In class on Monday, when asked if any of us enjoy being gendered, I asserted that I enjoy my femininity. And indeed, I do. I don’t see myself as someone as obsessed with beauty that Sandra Lee Bartky describes – the woman with the “blow dryer, styling brush, curling iron, hot curlers, wire curlers, eye-liner, lipliner, lipstick brush, eyelash curler and mascara brush…” but I do own several of those items that I use on a somewhat daily basis.
I have always felt that my femininity has made me powerful. Instead of my time spent primping taking away from my pursuits, I feel happier, more put together and accomplished, and feel that my dress pants and heels, my blow-dried hair and makeup add more to my achievement. My mindset as I walk around campus is that not only will I earn A’s in all my classes, and attend meetings to improve campus healthcare, and speak in front of large groups on the importance of donating blood for the Red Cross- I’ll look damn good doing it.
Obviously as a child, my dream was never to be a housewife, a mother, a pageant queen or any of the old conventional gender norms. I have always and continue to dream of being the power career woman- you all know the one, she’s in countless television shows and movies. She works in the highest building in the biggest city. She lives in a fabulous apartment- by herself. She has many subordinates and she out-earns her male colleages both financially and in respect. And she owns a hundred pairs of Manolo Blahnik pumps.
Though this continues to be my dream, in this venue, in front of our class, I am ashamed of it. After much thought about why, I have decided that this woman is merely the 21st century version of the perfect housewife earlier years. She doesn’t suffer from hysteria, but she becomes ill nonetheless from “exhaustion”. Her job isn’t enough to cause this, it is the pressure from all sides, the same pressure for perfection, wrapped in a 2011 edition package where perfection now includes achievement in addition to grace, charm and flawless appearance.
Batky’s piece really resonated with me in this way, because I have realized that if I am going to continue to assert my femininity as powerful, I would like to find new ways to explain how so. I remember reading something in an earlier feminist theory course about anorexic women today. We spoke about how society views anorectics as disordered, but in some ways they are quite the opposite – just as the overachievers in the academic world go over and beyond earning past 4.0 and joining organizations until they are run ragged, anorectics are the overachievers in the sphere of social demands. In a world consumed with invisible imperatives, where the self becomes her own jailer, an anorexic woman is not disordered, she is perfecting the norm.
I am the first to say that I dress up, work-out, make-up, not for men, not even for other women like Bartky mentions, but for myself. And this may be the most pernicious form of gendered conformity, where internalized standards pass as agency, and give the illusion of choice.