Recently in Gender Category

Women Lousy at Designing Clothes for Women?



I've been taking a break from dealing with certain issues because well, because I need a break. I've been trying to work on a couple of posts, one on the whole nasty debate about a "man's right to choose" sparked by Dalton Conley's December 1st NY Times editorial on the topic, and another on the sexsomnia defense a guy in Canada used to beat a rape charge, but I don't get very far before I get too upset to continue.

Here's something I would dismiss as silly if it weren't for the fact that I really dig textiles and clothing. But the clothes I own are typically things I made myself or bought on sale, and I am of the opinion that haute couture is overpriced, wasteful and misogynist. This article made me think about WHY high fashion might be something the average woman doesn't want, need or have the money for. It's from the NY Times, about why women don't succeed as fashion designers. Among the arguments for why men, either straight or gay, are better than women at designing clothes for women, are these:

In some quarters, the perception exists that fashion's main consumers, women, are more comfortable taking advice about how they should look from a man. "Men are often better designers for women than other women," said Tom Ford, the former creative director of Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, who more than anyone in the past decade built a brand on his own persona, that of a man whose sensual appeal is to both men and women. Whereas Bill Blass, Valentino and Oscar de la Renta founded their empires on the strength of a nonthreatening, nonsexual charisma, Mr. Ford aggressively promoted his sexually charged designs. "Of course there are many more gay male designers," Mr. Ford said. "I think we are more objective. We don't come with the baggage of hating certain parts of our bodies."

Some designers embrace an extreme version of this position. Michael Vollbracht, the current designer of Bill Blass, said he believes that gay men are demonstrably superior at design, their aesthetic formed by a perception of a woman as an idealized fantasy. "I come from a time when gay men dressed women," Mr. Vollbracht said. "We didn't bed them. Or at least I didn't. I am someone who is really pro-homosexual. I am an elitist. I am better than straight people. Women are confused about who they want to be. I believe that male designers have the fantasy level that women do not."

When women design for other women, Mr. Ford said, they proceed from a standpoint of practicality - not fantasy. "Sometimes women are trapped by their own views of themselves, but some have built careers around that," he said. "Donna Karan was obsessed with her hips and used her own idiosyncrasies to define her brand."

The Times' article purports to be an expose on the topic, but it doesn't include many women's voices on the matter. It does, however, let a designer named Dana Buchman respond to these arguments. Ms. Buchman "sees little value in such arguments. If men are more objective, she countered, then women are empathetic, which can be useful in understanding the consumer. 'I wear my own clothes,' she said. 'I have lived the life of my customer.'" Yeah, but that's precisely the problem, as Tom Ford kindly points out: she's too caught up in the practical issues of how clothes fit the real bodies and real lives of real women! And since she never wants to f*ck herself the way a straight man would and never sees clearly the aesthetic ideal women should strive to embody the way a certain type of elitist gay man would, she will never know as well as either class of man how to dress herself, or other women.


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One year in my 30s, when I'd grown tired of keeping my hammer and my screw driver in a drawer in my desk, I asked my dad to give me a toolbox, well stocked with tools, for Christmas. Mom said I couldn't have asked for a better gift, that he hadn't had so much fun preparing for Christmas since my sibs and I were little kids. He spent hours at the hardware store, she said, choosing the best box, then finding a saw that would fit in it ("It's not long but it's all you'll ever need, unless you want to hack down a tree, and in that case, you'd be better off calling a tree service," he told me of the one he bought), picking out a good set of Allen wrenches and Phillips head screwdrivers. He even gave me a spirit level. I've used all the tools in that box, except for the saw, and I'm sure even that will come in handy someday.

He also gave me an cordless power drill. He told me that I should recharge the battery every month, that not only would it mean it would be charged up whenever I might need it, but it would also preserve the life of the drill.

I don't charge it every month, but I charge it pretty often. However, I never use it myself, though the handy man I occasionally hire to do stuff around my house is pretty glad I've got it. I admit I'm afraid of it. I'm afraid I'll drill a hole in my hand. Instead, I save up jobs requiring a power drill and then ask someone who's not afraid of it to do those jobs for me when they come to visit. Next time my parents visit, I'm thinking I'll ask my dad to install a couple of ceiling fans.

Maybe this makes me a wimpy girl, but I'm pretty competent in a lot of ways. There are a lot of things I can fix on my own. I'm just afraid of power drills.

Mormons, Male Feminists, and Sex


This post continues ideas discussed in three earlier posts: Ripe Peaches and Peach Schnapps, Venus Pandemos, and Male Mormon Feminists-–it's Part II of MMF, actually. For background information on all these topics, see Mormon Links.

When the panelists had finished and the session was opened to questions, I was (I think) the first one out of my seat. I thanked the guys for their comments, complimented them on having the courage and the conviction to declare themselves feminists, and said something like this--or rather, this is a more coherent version of what I wish I'd said:

"I've spent most of my adult life in academia in the humanities, which is someplace where almost everyone, male and female, is a feminist. In a graduate program in English or film studies or philosophy or the likes, it's hard to find a man who doesn't call himself a feminist--probably partly because he knows if he doesn't espouse it, chances are good he won't get laid very often. But despite these guys' declarations that they're feminists, they often treat the women they're involved with very badly."

I have dated enough myself and watched enough episodes of Sex and the City that I feel safe asserting that in conventions of heterosexual courtship, seduction and dating, men still retain most of the power of acting and choosing, while women have the role of waiting, and accepting or refusing. It is generally the man who is supposed to say, after a date or after sex, "I'll call you," and it is the man who is generally supposed to call. Certainly, there are women who are take the initiative in sexual matters. But there was only one Samantha to the other three more traditional, passive women in the cast of S&tC--it is not only Mormon women who are trained to be objects rather than subjects.

Watching Football

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I guess I'm not so much "one of the boys" as I might have thought, since it turns out some of the boys have been getting together to watch football, and didn't invite me.

I found this out last week when Craig, another colleague, asked if I had been invited to SBJ's house that evening to watch football. I had not. Craig then asked, "Do you watch football?"

"If by ‘watching football' you mean, am I willing to be a in room with a television tuned to a football game, the answer is yes," I said, "as long as there's other stuff to do, like drink beer and eat, and as long as no one expects me to care about the game, and as long as there are other people who also don't care about the game, and who will ignore the game entirely whenever an interesting topic of conversation comes up." I've been to a couple of Super Bowl parties that fit that description, and they were fun. "But," I continued, "if by ‘watching football' you mean that I actually pay attention to the game, then no, I don't watch football."

A Happy Marriage with a Good Man

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Here's something from "Confessions of a Mormon Boy: An Autobiographical One-Man Play Written, Created and Performed by Steven Fales" (SUNSTONE December 2003). After serving a mission for the Mormon Church, Mr. Fales told his female best friend he was gay, then proposed. She accepted; they married, and stayed married for six years, until his "same sex attraction," to use the Mormon term, put too great a strain on the marriage.

As the divorce got closer, I got confused and scared. I didn't know how to be alone, and I didn't want to give up "hugging time." Emily and I shared a tradition her parents had started. You know how early kids wake up? Well, we would try to sleep in--trying to put off their needs as long as we could. Then, when we couldn't put it off any longer, we'd yet out, "HUGGING TIME!" In our two children would run and jump on the bed. We would then hug and kiss and snuggle--all warm and safe and happy. How many gay men get to experience that? Let alone watch their children being born. Couldn't I give it all up for the sake of hugging time? I was going to fight for hugging time!

I turned it all on Emily. It was her fault! She never wore lingerie! [Never mind that Mormonism has its own ugly underwear faithful members are required to wear.] She wouldn't watch the better-sex videos I ordered from the back of GQ. Emily knew going into this marriage it might come to this. And now that I've finally cracked, she's going to just throw me out?! How dare she watch Will & Grace and laugh when I was trying to change! She had failed me!

Mormon Social Taboos


Tuesday evening I got home from work and found a load of mail, including two cd's of original (and spectacularly good) music from Wayne, and the Fall 2005 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This is one of the primary publications of liberal Mormonism, and I've subscribed (and published in it) for years. I sat down to my dinner and watched part of a movie, took care of some teaching stuff, had a bath. Then I picked up the issue of Dialogue and checked the table of contents, and found this:


Getting Out by Ben Christensen 121

Homosexual Attraction and LDS Marriage Decisions by Ron Schow 133

Thoughts of a Therapist by Marybeth Raynes 143

Staying In by Ben Christensen 148

I gave the section a cursory scan--that was about all I could bear--then went to bed. I fell asleep quickly, stayed asleep for an hour, got up and read Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun for a class I'm teaching on war literature (because after the Dialogue thing, I needed something cheerful and lighthearted), tried to medicate myself into oblivion, eventually succeeded.

Wednesday morning I got up and reread the whole section carefully.

Here is what Ben Christensen, a 24-year-old gay Mormon married to a woman by whom he has fathered a nine-month-old daughter, has to say about the fact that he can't mention to his friends that he "can't stop thinking about this guy in religion class":" "It ticks me off that Mormon social taboos force me to lie about who I am."

Mormon social taboos.

That's what's to blame for the fact that he can't discuss his same sex attraction: Mormon social taboos.

Not Mormon doctrine. Mormon social taboos.

Nothing wrong with the doctrine--which says that homosexual behavior is a sin; no, it's just Mormon social taboos.

If you're not Mormon, you have no idea how big this issue is. Many religions venerate celibacy; many other religions tolerate it. Not Mormonism. Celibacy is unnatural; sex before marriage is, according to some leaders in the church (and one of my friends from college, one of the very few people whom I will never again speak to), a sin akin to MURDER (that's right: sex before marriage is the moral equivalent of killing someone in cold blood); and the entire reason we are sent to earth is to get bodies, have sex, and create children. So there's some room in many other religions for reconciling religious faith and homosexuality by choosing celibacy, but almost none in Mormonism--at least, not if you want to be respectable and happy.

Christensen writes of his engagement to Jessie, who knows about his attraction to men, that

Difficulties arose fairly quickly.... It bothered Jessie that she was usually more interested in kissing than I was. This bothered me too, but I didn't know what to do about it. I definitely loved her, and out of that love an attraction was growing, but to be honest it was nothing compared to the strong desire I had for men. But then it's not accurate to even compare the two feelings. My attraction to Jessie, the drive that made me want to hold her in my arms and feel her body next to mine, came entirely from my heart. On the other hand, the drive that made me want to feel a man's body next to mine was purely a libido thing. I've never allowed a physical attraction to a man to become any more than just that. Apples and oranges.

He marries Jessie for a variety of reasons, one of which is that "God told [him] to." Another is that he feels his only two alternatives are a conventional, monogamous straight Mormon marriage on the one hand and "[running] off to San Francisco and [embracing] a rampant life of unrestrained queerness" on the other.

A year later, at the ripe old age of 25, he is able to critique his earlier essay and the responses to it, by writing

Critiquing my essay, a friend asked, "Can you really separate love and sex so easily? I can't." I discarded his concern, believing I had a deeper understanding of love and sex. After all, he writes novels about missionaries who fornicate and teenaged boys who make out with cow udders. For me, the distinction between love and sex was clear. As I've become more honest with myself, though, I see that Marybeth states my dilemma more accurately when she says that people in my situation choose "between a deep love and erotic attachment plus love." This choice is a good deal more difficult than the over-simplified choice I thought I was making. By choosing heterosexual marriage, I've denied myself the experience of loving someone I am naturally attracted to and my wife the experience of loving someone who is naturally attracted to her.

Glad he figured that out eventually.

Aside from a few lines of dialogue in which Jessie reassures the author that she still wants to marry him despite the fact that he is gay, we never get to hear from her.

Ron Schow and Marybeth Raynes, the two respondents, are very respectful of the deliberate choices Ben Christensen is making at the same time they underscore the challenges and difficulties he is setting himself up for. Perhaps I might respect those choices more myself if I hadn't heard it all before, some of it almost verbatim. I'll never forget being told by the love of my life, "Look, I'm not really gay, and I still want to marry a woman. It's just that I prefer sex with men to sex with women." I could think of no response to that statement.

I'm grateful for my two closest friends on earth, both of whom are gay (formerly Mormon) men, and I'm also grateful that neither of them married me.

I'm not done.

Out with the Guys

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Last night was one of those nights I go hang out with the guys and talk about writing. Sweet Baby Jesus was there (the tattoo on his arm looks so fabulous! I promise I will get around to writing about that soon), as was Tom, as well as a guy I'll call Lemonhead, because he told me that's his nickname, and another guy I'll call the Monk, because he said he is one. The weather was pleasant, so we sat on the patio of a bar where the drink special was "anything Stoli for two bucks," and I had no problem sucking down four cranberry stolis and one stoli & tonic.

We are all writers, so we workshop our stuff. SBJ and Lemonhead had some really great poems up, the Monk gave us a very poetic short story, and I submitted an essay about menstrual problems I had as a fifteen-year-old anorexic recovering from a bizarre and traumatic illness. The piece is actually kind of funny and I like it as well as anything I've written in a while, but I was still worried the guys might be freaked out by the subject matter. I shouldn't have worried. They gave me really smart suggestions for improving the piece, and didn't seem a bit weirded out that they now know all kinds of details about my menstrual cycle. They also claimed to be grateful for a little clarification about what happens in a gynecologist's office.

One of the Boys

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Right now, I'm kind of one of the boys. My two best friends here are Tom, who is married, and SBJ, who is not, but as I said, my affectionate mocking of him is tinged with the fond feelings of a slightly snotty big sister.

By a significant margin, most of my colleagues are male. I do have some fabulous female colleagues, but most of them are married with small children. These are women with PhDs, diverse research interests, cool husbands, and very busy schedules. For various reasons, it is harder for these women to socialize than it is for the guys I work with. Although I manage to meet these women occasionally for lunch or coffee, a more common event in my social life is to find myself the solitary woman at a table with three or four or five guys, drinking a round of Arrogant Bastards (a local brew), talking about poetry and tattoos and bowel disorders and gross medical procedures and how the fact that SBJ likes neither Pink Floyd nor Led Zeppelin is one more thing that makes him odd.

Moving Day

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In addition to my friend and colleague Tom, I also have a friend and colleague, Sweet Baby Jesus. That's not the name his parents gave him; that's the name he gave himself. It rather fits. Sometimes we call him SBJ, and sometimes we call him Dr. Sweet Baby Jesus, because he has a PhD in one of those silly, useless areas of the humanities.

Sweet Baby Jesus just moved out of a horrid apartment complex full of old ladies who hang wreaths of dried flowers on their doors, changing the wreath to match the season. He never fit in because his door remained unadorned, no matter what the time of year. But now he's living in a cool semi-detached house across from a park.

SBJ does not have a lot of stuff--people who name themselves after wandering mendicant faith healers often don't--but he still has more stuff than he could move on his own. So he asked me, Tom, a new colleague ML, and her husband HC, to help him load up a truck and shlep everything across town. He said that if we did, he would reward us with pizza and beer, and as an added treat, we could watch him eat an entire large pizza on his own.

It took only an hour to get everything in the truck from the old place and out of the truck at the new place.

The Ultimate MF

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Yesterday on campus I told my colleague Tom that one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to share with the world my recent insight that the Mormon god is the ultimate motherf***er: he's up there in the celestial kingdom, having sex with all those mothers in heaven.

Tom wanted some elaboration. I said, "According to Mormon doctrine, we are supposedly all the literal spiritual offspring of a father and mother in heaven. Our spirits were conceived by the sexual intercourse of God with one of his wives--according to Joseph Smith, he might have plenty--that's the whole polygamy thing."


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