrassing my friends (most of the time). I can be a feminist and still have fun with clothes.

I, myself, have the same story:

First, I was a kid. I didn’t have fashion sense. I wore what my grandmother collected on her thrift store journeys. Then, in 4th grade, I tried really hard to fit in. I got a Old Navy logo tee, but it was the wrong logo. It didn’t work, I still wasn’t cool. So, I started to dress wannabe punk, heavy eyeliner and clunky boots, with colorful tights and short frilly skirts thrown in for good measure. I tried on the identities of my high school; goth, punk, emo, hippy. Now I have my own style, and I can express myself without totally embarrassing my friends (except for Bam-Bam, who laughs at my red over-dyed jeans). I’m a feminist, but I can still have fun with clothes.

That said, if you don’t mind a little repetition, or, if you don’t mind skipping a few selections, you can find the gems in this collection.

Laura Fraser’s “How to Dress like a Cowgirl” is an essay about trying on identities and discovering one’s personal style- but it works. Much of the essay is about reconciling feminism and femininity under the shadow of a second wave feminist mother who saw women’s clothing as inherently oppressive. “How to Dress like a Cowgirl” is a touching memoir about finding that balance. And, Fraser may sum many of us up when she writes, “I wanted to dress like a princess sometimes, too, but I also wanted to be a witch, a movie star, a diva, a Victorian, a rodeo queen.” If feminism is about opening the options available to women, Fraser captures it here.

Frances Varian’s “Lighten Up, It’s Just Fashion: How to Be a Gorgeous Revolutionary” offers another thought-provoking foray into the intersections between fashion and feminism. As she puts it, “Fashion and feminist are both infused with the theoretical and practical limitations and opportunities presented by the female body. They can be symbiotic or deadly, depending on the way the light shifts. The are parasites and I am the host.” She concludes by arguing that the artistic merit of feminism is not diminished just because fashion can be unsafe for women, just as the political value of feminism is not diminished because feminists forget to recognize their privileges. Her message is simple and relevant: “lighten up” and recognize that both fashion and feminism can be tools in women’s hands.

My other favorite, “Oh My God- Shoes!” by Cindy M. Emch, explored one of my favorite topics (That would be shoes, in case you haven’t noticed). In a world where designers don’t envision their clothing in a size larger than 10, and fat is deplored, shoes offer any woman a means to explore fashion. “The shoe store […] Here anything was possible. All I had to do was tell them my size and it always fit.” And when it doesn’t fit, it’s no big deal. “No one cared if they had to try on a 9 instead of an 8.5; they just blamed the manufacturer. Things vary. No big deal.” This is important. As Emch explains, when clothing sizes vary and women have to try on a larger size, tears may ensue. It’s a breakdown of self image. But with shoes, whatever. I try not to let clothing sizes get me down (just last week I bought items in a size 4 and a size 12, both of which fit beautifully), but it can be difficult with that size 8 just won’t zip. With shoes, however, I’m just glad to have  found a good pair of shoes, be that in a 9, a 10, or (god help me) an 11.

[2.5 of 5 stars] There are some good essays in this collection, but expect a lot of repetition. I want more voices. I want to hear from non-American women, as well as women of different racial, religious and class backgrounds. There is so much to say about fashion and feminism. I don’t want to read the same thing over and over.


The 2009 Family Christmas Report

Someone told me I need to write a Christmas blog. I’ve been struggling with it, because Christmas, in and of itself, isn’t important to me. My religious upbringing was Reform Judaism with a lit bit of Unitarianism tossed it for good measure. I think the Bible is interesting to study,  but I don’t believe it as fact. Still, I like Christmas as a time of giving and a time to spend with family. I like the excitement. I like the spirit. I like hope and joy. And I like presents.

And like everyone else, all the things I love about Christmas can also drive me crazy, especially family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this year’s celebrations. My brother has been away at college and is “not technically seeing,” but really is “seeing,” his high school girlfriend. My mom hung my ex’s Christmas stocking up, and I never said anything about it . One grandmother is in the hospital. Another is now living in town, in an assisted living facility. My parents told my brother and I that we wouldn’t be getting many presents. I didn’t know what to expect.

It was better than expected.

Family Christmas #1 was celebrated on the 23rd. The aunts and uncles gathered at my parent’s house, along with the crazy grandmother and the brother’s girlfriend (today). We ate a traditional dinner of red and green pizza bagels and opened presents. One of my aunts has discovered the beauty of the Amazon gift-card, but the other, I swear, selects her gifts around ways to “femme” me up. Anyways, this year was better than most, with only one beaded jewelry set that I will never touch. She did give me a pink plaid beret and scarf set, but I wore it today with my new bad-ass jacket and some leather boots. It worked. She also gave me a weird headband thing, but with my job and my inability to decide whether to keep my hair short or long, I will probably use it. No makeup, no pink handbags, and no nailpolish. Pretty impressive.

Family Christmas #2 went down on Christmas eve. We always go to the Minestrone party at some distant relative’s house. My dad refers to it as “Christmas eve at my wife’s dead-husband’s sister’s boyfriend’s second-cousin’s house.” Got that? Neither do I.

They are all nice people in their obligatory Southern-charm sort of way. I’ve known them all for 21 years, but I have yet to discover anything we have in common besides a love for chocolate toffee. The girl closest to my age (could we call her my aunt’s boyfriend’s third-cousin ?) is happily dating a Navy officer. No one asks who I am dating, and that is probably for the better.

Family Christmas #3 occurred on Christmas morning. For years, my brother and I would wake up at the crack of dawn and bang on my parent’s bedroom door. I spent the night at my parent’s home so we could relive that tradition. Instead, we both got up around 11 am. Last year, my ex was part of the celebration, spending the night with me in my childhood bedroom, and coming down to family breakfast in her Spiderman footed pajamas. (She was 21, I swear). I needed to get my mind of that, so I decided to go for a jog. By the time we all sat down for breakfast it was almost noon. After a traditional breakfast of bagels  and cream cheese (Notice the theme? Graduation brunch leftovers.) and a few too many glasses of champagne punch, we opened all the presents. My parents have given up on pushing me towards traditional femininity. No dangly earrings with mother commenting, “I wish you’d just wear some pretty earrings like most girls.” Nothing pink,  no ruffles. They’re getting there. I got useful things: a new camera lens to replace the one I broke, a Tom-Tom GPS so I can navigate when I start grad school, some button-down shirts from Express, the bad-ass jacket I’ve been yearning for, a gift card to my favorite coffee shop. and even rainbow “Thank You” cards.

For every queer person wishing their family would accept and embrace them, I invite you to celebrate Christmas with mine. My family has their eccentricities, that’s for sure, but I love them and they love me.  Hell, as soon as I unwrapped the gift from my brother, season 3 of The L Word, my mom grabbed the DVD case and checked to make sure she could still remember all the character’s names and everyone they’d slept with.

Suspension for Long Locks

As shared in this article, four- year-old Taylor Pugh has been suspended from his pre-kindergarten in Balch Springs, Texas because he has longer hair.

It’s actually a sweet story. Little kid decides he wants to grow his hair out and donate it to make a wig for someone with cancer. Makes dad agree to also grow his hair out.

Like most sweet stories, it has a sweet ending. Four-year-old Taylor gets expelled from school. Eventually, the school decides that’s too harsh for a tot, and gives him in-school suspension instead. For the last month, Taylor has been sitting in a classroom alone, working through the Pre-K curriculum.

Frankly, this is ridiculous. As cited in the article, “According to the district dress code, boys’ hair must be kept out of the eyes and cannot extend below the bottom of earlobes or over the collar of a dress shirt. Hairstyles “designed to attract attention to the individual or to disrupt the orderly conduct of the classroom or campus (are) not permitted.” First of all, plenty of professional men have longer hair, my father included. Furthermore, regardless of his hairstyle of choice, a kid deserves the change to be in a classroom and play with his peers. Forced gender roles in the classroom, a patriarchal agenda, conservative norms, blah-de-blah, but even more importantly, we’re talking about a preschooler!

A Fashion Wish-list

My friend, T-Rex, recently lent me the book It’s So You: 35 Women Write About Personal Expression Through Fashion and Style. Edited by Michelle Tea, this book explores the intersections between fashion and feminism. While I plan on writing a more complete review once I’m finished, I’ve become inspired to share my fashion wish-list. Mind you, my friends, my fashion is always changing. This is what I want right now.

1) Black, motorcycle type boots. I love the tough edge to these. If you’re feeling extra generous, I’m a size 10.

Aldo Shoes: Cadlett

2) Black ankle boots. I have a pair of slouchy black boots, but they are cheap pleather and falling apart. I need a replacement, and I think these would do. I like the crisscrossing straps.

Aldo Shoes: Jestes, in black satin

3) Funky boot/sneakers. I don’t know what it is, but I like these with skinny jeans or skirts and tights. Once again, Aldo seems to offer the perfect pair.In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m currently obsessed with boots.

Aldo Shoes: Crowers, in black satin

4) Funky, equestrian inspired boots. I love these.

Aldo Shoes: Alioto, in cognac

5) A black velvet blazer. I’ve been looking for years for the perfect one, and I still haven’t found it. This Victoria’s Secret one is pretty close, but it’s a little out of my budget.

Victoria's Secret: Velvet Blazer, in black

6) Corduroy blazer. I like to mix the preppy, pulled-together look with my general madness. Picture it with a tee underneath, skinny jeans, and boots (surprise!). It could work.

Victoria's Secret: Three-button blazer in vintage corduroy, in rust

7) A plaid coat. This is one of those things that are in style right now, but I really like it. Who cares that it will be passe next season. I think I could pull it off.

Levi's Women's Blue Plaid Wool Peacoat

8 ) Black, long-sleeve, button-up shirt. I had the perfect one. Unfortunately, it belonged to my ex-girlfriend. I think this is a basic piece of any wardrobe and I need a replacement pronto.

Express: Essential Stretch Long-Sleeve Shirt, only in black

9) Red boots. My mom has a pair from the 1980s, which are pretty much the coolest thing ever. If she is going to be 50 this year, and can still pull them off, so could I.

These are reserved on Etsy, but the perfect pair must exist somewhere out there.

10) A beige suede belt. It’s that simple. I have western-inspired beige suede boots. While I don’t think it’s essential to match your shoes and belt, sometimes I am so inclined.

A simple beige belt

11) A bad-ass leather jacket. I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been craving a leather jacket. As a vegetarian, I think I’d feel too hypocritical to wear a real leather jacket. Faux leather would be my first choice, followed by vintage. I figure, if the cow’s been dead thirty years, its hide might as well get some use. I haven’t found the perfect thing anywhere, but here are some pictures for inspiration:

12) I tend to accumulate too much stuff in my wallet, largely because there are too many pockets. I want to simplify in one of two ways: a simple men’s wallet, or a case as a wallet.

Fossil: Men's Evans Zip Passcase

Sex Kitten Cigarette Case/Wallet

And now, I must stop this before I get out of control or before I start to over-analyze what this says about my fashion inclinations.

Props to you, Coach!

The other day, as I walked across the gym from coaching uneven bars to the vault area, I heard the following exchange:

6-year-old boy: “Why does that have to be my nickname?”

Coach: “If you act like a boy, I’ll give you a manly nickname. Otherwise, you get a girly nickname. So you have to be tough, and strong, and not complain if you wanted to be nicknamed “Superman” or “Muscleman” or “Tiger.” If you’re weak, and scared, and whine a lot, you’ll keep being called “Princess” or “Fairy.”

First of all, really!? Way to reinforce stereotypical gender roles. Props to you, Coach! Teach ’em young.

Second, as a women’s gymnastics coach, I take offense. My girls are not weak, they are incredibly brave, and they don’t whine anymore than any kid would when required to do things that are painful and difficult.

On the “weak” note, I have an idea. First, we line the boys and girls team up from oldest to youngest, facing each other, as if at a square dance. Then we pair each kid with the opposite-sexed kid facing them and send then off on a leg lift, press handstand, and rope climb contest. My girls will kick the boys’ asses.

On the topic of “girls are scared,” I don’t think my students are any more scared than they should be. Gymnastics is a risky sport. Most of my kids who have been at the competitive level for more than a few years have broken some bone or have some sort of injury that requires constant attention (tendinitis, Osgood-Schlatter’s “disease,” or lower back pain). Like all athletes, my gymnasts sometimes encounter mental blocks they must overcome. For the the most part, however, they their coaches’ judgment. When I tell a kid she is ready to do her back-handspring, back-tuck on the high beam or flip from the high bar to the low part without a mat, they apprehensively proceed. Fear is good. Fear informs us of limits. Fear keeps us from doing stupid things. The coach above should realize the difference between natural and helpful fear and pointlessly being a scaredy-cat.

Finally, kids (both boys and girls) whine when they have to do something they don’t want. If I was eight, and my coach told me to do a hundred sit-ups, you bet I’d whine. But then, I’d do it, because I’d know it was good for me. As my gymnasts get older and more advanced in the sport, they cease to complain because they internalize that challenges and occasional discomfort are inherent in the path they’ve chosen.  It shouldn’t be surprising that a six-year-old boy would say, “Ugh, Coach, I don’t want to do my push-ups!” or “This hurts. Why do we have to do it’?” That doesn’t mean you need to rename him  “Fairy Princess.”

Princesses to the Rescue

I’m not a big fan of the Disney Princess line, but I’ve got to give them a little credit for this commercial.

At least the girls are saving the prince this time. At least girls are being active and having adventures, even if pink and purple are the only color options.

Defining Sex

In case you haven’t figured it out already, I like to talk about sex. Inevitably, while talking about sex, the question, “How many people have you had sex with?” comes up. I never know what answer to give.

It’s not that I don’t know how many people I’ve been intimate with. I’m pretty sure I can rattle off a list of everyone I’ve kissed in chronological order. It’s just that I am still figuring out what I define as sex.

As of now, I’ve come to a few conclusions:
I think fucking is sex. Penis in vagina is sex. Dildo in vagina is sex. Anal sex is sex.
I think oral sex is sex. I don’t care if teenagers say they are saving themselves for marriage and a blow job doesn’t count. For me, oral sex is the most intimate of sex acts. That intimacy, to me, is sex.

Other than that, I haven’t decided. One of my friends says it’s sex if you orgasm, but that would mean a lot of married women with children aren’t having sex. Is it sex if it feels good? Where do you draw the line between “fooling around” and having sex? Where do you draw the line between touching and fucking?

I want to know what you think. What do you consider “sex?” I’ll add more later, but I want to hear what other people have to say because my opinions might sway your comments.

Or did whoever say “If you think you’re having sex, you’re having sex” have it all figured out? (Also who was that? I thought it was Alix Olsen, but I can’t seem to find it in any of her lyrics. Was it the Athens Boys Choir?)