The Unbearable Lightness of Hair Gel

Okay, okay, I’m not supposed to be blogging, I’m supposed to be finishing up my novel. (Which, for those keeping score at home, crossed 42,000 words last night, at which point I realized that in all 40k+ words preceding, I’d forgotten to set up a major plot point. WHOOPS. Anyway.)

But I wanted to comment briefly on Fred Clark’s throwback post from yesterday. Originally published in November 2011, it treats on the issues of authenticity and hair styling on the campaign trail:

The expert opinion: No one’s hair stays in place like that without some product in there. And the coloring used everywhere but Romney’s temples isn’t always done as seamlessly or artfully as it could be.

The expert also says this is all silly. There’s nothing morally wrong with using products to keep your hair in place and there’s nothing shameful about deciding to keep your hair the same color it was when you were younger. The expert feels its an insult to her profession that candidates tend to lie about this sort of thing.

Political candidates have to go before the cameras on television — that means lots of work on hair and makeup, lots of necessary product, just to appear normal under the lights in high-def. We never criticize a candidate for wearing a shirt that’s been ironed, or a suit that’s been tailored, or for otherwise looking more presentable than someone who’s just rolled out of bed. But after several election cycles of stupidity and silliness around candidates’ hairstyles, the current vogue requires them to lie for the sake of “authenticity.”

Mitt Romney (who? I swear I remember someone by that name) probably only has to touch up his hair — and possibly wear some concealer and powder, to be honest — to look normal when he’s campaigning. And if he admits that his perfect Reed Richards-esque graying temples are chemically enhanced, he’ll get called out for being inauthentic.

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A Feminist’s Horror Film Marathon

But it is women who love horror. Gloat over it. Feed on it. Are nourished by it. Shudder and cling and cry out – and come back for more.
-Bela Lugosi

You said it, Bela.

I love horror movies. I’m a total wimp about them, the screaming, crying, watch-the-movie-behind-my-hands, “NO DON’T GO IN THERE oh god why am I watching this” kind of wimp, but I love them. Horror movies not only create spaces where we can explore and exorcise cultural fears: they are fantastically complex pieces of media that can reinforce cultural rules or shatter them, that celebrate and condemn transgression.

Plus they’re just wicked fun.

Here’s a list of some of my favorites. For best results, I’ve recommended a food/drink combo and some complementary feminist literature. Happy Halloween!

Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys’ “Medea.” Don’t mess with the best.

Suggested reading for everything: Men, Women, and Chainsaws, Carol Clover — the definitive work on feminism and horror films

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Guest post: class, gender, and YA lit

“not a pretty girl” was a ton of fun to write, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the discussions it’s started about gender, gender roles, and gender presentation. But I have to acknowledge it was a pretty narrowly focused series: gender intersects with class, race, sexuality, and physical and mental ability in all kinds of ways that I didn’t get into. So to start getting into that kind of intersectionality, I’m pleased to host this response from Teri Carns ( on gender, class, and the books she grew up reading.

One thing embedded in my generation, and my mother’s and her mother’s, and so on back was social class. It’s a mix of ancestry, education, origins, ethnicity (there’s arguably no scientific basis for the term “race,” so I avoid it), manners, and social skills. Every woman I grew up with on both sides of the family was exquisitely attuned to social class, and expectations for one’s life (I originally wrote “goals,” but women didn’t have goals, they had roles).

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Calling out good behavior: Halloween edition

Me, grinning

This picture has basically nothing to do with anything except insofar as it’s how I looked tonight. I was “Batman: Year One”-era Selina Kyle, theoretically.

I feel like I spend a lot of time calling out bad behavior and systems of oppression, so here’s a quick post to celebrate a random dude who behaved really well.

I went out dancing with friends tonight to a popular and upscale Capitol Hill club, all dressed up and made up for Halloween. Eventually I went to the bar to get a drink. While I was waiting to catch the bartender’s eye, a guy leaned on the bar next to me.

“Hey!” He pointed at his shirt, where he was wearing a HELLO MY NAME IS “Drinking Buddy” sticker. “Wanna be my drinking buddy?”

“Oh!” I said. “Sorry, I already have some.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. “I had to ask!” And then he offered me a high-five, and I gave it to him, and he went back to his friends.

Which was basically the classiest attempt at a pick-up I saw from a guy all night long, and by far the most graceful acceptance of rejection I’ve seen in a long time. So well done, Drinking Buddy! I hope you found someone nice to drink with.

Happy Halloween weekend. May all your celebrations have classy people and good music.

Service with a smile

Today’s “feminism vs capitalism” moment is brought to you by the middle-aged male customer who answered “Would you like anything else?” with “A smile,” and by me, who gave him that smile and got tipped extra for it.

It’s actually kind of amazing how tawdry that feels.

Point the first: Tipping is a pretty messed up economic system for a lot of reasons, and we should get the hell away from it by legislating a higher minimum wage and/or a line-item service charge at dining establishments. I point you towards Jay Porter’s excellent and thorough “Observations From A Tipless Restaurant” series.

Point the second: if you are at an establishment that allows tips, you should tip food service workers. Period. If you are able to throw a dollar in a jar, please do; we’re relying on it. I understand that in some cities, food truck workers don’t do tips, but in Seattle we’re all making minimum wage and your tips are enormously appreciated. It’s a crappy system, but for those of us in it, not getting tipped makes it that much crappier.

Point the third: if, however, you decide how much to tip based on whether your server is aesthetically pleasing, or request that they treat you with greater familiarity in order to earn their tip, you’re incredibly gross.

The whole exchange with this creep went like this:

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but I am not a maiden fair

Ani DiFranco

I guess it was inevitable. I posted a series titled “not a pretty girl,” and what I heard back — invariably from male friends —  was “but you are pretty! Don’t you think you’re pretty?”

When I first got asked that, it gave me pause for a couple of reasons. The first was the sudden cognitive dissonance of trying to decide which of two socially acceptable answers to give. On the one hand, calling yourself “pretty” or “hot” or praising your own appearance is considered vain: with the concurrent advent of sites like MySpace and Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter and the advent of digital cameras, the phenomenon of “selfies” became very popular very quickly and become very mockable just as fast*.

On the other hand, I am an Empowered Feminist Woman who believes in body positivity and self-esteem and so forth, and being self-deprecating about one’s appearance is considered damaging and toxic and buying into Western beauty ideals.

On the gripping hand, my attractiveness isn’t even secondary to the point — it’s, like, quinary at best. But the title of the blog posts seem to have convinced some people that I don’t consider myself attractive, and it seems very important to them that I understand that I am pretty.

On top of all this, from other conversations people have been having around this series, I think I may have given the impression that I value the ideal of “pretty” over “not pretty” — that I think the pretty Other Girls are better than the not-a-pretty-girl Me’s, when really I just think girls shouldn’t hate on girls for being girls because being a girl is hard enough already. And since I wrote about identifying as a “I’m not like those other girls” type in high school, maybe it came across like I wish I were prettier.

So here’s my answer:

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not a pretty girl: THE GIRLENING

The response to not a pretty girl has been INCREDIBLE (I had nearly more than 600 visitors and more than 1000 views on October 11, at which point I had to go have a lie down with Elysian Brewery’s imperial stout). People have been bringing up awesome points all over the place that I want to discuss at greater length. But first! I totally forgot in my rush to get that thing finished in the first place that one topic I wanted to talk about was YA media that I think do a good job of dealing with the many different ways of being a teenage girl — the stuff that I would steer a teen toward if she asked me for recommendations. So here are some of those!

You don't always have to be who they want you to be, you know.

I didn’t see this movie until SENIOR YEAR because something was dreadfully wrong with me.

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not a pretty girl, epilogue

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

And I REALLY love Xena and Hilary Clinton and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman and Wonder Woman and Sandra Day O'Connor and Oprah...

Hey, thanks for sticking through all of that!

Because I’m only human and my thoughts on these kinds of identity politics are constantly evolving, and because I ended up covering several more topics than I originally intended to, and because I’ve only had one cup of coffee today (what???), I may have said stuff you disagree with, or stuff you want to discuss more, or stuff that’s just straight-up confusing. I love conversation and I always appreciate the chance to learn more and hear other viewpoints. In the interest of keeping any discussion streamlined, though, I’m restricting comments to just this post.

Thanks for reading!

Further recommended reading/viewing:

Got other stuff we should be reading? Drop it in the comments below!

not a pretty girl, pt. 3

Done looking for the critics ’cause they’re everywhere
They don’t like my jeans, they don’t get my hair
Strange ourselves and we do it all the time
Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?

-P!nk, “F**kin’ Perfect”

Part 1
Part 2

While working on this post (originally it was just going to be one post, WHOOPS), I emailed my mom and asked her what books she read with female protagonists growing up. My mom was (and is) a great reader, and got in trouble as a kid for reading when she was supposed to be napping. So what was she reading under the covers when she was our age? What were the heroines like, pre-1970 and the Womens’ Rights movement? She wrote back:

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not a pretty girl, pt. 2

I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distess
and I don’t need to be rescued
so put me down punk
maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair
isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere

-Ani Difranco, “Not a Pretty Girl

Part 1

We get these ideas from a few different places, I think.

First, we define the Other Girl. We may not even know any Other Girls — I certainly didn’t. Every girl in my class was as smart or smarter, as nerdy or nerdier, as I was, and I can’t think of anyone I knew before college who even got close to the Other Girl stereotype. But the Other Girl is very much what we’re fed as an ideal by all kinds of American media. She’s the Covergirl. She’s bouncing through our movies and our advertising and our books, blonde by hook or by crook and there to attract men. She’s Cosmopolitan, she’s Sex and the City, she’s years upon years of Miss America pageants, she’s Barbie, she’s most of the contestants on America’s Next Top Model.

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