Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kids or No Kids?

Moran's account of giving birth to her first child is absolutely terrifying. I'm not sure if she ended up in a hospital with an incompetent staff, or whether this is standard at NHS hospitals in Britain. Let's just say that when you read it, you want to make sure that you completely vet your hospital staff before the big day.

However, once the horrors of childbirth are over, Moran enjoys being a parent. Although she does compare it to being in a perpetual state of war, she gets much joy out of her two children. She also finds that having kids has made her an amazing multitasker who is afraid of nothing and who has developed incredible time management skills.

She does point out the tremendous pressure that society puts on women to have children. Whenever she interviews a female celebrity, in addition to asking them about their clothes, she ismalso expected to ask them about their kids, or if they are childless, whether they want kids, and when they plan to have them. Moran once again ties this to sexism:

"Part of this feeling that women can only become powerful elders in society when they have, I suspect, linked to the fact that women aren't valued when they actually do get old: essentially, the peak of your respectability and wisdom is seen to coming in the years you're still fertile, holding down a family, and increasingly, a job at the same time. By the time you hit 55 you're being fired from the BBC and getting sniped at for being wrinkly." (p. 235)

Since a menopausal-aged woman can no longer have children, society views them as useless and therefore as extraneous.

Childless men, however, are not viewed as useless or extraneous:

"No one has ever claimed for a minute that childless men have missed out on a vital aspect of their existence, and were the poorer and crippled by it. Da Vinci, Van Gogh, Newton, Faraday, Plato, Aquinas, Beethoven, Handel, Kant, Hume, Jesus. They all seem to have managed quite well" (p. 238)

Or if at least not quite well, they led creative and productive lives. In fact, looking at some of the names on this list, it was probably a good thing that these men remained childless.

Moran calls for women to freely admit that they choose to be childless, and for other women and society in general not to view childless women as useless failures. With the increasing number of single women in society and the choice of many to live alone, childlessness may become the new norm in First World Countries.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Go Lap-Dancing!

Back in the early 1990's, when I lived in Seattle, two male acquaintances of mine were dating two women who worked as strippers in a club near Pioneer Square. The men in my social circle viewed these women as feminist pioneers, who had taken ownership of their bodies and were supporting themselves by exploiting men. Stripping paid well and the women were supposedly paying their way into or through college.

My female friends were outraged. They felt that these two women were being exploited - not being the exploiters, and that stripping was degrading. Both strippers came from extremely troubled families, and it was felt that they had a poor sense of personal boundries. I don't know what the women themselves thought since on the few ocassions that I actually was in a room with them, I rarely heard them talk, and we certainly never discussed their jobs. What I do remember was that my male friends viewed stripping as empowering and my female friends as degrading, and that this was a frequent topic of conversation. For the record, I have never stepped foot in a strip club.

Moran and one of her friends went to a strip-club because they wanted to write an article about it. While the strip-club chapter starts out as funny and upbeat, with Moran debating over what to wear to a strip club, it rapidly becomes darker. Moran finds the club and its patrons depressing:

"You spend this money on nothing at all - addiction to porn and strip clubs is the third biggest cause of debt in men. Between 60 and 80 percent of strippers come from a backround of sexual abuse. This place is a mess, a horrible mess. Every dance, every private booth, is a small unhappiness, an ugly impoliteness: the bastard child of misogyny and commerce" (p. 164).

In other words, she doesn't feel that the strippers are happily exploiting men for personal gain and getting empowered in the process.

Moran is also horrified by recent spate of interviews with young women who become strippers (or call girls) to pay their way through college. I must agree with Moran about this trend. I think that it is a sad state of affairs when young women have to resort to selling themselves to get a college degree and it is considered acceptable for them to do so. While I've read about young men selling their sperm to fertility clinics, and their blood to blood banks, I don't think that I've ever read about any who have had to turn to stripping or escorting in order to do so. Either they are in the minority, or too smart to get themselves into the media.

 I doubt that these young women will remain anonymous and it will be difficult for them to get employed in non-sex industry jobs after they are outed. For example, a New York City teacher was fired by the Department of Education after it found out that she had formerly been a sex worker. Evidently upper management thinks these women will try to corrupt the youth when in reality they are becoming teachers to prevent the youth from falling into the problems from which they themselves have escaped by hard work.  I just wish that the economy is better so that people can work relatively lucrative and rewarding jobs, preferably related to their future occupations, while in college.

Interestingly, Moran does enjoy pole-dancing at home and burlesque shows, which she thinks are empowering to women because they are fun for them. Since I've never pole-danced or attended a burlesque show, and neither have any of my female friends, I'll have to defer to Moran on those area. Feel free to comment if you have anything to share on these topics.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Encounter Some Sexism!

In this chapter, Moran explains why sexism exists by summing up thousands of years of human history:

  • men are stronger than women.
  • they don't get pregnant and die in childbirth.
  • they don't get cystitis.
  • simple biology gives them the advantage.
To quote Moran directly:

"Let's stop exhaustingly pretending that there is a parallel history of women being victorious and creative on an equal with men, that's just been comprehensively covered up by The Man. There isn't. Our empires, armies, cities, artwork, philosophers, inventors, scientists, astronauts, explorers, politicians, and icons could all fit, comfortably, into one of the private karaoke booths in SingStar. We have no Mozart; no Einstein; no Galileo; no Gandhi. No Beatles, no Churchill, no Hawking, no Columbus. It just didn't happen." (p.130)

She continues on to say that women have not yet begun to be the creative individuals that they have the ability to become.

My first reaction when I read this chapter was to think "WOW! Her education was neglected. What about these famous women:

  • Eleanor of Aquitaine (spent over a decade in prison because her second husband was afraid of her).
  • Elizabeth I of England (couldn 't risk getting married since her husband would then try to rule for her).
  • The abbess Heloise (confined to a nunnery after she had a child by Peter Abelard, she was a brilliant scholar who was not allowed to raise her child or marry her lover because of the conventions of the time).
  • Hildegard of Bingen (a brilliant composer who once again became a nun and spent her days in isolation).
  • Jane Austen (the famous writer who never married).
  • Virginia Woolf (who committed suicide).
  • Veronica Franco (a talented Venetian poet forced to become a courtesan to support her own children and those of her brothers, she was tried for witchcraft by the Inquisition).
The problem with being a famous woman is that there always seems to be some kind of catch - you cannot marry, you have to enter a convent, you have to give up your children, you must become a prostitute, in order to create. Whereas people like Rembrandt and Mozart, even if they did have fits of depression, also had wives who ran their households, paid the bills, and did the laundry and cleaning; as a result, they had enormous amounts of uninterrupted time to create.

Even today in the UK, where Moran lives, women still do the bulk of housework and most of the childcare. Even in the US, women do most of the cleaning and housework
even if they work. Although industrialization has eliminated the strength differences that have kept women in subserivent roles, the responsibility for maintaining a home still falls on them. It will be interesting to see how much ruling and creating that women do in the 21st century.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What we wear dictates what we become

A few posts ago, I quoted Moran on fashion and the workplace:

"Chicks in jeans and sneakers don't get promoted. Men in jeans and sneakers do. How women look is considered generally interchangeable with who we are - and, therefore, often goes on to dictate what will happen to us next" (p.203)

Later on the page, Moran emphasizes that clothes cannot just be clothes for women. A man can pull on the only clean pants in his closet and a shirt, and live his life. When a woman puts on a piece of clothing, it immediately becomes a statement about her political views, sexuality,sense of aethestics, etc. A woman's clothing choice is always analyzed. Even a woman who dresses just for comfort has her decision analyzed and criticised.

While some of this critcism is done by men, much of it is done by women judging other women. Fashion designers and writers are also women. it is fascinating that as more and more women dominate the world of fashion in positions of influence, the clothes that appear in fashion shows still are designed for impossibly thin models and have little relation to real life.

At the end of her fashion chapter, Moran finally realizes:

"Although we use it as our major study aid, fashion does not, ultimately, help us get dressed in the morning. Not if we want to wear something we can walk around in without constantly having the hem ride up or picking the seam out of our crotches. Fashion is for standing still and being photographed.Clothes, on the other hand, are for our actual lives. And life is really the only place you can learn the most important lessons about how to get dressed and feel happy" (p.207).

Fashion deliberately forces women to be passive manniquins in order to get the "look" conceived by the designer. In real life, most women cannot, and do not wish, to stand around passively. Perhaps designers of both sexes will acknowledge that fact and someday design for real, active women.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fashion & Librarians

When I first got hired as a librarian over ten years ago, I went through training that emphasized that to our teenage patrons, all librarians are old and dowdy. I thought this a bit extreme because in my experience, anyone over 21 is viewed as old and dowdy by a teenager - not just librarians.

Over the years I've read articles about the new hipster librarians in the NY TImes, the well-dressed NYPL librarian in The Wall Street Journal and seen posts telling librarians what to wear to conferences, as well as actual blogs devoted to librarian fashion. The Annoyed Librarian has done many posts over the years making fun of hipster librarians and librarians dressed in cat sweatshirts and confortable shoes roaming library conventions dragging bags of loot. I have posted many times on the Annoyed LIbrarian blogs comments to the effect that the emphasis on librarian fashion is sexist.

I'm going to imitate Caitlin Moran (see her list on fashion on p. 208) and give a list of reasons:

  • According to the ALA in 2010, 83% of librarians are women. The mean hourly wage for librarian, when computed is $43,000/yr. Three out of ten librarians work part-time, so they are making less than this mean on a yearly basis. This does not leave much money for clothing, and since many librarians are married, have children, or are in school, they don't have lots of time for thrifting. In fact, some even have second jobs to pay their library degree. Some of them may be saving towards retirement because they've read a few books in the personal finance section.

  • By the way, in 2010, the median weekly salary for female librarians was 81% that of male librarians.

  • Also according to the ALA study cited above, most librarians work in school or academic libraries, with a fourth working in public libraries.

  • Anyone who reads comments on listservs, facbooks pages, and blogs geared towards public librarians will notice that librarians don't sit around around and read books. They shelve, clean up patron accidents as needed, conduct craft programs and clean up after them, weed books, fix computers, and generally spend much time on their feet. There is a reason these people wear comfortable shoes and clothes that can be easily washed. Whenever I see an article about well-dressed librarians, invariably they either work in a special library, or a special division in a public library where they don't have to worry about getting dirty and therefore don't have to spend a fortune on dry-cleaning. They also probably work in a climate-controlled environment.

  • SInce librarianship is such a low-paid, woman-dominated profession, the media does not respect it. The NY TImes does wonderful articles about exciting archeological discoveries. Whenever I read them, I get depressed and rue my inability to learn a language other than English. Interestingly enough, the Times never describes the clothing of the archeologists. I don't know whether they excavate in khaki or jeans or combat pants, and whether they prefer steel-toed shoes to sneakers. Why, you ask? Because it isn't important! What matters is that the archaeologist has just discovered the site of the Roman Lupercal or a lost city in the Amazon. No one cares about what Howard Carter wore when he found the tomb of King Tut.

  • This applies to other male-dominated professions, such as neuroscience, psychiatry, etc. What matters is the work done by the professional, not how the professional looks. However, since librarianship isn't male-dominated, it isn't taken seriously, and neither are librarians. The appearances of librarians make the news, not what they actually do.

  • In addition, these articles can actually be harmful to librarians because they are divisive. What really matters is whether the librarian is competent, not stereotypically well-dressed (although I draw the line at not bathing). Instead of obsessing over the appearance of librarians, we should be concerned with the major budget cuts happening in libraries throughout the country and how it will affect the literacy of Americans of all ages.

Moran does discuss this kind of sexism frequently in her book. For example, whenever she interviews a female celebrity, she is expected to describe the woman's wardrobe and her feeling about having children. This is not required in articles about male celebrities. She also talks about the inability to move up in the work world for women, and how sexism in the workplace is not gone.

What can be done about this? I, for one, am going to apply Moran's advice about the Zero Tolerance Policy on the Patriarchal Broken Window Bullshit, and laugh. Then I'm going to buy a new pair of comfy sneakers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Get into Fashion! Continued

Moran spends the rest of the Fashion chapter describing the hell women go through while looking for clothes. Getting depressed while gazing in fitting room mirrors. Buying completely unsuitable items in fits of desperation, only to realize when you get them home that you will never ever wear them. Not being able to find anything with sleeves. Few women find shopping fun, which may be why online shopping has increased; it is more pleasant to try on clothes in the privacy of your home, where no one will hear you cry.

The last complaint I found really interesting because that seems to be a common complaint among British women. The Guardian has a blog called “The Invisible Woman” geared towards older women who feel invisible because of their age. One post generated a string of comments about how impossible it was to find t-shirts with elbow-length sleeves, something that can be easily found from American clothing companies such as LLBean. Most posters (whether from the U.K. , the U.S., elsewhere) agreed that it is hard to find attractive clothing that fits older female bodies and more mature lifestyles, despite the economic power of the aging Baby Boomer generation.

The misery of ill-fitting clothes is compounded by the criticism received by the women who wear them. While Moran mentions how British female politicians are chastised for their wardrobe mistakes, I remember Hilary Clinton. It seems as though every time the poor woman trims her hair, unflattering photos of her appear in the news and she is denounced for her appearance. 

I hope as more women become fashion designers and reporters, more clothes will be designed to accommodate the wide range of women’s bodies and lifestyles. Models look more like real women and less emaciated.  Perhaps women politicians will even receive coverage of their job performance rather than their looks.

Chapter 11 - the chapter that made me love this book

Chapter 11 "I Get Into Fashion", is the chapter that made me love this book. Moran, aged 24, finally has enough spare cash on hand so that she can go clothes shopping. Since her backround is grunge, she normally wears the same few clothes over and over again until they wear out, buys clothes at jumble sales, and wears Doc Martens. Now that she has enough money to shop like a grown up, she learns about the need to accessorize and to wear heels.

Thirteen years later, Moran has collection of heels that she doesn't wear because they are excrucuatingly painful and often made her fall down the stairs. To quote Moran:

"Why are all these shoes unworn? Ladies, I'm going to put it on the line. I'm going to say what, over the last 13 years, I have gradually realized, and what we all secretly knew anyway, the first time we put heels on: there're only ten people in the world, tops, who should actually wear heels. And six of those are drag queens. The rest of us just need to...give up. Surrender. Finally acquiesce to what nature is telling us. We can't walk in them. WE CANNOT WALK IN THE DAMN THINGS. We might just as well be stepping out in antigravity boots, or roller skates." (p. 195).

This is actually true. One of the earliest forms of high heels were worn by Venetian courtesans, who needed servants to assist them as they walked down the street. Most prostitutes died young and poor. Some, like the famous Veronica Franco, ended up before the Inquisition.

High heels were also popular among the men of the court of Louis the XIV, France's Sun KIng. Louis deliberately forced his courtiers to move to court and spend their disposable income on frivolous items such as heels, jewelry, and furniture because under previous kings the nobles had stayed home and spent their money on armies, which they then used to try to overthrow the king. Louis realized that getting his courtiers hooked on conspicuous consumption would keep them broke, under his eye, and less likely to try to cause a revolution. It worked.

This also works with women. It is now Fashion Week in NYC. I realize that Fashion Week generates enormous revenues for NYC and helps support the city's reputation as one of the most glamorous places in the world. I've spent the week gazing at the fashion sections of the local papers. Most fashion is aimed at women, who are expected to spend money to stay fashionable - to own the latest trends.

However, fashion is also expensive. Money spent on designer shoes, or even illegal knockoffs of shoes, is money that could be saved to buy an apartment, invested in a retirement fund, or used to pay tuition or start a business. Women over 65 in the U.S. have much higher rates of poverty and near poverty than men. One cause is that women have lower salaries than men, but they also are not investing in retirement plans to compensate for the lower salaries.

There is less pressure on men to spend money on fashion. Male fashion changes less radically; male shoes and clothing are more durable because manufacturers know men want to wear their clothes for more than one season. To quote Moran once again "Indeed, I've pretty much given up on women's shoes altogether. Even women's flats seem insubstantial and sloppily made, compared to mens" (p. 197) Women's shoes are less substantial because in most cases, manufacturers don't expect women to wear them for more than a season. Since they spend less time and money on clothes shopping, men have more time and resources to do other things, many of which earn them money, or they can actually save some money rather than spend it on clothes.

While Moran is on strike against women's shoes, I'm not that extreme. I don't care if other women wear heels - I just don't want to have to buy them or wear them. However, as Moran points out on p. 202, women are judged by what they wear, by men and especially by other women. "How women look is considered generally interchangeable with who we are-and, therefore, often goes on to dictate what will happen to us next." (p. 203).
This last statement is something I'll discuss in tomorrow's post.


Monday, September 10, 2012

I Am Fat!

Caitlin Moran was overweight for all of her childhood, and only began to lose weight in her teen years. Her childhood nickname was "Fatso." As a result, Moran remains very conscious of the pressure that society puts upon women to remain thin. As Moran entertaining describes, celebrities such as David Bowie and Keith Richards can completely fry their brains using drugs, but are still idolized by media and society. Women  (especially celebrities) who are not model-thin are constantly vilified for their weight (p.110).

As Moran points out:

"Because people overeat for exactly the same reasons they drink, smoke, serially fuck around, or take drugs... In this trancelike state, you can find a welcome, temporary relief from thinking for 10, 20 minutes at a time, until finally a new set of sensations-physical discomfort and immense regret-make you stop, in the same way you finally pass out on whisky or dope. Overeating, or comfort eating, is the cheap, meek option for self-satisfaction, and self-obliteration. You get all the temporary release of drinking, fucking, or taking drugs, but without-and I think this is the important bit-ever being left in a state where you can't remain responsible and cogent....Overeating is the addiction of choice of carers, and that's why it's come to be regarded as the lowest-ranking of all the addictions...Fat people aren't indulging in the "luxury" of their addiction making them useless,chaotic, or a burden. Instead, they are slowly self-destructing in a way that doesn't inconvenience anyone. and that's why it's so often a woman's addiction of choice" (p. 111-113).

Since Moran, in addition to being an obese child, was also the caretaker of her numerous younger siblings, she has first-hand knowledge of the causes of obesity.

The U.S. in general, and NYC in particular, has become very aware of an obesity epidemic in the general population. More than a third of the adult population in the U.S. is obese, and over 17% of children are obese. NYC has mounted an agressive campaign to lower its obesity levels by increasing the amount of healthy food carts, improving schools lunches, and posting admonishing ads on subway trains. However, obesity rates remain high among New Yorkers of all ages. One reason may be that these NYC obesity reduction methods, while admirable, don't provide caretakers for the caretaker. There is no one there to help provide these women with the support that they need, which is a much more expensive proposition than posting some signs in a subway car.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

I am a feminist!

Unlike many women, Moran is happy to admit that she is a feminist. When I was a child growing in the 1970's, being described a feminist was a positive thing. My mother was one of the few women of her generation who got a college degree in the 1950's. She always spoke about being forced by the NYC Board of Education to quit when she became pregnant with her first child. This was standard policy in the 1950's; not only couldn't women teach in NYC schools after their third month of pregnancy but they had to submit their child's birth certificate, and got their pay retroactively docked if their child was born less than six months after their final work day.

My father, a gym teacher, was one of the main advocates for allowing girls to wear pants to school. Back in the 1970's, girls could only wear skirts in Long Island schools. As the father of six daughters and the husband of a woman who never wore dresses except in extreme heat waves, my father was sympathetic to the demands of his female students and supported a dress code change. He later supported the addition of a female player in the high school football team.

I spent the early 1990's in Seattle during the height of the grunge era, leaving just before Kurt Cobain killed himself. Moran is a big fan of Courtney Love, who she credits with teaching her not to give a damn about what others thought of her. One of the best aspects of the grunge movement was that it allowed women to dress comfortably in jeans, flannel shirts, t-shirts, Converse, or Doc Martins, all of which allows great freedom of movement. Moran is not a big fan of high heels and prefers flats, which I suspect is a decision influenced by grunge. My own recollection of life in 1990's Seattle was that it was OK to take risks with my life, and that no one would judge me on how I looked.

After the end of grunge, feminism fell out of style. I cannot remember the last time that I heard a woman describe herself as a feminist. In my experience, admitting that I was a feminist was politically incorrect, like admitting that I ate red meat, didn't compost, and didn't sign petitions. It simply was a very indiscreet thing to confess to people who weren't close friends.

Moran openly confronts women with this refusal to admit that they are feminists. As she points out:

"When statistics come in saying that only 29 percent of American women would describe themselves as feminist - and only 42 percent of British women- I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies. What part of "liberation for women" is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay?...

These days, however, I am much calmer-since I realized that it's technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn't be allowed to have a debate on a woman's p;ace in society. You'd be too busy giving birth on  the kitchen floor-biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to distub the men's card game-before going back to hoeing the rutabaga field." (p. 75).

My questions to my readers:

  • Do you feel ashamed to describe yourself as a feminist?
  • If you are a man, do you dislike women who openly describe  themselves as feminists?
  • Why do you think there is a slightly less stigma about calling oneself a feminist in the UK?
  • What do you think IS a 21st century feminist?
Please post.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Why I Chose "How to Be A Woman" by Caitlin Moran

A few months ago, as I was doing the dishes, I heard Caitlin Moran being interviewed on WNYC. While I regularly read the British newspaper The Guardian, I do not not read the London Times, so I had never heard of her. What impressed me about her interview was that she discussed why "feminism" should not be a dirty word. She also discussed the enormous pressures put on women to conform in both appearance and behavior to really impossible standards set by men.

I immediately ran out, bought a copy of her book since there was an enomous holds queue for it in the BPL catalog, and spent an entire day reading How to Be a Woman on my couch while drinking coffee. Moran's prologue brilliantly stated what I have felt about being a woman but not have been able to articulate:

"In the Broken Windows theory, if a single broken window or an empty building is ignored and not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may break into the building and light fires, or become squatters.

Similarly, if we live in a climate where female pubic hair is considered distasteful, or famous and powerful women are constantly pilloried for being too fat or too thin, or badly dressed, then, eventually, people start breaking into women, and lighting fires in them. Women will get squatters. Clearly, this is not a welcome state of affairs. I don't know about you, but I don't want to wake up one morning and find a load of chancers in my lobby...

Personally, I feel the time has come for women to introduce their own Zero Tolerance policy on the Broken Windows issues in our lives - I want a Zero Tolerance policy on "All the Patriarchal Bullshit." And the great thing about a Zero Tolerance policy on Patriarchal Broken Windows Bullshit is this: In the 21st century, we don't need to march against size-zero models, risible pornography, lap-dancing clubs, and Botox. We don't need to riot or go on hunger strikes. There's no need to throw ourselves under a horse, or even a donkey. We just need to look it in the eye,squarely, for a minute, and then start laughing at it." (p. 12-13)

This will not be an easy book to post about on a respectable, intellectual library blog. It certainly won't be easy to find many people who have actually read BPL copies due to the long holds list. How to Be a Woman was a bestseller in the UK, and Moran's ideas are definitely relevant to a US audience. If you cannot get a copy, an excerpt is posted at the NPR link earlier in this post. More information can be found at: