I’ve been thinking a LOT about how I perform gender at work of late. This is in part because of the aforementioned interaction with this term’s sexist student. But it’s also because as a “femme” straight woman in Women’s and Gender Studies, I sense, occasionally, that I don’t look like a feminist “should.” And this results in my being spoken to dismissively.
To be clear, my colleagues don’t speak to me this way. Sometimes I get this kind of treatment at academic conferences. And sometimes it happens in meetings outside of my home department.
More recently, a visiting scholar who is a well-known queer theorist spoke to me – or rather, over me – in that familiar dismissive tone. She didn’t like my response to one of her questions – and, frankly, I might word it differently if I had a do-over. But it wasn’t a stupid or naively liberalist point. And it wasn’t a response that should have resulted in her dismissing me as a “particular kind of North American liberal feminist.” As she spoke this phrase, she looked me up and down in a way that suggested that I LOOKED like THAT kind of (politically irrelant) person to her.
As noted above, this isn’t the first time I’ve been misinterpreted in this way. I’m left with the sense that if I continue to dress and look the way I do, I’ll have to fight harder to be taken seriously. So, do I change, or do I fight?
To date, I’ve chosen to fight harder. Because this feminist LOVES colouring her hair, playing with fashion, and accessorizing. Because when I’ve tried other costumes and self-representations, they’ve felt less authentic somehow. And I know we’re all performing gender in one way or another. However, this performance, the one I do now, is the one that – despite all the styling – is less work for me.
But maybe I should work harder. I’m not so naive as to believe that my relatively normative gender performance is natural. So maybe it’s appropriate to work against type, to consent less – and in less visible ways – to my own subordination (through high heels, for example) and/or objectification (through make-up & hair dye, for example) in culture. And maybe I should be modelling alternative gender performance/s for my students.
Or maybe, just maybe, my current performance does this already. I’m already here in the university, after all. And the authority of the institution as well as the quality of my work should reinforce my politics, shouldn’t it? Regardless of whether or not I’m objectified in the
classroom, the power of the institution I represent there demands that students listen when the object speaks. Furthermore, do my long hair, make-up, and high heels really undercut the positive endorsement by my peers of the research I’ve done and continue to pursue?
I’d love to hear what you think, internet. Because I’m not sure where I stand anymore.
Finally, here are two femme-y outfits I’ve worn this week. It’s finally spring, and it’s end-of-term, so I’ve been trying to use colour to keep students interested.
For the record: there’s no big white spot on this purple top. That’s a (creepy) trick of the light. The brown plaid pants are a favourite, but this may have been their last outing as they’re threadbare in too many areas now. But can you see the pinkish-red stripe among the black and tan? I love it.
top: Ralph Lauren
necklace: Hudson’s Bay Co. (the purple circles are wooden – I had a close-up, but it was a horrible picture, so I’m not sharing it)
cami: Smart Set
pants: Della Spiga (via Winner’s)
This next ensemble is almost exclusively about the skirt because I LOVE it. I don’t know that the white blouse is the most exciting pairing, but it was worth a try. In the past, I’ve worn this skirt with a salmon ruffle-neck blouse, a denim blazer, bare legs, and 4-inch nude open-toe slingbacks. It’s too cold for bare legs right now, and the extra colour seemed like way too much work (plus, the white blouse was already ironed – & that detail counts for a LOT at 7am).
p.s. ‘Any suggestions for other combinations with this skirt? I’m having problems coming up with ideas and could use some help!
(brown) shoes: Clarks (I know they require a close-up – but I didn’t take one, yet. And I’m too lazy to get out of bed to do it. I’ll try to do it tomorrow.)