So I decided to tidy up the Women's Collection and the Fiction Collection while I was in the library tonight. And I discovered that, holy St Catherine1
, we have an absolutely brilliant collection of feminist literature. Now, this wouldn't normally be my idea of fun, but given the patchiness of our collection on all other matters, this is impressive
. We have a book on women in science fiction (both characters and authors)! We have an extremely battered old copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves
, a book I've heard about but never seen. I'd always assumed it was something in the generic line of Everywoman
, the latter of which I grew up with and the former of which I considered to contain entirely too much about pregnancy and menopause and other icky grown up things. From looking at the contents, though, it's not just an early production in the same mould as those two, it's a really really good
example of the genre and more people should have copies.3
Anyway, on a whim (feminist literature being as far removed from Wulfstanian law codes as you can possibly get), I borrowed out Naomi Wolf's The Beaty Myth
. It's shitting me off- what's with theorists and not footnoting anything?
She's telling me a fascinating
story, but the only paper trails I could concievably chase up are the court cases! This annoyed me about Germaine Greer, the one time I tried to read her, and it annoys me about Geraldine Brooks too, and (to a certain extent) Richard Dawkins, when I tried reading him. These people like to weave stories about how shocking or fantastic something is and just never back up their historical content! For all I know, they could be interpreting their sources entirely wrong, but how am I supposed to trace it? How am I supposed to know if she's right that until the industrial revolution, women's work was complementary to men's in the family unit, and valued equally? How am I supposed to know if she's right that images of beauty only flooded the market in the nineteenth century? Why am I supposed to believe a theory based on history
if the history is apparently unsourced? As far as I can tell, she's just *decided* that's the way the distant past was, although she seems to be better informed about the recent past. (Or perhaps I'm more poorly informed about my own century, and so more gullible?)!
Ahem. That wasn't supposed to be a rant. That was SUPPOSED to be a rave, along the lines of: this book is really, really interesting. It may not be all 'true', whatever true is in these matters, but it's certainly interesting.
Did you know that in 1977 a fellow called John Molloy, considering the problems which faced women in the workplace when it comes to dress (this segment follows a large passage on the problem of being expected to look 'feminine' without being sexually attractive or inviting sexual attraction), conducted some experiments. He got a cohort of women, and had them dress in a uniform fashion (as do men)- a skirt suit, with a pallete of colours, high heel shoes, makeup, some jewellery, but overall a sober appearance- and all wear them to work for a year. The control group, meanwhile, continued dressing fashionably for work. After a year, the women dressed in 'uniform' reported that their bosses attitudes toward them had improved, they were afforded more respect, and were twice as likely to be recommended for promotion.
Nevertheless, no one took up this recommendation. The New York Times Magazine decried him for requiring women to 'look like men' (what, exactly, about skirts, high heels and makeup looks like men?), and the findings- apparently based on extensive testing, which is rare enough in this sort of field- never really affected the way women thought about proffessional dress. Of course, it doesn't have much effect if one
woman adopts a sober, relatively timeless outfit. That's not a uniform, it's a personal fashion choice. Wolf quotes Molloy: Without a uniform, there is no equality of image.
Think about it. For women, 'presentation' requires an entirely separate skill set to the one which qualifies you for the job, as well as the money that goes into maintaining hair, makeup, clothes, and so on. For men, presentation requires only the money to buy a good quality suit.
Amusingly, Molloy's 'uniform' suit is just what I asked my mother to buy me for my twenty-first- something sober, unlikely to go out of fashion, consisting of a skirt and jacket or skirt, pants and jacket, in a design which she (or someone else) can easily take in and out as my weight goes up and down and my shape changes every few months, as it does, and sensible, low-heeled shoes to wear with it. The shoes will have to be replaced every few years, but the rest of it ought to do me for interviews and work and conferences for at least five years. Ten'd be good.4
1. Patron saint of archivists, librarians, libraries, scholars, schoolchildren, philosophers, students and spinsters2
, sadly struck from the canon in 1969. I am now swearing by St Catherine on all matters academic and book related.
2. All of which categories I have, am, or would like to belong to.
3. Somehow, in googling for those links, I discovered these two highlarious sites: Iron Hymen
(for girls) and Sex Is For Fags
(for boys). They afforded me some minutes of sarcastic amusement. And yet it all seems eerily familiar
4. These things do last forever. I was wearing last year the suit jacket my mother wore to work before I was born. I'd be wearing it still if it hadn't gone mouldy in my wardrobe over summer. Must get it dry-cleaned. She offered to hunt me out the skirt that went with it, having given up hope of fitting back into it (and if she ever does, she damn well deserves a new
skirt!). Maybe I should adopt that as my uniform, eighties shoulder pads and all.
! Oh, and goblinpaladin
: she uses 'Byzantine' as some sort of insult to laws. Can't quite make out what she means. (Draconian? Impossibly complex? Sexist? Who knows?)