Monday, March 31, 2008

What's the deal with femininity?

Twisty, who has resumed regular blogging of late, puts a new (to my brain) spin on the matter of femininity. Key excerpts:

The greater the sex-based dimorphism in commercial products, the easier it is to rationalize sex-based social discrimination. For it is upon the supposed enormous differences between men and women that our culture bases its wide approval of the concept that women’s essence justifies our ghettoization in the sex caste.

Picture disposable razors, molded from manly black or blue plastic or from feminine pink and lavender plastic. Clothes, wristwatches, rubber flipflops, deodorant, greeting cards—and now, Twisty reports, there's even a Russian vodka with an hourglass figure to its lavender bottle, wearing a Marilyn Monroe skirt. Can pastel girly beer be far behind?

Behold the neat trick. First, you make women act like simpletons, broodmares, janitors, mannequins, and sex slaves before you grant them social approval. You call this behavior “femininity” and explain that it is their essential nature, and that any deviation from the program will be punished. Then you infantilize and ridicule the ones who get it right, and vilify and abuse the ones who get it wrong (you can also vilify and abuse the ones who get it right, because, let’s be honest; the world is your oyster).

With so much riding on it, whether femininity is performed right or wrong is an issue of enormous concern to women. That’s where the Empowerful Pink Marketing Juggernaut comes it. They package femininity, changing it a bit every so often so that the old version eventually becomes obsolete, and sell it to women as insurance against getting it wrong. This pink capitalist enterprise has the dual effect of diverting women’s income back to the male-dominated megatheocorporatocracy, while simultaneously reinforcing women’s investment in the bogus feminine identity and marking (with pink, the color of female infancy) the objects tainted with girl-cooties. The woman festooned with pink accessories, therefore, may be easily identified from a distance as a friend to Dude Nation.

And the reverse is true—the woman who doesn't go in for traditionally feminine clothes, who doesn't have a high-maintenance hairstyle, who doesn't spend time and money on cosmetics, and who eschews high-heeled shoes is marked as a threat and often deemed to be in need of fixing. "With a perm, you could be really cute." "A little eyeliner would really bring your eyes out." "She needs to wax those caterpillars sprouting over her eyes." "She could stand to lose 10 pounds." "Wearing heels would visually lengthen your legs." "Man, she's ugly." "What a dog." You've probably said something like this at least once, and quite possibly been on the receiving end of this sort of judgment or "helpful" suggestion, aimed at wedging each of us into the femininity mold rather than helping us achieve our potential as humans.

Femininity, in fact, can’t even be practiced without stuff (which is one way of debunking the argument that it is an inherited sex trait). It is simply not possible for a woman without makeup and deodorant and lingerie and kitten heels and diet pills and clothes without pockets and anti-wrinkle cream that promises “glowing skin” and self-help books explaining the best ways to suck up to men and jewelry and razors and tweezers and lemon-scented cleaning products and boxes of Lean Cuisine in the freezer — all stuff that must be bought — to be fully feminine.

This is not to say that I will stop shaving my legs or getting highlights, or that I will reject any compliments about a new haircut or cute outfit. But I won't kid myself that I'm furthering the cause of feminism by playing along with femininity and reaping the benefits.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dispatches from the schoolyard

I just reserved a date for Ben's birthday party at that garish Charles E. Rodent arcade place. It'll be a joint party with one of his friends who also has an April birthday. Yes, the site is loud and horrible to behold with one's eyes, but it entails so little effort on the part of the parent, my dominant lazy gene appreciates the Rat.

The other kid's mom was telling me today about a party her kid was invited to a couple years ago. The venue was Chicago's Navy Pier, and they were going to see Spider-Man 3 and eat at McDonald's and whatnot. And...the hostess informed the invited guests that she'd be needing $55 in advance from each kid ($75 per adult if they wished to accompany their kid). Can you imagine? Planning an expensive party and billing the guests up front? I'm not sure if anyone actually went to the unfortunate boy's birthday party.

This week's school newsletter mentions a child named Treasurer. Is that not the most awesome name ever for a kindergartner? I hope Treasurer doesn't turn out to be a sloppy money manager or an embezzler. (I also hope it wasn't a typo for Treasure, because that's not nearly as funny as a six-year-old Treasurer.)

One of Ben's classmates is named Windy. His parents came to Chicago from the other side of the world and named their son after the Windy City. True story.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

That Cooter Festival

I got back yesterday from eight days in Florida. Ah, spring break! Ah, greenery! Ah, warmth! Ben played in the pool every day, and he even figured out how to swim. Yeah. Laps. The technique isn't textbook, but he gets across the pool, mostly with his face in the water, with confidence. The last time he was in a pool, over Labor Day weekend, he couldn't do this.

I thought about going to Inverness to find a "Save a fish, eat a cooter" t-shirt, because Mona had wanted one a couple years ago. But then I Googled that phrase, and found this blog post by a local bemoaning the hick reputation that the lame Cooter Festival was giving the county. (And that county needs all the help it can get—between the Badcock furniture store, Mama's Kuntry Kafe, and the U-Kill-Em self-serve pest control store, it doesn't need any more blows to its elusive sophistication.)

The week in Florida was the most relaxing vacation possible without spa treatments. My mother-in-law cooked a lot, the air and the pool had both just warmed up in time for our trip, we had wireless internet access, we slept late every day, we did laundry a couple times (that counts as relaxing because not having any clean clothes left is stressful), and Ben went in the pool twice a day. Good times. And now, it's an Easter Sunday full of laundry and getting ready for a busy week. And—sigh—there's about 5" of fresh snow on the ground from Friday's storm, only the evergreens are green, and the cold, dry air is working hard to chap my hands, smooth from a week in warmth.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This city ain't country

Chicago may be smack-dab in the middle of the Midwest, but that general heartland fondness for country music passed us right by. There are a few country music stations on the radio dial, but none of them are based in Chicago or even Cook County.

I saw a cowboy hat on the dashboard of a parked pickup truck this morning. You know what demographics sport cowboy hats in my neck of the woods? Mexicans and gay cowboys, possibly also gay Mexican cowboys. But not many of Nashville's key demographic.

This suits me just fine, as a man in a cowboy hat is not a particularly compelling image for me.

So how about you—do you live in country-music country or a country-free zone?

If a writer asked my advice on pronouns, here's what I'd tell them

Peter Seibel says everything that needs to be said about they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun in lieu of he, she, or he/she. Shorter Seibel: It was used long before the no-singular-they rule was invented, it works well, and it's not going away.

Read it, love it, refer stick-in-the-mud he proponents to it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The 2008 San Patricio Limerick Festival!

JP, who is now teaching Spanish in China, likes to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with an annual Limerick Festival. I need to get my creative hat on before I head over there. Haiku and senryu are so much easier to write than limericks with their set meter and rhyme scheme. Hmm. Must think hard.

So write some limericks and post them at JP's Fluency blog!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Apt vocabulary pupil

(This is one of those lazy, linky posts without original content. But if it's new to you...)

Nancy Friedman (who has a cool blog about words and product/company names) writes about John McGrath's interview of Ammon Shea, whose upcoming book is about reading the entire damned Oxford English Dictionary, all 21,000 or so pages.

Shea enjoyed discovering unfamiliar words that are just so perfect, that so aptly describe a concept in a single word. My favorites of Nancy's favorites of Shea's favorites:

apricity: the warmth of the sun in winter (mmm, yes, I love that sensation)

onomatomania: vexation with being unable to find the right word (grr, that's so frustrating!)

peracme: the point at which one’s prime has passed (heh—I want to find an opportunity to hurl this word at someone who's leapfrogging their peracme)

psithurism: The sound of leaves moved by the wind (see also susurration)

sialoquent: someone who spits when they speak is this (sounds like a compliment along the lines of "eloquent," only "ptui!")

velleity: a mere wish or desire for something, unaccompanied by any action of effort ("Man, I wish I had some chocolate right now." "Somebody should do something about that.")

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Home again, home again, jiggity jig

The crossword tournament was a blast. Several people asked me to sign copies of my book, which of course I loved. One person recognized me without my name tag because she'd seen me on Merv Griffin's Crosswords. And a bunch of people said they appreciated my crossword blog. The attention? I eat that up. Big time. I'm a Leo, after all.

I made my goal for the tournament (with no room to spare in the rankings). I am still sleep-deprived because I haven't been catching up on my sleep, and I only slept from 3 to 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Not that there was insomnia—it was intentional. (Why go to bed early and find yourself unable to sleep from antsy nerves when you can be socializing during those hours instead?) But lousy timing—I have an eight-hour sleep debt to make up, and we're about to lose an hour with daylight saving time kicking in this weekend.

If you want a peek at the tournament, check out the article and video at ESPN Magazine. Yes, I said ESPN. As in sports. They had a reporter and cameraman working the tournament. In the video, you'll see four-peat champion Tyler Hinman, the 23-year-old guy I go to pub quiz with on Tuesdays. And Will Shortz, and assorted other people I know. ESPN, baby! The crossword nerds have long awaited attention from ESPN—when will the tournament finals be televised? Maybe that day is coming.

Edited to add this: If you want to try your hand at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament crosswords and send them in for scoring (to find out how you would have placed at the tournament), you can order the puzzles here.