Tag Archives: femininity

Hiking boots on sand

Makeup, mobility and choice: the things you don’t have to do

Cross-posted from my personal blog, originally titled “The Kind of Feminist I Am”.

I don’t use makeup. I put lotion on my skin and balm on my lips if they feel uncomfortably dry, if you want to call that cosmetic. If someone wants to film me then they’ll have to find some powders or whatever that suit my skin tone, because I don’t have any. I don’t shave my legs. I don’t own “heels.” I think a few of my shoes may have, like, a quarter-inch rise in the heel compared to the toe. I usually keep my hair so short that combs barely affect anything; if bangs start existing, an old headband keeps them out of my eyes. A barber shears my head every few months.

Also: I’m still not on Facebook. That’s right, I’m an online community manager, have been for two years, and I can get along fine without Facebook. I don’t eat red meat, and rarely have sustainable fish or organic free-range poultry. “Vegetarian” is basically right. I don’t imbibe massmedia about the visual appearance of famous people. I didn’t watch most of the Matrix or Lord of the Rings movies, and I don’t read TechCrunch or Gawker or that ycombinator news site.

I post this as part of the project to normalize diversity. If you think “everyone” is on Facebook, well, no, because I’m not. If you think every woman shaves her legs, no, I don’t. I am a successful person who has given influential speeches and mentored others, and I don’t have to do any of these things, so you don’t either. It’s all of a piece.

Caitlin Moran recently wrote a very good feminist book, How To Be a Woman. She discusses some sexist expectations (that women should wear uncomfortable shoes and epilate ourselves all over and so on). It’s unpaid labor and it’s nonsense and I say to hell with it. Some sexist expectations still get in my way. For instance, men interrupt me more often than they interrupt other men. And if I run a meeting efficiently, I’m less likely (compared to a man) to get thought of as a “strong leader,” and more likely to get thought of as a “bitch.” It’s annoying enough to have to spend any thought on avoiding that crap, so I skip all the other, more optional crap as much as possible.

It saves big chunks of time and money to omit “oh but everyone does it” junk. It’s pretty easy for me to just go with my own inertia — I never started wearing makeup, wearing pointy heels, or using Facebook, or smoking pot. I tried out leg-shaving and longish hair and earring-wearing and tens-of-thousands-of-people conferences, and they just don’t deliver ROI for me, so I stopped.

I know not everyone can just say “screw it” and walk away from this crap with no consequences. Intersectionality exists. Thank all goodness that I can dismiss as much of the crap as I can.

Mobility’s one part of that privilege. I move around a lot and have had a bunch of jobs, and sometimes that’s annoying, but a cool thing about it is that I’m not as stuck with one small consistent group of authority figures who might be jerks about my choices or reinventions. I can be blithe about other people disapproving of my choices, because I have a great job, certifications of a good education, a sensible spouse, a lucrative career, reasonably good health, and various convenient privileges. It also helps to be a bit socially oblivious, and specifically to have a tough time making out soft voices in crowds; if anyone’s gossiping about me in whispers, I won’t hear it! It’s great! (For me.)

So this is one reason why I’m in favor of good government-sponsored education and healthcare that levels the playing field for everyone, and reproductive rights, and easy border-crossings, and public transit. I love mobility. I love the means by which people can get away from their old selves and the people who thought they knew them. I love the fact that I get to choose whether I care about my high school classmates. (Make your own Facebook-related joke here!)

Exit, voice, and loyalty. Forking. For adults, the most fundamental freedom is the freedom to leave, to vote with your feet.

But right near that is the freedom to walk around in public without having to slather paint or a smile on your face. If you want to, cool! Performing femininity, like playing the guitar, ought to be a choice.

eye_with_makeup

I feel Pretty, Oh So Pre-AAAAh It’s in my EYE!

I don’t wear make-up. When I was a baby, my mother made me be a clown for Halloween and when she washed the makeup away, I had a horrible rash. I guess I was allergic to the face paint and since then I have told people I am allergic to makeup. I wore some make-up in middle/school; but I didn’t wear it in college, I didn’t wear it when I was working in industry, and I don’t wear it now in grad school. My mother has never worn make-up, so never gave me instruction on how to apply it. The couple times friends have convinced me to let them put some on me, I thought I looked ridiculous. Twice in the last six months my hair gal has asked to “touch up” my make-up after she finished my hair. Either she thinks I need help, she can’t tell I’m not wearing any, or she gets a bonus if I buy makeup.

Do you hate me yet? Well prepare yourself. I think that makeup is a waste of my time. (Note, I didn’t say makeup is a waste of YOUR time). I think that most people I know who wear makeup look fine. When I meet people who love makeup and wear a lot I think the same thing I think when I meet a person who spends a lot of time making scrapbooks or watching Saw movies, “That is neat, I am glad you like that, and I would never do it.” It just isn’t for me. I hate the way it feels. I hate being afraid to touch my face and makeup seems to require putting a lot of stuff really close to my eye. (I don’t wear contacts because YOU SHOULD NOT PUT STUFF IN YOUR EYE!)

There are women I know that are successful and spend a lot of time on makeup and I think that they are amazing and I that am rather lazy. I do think that society forces women to focus on a lot of stuff before they can focus on stuff that men get to focus on right away and in a very real way this puts women at a disadvantage. Mitchell and Webb think so too. The biggest examples are the second shift and the pink economy. Requiring women to do something that doesn’t really add value to their lives and costs them money and time seems wrong.

Jezebel had an article about whether makeup is a choice. The author doesn’t think it is a choice. Many commenters replied with “I know, it’s not fair.” or “Sure it is a choice, I don’t wear makeup.” or “I love makeup!” A few months ago the president of our student section of Society of Women Engineers suggested that for one of our events we have a makeup tutorial. I said that in many industries makeup is a requirement for women and that we should not encourage that to be the case in engineering. She is a lovely girl who wears makeup and she looked at me like I was nuts.

I know that there is an opinion that makeup is a little like brushing your teeth but I would like to disagree. Teeth brushing, or some type of dental hygiene, is just that, hygiene. It is about cleanliness. Makeup, is the very opposite of that. It is stuff you literally have to wash off, with chemicals sometimes (near your EYES!).

Honestly, it is probably inevitable that makeup will become a requirement at some point in my life, either because it already is and my relative youth has just been giving me a pass or because we are on a societal march towards mandatory effort towards pretty for women. Or maybe it already is mandatory and I have lost jobs, friends, or relationships because of my laziness stubbornness. If, at anytime, a person takes me aside and says, in a concerned tone, “You would really look so much better with just a little bit of makeup,” I will respond (to someone I like) “Thanks but I just don’t like it;” or, to a non-makeup wearer, “So would you.” or, to a makeup wearer, “It doesn’t seem to be working for you.” Because, really, someone just called me ugly and, even if it is true, it is still rude.

So here is my plea to the pro-makeup people. Keep loving it, or stop, whatever you want. If someone asks for your help, give it to them like the tactful person you are. If you ever think “Wow, she could use some makeup!” keep that thought to yourself. If you encounter someone being judged for not wearing makeup, remember that appearance is not the same thing as hygiene and should not be the defining characteristic of a person’s skill, character or personality. And please, try not to get anything in your eyes, because I care about your eyes too.

Look Upon My Linkspam and Despair (11 September, 2012)

  • 10 Characters Whose Genders Were Swapped In Production: “With many of these characters you also have to wonder: would their character arcs have been different if they’d stayed the originally planned gender? Would Ripley have had a love interest, would Dory and Martin had some on-screen chemistry, would Luke and Han have remained just friends?
  • Women Avengers… Assemble?: “Women read comics. Anyone at all engaged in social media knows this. Women read comics and are a driving force behind fandom. I think I could call them the driving force behind fandom and put up a convincing argument. Just think about it: what fandoms have driven America crazy in the last decade? Could anyone dissuade me from saying that they were Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games?”
  • A Diversity of Rolemodels Key to Getting Girls Into Science | The Mary Sue: “Does emphasizing appearance mean female professionals are taken less seriously? Or is it a necessary way to maintain place in a system that, in certain respects, is still stacked against women? Should getting ahead be achieved by any means? Or should more attention be paid to altering the judgement that makes this an issue at all? One thing’s for sure. There are no easy answers.”
  • Reckless Theorizing Without A Net: Women, Blogging, and Power: “Whenever a group of academics are gathered and the idea of social media comes up, I have found extreme resistance to the very idea of online engagement. I don’t mean just dismissive attitudes about that new fangled technology but virulent, vocal attacks on social media that usually include things like it’s a waste of time, it distracts from “real” life, and that it is some kind of elaborate fad for “other” people… I’ve found that women academics, regardless of rank, are the most vocal about their dislike of social media.”
  • [Trigger Warning: Harassment] The Great Geek Sexism Debate: “Over the past few months, three of the most influential conventions in geekdom — Readercon (for science fiction writers), The Amazing Meeting (for skeptics), and DefCon (for hackers) — have been at the center of very public discussions about sexism and sexual harassment in their communities. After all three conventions in 2012, women spoke out publicly about episodes of sexual harassment and humiliation they experienced at the cons. The fallout was ugly — but also awesome. Here’s what happened, and what’s still happening, as formerly male-dominated geek spaces make way for women.”

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Linkspam isn’t saying no… (13th June, 2011)

  • Talk on June 15 at Melbourne University: Dr Cathy Foley, 100 years later: has anything changed for women in science?: This talk will look at what is the status of women in science in Australia, report on the Women in Science and Engineering summit held in Parliament House in April this year. I will then reflect on ways to enhance careers for women in science and the need not only for equity but also for improved productivity and innovation by capturing the full human potential in Australia.
  • Why are more women not speaking at technical conferences? Insights from the WiT discussion at CodeStock: Jennifer Marsman discusses the points raised in her panel, with some suggested solutions.
  • The Australian talks about online harassment of (female) journalists, which will sound familiar to many other women online: [Trigger warning: online harassment/bullying] War of the Words

    And therein lies the Catch-22 for women in the cyber-firing line. On the one hand, they believe it is essential to expose the level of abuse and misogyny that has flourished on the largely unregulated new media. On the other, they fear the only effect that would have is to discourage women from participating in public debates.

  • Forever 21 Pulls “I’m Too Pretty To Do Math” Magnet From Online Store: Our submitter writes: OK, it’s not just bad that this was made in the first place. But around the article? Let’s see, You might like: The Top 10 Lies Women Tell Men; 12 Stars Posing Naked With Super Random Props; and the poll of important information: Does Flirting Over Facebook & Twitter Count As Cheating?; Please Just Kill Me NOW.
  • Becky Stern has crafted TV-B-Gone (a universal remote for switching off TVs) into a jacket for subtlety: TV-B-Gone jacket (via BoingBoing).
  • [Trigger warning: very frank anti-rape campaign] Don’t be that guy: a surprisingly refreshing anti-rape campaign targeting men is now making its way to other Canadian cities.

    Typically, sexual assault awareness campaigns target potential victims by urging women to restrict their behavior. Research is telling us that targeting the behavior of victims is not only ineffective, but also contributes to how much they blame themselves after the assault. That’s why our campaign is targeting potential offenders – they are the ones responsible for the assault and responsible for stopping it. By addressing alcohol-facilitated sexual assault without victim-blaming, we intend to mark Edmonton on the map as a model for other cities.

  • Androcentrism: It’s Okay to Be a Boy, but Being a Girl…: androcentrism… a new kind of sexism, one that replaces the favoring of men over women with the favoring of masculinity over femininity.
  • Researcher reveals how “Computer Geeks” replaced “Computer Girls”, an account of a talk by Nathan Ensmenger. (Don’t forget Jennifer Light, when namechecking people to quote on this!)
  • Rebecca Koeser of Emory University, won a prize in the DevCSI challenge at Open Repositories 2011 for her use of Microsoft Pivot as a repository-visualization tool. Here’s a picture of Koeser accepting her prize.
  • Women Atop Their Fields Discuss the Scientific Life: Elena Aprile, Joy Hirsch, Mary-Claire King and Tal Rabin talk about their scientific work and life.
  • How Not To Be An Asshole: A Guide For Men: Chris Clarke re-posts this in ‘honour’ of Tammy Camp’s harassment experience

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

BGG (Black Girl Gamer)–LFG, PST!

Cori Roberts is founder of Gameinatrix.com and remaining founding member of Gamer Girls Radio, and has been involved in gaming media for over 8 years. She’s currently obsessed with the MMO Fallen Earth and anything involving vampires in the world of Second Life.

This post was originally published at The Border House.

A well-dressed black woman holds a machine gun.

African American (black) woman from the recent Call of Duty commercial. One of the very few times a black woman has been used in the marketing of any game.

While several gamers are fighting for the right to game with all the controversy surrounding the community as of late, there are a few of us women gamers waging another kind of war in our own respective communities. It’s not just the standard girl gamer war, where there is incessant name calling, references to genitalia or even the normal male chauvinist crap. The battle is having to defend why we are even playing games, in the first place. Why would “we” be playing games, because black women don’t play games.

I’m one of these elusive, mythical, Black (African American for you new kiddies) women gamers who purportedly do not exist. While this particular battle is not a boss battle for me, it is an annoying and repetitive battle. It’s one I have to wage most every time I encounter a new “sistah” who can barely operate her iPhone, but thinks she is somehow more versed in games and who should be playing them, than I am. The first thing I’m asked is how I ended up even playing games, like it’s a disease I somehow contracted. Then I’m told how “different” and “odd” I am. My mother bought me my first console at age six and I never knew I was any different from other little girl. Never knew I was a geek, a nerd, or any other derivative until I was much older. However, after I realized I was one of these beings, referred to as a geek, I kept it secret and tried hard to suppress it. I can tell you I use to rent games at Block Buster and often lied about who they were for. Once out on my own, gaming became part my regular daily routine. Get up, school, work, come home, game. When I couldn’t afford to go clubbing, you’d find me on the floor of my furniture-less apartment, head propped up with pillows, faithful dog at my side, playing games. The only thing I bought other than games was clothes. Come on, I’m still a girl! It should suffice to say, I obviously don’t fit the mold of fat white guy, with glasses. I was a thin shapely black chick with glasses (used to wear glasses anyway), who spent her free time perusing not only Cosmo magazine, but strategy guides in now defunct Electronics Boutique. The guys began to love when I came into EB every Friday, because other guys followed me in and they stayed to chat when they realized I actually loved games just as much as they did. Me, wearing my designer perfume and clothes, could take a guy down in Tekken in 30 seconds flat. After getting over the shock of being beaten by me, I always had a new friend and finally there in EB I stopped feeling odd and out of place. I fit in somewhere. However the older I got, the more dissonance I noticed with other black women once I mentioned video games or anything geeky for that matter. All of those silent lunches finally lead to me speaking up and a mini-battle royale about the Lifetime Network and gaming where I schooled my “sistah” on the world of gaming and technology. I also shared with her that technology is an area where black women were being left in the dust. Most of us are still taught and truly believe as black women, it’s just our not our place to be “smart”. Before the eye rolling begins, this is not true of all women of color, but it’s true enough. So true that I still have yet to pick up an Essence, Ebony, or Jet magazine and see an entire tech section (not to pick on Essence, this is true of a lot of women’s magazines). Hip Hop mags like XXL do share some tech info with its readers, but tend to have more male readers than females. It’s also still true that most black women tend to steer clear of the whole technology thing and can barely use an iPhone, let alone know which cables go where on their Xbox. While we’re excelling in other areas, still some black women view the gaming industry as a childish and MALE one. As a result, our presence in the world of tech and gaming is lagging far behind the rest of the world.

As a Black woman (I prefer being called Black to African American, I didn’t move here from Africa and become American, I was born here), I find it disheartening that even so many of our notable Black public figures and role models don’t even acknowledge the gaming culture unless it’s the latest fad. For instance Oprah Winfrey has had a show or two about gaming addiction and how horrid gaming is, only to give away the Kinect on her show later. As a gamer I was not impressed or fooled. I once heard Tyra Banks say on her show something akin to she thought men were so childish playing games, and she hated when her man did it. Women don’t wanna play games, chile! These women are considered great role models and several young women look up to them. I wonder if they know the message they are sending to young black women. Yes you’re teaching them that beauty is subjective, but are teaching them that technology is for those other folk. This, in my opinion, will lead to a nation of beautiful black women who are technologically incompetent. They will know the best way to maintain their weave but not how to change out a faulty hard drive. Or even how to do something as simple as defrag a hard drive.

Take note, most of the women you’ll see fighting for a place in the gaming industry usually are not of ethnicity. I explained to my friend the facts and figures of the gaming industry, and how our lives as black women should not be all about being a nurse (this is a common thing in the black community, pushing daughters to be nurses or get into law, go after the money), but instead embracing a new culture, a culture that does in fact make a LOT of money, a culture that, though considered controversial at times, is indeed the future. A culture where most times, our differences are celebrated, not hated. Ok, perhaps I’m pushing the Utopia envelope here, but aside from a very few assholes, I’ve NEVER been called out for the color of my skin. Admittedly, I hail from several racial backgrounds, but I identify as being your average garden variety, Diva, black, woman. I pointed out to her that I’ve never been told I wasn’t dressed appropriately to game. That my manicure to was too old to game. That I wasn’t black enough to game. The only thing that has ever held me back is not having the SAME game as a gamer buddy.

Said friend turned her head to look out the window and quietly said to me, “I just don’t get it…you gamers…” But she did call a few months later sounding bubbly and told me she’d bought her first console. Yes it was a Wii, but she was planning on getting an Xbox, as well. She’d seen some “interesting’ things at Game Stop that she actually wanted to play. But I dare say if I hadn’t opened my mouth, if I hadn’t in essence said that gaming as entertainment is okay, she would never have played. Though I’ve managed to bring some of my friends to the dark side, I still have to deal with strangers form assumptions based on the fact that I’m a gamer. If I’m in Best Buy or any store’s PC section, I still get the tech behind the desk who feels the need to try to explain to me every detail of my video card and how it works, where to install it on my motherboard. I hate the condescension in their voice and this is after I’ve told them a million and one times that I’m a gamer. I have every console, (except the 3DS, but give me time) and even a gaming PC, that I built myself, from scratch, even after I tell them I run a gaming website and podcast and have for 8 years. They don’t hear me until I get a little belligerent and then they are shocked and awed. The next thing is to test me, because it’s just impossible to them that black woman as a gamer exists. I am always told that of course I must not be hard core, no woman is. I can tell you that I am indeed as hardcore as they come. And just because I may wear a weave, wig, extensions or like shoes, doesn’t detract from that. I’d like to tell my fellow “sistahs” that yes, you can be fabulous, and play games, and know how your iPhone works. I do not find it cute or charming when you have a beautiful piece of technology and you use it more as a status symbol and can’t even figure out how to make a simple call. You can be smart, and know how to fix your own PC, iPhone, or hook up your own HDTV and then feel extra proud to sit down and watch your Sex in the City re-runs, without having to call your man over to do it for you. I am hoping one day to be in the store and not have to tell another black woman to buy games for her daughter, not just her son, and not hear the mother say she won’t like it, when clearly the little girl is interested. I’d like to see more black women put their daughters in front of a computer and push them to learn more math, science and physics. But sadly I see this particular battle as a very long one. While I am graced to have a few black women who do share my passion for gaming, my white girlfriends (whom I love just as much) far outnumber the black ones. I do wish I had more black gaming girlfriends (and in the same city would be nice) so this black girl can stop constantly LFG.

Re-post: Clothes and geek feminism

In anticipation of a December/January slowdown, I’m reposting some of my writing from 2010, for the benefit of new (and nostalgic!) readers. This piece originally appeared on the 20th June 2010.

I’ve been chewing over various things about clothing and geek feminism since our recent posts about clothing and grooming (Kylie’s, Terri’s first, Terri’s second). I still think I can’t address it satisfactorily, but I thought I’d lay out various angles in which we might think of clothing and grooming in geek feminism.

Notes:

  • I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
  • This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Grooming as make-work. Naomi Wolf, for one, made this argument in The Beauty Myth, that consuming women with endless grooming related chores and insecurities is a method of oppression. (I am barely read in feminist or cultural theory, undoubtedly hundreds of names could be listed here as having addressed aspects of this.) laughingrat raised this in our comments.

Clothing and grooming as geek interest. Some geeks take a geek-style (intense, analytical, open-ended, consuming) interest in various aspects of clothing and grooming. As examples of how you might do this, there are a lot of knitting geeks; there are historical recreation geeks who make and wear period clothing using period technology; there are people who study the semiotics and sociology of fashion.

Clothing as geek in-group marker and grooming as rejection of the mainstream. John writes in Terri’s comments that someone well-groomed in mainstream corporate style can be assumed to [be] trying to cover for a lack of competence in technical matters — or really want to be a suit. You often can’t, in this framing, be a geek and a suit both. You have to choose, and advertise this with your grooming.

Within geekdom, clothing is sometimes a pretty unsubtle marker of your allegiances. What cons do you go to? What programming languages do you prefer? What comics do you read? You wear shirts that allow this to be determined on first acquaintance. (This isn’t unique to geekdom of course, see also fashion labels and band t-shirts.)

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming in order to own/celebrate your gender. This is important to many trans people. Conversely to the above about avoiding overt gender marking, quite a few geek women also choose to do this in order to point out that there are women RIGHT HERE in geekdom who can bring the geek.

Grooming as a marker of striving to “fit in” generally. If you have unusual grooming, or grooming that is marked as “other” or of a lesser group, people with power over you will read this as likely to be trouble or not one of us. Conversely, dressing like those people, or like their other subordinates, signals will do what it takes to fit in, won’t make waves.

Unusual grooming as marker of power. Alternatively, if you have power over other people, you can mark this by unusual grooming, or grooming usually disdained. Ingrid Jakobsen raised this in comments.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

Grooming for self-esteem. Partly due to internalisation of the above, many women in particular feel happier, more confident and more powerful when they’re “well groomed” by mainstream standards.

Grooming which others female bodies. See the thing about conference t-shirts. Many don’t cater for curvy bodies. If they do, they often cater only for small curvy bodies. And they almost always assume a gender binary of curvy women who want curvy shirts, and square men who want square shirts.

Sexualised grooming. Women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as to be conventionally attractive.

Overly sexual grooming. At the same time as needing to be attractive, women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as not to be “asking for it”. (There is, of course, no middle-ground, see Rape Culture 101.)

Grooming for fun. Geek women may enjoy applying shiny, bright, matching, creative or cherished clothes and decoration to their bodies.

Grooming to get things done. Geek women may need to lift things, fit clothing to a prosthetic or mobility assistance device, run, avoid having a baby pull painfully at their hair, all kinds of stuff.

There are a great many intersectional things I have not addressed here, as a white, wealthy, abled cis-woman. A very very incomplete list would be: considerations about grooming to match your gender identity, considerations about grooming to satisfy people policing your gender identity, minimising grooming in order to preserve your spoons, grooming to honour and be part of your ethnic identity, grooming to meet beauty standards designed for white bodies and white faces, trying to find cheap clothes that won’t be judged in job interviews.

This huge list is just a set of things you could possibly be trying to signal or adhere to or avoid with your grooming. Hopefully this illustrates some of the tensions for geek women: for example, they are called upon to dress in both the feminine, careful style that signals “healthy and competent” but also in the masculine-coded casual style coded as “knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to [say] science” and also in something that won’t get them hassled as being unattractive in the street but also not hassled as too attractive…

I hope this has helped break down grooming and clothing as a geek feminist issue, or rather, massively multidimensional tightrope, a bit more. When women, and members of other marginalised and othered groups, consider their appearance, these are the kind of factors that go into it. Of course, in order to be accepted as geeks, we’re supposed to do all that and not care about clothes, right?

Clothes and geek feminism

I’ve been chewing over various things about clothing and geek feminism since our recent posts about clothing and grooming (Kylie’s, Terri’s first, Terri’s second). I still think I can’t address it satisfactorily, but I thought I’d lay out various angles in which we might think of clothing and grooming in geek feminism.

Notes:

  • I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
  • This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Grooming as make-work. Naomi Wolf, for one, made this argument in The Beauty Myth, that consuming women with endless grooming related chores and insecurities is a method of oppression. (I am barely read in feminist or cultural theory, undoubtedly hundreds of names could be listed here as having addressed aspects of this.) laughingrat raised this in our comments.

Clothing and grooming as geek interest. Some geeks take a geek-style (intense, analytical, open-ended, consuming) interest in various aspects of clothing and grooming. As examples of how you might do this, there are a lot of knitting geeks; there are historical recreation geeks who make and wear period clothing using period technology; there are people who study the semiotics and sociology of fashion.

Clothing as geek in-group marker and grooming as rejection of the mainstream. John writes in Terri’s comments that someone well-groomed in mainstream corporate style can be assumed to [be] trying to cover for a lack of competence in technical matters — or really want to be a suit. You often can’t, in this framing, be a geek and a suit both. You have to choose, and advertise this with your grooming.

Within geekdom, clothing is sometimes a pretty unsubtle marker of your allegiances. What cons do you go to? What programming languages do you prefer? What comics do you read? You wear shirts that allow this to be determined on first acquaintance. (This isn’t unique to geekdom of course, see also fashion labels and band t-shirts.)

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming in order to own/celebrate your gender. This is important to many trans people. Conversely to the above about avoiding overt gender marking, quite a few geek women also choose to do this in order to point out that there are women RIGHT HERE in geekdom who can bring the geek.

Grooming as a marker of striving to “fit in” generally. If you have unusual grooming, or grooming that is marked as “other” or of a lesser group, people with power over you will read this as likely to be trouble or not one of us. Conversely, dressing like those people, or like their other subordinates, signals will do what it takes to fit in, won’t make waves.

Unusual grooming as marker of power. Alternatively, if you have power over other people, you can mark this by unusual grooming, or grooming usually disdained. Ingrid Jakobsen raised this in comments.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

Grooming for self-esteem. Partly due to internalisation of the above, many women in particular feel happier, more confident and more powerful when they’re “well groomed” by mainstream standards.

Grooming which others female bodies. See the thing about conference t-shirts. Many don’t cater for curvy bodies. If they do, they often cater only for small curvy bodies. And they almost always assume a gender binary of curvy women who want curvy shirts, and square men who want square shirts.

Sexualised grooming. Women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as to be conventionally attractive.

Overly sexual grooming. At the same time as needing to be attractive, women are expected to present their bodies in such a way as not to be “asking for it”. (There is, of course, no middle-ground, see Rape Culture 101.)

Grooming for fun. Geek women may enjoy applying shiny, bright, matching, creative or cherished clothes and decoration to their bodies.

Grooming to get things done. Geek women may need to lift things, fit clothing to a prosthetic or mobility assistance device, run, avoid having a baby pull painfully at their hair, all kinds of stuff.

There are a great many intersectional things I have not addressed here, as a white, wealthy, abled cis-woman. A very very incomplete list would be: considerations about grooming to match your gender identity, considerations about grooming to satisfy people policing your gender identity, minimising grooming in order to preserve your spoons, grooming to honour and be part of your ethnic identity, grooming to meet beauty standards designed for white bodies and white faces, trying to find cheap clothes that won’t be judged in job interviews.

This huge list is just a set of things you could possibly be trying to signal or adhere to or avoid with your grooming. Hopefully this illustrates some of the tensions for geek women: for example, they are called upon to dress in both the feminine, careful style that signals “healthy and competent” but also in the masculine-coded casual style coded as “knows what the hell she’s talking about when it comes to [say] science” and also in something that won’t get them hassled as being unattractive in the street but also not hassled as too attractive…

I hope this has helped break down grooming and clothing as a geek feminist issue, or rather, massively multidimensional tightrope, a bit more. When women, and members of other marginalised and othered groups, consider their appearance, these are the kind of factors that go into it. Of course, in order to be accepted as geeks, we’re supposed to do all that and not care about clothes, right?

Call for guest posts: appearance/presentation issues

Some comments on both Kylie’s post and Terri’s latest post suggest that this blog should really is overdue to host discussions on geek women who are oppressed or trapped by or feeling policed about issues to do with: body image, femininity, gender presentation and similar, or who want to question and deconstruct them, or opt-out.

I know it’s a cop-out to say “we’d welcome guest posts”, but here’s why I feel it’s appropriate in this case: our bloggers who are most sensitive to these issues from personal experience aren’t able to be public about it in this venue at this time, or don’t feel that they can deal with the issue sensitively enough or analytically enough for a satisfying respectful discussion with others. So maybe I should say: we need guest posts to address these issues in a satisfying way, and we’re sorry that we can’t properly address it otherwise (at this time, at least).

If you would like to guest-post on this issue, leave a comment here or on the latest Open thread (you’re always welcome to offer a guest post on an Open thread). Otherwise if you’d like to share links, analysis and resources on these issues, or offer shorter comments, or angles that you’d like addressed on this blog by other writers, please comment.

A crisis of linkspam proportions (5th March, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.