This morning, while taking a break from grading the mountain of papers sitting in front of me, I was reading a blog that belongs to a friend of mine at Nowhere U. Said friend said that she has recently realized that maybe she dresses too provocatively and despite her attempts to un-hooch-ify her wardrobe, she realized that she inadvertently fell of the modesty wagon when she noticed people looking at her in the hallways. Most of the "neckline-gawkers" were women in the department, and when she finally asked one if the shirt was too low-cut, the gawker couldn't tell her no.
Let me back it up a minute and say that among most grad students and many professors in our department the dress code seems to be just (barely) on the better side of casual. Said friend, however, always always looks professional and...well...fabulous. The girl has the wardrobe that I usually imagine myself having if I put enough effort into getting dressed in the morning to think about a wardrobe.
But the neckline-gawkers (her words, not mine) irritate me to no end. It reminds me of the first time I went back to the building when I was "showing." It was just after the New Year and I hadn't seen anyone in almost a month. Every single person I met in the hall seemed absolutely shocked at my burgeoning bump. Only one said congratulations. Most simply said hello or attempted to carry on a short conversation while ignoring it, their eyes unconsciously lolling on my protruding belly. It must be what well-endowed women go through at bars. The oogling, the judgment. I realized then that bodies do matter--they change people's perceptions of who you are and what you are capable of. There are more than a few people in the department who seem different to me now. More than a few people who only say a brief hello instead of updating me on the latest gossip about their progress or advisers.
I knew all of this coming in. We planned Little Man so that we could have kids while the old clock is still young and far before I had to sit in an interview in front of judging eyes. I've heard stories about a brilliant up-and-coming young scholar with two books out who still couldn't get a job for almost 4 years. Why? Because she was gorgeous and knew it. She wore short skirts with funky boots and vibrant lipstick. Even dressed in a black suit, she couldn't hide that she was pretty. No one, for a long time, took her seriously. Even with two books out of grad school.
So my friend's experience walking down the hall in our building makes me angry. We women are our own worst enemies. We judge and pick and belittle--and usually we use the most superficial aspects we can get our claws into. We forget that feminism doesn't mean we change the list of requirements a "real" woman must meet to be a legitimate person. We forget that feminism was supposed to give us that choice.
It makes me angry because I see this tendency in my students, colleagues, and friends all the time. People will act surprised and tell me how lucky I am that J does the dishes without being asked or "helps" with the baby so much. They're his dishes. It's his baby. It's not helping. My students still tell me that they couldn't vote for a woman for president because "women are too emotional," as though we still teach biology out of 19th century textbooks. Newspapers have a field day when Hillary shows the tiniest amount of cleavage. As though that counts as news when hundreds die each day in a war we created. But there's smaller things--I want a job, so I delay a second baby past the job market. No one, I know instinctively, will hire a brand new PhD who is due in 5 months. They may not even hire the mother of a 3 year old. I worry about not being taken seriously when people discover that I'm a mother as well.
It's frustrating. In the 21st century it's still frustrating, and the neckline-gawkers are just one symptom of the whole problem.
So what if I have a child or want another? So what if I consider myself a wife rather than a partner? So what if I make dinner--he cleans the dishes. Fair is fair in my house, and I can only hope to raise a son who understands that women
bake pies from scratch or
wear lipstick and heels or
want to have babies or
want to not have babies
and she might
want to be married to the right partner--whoever that is or
want to be single forever and
listen to the Indigo Girls or
listen to Metallica
and she might
not shave a hair on her body or
want laser hair removal the instant she can afford it and
think that her fight is over or
think that there's no fight left or
think that it's only begun
and she might
be any number of things
including beautiful or fabulous or frumpy or ugly
and that doesn't change what she should be capable of doing.
Damn. People who work in departments where feminist theory and queer theory and body theory are all legitimate courses of study should know better than to judge a collegue by the way she chooses to show or hide her rack. Enviable as it might be.