In a conversation with my sister, the other day, the two of us noticed that Privilege posts on pearls, nail polish, and loafers have provoked the most emotional responses of all. Why? Why would accessories, and those on the periphery at that, provoke strong feelings?
I have a theory. These are markers of the feminine. Think about it.
- Pearls means ladylike. They are strong signifiers of a certain cultural construct, which, whether you subscribe to it or not, most likely you recognize.
- Nail polish decorate the fingers of women. Those men who indulge in manicures get buffed, not polished. (Unless you are a rock star or an artist. And since I know very little about either rock stars or artists, little of what I say will ever apply to their worlds.)
- Loafers signify, which surprised me but no matter, the distinctly un-feminine. Flat heels, rounded toes.
If Privilege posts are any indicator at all, style begins to transcend aesthetics when it mucks around with markers of the ‘feminine.’ And we haven’t really touched on markers of the ‘female’ at all.
I come from a culture that does not, um, exalt the feminine, and has been, for the most part, embarrassed by the overtly female. High WASPs – especially the Northern and Western coastal species – worship Katherine Hepburn and Eleanor Roosevelt. So what, you might ask? For better and for worse, that culture established many of the codes of conduct underpinning power in this country. The ‘male” and the ‘masculine’ are almost synonymous, and both constructs line up with American ideas about power quite well. ‘Female’ and ‘feminine’ diverge – and both conflict, in some way or another, with that same ‘power.’ Not surprising that feelings run high when ‘feminine’ and ‘power’ face off.
That’s OK. I love your comments. I enjoy nothing more than the diversity of viewpoints here, political, aesthetic, personal. You all have allowed me to unify the divergent parts of my self and my history and I thank you. But I do want to make one point.
I didn’t mind giving up a lot of ‘feminine’ at work, which is probably why the outcry against loafers surprised me. With no particular attachment to the ladylike, I prefer my pearls brutal and my fingernails bare, to signify a certain intellectual and non-nonsense approach.
But giving up the ‘female,’ that’s another question altogether. I’ll concede on the haircut, but I’ll fight for your right to to be female, however you choose to explore it. Whether that means expressing milk in the office bathroom for your baby, taking parental leave, or marrying your wife. Some constructs serve a primarily social function. ‘Feminine’ is culturally determined. ‘Female,”‘however, crosses geographical, economic, and social boundaries, and should not be compromised.
I hope we all support the convergence of ‘feminine,’ and ‘female,” with power. Political leanings aside. The pearls will follow our lead.