Saturday, 4 December 2010

Feminine Touches

"You are a very feminine woman," said my shrink, who was a woman.

"Say what?" I said. "What do you mean?! I'm a boxer. I have muscles on my muscles."

"Look at the clothes you are wearing," said my shrink, and lo, looking down I saw that I was wearing a tight blue mediaeval shirt with ruffled sleeves, a long black velvet skirt and cute boots.

I guess I was a very feminine woman, although I certainly didn't act like it. The joy of my life was working out at the Y in the morning and at the boxing ring in the evening, and I never ate fun things like chocolate or chips. I was bursting with as much natural testosterone as a normal woman can have, and it is almost a miracle I didn't get into fistfights with women in dance clubs. And I thought nothing of asking guys out, especially guys at work. Ay, me.

I was super-competent: I had a great salary, I almost bench my weight, I sparred with men in the ring, I paid half on dates. It makes me sad, now, thinking of how I paid half on dates. Very, very sad. That stopped when, thanks to tendonitis, I quit my great job. When I got another job, I made WAY less than my eventual (long since ex-) boyfriend, so he paid for dinners out. And, amazingly, I was not stoned to death by feminists in the street. Meanwhile, eventual (long since ex-) boyfriend enjoyed paying for the dinners out. I think it made him feel useful. Men love to feel useful.

My favourite movie back then was Girlfight, but (to ruin the ending) there is no way Michelle Rodriguez could beat her boyfriend in a boxing match and still be his girlfriend afterwards. I am laughing just thinking about it. Wa ha ha ha ha! A man can beat his best friend in a boxing match and, unless the friend is Ernest Hemingway, they can be closer friends than ever. A woman cannot beat her boyfriend in a boxing match and expect love to conquer all: he will be hu-mil-i-a-ted!

Although at least they are not dying in war or in factory accidents as rapidly as they used to, men are not doing too well right now. Masculinity itself has been under attack from several quarters for decades. And meanwhile the old battle for supremacy among men is still going on. The major difference is that women have joined in.

Somehow women got the idea that to flourish like men, we ought to be like men, so we take great pride in being able to beat men at stuff they are supposed to be good at. However, our victory is shortlived when we discovered that this does not make men like us very much. This is confusing because it always works out in the movies.

It turns out that in real life, men who like women prefer women who look and act like women. If we have been telling ourselves that we are better than that, it comes as a bit of a shock. Another shock is that men don't always like hanging out with women 24/7, no matter how much we know about sports and politics. Sometimes guys just want to hang out with the guys. In The Whole Woman, Germaine Greer is very witty on the subject.

I love lists, so here is a random list on how to emphasize your femininity in a way that makes men feel better about being men post-1970.

1. When in doubt, get a man to do it. Stop taking lids off jars. Sure, if you work at it hard enough, you can get the damn lid off. But if you get a man to do it, the jar will probably be open faster, and he will feel a sense of accomplishment. Caveat: avoid asking a married man to do anything for you, or his missus might have something to say about it.

2. Smile and say thank you when a man opens the door for you. Take the seat when he offers it. Smile and say thank you again.

3. Develop and emphasize mysterious feminine rituals. Make an appointment for a pedicure, and announce it at large. This will create a sense of sisterhood in fellow women and a sense of mystery in men. They might not even know what a pedicure is.

4. Wear cute shoes. Men notice cute shoes. I don't know why they do, but they do. If you can do so without damage, wear shoes with heels. Men don't wear shoes with heels.

5. If you love or even play a violent sport, don't tell men about it. No matter how cool they say it is, they are all wondering if you could beat them in a fight. This is not a thought you ever want an attractive man to have about you. Your love of boxing is definitely not something to bring up on a first date, and I know what I'm talking about.

6. It would not kill you to wear a skirt. Wear skirts. Especially to church. And if the language of your church service is Latin, it would not kill you to wear a lace mantilla. Nothing says, "Hello, I am a Nice Catholic Girl" like a lace mantilla. If you are never-married, wear a white one. If you are married, wear a black one. If you are ex-married, be creative. Navy blue is nice.

7. Wear make-up. Men say they prefer women to look 100% natural. They are wrong.

8. Grow your hair. Don't cut it the second you turn 40. There is no law you have to do that. If it drags down your face, pile it on top of your head.

9. Arrange girl-only events, and publicize them, too. Never complain when men arrange guy-only events. These girl-only events should be parties, not attempts to seize power and rule the world.

10. Never complain about men when men are around. It's rude, and they take it personally.

11. Never say you like men better than women. It's bad psychology, and makes you sound like you'd rather be a man. And most of the time, men like women better than men. Offered a choice between living in a monastery and living on a desert island with women alone, men would take the desert island 98-99% of the time. Not included in this figure are men already living in monasteries. Leave the monks alone.

12. Fat is feminine. If you really are obese, then you must talk to a doctor about this. (Obviously, I am not a doctor.) But if you are not obese, and just feel badly about your curves, then I suggest you find a belly-dancing class. At least search the web for pictures of plus-sized stars and models.

Incidentally, the British media is a lot more open to the reality of feminine fat than the Canadian or American. I see women in TV ads here I would NEVER see on Canadian TV.

For more reactionary yelling about make-up and hair, see my infamous "How To Look Like a Catholic Girl." Don't copy the whole thing and paste it to your icky $15/month dating websites, like one poor girl did, presumably to make the boys who got angry when she copied and pasted "How To Seem Like a Nice Catholic Boy" like her again. In the midst of the psychodrama (in which the girl, now scraping, pasted my photo inviting the boys to make fun of it), I called my lawyer, which made the owners of the dating website sad.


Update: I see that I am more conservative on "HTLLACG" than I am now. Look, I think you can get away with blatantly sexy maybe once or at most twice a year. This startling volte-face comes courtesy of B.A. who actually thought I looked good dressed as a Katie-Price wannabe on Hallowe'en.

22 comments:

IA_ said...

Seraphic,

You are very right.

Men like women who make them feel like men.

Julie said...

I am hesitant to agree wholeheartedly with all of this. While I agree that there are certain habits and behaviors that signal "femininity" and that women ought to embrace them, I also think a woman can make things feminine. Feminine confidence in my mind is summed up in the phrase "oh, this old thing?" What could be full of more womanly mystery than embracing two supposedly contradictory things, confident that everything that is done in service to God is unified? I can picture a female boxer working hard to become the best competitor she can be and who also goes for spa days; it's not that she needs the spa days to "compensate" but that she understands that both activities serve to honor her body in ways that are particularly suited to her wellbeing. (I'm not used to writing in such pious tones but I hope this is reasonably clear.)

The other reason I get uncomfortable with too much navel-gazing over femininity is that standards of femininity change so much through human agency. Yes, God has created us man and woman, and I am not denying that there are important divinely ordained gender characteristics and roles. But usually when we ask ourselves, "am I too masculine? am I not feminine enough?" we focus on the socially determined stuff. Riding horseback, going dancing, driving cars, being good students, voting, heck: being single -- these are all things that have been seen as unfeminine at various points in time.

THAT SAID, just to contradict myself a little: to quote George Costanza "we are living in a society." :) Clothes and habits are forms of communication, and I have found at least that taking control of those forms of communication is a very powerful thing. On a practical level, it is a very nice feeling to think that you are representing yourself in the way you want to be represented, much better than feeling completely hopeless and misunderstood.

Seraphic Spouse said...

"This old thing" must never be said. The correct response to "What a pretty dress" is always "Thank you" and sometimes "Thank you. I wore it for you."

As for the rest, we imbibe the anti-femininity rants of Jo March in "Little Women," not quite understanding just how little freedom women had in 1867 and therefore why Jo said that stuff.

As you say, we do live in society. We have a constant audience. Yes, we can train to become boxers in the Olympics, but at the same time we have to understand that such an unusual activity might come at a price.

I suspect many women are in a bind, longing to be "tomboys" because traditionally female stuff is so looked down upon, and yet longing to be found attractive by men. We have to, in short, make peace with ourselves as women and with men as men.

Seraphic Spouse said...

To sum up: if you long to be popular with men (and why not? Men long to be popular with women), it's a good idea to figure out what works and what doesn't. If you want to scare the snot out of men, there are some very easy ways to do that. If you want them to think of your as their little buddy, just one of the guys, there are ways to do that, too. But if you want to be thought of as a "feminine," charming woman, well then, there are ways to bring this about, too.

Seraphic Spouse said...

And thanks for the guy's eye view, IA!

(Word verification: bodisd. Hee hee!)

theobromophile said...

7. Wear make-up. Men say they prefer women to look 100% natural. They are wrong.

Translation time! Seraphic is correct, and here's what men really mean:

1. They sometimes can't tell when women are wearing subtle make-up. Don't ask me how I know this.

2. A few, thankfully rare, type of man is a total jerk and only approves of women who are naturally, effortlessly gorgeous and thin. If she can't wake up looking like a supermodel and eat steak and stay thin, he doesn't want a part of her. Wearing make-up, and thus chasing these men off, is a good thing.

Again, don't ask me how I know this.

3. What men say is not always what they mean. It's not a man thing or a woman thing; it's a human thing. What men mean is that they don't want to date women who wear so much foundation that their faces look like geisha masks, so much eyeliner that their eyes look weird, etc.

Now, men also like women whom they can have fun with, and, as much as they initially like feminine women, they also like women who will ski, sail, or hike with them, and a lot of them don't want someone who is so high-maintenance as to not be able to do fun, outdoor activities as a couple. "100% natural" often means "Girl that looks great in a dress at dinner but was great fun to play beach volleyball with earlier in the day".

The Sojourner said...

7. Wear make-up. Men say they prefer women to look 100% natural. They are wrong.

Disclaimer 1: I am a woman.

Disclaimer 2: I never wear makeup.

Despite those disclaimers, I am going to stick my neck out and say this rubs me the wrong way. If a man says to me, "I think makeup on women is kind of unnecessary--it's like gilding the lily" (a man has said that to me, pretty much verbatim), I BELIEVE him. It seems like common decency to me--when somebody says something in plain English, take them at face value. Then again, I'm not so good at the social cues and taking what people say at face value has gotten me in trouble before. Recently, which is probably why this comment is crankier than it would otherwise be.

Andrea said...

"This is confusing because it always works out in the movies."

This one line is worth a book. A BOOK! I won't jump in on whether I think Seraphic has it perfectly right. All I know is that Hollywood has it perfectly wrong, almost always.

Alisha said...

Femininity is not something I can say I particularly understand. Often, the traits/things identified as signs of femininity (clothing, makeup etc. looking pretty, a gentle disposition etc), just seem really unimportant in comparison with other things. Also, as those are not things I pay much attention to, it makes me feel at odds with what women supposedly are. This can be even more amplified in certain Catholic company where I've heard feminism denounced altogether, working mothers described as not having their priorities straight, and blaming my university education for the fact I struggled with a priest saying that we need to get back to women being the heart of the home.
There can be views that boxes femininity into roles or a particular way of living that is too narrow, and sometimes, no longer practical in our times and circumstances. I find this is a reduction of both women and femininity, and it shuts many women out. It also, ironically, fails to be truly Catholic.

I'm sure every women's list about how their femininity is expressed would be different. I would like to hear more about how women in the 21st century can live out, authentically, an imitation of Christ. What does that look like in today's society? The content of faith is still the same but the expression of it must be of today, and not some nostalgia for another era which was supposedly better.

Most of what I've heard is so abstract and never gets down to brass tacks. For example, women have, I believe, a greater capacity for self sacrifice than men (whether it's developed or not is another matter but I do believe that is a key part of being a woman), which is an amazing kind of strength.
I sometimes wonder if that is the reason Christ came as a man - He maybe didn't need to drive home the point of sacrifice to women so much.
Also, I believe that women, when convinced of something or when they love something or someone have a strength and a mobility entirely different and perhaps even greater than men do. There was Dorothy Day that you mentioned, I also think of Mother Teresa, Katherine Doherty...these were women whose strength was deeply tied to a feminine caring for others yet it was utterly fierce. I wish we would hear more in church circles about those examples of femininity instead of the things I described above - both from the pulpit and the pews...

Alisha said...

Femininity is not something I can say I particularly understand. Often, the traits/things identified as signs of femininity (clothing, makeup etc. looking pretty, a gentle disposition etc), just seem really unimportant in comparison with other things. Also, as those are not things I pay much attention to, so it makes me feel at odds with what women supposedly are.
This can be even more amplified in certain Catholic company where I've heard feminism denounced altogether, working mothers described as not having their priorities straight, and blaming my university education for the fact I struggled with a priest saying that we need to get back to women being the heart of the home.
There can be a view that boxes femininity into roles or a particular way of living that is too narrow, and sometimes, no longer practical in our times and circumstances. I find this is a reduction of both women and femininity and it shuts many women out. It also, ironically, fails to be truly Catholic.
I would rather see an emphasis on other things. Women have, I believe, a greater capacity for self sacrifice than men (whether it's developed or not is another matter but I do believe that is a key part of being a woman), which is an amazing kind of strength.
I sometimes wonder if that is the reason Christ came as a man - He maybe didn't need to drive home the point of sacrifice to women so much.
Also, I believe that women, when convinced of something or when they love something or someone have a strength and a mobility entirely different and perhaps even greater than men do. There was Dorothy Day that you mentioned, I also think of Mother Teresa, Katherine Doherty...these were women whose strength was deeply tied to a feminine caring for others yet it was utterly fierce. I wish we would hear more in church circles about those examples of femininity instead of the things I described above - both from the pulpit and the pews..

Ginger said...

I tend to agree with The Soujourner. The last man who fell in love with me did so during a time when I was very busy and had a job that made make-up terribly impractical and a waste of time. So I didn't wear it, except on weekends and yet he was attracted to me anyway, and stuck to his position that he liked me with or without makeup, and more often without.

Also, he didn't like when I wore heels (and yes, he was still taller than me when I wore them, so I don't think height insecurities had anything to do with it.) There were Sundays when I'd start off the morning in heels, and then change into flats before we went out after Mass and he'd say, "Ah. That's better."

Maybe that's just him, though.

dark but fair said...

I Love this post!

Seraphic said...

So busy and yet so much to say!

Ginger, I would have something cranky to say to a man who said "Ah, that's better" when I changed my shoes, unless he thought my heeled shoes hurt. Men are not allowed to say what they think of a woman's shoes (or outfit), unless she asks or he's her dad and she's under 21, living in his house.

Alisha, a homily that makes someone struggle is often a good thing. And now I will channel my shrink and tell you that you are a very feminine woman, which is one reason why you have to be so fierce in dissuading suitors. A woman can run the UK and still be very feminine. We don't think of this, as Canadians weren't aware of her until she was getting on in years, but in many, many ways Margaret Thatcher was a feminine woman. So was Benazir Bhutto, and so was Indira Gandhi. Being a working mother is not non-feminine. Being a working mother is, for many, a very heavy burden, and if men are aware of this and want to spare women that burden, that is actually a good thing. It would be nice if they did it by doing all of the housework, but most men are incapable of much doing housework. There are actual studies showing this.

I don't know why you are upset by the idea of the woman being the heart of the home, which I believe John Paul II wrote about, and sounds like a lovely idea to me.

Seraphic said...

Soujourner, aren't you madly tempted to have a makeover at the MAC counter at the mall? I am--frequently.

I didn't wear much make-up myself after high school (except to Goth bars) until I fell into the hands of girly-girl friends. And now I never go out without at least a little bit on.

Seraphic said...

Alisha,besides being fantastic Catholic women, what do Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Katherine Doherty have in common....?

Oh wait--Katherine Doherty did get married. But when her second husband died, she became a nun, did she not?

If you are a seriously Serious Single, you are as free as a bird when it comes to femininity and all that stuff. You can shave your head, wear combat boots, say the F-word amongst men friends...

This post was for those women who are interested in getting married one day. Really, I should write something soon for the Serious Singles.

Ginger said...

"Women have, I believe, a greater capacity for self sacrifice than men (whether it's developed or not is another matter but I do believe that is a key part of being a woman), which is an amazing kind of strength. I sometimes wonder if that is the reason Christ came as a man - He maybe didn't need to drive home the point of sacrifice to women so much."

LOVE that!

theobromophile said...


I would rather see an emphasis on other things. Women have, I believe, a greater capacity for self sacrifice than men (whether it's developed or not is another matter but I do believe that is a key part of being a woman), which is an amazing kind of strength.
I sometimes wonder if that is the reason Christ came as a man - He maybe didn't need to drive home the point of sacrifice to women so much.


Ditto Ginger: Love, love, love that!

---

Sojourner: I looked you up quickly to find your age. Um... women your age look gorgeous without make-up on. In fact, when you put it on, you can often look overdone, much in the way that a young woman who goes out bedecked in diamonds can look overdone while it looks lovely on older women. (By "bedecked", I mean big ring, second band with diamonds, necklace, bracelet, earrings, and pin: the full get-up that women who have been married for 30 years do.)

As you age - yeah, I'm feeling old today - you need a bit more make-up. You need it to look professional (sadly), and will get comments about looking like a kid if you don't have it on. (Trust me on this.) You need to even out your skin tone and get rid of the bags under your eyes. Basically, it helps you look put-together and finished in a way that the totally natural (although lovely and fresh-faced) look does not.

The Sojourner said...

theobromophile: Thank you for the compliment.

Auntie Seraphic and theobromophile: I'm not objecting to makeup in itself. I am objecting to the formulation of the sentence, because to me it reads like "Men don't know what they want until Auntie Seraphic tells them." I'll grant you that there are probably men who don't think about what they are or aren't attracted to and therefore say things they don't actually mean. However, I'm never going to assume that that's the case. If a guy says "I don't like makeup" I take his word for it. If a guy says "I like makeup," I take his word for it. I don't change my behavior based on it, but I take his word for it.

The Crescat said...

I walk that delicate line between demanding men love for who am I... and taking some personal responsibility for making the necessary changes that make me attractive as a mate to other men.

The former is usually my sentiment when I have nothing clean to wear and don't feel like putting forth the effort.

AveLady said...

Ditto to theobrom. regarding the makeup. I didn't wear it for the first bit of college until I started working in campus offices. Then I looked around at all the other girls with makeup on and just felt disheveled and childish. Not ugly and like I needed to hide my skin or anything, just similar to how I might have felt if I showed up in jeans instead of a professional skirt or slacks - not suited to the situation. So my roomie took me out and we bought makeup. It was fun :D Since then, I've varied between whether I wear foundation, just tinted moisturizer, or neither and just highlight and add polish with eye stuff and lip gloss and whatnot. There's a lot of flexibility in there if you don't like wearing much.

Also, just to suggest an alternative viewpoint to the whole taking-a-man-at-his-word side of things: what we're saying doesn't automatically mean the guy is entirely clueless or lying or something. It might just mean he hasn't really thought about it that much. Not to say that there aren't any men out there who do prefer a really natural look, but the ones who solemnly affirm "Yes, girls shouldn't wear makeup, they don't need it" and then immediately go back to debating Nietzsche or whatever, haven't necessarily thought out that particular position.

Men may not love to "chat," but they certainly love to opine, and it took me a long time to get used to the fact that even the most clever and thoughtful tend to assert positions that they haven't necessarily thought about that much. I'm sure girls do this too - perhaps men are just more decisive in their delivery, so we tend to assume it's a bigger deal to them than it really is.

In any case, while I'm sure men appreciate being presumed sincere and intelligent and "clued-in" (and Sojourner, your "gilding a lily" fellow does sound like he may have thought about it harder than most, but I've never come across that myself), I bet they'd also appreciate it if we didn't jump on every opinion they throw out there as though they're really 100% sure that's how it is, particularly regarding something they probably don't think about much (like makeup).

Alisha said...

Part 1
Re: the homily that stated women should be the heart of the home and that men should be the head: it's not that the idea is necessarily bad, it just wasn't explained well enough and made it sound like men should be the ones employing reason and women should be emotional, or something.

I struggled with it because I felt it lacked nuance in the way it was communicated, and whenever a homily lacks nuance I imagine what might happen if I had non-Catholic friends there and how they would be misled or turned off and never return to try church again. And then I get frustrated that so many priests do not know how to teach, etc. and really upset that the Church at the parish level fails to take its role as teacher seriously...(readers, thank your stars you are not with me after Mass. Oh, the rants that occur)

"And now I will channel my shrink and tell you that you are a very feminine woman, which is one reason why you have to be so fierce in dissuading suitors."

LOL! Thanks, but I must have given you the wrong impression somehow. I'm not arguing that I'm feminine but I don't have suitors, nor have I ever, really...if they are there they are all silent and invisible, which disqualifies them as suitors because they would have to, well, suit up :p I don't get asked out or pursued, which, when trying to be a Serious Single, is a blessing.

Alisha said...

Part 2:
"Being a working mother is, for many, a very heavy burden, and if men are aware of this and want to spare women that burden, that is actually a good thing."

That is true...but being a working father can be just as heavy a burden (minus breastfeeding years, maybe), and wouldn't some women want to spare men the difficulty of the fact that they only see their children at dinner when they are getting tired and cranky??
I'm sure there are men incapable of housework, but there are also women who are the same; growing up, it was always shared equally between my parents and my mom rarely had to ask my dad to do it for her - he just did it, so I guess that naturally, I find that to be the ideal.

I mentioned Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa and Katherine Doherty because I feel they were feminine women but they were not, as far as I know, concerned with the things I mentioned (clothes, etc) that are often declared as being particularly feminine but that don't seem too important in comparison with other things. I'm trying to figure out just what qualities they have that are feminine but that aren't those things.
I don't have a desire to be unfeminine or curse or shave my head. But I don't want to express my femininity solely in some of the ways described because somehow, I don't really believe that those things are at the heart of femininity; I'm trying to figure out what is.

Yes Katie D. did marry - her first marriage was annulled, then she was a serious non consecrated single for a long time, then she married, and later on she and her husband vowed to live the evangelical counsels and from then on lived a Josephite marriage. Her husband was ordained a priest in his late 70s, in the Eastern Rite. So she lived practically every vocation :)