Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Fashionable Feminista: An Anathema?

Fashion and Feminism seems like such a fraught topic, but I can't resist. The inspiration for this post is not so much my penchant for fashion, but the sheer delight I take in dressing up my little girl. You see, I love putting her in pink, girlie clothes. And, it really catches my friends and family off guard. Just yesterday my mom worried that I wouldn't like the pink hoodie she was going to buy Maddie, "would you like a blue one instead?" "No," I said. "I love pink." And, I do.

Many years ago, my friend Ann wrote a paper on beauty for an Aesthetics class we were in. I think she tried to send a version of it to Hypatia, but I don't know if it made it in. The basis for the paper was the rituals that her many sisters and mother performed to prepare for a wedding. It ranged from discussion of shaving, of when pearls are appropriate, make-up and hair. Each of Ann's sisters differed in their love of fashion, dress up, and make-up. Her mother was a rock, famously saying "Pearls are always appropriate." Ann's thesis was that these rituals were not frivolous, but really artistic processes.

I am not sure if she waded into the inevitably thorny issue of whether or not fashion and other beauty technologies are inherently patriarchal. This is a pretty pervasive theme. One of the most devastating essays on this is by Sandra Lee Bartky, "Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power," in Feminism and Foucault: Reflections of Resistance. Ed. Lee Quinby and Irene Diamond. (Boston: Northeastern U P, 1988) Susan Bordo's work is also quite thought provoking, but she seems to have more of a love affair with femininity than Bartky does.

You see, the mantra "the personal is political" opened up a minefield for feminists to gingerly tiptoe through with their daily decisions on how to comport themselves. If the oppressor resides in the most minute and seemingly harmless everyday decisions, then an intense, vigilant practice of self-presentation, thought, and habits is inevitable. It is no surprise that many of feminists, my generation or younger, find it near impossible to live this way. In recent years a revival of knitting and sewing--by self-proclaimed feminists--have returned many women--of all stripes and political affiliations--to go back to women's work. The proliferation of DYI shows dealing with fashion, design, and home renovation has sought to wed the love of beauty, decoration and fashion with feminist messages of empowerment.

Such a landscape is likely to produce guilt or confusion in feminists who decidedly want to reject the kind of femininity that says "I need the total guidance of a man to make it in the world," but still want to look pretty. I am one of those feminists. I have made my peace with this for the most part. I am not sure that I have worked it out theoretically. I cannot give a defense of my love of fashion. I think most arguments that I put forward could be quite easily be demolished by someone like Bartky or Bordo.

No matter what women decide to do in relation to fashion and beauty, they are embroiled in it. If they go crunchy like the many women in Maui I saw, it is still a statement. If they wear only natural, breathable fabrics that float, they are making a statement. If they choose the lumberjack look, they are making a statement. No matter how you dress, you are making a statement. You are announcing to the world a great deal of your personality, your likes/dislikes, your preoccupations, your investment in your self, etc. I am just not sure that there is a politically correct way to make that statement. Now, having said that, please, oh please, don't lump me with "choice feminism," whatever that is.

At bottom, "I love being a girl." I love dressing up my little girl, even in pink.

So, you tell me, is fashion to feminism an anathema?

Monday, December 10, 2007

How Much Would You Pay for Love?

One of the more interesting conversations that I had while in Maui concerned the "price" of love. I know, an odd and already cynical-sounding conversation, but nonetheless it got me thinking. One of my Dad's friends told me that in the 80's some of the richest people were asked how much they would pay for love (not sex, or lust, or infatuation). (I have no idea if this is apocryphal story.) Supposedly, these rich folks said they would be willing to pay $1 million dollars (you'll have to adjust this for inflation).

When I first heard that sum, it occurred to me that love was not a high priority for these folks. My second thought was why would you put a sum on one of the best things that is free? My third thought is, what sort of romantic notion of love is operating here? After all, love means hanging in there with someone despite disappointments, stress, strain, illness, boredom, irritation, ad nauseum.

Now, this whole conversation started because we were discussing another friend of my Dad's who gets married quite regularly, signs pre-nups for about $200,000 and then divorces. I couldn't get my head around the idea that these women were willing to marry someone, who is a bit of a horn dog and not so loveable, in order to get that money. My Dad said (as he has my whole life): "everyone has a price." I responded, "well, then my price is much, much higher." At which point all the men at the table started to quote me a number to determine my price.

So, there are two odd things here: (1) Does everyone have a price? and (2) How much would you pay for love? To the first question, I have to say that I think that it is probably true that everyone has a price. But, I would love to be persuaded elsewise.

The second question fascinate me more when I start to think about whether or not I would pay to have my daughter's love. And, knowing what I know now, my answer is yes. But, the key is, knowing what I know now.

What do you all think?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Boy, Did I Pick the Wrong Week to Go to Maui? Then Again . . .

I am still here. I haven't forgotten about all of you. You see, I have been in a bit of tough spot. You won't really believe me when I say that this tough spot is Maui. Maddie and I are visiting my Dad in Maui and on the second day of my visit, we are inundated with a huge rain storm. The power goes out in my Dad's place and then, after two hours, it is restored. Phew.

I go to sleep that night and wake around 1 am to feed Maddie when I hear again the howling wind, the rain pouring over my head, what sounds like trees smashing into the headboard above my bed. I try to flip the light switch, but the power is out. I try to go back to sleep, but it's hard with all of this noise. I wake up the next morning to discover the power is still out, it is still raining, and tree limbs are broken all over my Dad's property. We can't access any news since the power is out and we are not really prepared for this kind of storm. So, we head down to Kahului to get some baby formula and diapers. This is when I realize how bad this storm is. The road that leads from my Dad's street to the Kula Highway is suddenly a maze of torrential rivers, carrying tree limbs, mud, mud, and mud, and lots of water. We stop to admire the new waterfall that is carving a new river dangerously close to a house. Then, we head down to Kahului. It will be two days before we get back to Kula.

We ended up in Wailea for the night. My Dad has a friend who owns a condo there and we are saved. No hotels have any rooms left and we cannot get back home. Every time we make our way up the Kula Highway, we are stopped and told it will be another 30-45 minutes until they can clear the road. They say this about every hour. After my Dad gets us safely into the condo in Wailea, he decides to try one more time to get home. But, around 2:00 am he is back in Wailea.

The next morning we wake up happy because the power is back on. We make some coffee and try to get the cable to work to find out what is going on. The cable hasn't been restored. So, we just sip our coffee and watch the rain coming down when the power goes out again. We decide to head back up to Kula, but the highway leaving Wailea and Kihei is backed up with tons of people trying to get somewhere with power and food. It takes us several hours to get to Kahului and then we decide to go to Paia for a late lunch. We finally make it back to Kula around 5 pm and quickly get batteries into the lanterns we have just bought. We light candles, eat popcorn, and finally go to bed. When we wake up this morning, we discover that the power has still not returned so my Dad's wife decides we have to get out of Kula and so we pack to go to Wailea for the weekend. (This is actually pretty cool since we will be right near the resorts and great beach for a few days.)

On the way down the road leading from my Dad's house to the Kula Highway, we get a first hand look of the damage of this storm. You can see pictures and read about it in this article from the Maui News.

I bought Elizabeth Gilbert's book Eat, Pray and Love before we were exiled from our home. I have been devouring it ever since the power went out. I strain to read it by candlelight or lantern, when my Dad isn't using it. And, the story that Gilbert tells of seeking a way to slow time and to be present resonates all the more in this stripped down, unplugged-from-the-grid existence that I am sharing with my Dad, his wife, and Maddie. Maddie doesn't care that she can't check her email, take a shower, or turn on the TV. She is just happy to be playing with her Grandpa. We are all together and really talking around candle light. I start to wish that I cultivated this kind of existence more.

The power outage has allowed me to slow down, to find some quiet, to really think about what matters. This storm has reminded me that nature always wins over man's quest to tame her. She can shut down all of our devices that keep us busy and deceive us into thinking we are in control of our lives. We aren't really. But this truth is only bitter for those who actually believe we can control anything outside of our own beliefs, attitudes, and thoughts. This is exactly the kind of truth that Gilbert goes seeking for in her memoir. However, while she has set out to find bliss, happiness, and divine love, I just wanted to hang out in Maui for a week. I had no grander quest in mind than a little sunshine and sea before returning to the snow. But, what I have stumbled upon is an invitation to reassess what I really need to be happy. Do I need to be in a well lit home, with my internet, cell phone juiced up, and TV on to feel good. Gilbert makes a distinction between being entertained and relaxing. The former is what I seek most of the time after a grueling day. But, what I have found during this bizarre Maui visit is true relaxation. It is just too bad that a few houses, cars, and trees had to be smashed up to give me this gift.