W: “I strrrrruggle with the intersectedness thing”

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in?  Emotional spaces?  How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

 

Physical/Emotional:

Realized again this month I have a fragile sense of safety. Thought I was absorbing the sadness around me after Sandy and Boston, a week each time of feeling unable to cope. Realized I was feeling fear. Related to being Jewish, the particular way I was raised because I have no Jewish friends who seem to feel the way I do, or even close it seems, out of many. physical and emotional.

Emotional:

Felt unsafe, the exact word I used to describe it, in my college department. Afraid of 3 male colleagues. In the last year, I stopped checking my mailbox till after 5:00 when one who’s office was there would be gone. I didn’t want to be alone with him. So there was a little physical fear, actually. Didn’t feel afraid of 2 women colleagues who treated me similarly.

Class:

I very often feel more secure, as a woman raised in a middle-class “professional” family, than does my partner, a man raised in a poor family whose 4 sisters and brothers and parents didn’t graduate high school (except him).

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women?  How do you think others perceive you physically?  What elements contribute to these perceptions?

 

I can tell you what I notice in other women’s appearance:

I notice how fit and “firm” they are, regardless of weight. (I have no idea if this is relevant.)

I notice how grey hair “ages” women or doesn’t; my brown hair is 100% fake.

I’m transfixed by plastic surgery on women’s faces. Oh, didn’t need to say “women’s.”

I think others see me physically as middle-aged, plump, often Jewish but not always.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman?  Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible?  Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

 

I feel, like, fine walking outside. Not sure I did as a younger woman, in terms of verbal stuff. Have felt safe physically going back at least 30 years (of 57), I think.

 

At a Mika concert with my daughter last week (who insisted on standing nowhere near me, so I looked like I was alone) I felt VISIBLE because of my age. In a good way. Kind of an intimate night club, and when Mika played first notes of each song, we all cheered. But after 3 notes of one, I was the only one around me who could i.d. the song, and I got props! Took great care in how I dressed. Tho who knows how what I chose to wear was perceived. I was going for hip but not “young,” whatever that is.

At my college, I felt invisible, again the exact word I used. First noticed it when I was rushing to class pulling an overflowing briefcase and trying to balance armful of other materials and no one held the door for me. I think students literally didn’t see me, middle-aged woman.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you?  I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

 

strrrrruggle with the intersectedness thing. Just have never been able to grasp it. Or articulate it. How embarrassing is this.

Love the word “woman-ness.”

 

Internalizing it all

Although I have “officially” completed this portfolio assignment, I wanted to revisit it to discuss Wednesday. 

Rewind to the previous Wednesday, where my planning-an-ism-group focusing on transphobia and gender performance/presentation decided that we would challenge ourselves and our classmates and professor to pick “something that is integral to their/our gender identity” and alter it in some way over the course of the next week.  The members of my group gave the option to complete this activity at Columbia, on the next class day, and agreed that we would do this ourselves, so that if someone else decided to, they would not be the only one.

I decided that for this activity, I would not “do” my hair-brush, product, style, etc, and just put it under a hat.  Additionally I decided that I would not wear makeup, heels, jewelry, or accessories of any kind. 

Fast-forward to two days ago.  I had been nervous all week. 

I put on my jeans, T-shirt, and hat as planned and nothing else.  Finding I was ready twenty minutes early, ate some ice cream for breakfast (my version of a pep talk).  Walking to the subway, I felt like a little boy.  I watched as men on the corner who usually call to me said “Hello gorgeouuussss” to the woman in front of me and looked right through me.  As some middle-aged women in my interviews described feeling as they aged, I was invisible.

Feeling not desirable, sexy, beautiful, or even cute, affected me in almost every interaction I had that day.  It shook my self-confidence, it changed the way I walk and assert myself in conversations.  I had conceived the activity to challenge what it might feel like to not be able to present as the gender we identified as, as the gender we ARE.  But the activity turned itself on me, as these things often do.  It became an exercise in misogyny, the male gaze, and internalized misogyny.  I could not wait to go home to change and wear heels and flowers in my hair the next day.  Even my size had become traitorous: as a skinny woman, I was perceived as attractive, the “right size.”  Without my other feminine accessories and form-fitting clothes, I felt young-not like a man, but like a boy- and asexual. 

Was I still myself?  Somewhere beneath my “undone” face and hair and baggy clothes, of course I was myself.  But I didn’t feel it.  The world has spent the past 27 years teaching me that the BEST me, the most desirable, presentable, acceptable, RESpectable, successful version of myself, takes an hour to “become” each morning and otherwise, I was doing it wrong. 

I don’t want to end this blog by condemning myself or other women and taking the onus off of men and patriarchy for putting this male gaze, this rape culture, this blatant and more covert misogyny upon us.  It is NOT our job to shake this but we may be the only ones willing to begin interrupting it.  Even just a thought: perhaps I don’t shave my legs twice a week.  Perhaps I let my hair frizz.  Part of this is difficult for me because it intersects hugely with my OCD: ‘put-together’ means a different thing to me and moisturizing, accessorizing, perfect hair, perfect face, perfect matching underwear and bra: these give me peace of mind on multiple levels, they are part of a checklist.

Or MAYBE, maybe, I look at each piece of it and try to find out what feels good to me: the essential me.  Maybe I have internalized, breathed in, so much misogyny, so much genuine hatred and non-acceptance of who women really are that this will be a never-ending process.  I’m okay with that. 

If I let my hair puff and swirl and put flowers in it, maybe I am more that original me than the girl with ironed hair OR the girl with all her hair beneath a cap.

M: “assumptions- that I will not be very tough”

4/13/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

I feel unsafe in places where I’m one of few women or one of few white woman on the street. more at night than during the day. generally where llok different than other and may draw attention.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?

I think of myself as small and noticeable (with big, red hair). I think of my self as white. Others would view me similarly. Gender roles and assumptions- that I will not be very tough.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

I feel less vulnerable in a sexual way as I get older and more vulnerable as a weaker person. Mostly, I feel safer as I age.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

I think my woman-ness is a significant part of my vulnerability in all respects. Of course, I don’t know how it feels to be a man! I feel vulnerable as a white woman, but I’ve become accustomed to living in a multi-racial world so I feel increasingly less conscious of my race and more conscious of my age. I don’t think my sexual orientation play a role in this.

A: “Maybe I’m just a hothead”

4/10/13

1) i feel mostly safe in the world, physically and emotionally (though, intellectually, i know that the universe is NOT looking out for us, esp. for women!)–and this despite the fact that i am a woman, because i am old, white, straight, well-to-do, w/ a history of safety. @ dinner the other night, my cousin and oldest friend (having just told her “childhood trauma story”) asked me to tell mine, but i said i didn’t have one. i really do not. i was raised in a web of safety, which pretty much has held.

2) i enjoy watching beautiful women; i enjoy watching my daughters and daughter-in-law and daughters-out-law and students dress and preen. i myself feel old, and heavy (AM old and overweight), don’t like to see myself in the mirror or photos–except, occasionally, when a snapshot catches me laughing and engaged w/ others. i think others think i have a kind face, listening ears, but am old and overweight. i have developed some adult acne and am conflicted about whether to bother w/ the expensive creams to treat it–seems like fussing about such things is past….

3) i generally feel invisible when walking. i live in center city, and often walk home alone late @ night, but really don’t feel unsafe (though i lately joined the neighborhood watch, and started monitoring all the assaults/realizing how frequent they are, which has altered my complacency a bit…)

4) i was raised to be a lady (wear dresses, cross my ankles, lower my voice, do what i was told) but have always fought that particular middle-class/wanna-be high class inscription of womanhood–the more so as i have aged, and come increasingly into a sense of who i am and what i can do. i wrote this lil essay for our 360 last fall; it says a lot about my sense of power and agency, and about the complexities of identity that contribute to that; i think it speaks to a # of your questions:
http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/thats-called-privilege#comment-139652

M: “I don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to my woman ness”

4/10/13

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in?  Emotional spaces?  How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

i feel safe at home and at work, physically speaking and also emotionally (not sure if that’s what you mean), and i feel pretty safe in most areas of suburbs and city up till maybe 10 pm, less so after that if along.  i know that i feel safer as a woman now that i’m older, even though i’m not sure this makes sense.  i also think that my race and class privilege have something to do with my feeling of general safety  in the world.

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women?  How do you think others perceive you physically?  What elements contribute to these perceptions?

hmm, well i generally feel pretty good about my physical appearance, and i think i appreciate a fairly wide range of appearances in other women.  in terms of others’ perceptions of me physically, i think it depends so much on who the others are and their contexts.  especially in terms of body weight – perceived as ‘small’ especially by larger women.  also i think i’m perceived as relatively young-looking for my age, not sure whether/how this relates to viewer and her/his context, though. 

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman?  Safe, unsafe, targeted, ignored, harassed, invisible?  Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

usually pretty safe and ignored, much more than when i was younger i’d say, but also true that i’m in less and less varied places probably than when much younger.  but even so there’s some variation with how dressed, more with who i’m with and also time of day/night.

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you?  I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

intersection of woman-ness with race and class is most evident to me most of the time, especially race, i don’t often forget my whiteness or middle-classness in relation to womanness, in fact those other identities tend to come to my awareness first but i do think my sense of my own gender is deeper than i sometimes think.  now, getting older, and also working with young people, i’m also pretty aware of age, and what it means to be a getting-older, white, m-c woman, how the age dimension orients me differently in relation to others, to my own wishes and concerns, etc.  i tend to take my sexual orientation for granted, though less so when i’m around others who don’t share it, or even don’t take it for granted.  and ability, hmm, in some ways i take it for granted, like more socio-politically, but in relation to age i also really value my physical ability, and do think about not always having it.  i don’t think that much about learning ability in my life, but do in the context of my work.  and think of mental health a fair amount but maybe not so much in relation to gender.

K: “it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.”

4/8/13

 

1) What physical spaces do you feel safe or unsafe in? Emotional spaces? How does this relate to your race, age, sexual orientation, background, class, etc?

i feel safe in my home. not only am i physically safe here, but i am emotionally very safe within my marriage.  one of my favorite things about my home and my marriage (which for many intents and purposes are the same space, one being the physical embodiment of the other) is that i feel completely accepted. i also feel (and this may sound odd), genderless. i’m just a person here and my husband and son are just people too. i can do stereotypically feminine things like bake cookies or stereotypically masculine things like re-tile the kitchen floor and it’s just what *i* do, it doesn’t have to stand for anything or mean anything to anyone beyond that there are cookies to eat and the floor looks awesome. not sure if that makes sense.

not having been any other sexual orientation or race. i’m not sure i can reflect on how those things would be different there. sometimes i think it would be even more awesome to be in a same-sex relationship because there are NO prescribed gender rules, but i’m sure there are other complications i can’t imagine.

i do think that our SES (more education level than income for us) helps because my husband and i both grew up in worlds where men have a wide range of identities to choose from, not just “be strong and build stuff” — because we come from very knowledge/education-based families. we also both had stay-at-home dads when we were very young (which was even less common in the 1970s than it is now) so being smart or great with the laundry is just as masculine (or feminine) as anything else for both of us. and so the freedom my husband has to feel like he’s still fully masculine even when he is not the breadwinner (as he is not right now), does not excel in athletics/manual work, or takes longer to do his hair in the morning 🙂 allows me the freedom to enact whatever feminine identity appeals to me. i don’t have to worry about hurting his feelings or making him feel somehow emasculated. i feel for boys/men who grow up without this freedom, and by extension the women who love them. it is not hard for me to see how hunting and other “manly” things take on so much meaning for working-class men who have been sold a version of “man” that hinges on strength, primarily through breadwinning…in this economy, those men have nothing but violent past-times to make them feel whole, and it f*cks things up for them and everyone else in their lives. it’s hard for me to think about misogyny without thinking about how damaged men are the ones who create damaging situations for women.

as for unsafeness, i’m not wild about parking garages at night.  🙂

2) How do you perceive your own physical appearance and those of other women? How do you think others perceive you physically? What elements contribute to these perceptions?

i have no idea how others perceive me physically (except my husband, who i can tell finds me attractive). i lived for our 4 years in nashville without a full-length mirror (not by accident, this coincided with pregnancy and my first 3 years as a mom) and it was extraordinarily freeing. we have one full-length mirror now but it’s in morgan’s room and i look in it exactly once per day (in the morning, to make sure i’m actually fully dressed, not always a given i’ll remember two socks, etc.) and i don’t miss it. i think being over 35 (!) and someone’s mother has allowed me to go back to the way i felt in childhood — i’m just a person in a body who has THINGS TO DO! so who has time to think about how it looks? i’m surrounded by women most of the day at work, and the things that stand out to me about my students is how young and skinny they are, how effortless their beauty is, particularly when they are in class, not all dolled up to go out, just wearing sweats and thinking about things.

3) How do you feel walking outside as a woman? Does this change depending on where you are, how you are dressed, who you are with, who else is around?

i think my age (again) plays a role here. i can remember, in my 20s particularly, living in philadelphia, feeling the male gaze in public spaces very strongly. sometimes i enjoyed it and other times i did not. i went through a phase where i thought muslim women have it all figured out because they control who gets to perceive them sexually (by covering their hair). unfortunately, in my later years i’ve come to see that less as empowering and more as central to a rape culture — the hijab (as i understand it) is worn because of a belief that men can’t/shouldn’t have to control themselves when they can see women’s hair. and that’s messed up.

but back to now, i just feel busy most of the time, pre-occupied with things i have to do or ideas i’m grappling with. i almost never go out at night bc i’m busy being someone’s mother. i also don’t live in a city, don’t take public transit, hate to shop, and almost never go to bars anymore, so i don’t spend much time in so-called “public” spaces…i spend most of my “outside” time on the playground at my son’s school with almost exclusively other moms my age. sometimes i walk across campus but there i am constantly struck by how much i feel like i should be one of the college kids walking around, not someone who is old enough to be their mother!

4) What does the intersection of your woman-ness with other elements mean to you? I.E. race, class, age, ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, I’m sure I’m missing some.

as is captured in my responses above, i think, the intersection of woman-ness and age has been most interesting as i’ve gone from adolescence to adulthood to mommy-dom. sometimes i miss the feeling i used to have that men were paying attention to how i look, but most of the time i’m too caught up in the business of living to worry about it, and i think it’s freeing that i don’t care much about how i look at preschool dropoff in the morning (sweats and a hat? yes please!) because i’m not trying to impress anyone or get laid.  🙂  a friend once told me how excited she was to be turning 30 because no one expects you to look good after 30 so you can stop worrying about it. indeed. also, not sure if you ever watched “six feet under” but in one episode, kathy bates’s character convinces another character (also a woman in her late 50s/early 60s) to shoplift at a nice department store — she says “women our age are invisible, so we can get away with anything” — so true. my mom is that age (and single) and very bitter about it, but it doesn’t bother me now so i can’t imagine it will when i’m her age. i think my marital status has a lot to do with my gender-based perceptions w.r.t. myself.