FEMMEbruary Finale

Well, friends and esteemed readers, I made it through 28 days of feminine presentation. I am now better at wearing heels and lipstick, about the same as before on doing my hair, and not even slightly competent at putting on false eyelashes.

Five seconds before everything went to hell:



Because mine was mostly a performance of femininity, putting on the trappings of outer femininity, it was interesting to see how people reacted to me, differently or not differently, based solely on presentation.

Well, that’s not quite true–when you put on any good costume, you’ll find yourself getting into the skin of the character to some degree. I noticed, for example, that my movements were a bit more dainty than usual when I had painted nails, heels, and a bunch of makeup or effort-intensive hair that I didn’t want to mess up. But other than that, I’ve felt like the same me this whole time, so I think I can safely postulate that most reactions will have come from appearance.

I want to stress that any analysis is subjective, too–while I was focusing so much on appearance, I naturally will have assumed that reactions to me were a part of that appearance and perhaps overly discount that they weren’t due to other factors.

Anyway, what I noticed most was how excited people were for me to do this. I have to admit, it made me a little bit uncomfortable. Again, maybe I’m projecting, but it felt like more people were complimenting me, and more enthusiastically, than when I wasn’t wearing makeup at all for a month. I wondered quite a bit about how much of that was due to the natural tendency of friends to be effusively complimentary when you look put-together (I for one think most people look good in suits, so I would definitely comment if a friend were “suiting up” all the time) and how much of it was internalized reaction to my adhering more closely to what our culture tell us a woman “should look like.” If you, reading, know that you’re someone who was excited about this challenge, I have one for you–just to spend five minutes thinking about why it was that you were excited about it. Maybe it has nothing to do with expectations of how women will look, but I think it is a worthwhile question to ask yourself.

I did not get asked out more often, which was fine with me.

Something that surprised me was that I felt more professional at work. I think it has more to do with not being casual than with looking more specifically feminine, but I definitely noticed that, because I wasn’t too comfortable or too lazily dressed, I felt and acted more like someone who was at a job trying to accomplish things. That was a nice perk.

I have a suspicion that I got away with being the “sweet innocent girl” to a greater degree because of the costume. You know the role: “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m holding up the line for the bus, I’m just so frazzled and I don’t really know what I’m doing!” People in service positions were noticeably friendly and I think that any intimidatory effect I might otherwise have (as an Amazon woman with, perhaps, Bitchy Resting Face) was softened by the feminine appearance, lipstick especially.

At one point a woman I didn’t know shouted, “Girl, how tall ARE you?” after me, and when I told her, she said, “Well, you look GOOD.” That happens…less often when I’m not in heels.

That was most of what I noticed.

Demographic breakdown: One compliment from a middle-class woman of color; many from young white women; several from young white men; several from older, middle-class white adults, both men and women.


I am extremely privileged in that I am able to choose to do “challenges” that alter my appearance in one way or the other. I am privileged to be able to write about these challenges and about feminism. I’d like to mention just a few groups of people for whom a whimsical decision to change their presentation would be more difficult, even more dangerous:

-Trans women and men

Of all groups, trans women are most likely to face discrimination and even violence because of their presentation. Trans men are not far behind. Even the Human Rights Campaign only recently included trans people in their efforts for civil rights. Being out and presenting as the gender they identify with is a daily act of courage, and one I never intend to trivialize.

-Women of color

Women of color have to deal with intersectional discrimination, intertwining expectations based off societal racism as well as sexism. A quick Google search of “black women femininity,” which I did in order to see if there were any blogs I could link to (there are, you should go check them out) yields:


The first two on the left-hand side really get to me. I’m going to spend some time reading up on expectations of femininity in women of color this afternoon; I encourage you to do the same.

-Gay men

The number of gay men I know who dress one way when they’re at home, among friends, and another when they are out renting an apartment or doing errands or going to their jobs is pretty considerable. Even with anti-discrimination laws on the books, gay men often fear for their jobs, their opportunities, even their lives if they aren’t presenting as fully masculine.

-Gay women

If gay women present as feminine, people often assume they’re straight or that they’re just “confused” or “experimenting” because they don’t adhere to cultural expectations of lesbians (although adult movies would beg to differ). If they present as more masculine, they face discrimination, insults, and sexual harrassment, even sexual assault. Actually, all of the groups of people above are at an increased risk for sexual assault.

When I talk about feminism or decide to wear or not wear makeup or dresses or high heels, I do it with little change in my risk level. I’m not going to be fired or insulted for wearing or not wearing makeup. Maybe the risk of sexual harrassment goes up a little bit if I’m wearing skirts and pumps. Overall, though, I can afford to experiment with my appearance without consequences. I’m very privileged to be able to do so.

Non-Visible Femininity

I promised I’d be thinking about non-visible markers of femininity this week, and I have been. Here’s what comes to mind: softness, gentleness, nurturing, flexibility, communication. I think these are all good things. I also think not all women are soft, gentle, nurturing, flexible, and communicative, and that not all men are hard, rough, un-nurturing, rigid, and uncommunicative. Honestly, I think that if you took a poll of which qualities are more “masculine” and which are more “feminine,” it would be important for any happy, whole human being to contain a balance of qualities from both categories.

So that’s what I got out of this FEMMEbruary. For March, I’m toying with the idea of interviewing male friends about their thoughts on masculinity–not trying to dress or behave in a “masculine” manner, because I think that would turn into a burlesque fairly quickly, but talking to people who have to navigate masculinity on the regular and seeing what they think.

What new ideas are you trying out these days?

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FEMMEbruary Progress Update

One week to go in the FEMMEbruary challenge! I promise, dear readers, that I continue to wear skirts and heels and lipstick, and moreover that I continue to think about what it means to be “feminine.”

Here is some photo proof of my continued fidelity to this goal:

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My “Italian girl driving a Vespa” look.

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Experimenting with what felt like a much better French Twist than it turned out to be.

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The elusive Twist Braid.

I actually gave myself a bad headache with too much screen time on Saturday, between watching “House of Cards” and scouring Pinterest for hairstyle ideas. I tried out several, with only middling results. Part of the problem is that in my last haircut I asked for long layers; nice for adding volume and shape when you wear your hair down, but when you’re trying to do a braid or anything that requires you to make all of your hair into one unit, the shorter bits tend to get pesky and to peek out wherever they can. Ah well. That’s what bobby pins are for.

I’ve also been continuing to think about the trappings of femininity, as my feet get accustomed to heels and my lipstick application becomes more deft.

Here’s a quotation by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, upon seeing a cousin wearing bloomers instead of a cumbersome series of skirts and petticoats. I think the woman in the bloomers still had on a corset or at least a girdle of some sort.

“To see my cousin with a lamp in one hand and a baby in the other, walk upstairs, with ease and grace while, with flowing robes, I pulled myself up with difficulty, lamp and baby out of the question, readily convinced me that there was sore need of a reform in women’s dress and I promptly donned a similar costume.”

(Source: A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn, p.119)

This quotation gets at the heart of my hang-up with the appearance that we deem “feminine.” I am all for feeling graceful or attractive or professional by dressing up. I’m all for people being able to explore different looks for themselves; to experiment with hair and makeup, to try different styles, to see themselves in a new way, to gain confidence. But let’s not ignore the fact that all of this comes from a place of privilege. The people who can obey the dictates of feminine dress and comportment today without issue are able to do so because:

-They don’t need to be able to run fast or often (or even be on their feet for too long)–implies that they live and work in neighborhoods with low crime rates/risk of violent crime and have white-collar jobs

-They can find the time that it takes to apply makeup, curl hair, slide on stockings, and adjust earrings

-They have the money to buy outfits, a variety of shoes, stockings, hair products, and endless cosmetics and accessories

-They don’t have to exert themselves to the point where a nice hairstyle or careful makeup application would be ruined

The problem is when the women who have to be quick on their feet or have to stand all day, when the single moms without the time to “put themselves together” unless they rob themselves of an hour of needed sleep, who don’t have the money for the expected products and who do need to physically exert themselves to the point where makeup or hairstyles get in the way are expected to conform to the example set by the privileged people who enjoy participating in the appearance of femininity.

This is really how I’m feeling at this stage in the game: That it can be fun to try new Pinterest hair styles, to wear skirts and heels, to try not to slobber lipstick all over everything you own, but that taking part in the performance of femininity is a skill that takes time, effort, and money, and that too often we are expected to take part in it when we would rather use that time, effort, and money elsewhere.

I mean, what’s a better argument against makeup/heels/skirts and dresses/hairstyles/wearing jewelry/what have you being innately feminine than the fact that I have to learn how to do it?

My mom is lovely. She is a plenty feminine lady, and she wore blush and mascara and dresses and heels to work. She also grew up as a tomboy, and she didn’t have many “girlie tricks” to teach me about wrapping my hair in a towel like a turban or French-braiding or anything like that when I was a kid. I don’t begrudge anyone the time I’ve spent learning how to use a bobby pin or apply eyeliner, but I’d like it recognized that I did have to invest my time into it, and I could have been spending that time learning Spanish or how to code computers. Also, the beauty industry is mildly terrifying–it took me all of one minute to drop $50 on a hair curler, one tube of lipstick, one ($3) pair of fake eyelashes, and one compact of foundation. That’s less than half of the makeup/hair equipment I put on or use each day when I’m making myself up. There’s always a new product, always a new shade of lipstick or a new applicator that keeps your lipstick fresh longer. Once you buy in, you just keep finding more ways to spend your money.

So I’m claiming solidarity with all of those who want to look inward for the definition of what is “feminine.” In my last few days, I’ll put on false eyelashes at least once, but I’m going to try to meditate on what makes women unique biologically and psychologically, and think about the value of qualities like softness and gentleness.

I don’t mean to be a hypocrite when I say that for all of my rhetoric above, I intend to occasionally still wear lipstick and skirts and heels after this month is over. I feel like I’m better at doing it now, and I do feel that putting on this costume (because let’s be clear that that is what this is) sets me up to be more focused and behave more professionally during the day. What I want to be very clear about, though, is that I do it as a conscious choice, and that I’m aware of the privilege I have in being able to adhere or not adhere at my will, and nobody else’s, to these standards.

Thanks for staying with me!


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Pins and Needles

I knew when signing on to do the FEMMEbruary challenge that I would need to at least once invest time and sacrifice comfortable sleep for some kind of curl-creation. I still haven’t 100% decided against trying to curl my hair with Coke cans at some point, but I wanted to go for one of those “just sleep on it!” curl tricks.

Last night I found myself with an hour or so before bed and decided to give it a whirl. First I tried to do this thing where you wrap all your hair around a headband and then sleep on it, but all the wrapping got my hair kind of tangled and it got all loose and anyway, I found a Pinterest pin about pin curls (how many times can I use that word) so I decided to give that a go instead.

Pin curls can give you the big round vintage-looking curls if you know what you’re doing, but I clearly don’t, so I was just going for something more than a wave. I watched a few instruction videos, failed at wrapping my hair around my fingers several times, put too much mousse in my hair, but finally:



That’s my skeptical face.

What are pin curls, you ask? Well, it’s pretty g-d simple. You twirl sections of your hair in “curl” or circle shapes around your fingers and then bobby-pin them to your head. Spray with hairspray, sleep on it, take the pins out, finger-comb or flat-brush comb and make your curls do what you want. I have in the past tried twisting the sections of hair and spinning them into little knots against my scalp, then sleeping on that, but while the “before” in that situation did make me look like a cool ’90s punk girl, the “after” was not pretty. Hence, skepticism.

Anyway, I wrapped a bandana around my head Rosie-the-Riveter-style to keep these babies from going anywhere and I said goodnight.

I hedged my bets by also applying my flat iron to each curl as I took them out this morning, for about 10 seconds each. Here’s the process unfolding:

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See them tired eyes? That’s because sleeping on lots of little wavy metal rods isn’t the most comfortable thing to do. I have a good pillow and I did get some sleep, but it wasn’t as luxurious as I would have liked before the first day back in the office.

I was a little concerned with the front sections, but as I progressed, things went okay.

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Especially considering that the 2″ barrel curling iron I bought earlier this month and I are not having a good time together, I was pretty impressed. I brushed a bit to loosen the curls up and make them look a little less Shirley Temple, and I clipped back the front section because it was still a little weird, and finally came up with this.

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A surprisingly good turnout from something that made me look like Medusa for eight hours.

Now, by the time of this writing, my hair is only sort of wavy, but I have tough-to-curl hair and I’ve felt fine about it all day. So if you have an hour before bed and half an hour in the morning to spare, plus a bunch of pins, mousse, hairspray, and a flat iron, I’d say go for it.

If you’d rather, say, read a book, I won’t blame you.

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Don’t Be A Tease

That’s pretty much the laziest pun-title I’ve ever used, but I’m not going to apologize.

So, we’re about to head into week 3 of FEMMEbruary! That means I’ve survived two weeks of red lips, lots of skirts, heels, nail polish, and generally a lot of thought about what “feminine” means to me.

Some updates: I was following the tips my female friends provided for keeping lipstick on (liner, one coat lipstick, power, second coat, blot, even a clear gloss over that) and I realized that I was still occasionally feeling like I was channeling Tim Curry in “IT.” I noticed that my second application of the day, after lunch in the bathroom at work, wasn’t bothering me as much. Here’s my thought on that: I think with lining beforehand, I was a) having a hard time getting an absolutely straight line and b) lining too much of the lip.

I have relatively full lips, and lining the bottom all the way to the very bottom of any “red” or “lip-skin” (there’s got to be a term for that) part was giving me that borderline sloppy, borderline clown look. If I instead just apply the lipstick directly and don’t stress about filling all the way down, I actually get a cleaner look (and I feel like my lips don’t get as dry and flaky because there’s less on them). So hey, that’s progress, right–learning how I like to do something!

Because I’ve been feeling more comfortable with the lipstick and heels (they hardly hurt anymore AND the ice is due to melt this weekend!), I decided to move on and try to do a little more with my hair.

I particularly wanted some fun hairstyle options for Valentine’s Day, since that seemed like an appropriate time to go all-out girly. So of course I went where any sane woman goes when looking for how to do her hair: Pinterest.

Looking at hairstyles on Pinterest is a double-edged sword. You’re probably going to find something that will work at least to some extent, but you’re definitely going to see some hairstyles you just are never going to be able to accomplish because you don’t have a lady’s maid. I did briefly consider asking my friend Lizzy to quit her job and move in as my lady’s maid in time for V Day, but I’m woefully aware that I can’t offer her healthcare at the moment and I didn’t want to ask her to make such a sacrifice. I had to find something I could do on my own.

During my last haircut, I got these nice long layers put in, so when my hair is down, it has some built-in volume, but the downside is that now when I braid it little choppy ends stick out all over the place. I knew I’d have to go in for something that was more of an updo or that involved getting curls. I looked for some time at all of the curl options, but it was right after I’d taken a shower and most of them recommended starting with dry or damp hair and then sleeping on it. I decided to try the “super easy!” trick of twisting my hair and then applying a flat-iron to get a subtle wave, and I bookmarked a sock bun as well just in case the first trick didn’t work.

Lo and behold, when I woke up on Friday and opened Pinterest I saw what I had missed before–a dozen comments saying “this does not work.” I tried it anyway. It…didn’t really work. I moved on to the sock bun, which has never worked for me before, but which, because of sheer tenacity and the fact that I watched several YouTube tutorials instead of trying to self-teach, worked out okay.

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Sure, it’s a little tilted to one side, and the cool wrappy-trick I was going for by only putting the top half of my hair into the bun and then wrapping two sections of the remaining hair around it didn’t really read, but for something that took me 5 minutes, I was happy with this.

Looking at all of the Pinterest styles and thinking about my own relationship with hair, I started thinking (shocker). See, there’s a part of the whole “getting awesome voluminous hair” thing that hits me close to home–many, many of the suggested styles involved teasing.

You might not remember this post from October 2012, but if you need a tl;dr, I have a (maybe bad) habit of searching my hair for split ends and then cutting them. Just the individual hairs. It’s a meditative act for me. I like to do it when I’m thinking or just want to zone out. I also like to do it whenever I think about it because I am fascinated with and kind of icked out by split ends.

Now, what is teasing, you ask? Teasing, or backcombing, is when you rapidly comb hair toward the crown of your head in order to split off bits of the cuticle which will then stick out in every direction and jostle against all the other hairs until your hair stands up from your scalp.

In other words, it is the process of intentionally creating split ends…at the roots of your hair. Split ends that will sit on your hair forever, or at least until those roots grow out and get cut.

I’m not exaggerating when I say it makes me feel physically nauseous to think about it.

I’m aware that this isn’t a logical reaction. I’m not “hurting” the hair in any way or depriving it of its ability to shield my head from stuff like UV rays and bird poop. The structural integrity of my hair doesn’t matter a whole lot in the grand scheme of thing. For whatever reason, though, it just makes me so uncomfortable to even think about teasing my hair.

In the spirit of FEMMEbruary, which is, after all, supposed to be a “challenge,” I wondered if I shouldn’t “conquer my fear.” After all, all these ladies on Pinterest were doing it, so it had to be “feminine,” right? I should at least give it a try, right? By yesterday afternoon, I had decided to take a big step outside of my comfort zone and to try a hairstyle at some point this month that required teasing.

Then I woke up at 6:30 in the morning realizing that I own dry shampoo and hairspray, which can essentially garner the same effect, and that damaging my hair even once wasn’t good for it.

I just Googled “Teasing hair,” “Volume without teasing,” and “Is teasing bad for hair,” and let me just say that I feel secure now in my continued femininity without backcombing for dramatic effect. Plenty of salon sites have listed teasing as one of their big “don’ts” and have provided alternatives for the effects it is supposed to achieve. I think I can remain a card-carrying feminine woman without making more split ends (split beginnings?) for myself. Thank god.

On that note, here’s a nice YouTube tutorial on how to get volume without teasing your hair, and as an added plus it shows me how better to use the giant-barrel hair curler I bought as preparation for this month.

This week it will get into the 40s, so let’s see if I feel like I can do fun hair stuff without having to squash it under a hat!


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FEMMEbruary Update: Definitions and Digging Deep

“I’m bummed that your list of things-ladies-do-to-be-ladyish is solely about looks.”

My first reaction to my friend Amber’s comment about this month’s experiment was defensiveness. I quickly shot back that I would accept other suggestions but that I think I already do a lot of the activities that we code as “feminine” so that focusing on things I don’t do often that are pretty visible (ex. wearing lipstick and heels) would be more of a challenge.

It’s been sitting in the back of my mind, though. I’m sure it will shock all of you to hear that I didn’t exhaustively plan this month’s challenge. In fact, other than watching some Marilyn Monroe and coming up with a catchy name, I didn’t really prepare at all. That’s why my previous post reads problematically–what am I trying to say? What is “traditional femininity” anyway? Which tradition and for which women? What has been expected over the last 50 years from women of color is different than what has been expected of upper-middle-class white women, and there are substantial differences within each sub-group across decades.

I have a definitional problem here. I think that not wanting to engage with the actual complexities of historically-prescribed female identity led me to eagerly cling to the first practical, visible suggestions. As a jumping-off point, I don’t really have a problem with that, but I think it would be questionable if I just stuck with, “Femininity! Yup, defined by heels and red lipstick, the end” for the entire 28 days.

You might have noticed that I started being uncomfortable saying “femininity” in the last entry and started using “femme” instead. My discomfort came from knowing just how hard the first term is to define; however, I don’t think I solved the problem by using “femme,” which is most often employed as a way to differentiate gay women who present as “feminine.” As a bi woman, I kiiind of sort of can get away with this, but honestly, I’m not much more comfortable claiming this term or using it with impunity for my silly self-imposed experiment.

I was thinking yesterday, as I walked through the snow in fashionable boots that bled icy water into my socks, just why I’m focusing on appearances with this experiment. The number one reason is this:

I don’t really believe in “femininity” as an inherent character trait divorced from appearance.

Maybe I should. I know female brains are structurally different than male brains, and that we have different amounts of different hormones and neurotransmitters swimming through us. I know that women are typically more in tune with communication than men, are considered more emotionally intuitive and nurturing and less confrontational. I just have such trouble distinguishing anything having to do with personality in women between their “native faculties” and socialization that I really don’t like to deem one kind of character trait or activity “feminine” and another “masculine.” I guess my good old “traditional” label could fit in here, but I feel like that really easily becomes “embracing what the kyriarchy* limited women to” and being complicit in that whole thing makes me feel gross, even though there is nothing wrong with those tasks and activities inherently.

How can I better drive at this? The idea behind this entire month’s challenge is for me to embrace the parts of being a woman that I have shied away from because for ages I thought that being a feminist or being equal meant behaving “like a man.” (Which again, is super difficult to define if you sit down and think about it, and is terribly artificial in many ways.) When it comes to the things that I do, I’m already doing pretty well at that, because I do the things that I want to do, that I like doing, that I’m interested in. I’m interested in learning to code websites, so I’m doing that. I’m also interested in tailoring clothing, so sometimes I do that.

When it comes to behavior, essentially I think that I am already being feminine because I am a woman and by default, me doing the things I like to do is me being feminine.

I’m not interested in softening my voice or deflecting to other people in order to save their face because that was, in 1950s America, “feminine.” I’m not interested in cleaning more than I already clean just because a preoccupation with a spotless home is supposed to be “feminine.” I’m not preoccupied with it, and I have better things to do with my time, and once again, I am a woman, ergo me sitting on my couch writing this blog entry instead is also “feminine.”

Men today go crazy baking, crocheting, gardening, cooking, cleaning, and caring for kids. The only reason that 60 years ago they weren’t doing those things to the same degree is that they weren’t supposed to. Honestly, a lot of it goes back to WWII and the media campaign to convince women to spend their time, energy, and money on the home once the men came back from war and all the jobs women had taken on fired them. If I’m exploring femininity, I want to explore it to whatever degree that it is more timeless than that.

But then again, here I waffle, because what does red lipstick and heels and a skirt immediately make me think of? The 1940s. At least today, though, women still often wear lipstick, skirts, and heels…on their way to their C-Suite jobs.

So that’s the real reason that I chose outer markers of “femininity” for my experiment. I don’t so much believe in inherent femininity other than the fact that women can bear children and have more estrogen and men have more testosterone and slightly different body and brain structures. I think to a large degree, femininity and masculinity are both performances, and I’m socially interested in whether or not my change in presentation has an effect on how I am treated.

And, okay, fine, I also wanted an excuse to force myself to learn how to wear lipstick without looking like a deranged clown.

*whassup Alex and Fran

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Happy FEMMEbruary!

Hi everyone,

I was missing the blog and even more, missing my month-long challenges. So I was watching “Some Like It Hot” this week and thinking, “I did that month without makeup, but I’ve never done a full month of really trying to be as feminine (as traditionally defined in the 20th and 21st century as a white middle-class woman) as possible, at least appearance-wise.”

When I was a kid, I thought that being feminist was pretty similar to being a tomboy–that it meant that I would get to be “tough” and do the “cool” things that guys did. For a long time I resisted things I thought of as “too feminine.” Even recently, I took knee-jerk offense when my mom said to me that she thought I was plenty feminine.

Feminism is not and should not be a rejection of what has traditionally been considered girly, to the extent what we as women are doing is conscious, enjoyable, and done for ourselves rather than solely for the approval of others. What I want to focus on this month is embracing what we define as feminine. Nurturing, taking care of others, being in touch with your emotions, enjoying softness and feeling lovely are in themselves very positive things. By presenting as feminine in appearance and thinking about what it means to be feminine beyond appearance, I hope to come to appreciate more of what I rebelled against as a little girl, but consciously, not because I am “supposed” to behave in or look a certain way because of my chromosomes.

This idea came to me on January 29th, and so FEMMEbruary was born.

The rules are:

1. No going out without any makeup

2. Whenever possible, at least red lipstick

3. Whenever possible, heels*

4. First clothing resort is skirts and dresses (if you’re all out, fitted jeans and a cute top work, but bear the femme thing in mind)

5. No two days with the same hair style

6. Conscious use of jewelry

7. Copious use of lotion and daily use of perfume

8. Weekly nail polish application

We’re on Day 2, and I already have so much to share.

photo (2)

Day 1.

I got up a few minutes earlier than usual and made sure to put on a skirt and a necklace. I thought my hair looked all right down but added a side pin just to make sure it looked like I paid attention. I was going to a brunch with an old college professor, so at least I knew it was unlikely that anyone would be completely weirded out by my uncharacteristic dressiness.

I chose to put on high-heeled leather boots.

Big mistake. It was snowing, and had snowed about four inches the night before. I essentially limped to the train station and prayed that I wouldn’t fall and that the snow wouldn’t bleed through the boots too much. Not-falling was much more difficult than I’d anticipated. I made up for it by making my friend Alex drive me everywhere for the rest of the day.

About five minutes into walking in heels outside in the snow, I knew I’d have to make some changes to the expectations. See the asterisk below.

My professor said I looked “gorgeous,” which was very sweet, although I have a sneaking suspicion she would have said that no matter how dolled up I’d been. She also gave me and Alex theatre tickets, and I was already dressed up enough to fit in with the theatre-goers, so I was able to hang out all day and go straight to Lookingglass in the evening without feeling self-conscious. Not too shabby.

Between my practical down jacket, fleece-lined tights, and thick turtleneck, I wasn’t too cold. All in all, a fairly successful day.

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Day 2.

I asked a bunch of women for advice on what I could do for this experiment, and one of my favorite comments was that wearing heels and red lipstick would be pretty simple but would probably have a real impact on the attention I was getting. The social science side is what interests me most about the ways in which we present ourselves (plus I keep trying to get into lipstick but wimping out) so I’ve decided to do that.

Of course, I realized that I didn’t have a not-Rocky-Horror shade red lipstick, so today I went to Walgreens to pick up some beauty supplies. I Googled for articles about colors and brands available at drugstores that women tend to like and picked up some Maybelline lipstick which I am now wearing (above). I also got false eyelashes–another thing I am very bad at wearing–some foundation powder, and a large-barrel curling iron. I’ve had a skinny, ringlet-style curling iron since middle school, but it’s not so good for a gentle, large wave, and I wanted to try that style, plus the curling iron was on sale.

Those four items cost me about $50. And I got the $1 false eyelashes. And the curling iron was $15.

So here’s one of my biggest beefs about the cosmetic market. It’s expensive.

I’m not going to argue that guys don’t feel pressure take care of their appearances and use cosmetic products. They do, of course. Men buy razors, beard trimmers, aftershave, shaving lotion, hair gel, body spray, even occasionally concealer or foundation, mostly for blemishes.

The issue is that women buy all that (let’s substitute lotion for aftershave and tweezers for beard trimmers), and then have an entire industry of products to buy on top of that.

Want to look put-together? Put on some mascara! It goes bad in six months though, so make sure you keep buying more. Don’t forget eyeliner in black, brown, white, and maybe a few jewel-tones for parties. A basic brown or pink eyeshadow is nice, but you need a white highlighter for the brow bone and you really should get a spectrum of colors so you don’t get too boring. You need color in your cheeks, so be sure to pick up some blush and/or bronzer. And then if you want your lipstick to stay on, you’ll need lip liner that’s about the same shade as the lipstick you plan to use, lipstick, and then probably a gloss to go over that. Again, you want several different colors for different “looks” you’re going for. Make sure to pick up some hairspray, pomade, mousse, hair thickener, a hairdryer, a straightener, and a curling iron or two as well.

There’s nothing wrong with spending your money on cosmetics. I will be the first to say that putting on different kinds of makeup is fun. It’s fun to learn new styles and to feel glamorous because you nailed a cat’s-eye liner for the first time. It’s just that there can be an expectation that women will buy into this industry in order to simply look “put-together,” and I think a lot of us have other things that would make us happier to spend our money on.

Anyway, a few more observations from 36 hours of lipstick, heels, and the whole nine yards:

-I can’t not get lipstick on everything I eat or drink. Maybe some people can but I cannot. I’ve tried the “lick the inside and outside of the glass” trick and putting gloss on top of my lip color. It only sort of works.

-Once your lipstick starts to come off on your glasses and such, you really need to be vigilant about reapplying or at least have some nice gloss around. By the middle of yesterday my lips were pretty dry, which wasn’t super cute with the lipstick.

-I was weirdly proud of my feet not hurting more by the end of the day, which is sort of messed-up when you remember that the reason they don’t hurt is that they’re getting used to being held in an unnatural position that may cause permanent damage.

-That hairpin thing did not stay in or up the whole day. Listen, it’s winter in Chicago. I have to put on and take off a lot of hats. I’m not sure that pin stood a chance.

-I grew up thinking I have very fine hair, but when I had my curling iron on the “fine hair” setting, nothing happened. I had to turn it up and hold each curl for 60 seconds to get any results. It makes me nervous about burning my hair. Which is literally what I am doing when I hold it next to a hot iron for a minute-plus.

-For all that you can tell I have a bias here, I really do like this new lipstick, especially paired with dark red nail polish

-I had a hard time figuring out the right “femme” outfit for the Super Bowl. I settled on “leggings-as-pants” and an off-the shoulder baggy sweatshirt for an ’80s look, plus curled hair and makeup. My only real concern is that I sort of wish I had a not-off-the-shoulder sweatshirt. My delicate shoulders are a little chilly.

Anywhoo, it’s already been an interesting two days. Someone suggested I look at fashion through the decades, and to the extent that I can do that without spending any more money (I refuse to spend over $50 for a monthly experiment), I’ll try to do so. I haven’t been in situations that would really garner attention yet, though I did feel like more people looked at me on the train than usual yesterday. Let’s sally forth to find what of the feminine is worth me embracing, and what I just can’t reconcile myself to!

Love and kisses,


*Having had some TOUGH EXPERIENCES with this on my first day, I am allowing for snow boots but will be bringing heels to change into whenever possible. Flats when my feet are screaming for help.


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2013: A (Personal) Space Odyssey


Now, even though it *is* a Tuesday, this is not to say that the hiatus is over. I did mention that I would sporadically update, and since we all arbitrarily choose December 31st as our time to reflect on the past 365 days, I thought I’d update on The Year Of No Asking Out.

I made it, you guys! I didn’t ask anyone out for one year. Okay, so at one point I did ask a mutual friend about a person (as in, whether or not that person were seeing anyone) and that friend decided to put together a group hangout so I could get to know said person, but I didn’t ask for any of that to happen and so I count my perfect record.

So what did not asking anyone out mean for me this year?

Well, I didn’t really date this year, with that one exception. I got asked out two or three times, not counting the Polish man who asked for my number at the Jefferson Park Blue Line as I tried to go home for Christmas. But I wouldn’t say that my not-really-dating had anything to do with my not being the one to make the first move. The fact is, I had other stuff going on this year. A world-premiere musical to put on. A family reunion. A torrid love affair with Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider. I learned that it can be fun to have crushes and not try to force anything to come from them. I rediscovered how much I love having a space that is entirely mine and a schedule that I control.

When it comes down to it, 2013 was about falling in love with the life I have at this moment, and in that it was a huge success. I am incredibly, ridiculously, fabulously lucky, and I’m aware of it every single day. It hasn’t all been easy, and I’ve had to make some major changes, but it’s all been for the good.

Thank you to everyone reading, even those couple of random people I don’t know, for your support. There’s a lot to read out there on the Internet, and yet for some inexplicable reason you chose to waste at least two minutes of your life reading this. I really do appreciate it. I hope you all have something to grasp on to for the new year–either a nice memory from 2013 or the hope of something better to come soon.

Enjoy the next year, and if you don’t want to commit to a year, enjoy the next 54 days, because after that, it might be Ragnarok.

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Hello there!

I’ve been thinking, recently, about how best to ensure my own creative output. I produce the most work (which eventually becomes the best work) when I have a little breathing room and a little structure. That’s why I originally scheduled these blog updates for Tuesdays and Thursdays–it’s enough of a schedule to keep me motivated, enough free time in between to allow for some time to think.

I began this blog as a reason to write something, anything, twice a week. At first I thought I was going to tell true stories from my life in a funny way, but the blog has turned into a place where I can unspool my thoughts before winding them up neatly. That kind of reaction to real-life events has been invaluable for me. It’s helped me clarify my own feelings about a whole lot of things and has made clear for me how much I care about justice and equality. I’ll go as far as to say that it’s made me an activist.

However, it’s time for me to get back to fiction. I have the rhythms of a typical blog post down, and now I want to work on short stories, plays, songs, maybe even a third attempt at a novel. Unfortunately, the way I live my life, there isn’t enough schedule and breathing room for me to do that and to also update this blog twice a week with rants about feminism.

So for now, I’m taking a hiatus. What that means isn’t that the blog is going dark–not necessarily. I’m just taking time off from the weekly schedule that I’ve struggled to hit the last couple of weeks. I may update intermittently and might even post some of my fiction (reminder, everything on here is Copyright Laura Stratford 2013 and I reserve all rights to it), but I’m just going to take some time off from guarantees.

As a little holiday gift, in case I don’t post again til after the holidays, I’ve got a little–very little–present for you. I’ll post the story below the cut.

Happy Everything, folks.


Short Story:

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Not Crazy, Just a Little Unhappy

Dear Blog Readers,

It’s time to talk about labeling people as “crazy” or “irrational” for having emotions again.

What brought this up? A couple of things. First, I was watching one of Anita Sarkeesian’s excellent Tropes vs. Women videos about the Damsel in Distress trope in video games. That got me thinking. Then I read this piece in HuffPo, which retreads some ground I’ve read before, but which sparked my thinking more.

In the video, Sarkeesian shows some narrative clips from games that have the “Ms. Male Character” trope–like Ms. Pacman, women are included in the game but a) have some kind of accessory added to make sure we *know* they’re female (as in, default is a dude, default plus pink bow is a lady) and b) their femininity is their personality–at least, the highly stereotyped performance of femininity is their personality.

One particularly egregious example was a game in which, for once, Princess Peach gets to save Mario and Luigi. She even gets super powers! Except–wait–her “super powers” are actually just consequences of her extreme mood swings. So she can wash away obstacles with tears, cause destruction with her anger, and so on. You could go so far to say that her powers were the powers of PMS* (which, by the way, is a whole other blog post).

The idea was that any real force these female characters had were the result of extreme and irrational emotionality.

Maybe it was seeing the clips, but this really got me thinking about my childhood. I tried so hard to define myself against these characteristics–the shallow, unthinking, unreasonably clingy and extremely temperamental “girly girls” in shows from Pokemon to oh-God-what’s-another-example-just insert-yours-here. I fell in love with tomboy characters because they weren’t like that. They didn’t get all mushy or weepy around boys, they went out and did the things the boys liked to do and beat them at their own games. They didn’t scream and run and tell when things didn’t go their way; they dealt with problems themselves. I wanted to be strong and self-reliant like that.

What I didn’t realize is that it’s a false dichotomy. There were never only two ways to be a girl, “girly” (implying overly emotional which would lead to the designation of “crazy”) and “tomboy” (implying cool and strong). I never had to feel ashamed that in first grade I only wore dresses when in fourth I never willingly put on a skirt. I really didn’t need to try to train myself not to have feelings about boys or about something hurtful someone had said or done. Feelings aren’t weakness; femininity isn’t insanity; holding things in isn’t the answer to all emotional problems.

This struck me like a miniature bomb today. I had no idea about all of this as a kid. Honestly. I was a feminist from out the gate and I still bought into this false dichotomy because I thought those were the options. Or, if we were being generous, there was “pretty, kind, generous, modest, perfect” (the princess model of femininity) versus “real, hopefully-pretty-despite-tomboyishness, sometimes loud or brash, but smart, creative, and again, cool” (the tomboy model again). I knew I wasn’t the first type so I figured I’d better be the second.

This is the stuff that leads to adults calling each other crazy for getting attached to each other, for having expectations about a relationship that don’t align with the other person’s (especially when there’s been no communication, which is often the fault of both sides), for asking for people to do things differently, or even just for bringing up that their feelings are hurt about something even if it’s small. Denial of our own and others’ right to have emotions means that we get really uncomfortable when we or other people demonstrate the emotions that, guess what, it’s pretty hard to get rid of.

I may have mentioned that I have never shouted at a significant other–that I’ve barely ever fought with one. My breakups have all been conducted in soft tones and although sometimes with tears, never with outbursts from either side. I’ve never flown off the handle, screamed accusations, thrown things, anything like that. Is it because I’m a model of restraint? Well, partly I’m not really the throwing type. Mostly, though, no matter how much it hurt, I didn’t want to give the other person fodder to think I was crazy. Maybe I wanted to break down but only let a tear or two escape. Maybe I wanted to slam the door but instead said that I understood. And maybe, in the time before the breakup, I tried to hide the depths of how I felt about this person or that person so as not to “scare them off” and ended up more hurt because the realization that we wanted different things came once I was further down the rabbit hole.

I’m tired of it. I’m tired of apologizing for sometimes getting really frustrated when someone takes the conference room I booked at work (a thing that happened today) or getting really sad because of a passage in a book. It is an amazing fact of human beings, and this human being in particular, that we can keep our lives going while having all different kinds of feelings. A sad afternoon at work doesn’t signify weakness–in fact, maybe I’ll get more done on that afternoon than on one in which I feel super energized and joyful (and distractable). The way I feel is not always going to be convenient for other people, but it’s my right to feel the way I feel, and I refuse to be ashamed of it.

Oh, and also? I never need to be told that I’m “being emotional,” thanks. I can figure that out on my own, and I can tell when you’re using that as a way of not engaging with the actual argument I’m making.




*Someday I’ll write about the ridiculous idea that women become uncontrollable monsters once a month, like werewolves in high heels

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Yesterday I was at my family home in Massachusetts, and so instead of getting my headlines from the internet, I got them from the Boston Globe. Above the fold, there were stories about the recent mayoral election, a feel-good piece with a nice picture of a young girl with cancer kissing a sea lion at the Aquarium. Below the fold, in the left-hand corner: “10,000 Dead in Philippines, Number Rising.”

I went to church with my parents and the new minister talked about Veteran’s Day. His children’s message was about the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-African-American regiment and a coalition of free black men who volunteered to fight in the Civil War despite the US Army’s not recognizing them as soldiers until the Emancipation Proclamation was passed, and not compensating them fairly until they announced that none of them would accept a wage until they were all paid the same as white men.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and my gratitude and wishes for safety go out to everyone who is currently serving in the armed forces or who has ever served. It’s got me thinking, though. I’m thinking about how, a hundred and fifty years ago, people living in this country were not considered enough of a part of this country to be allowed to officially fight for a cause they believed in. I’m thinking about how, in the age of globalization, when we know very well that people on the other side of the world are human beings just like us, trying to live a decent life and to provide the same for their families, we still manage to break things down into “us” and “them.” What else, at its root, is nation-building?

I understand that it is difficult to govern large populations, and that we are not yet anywhere near being able to sustain one global civilization, but sometimes I’m really struck by how myopic individual governments–not to mention the media–can be. It makes me wonder if no one else remembers that “national boundaries” are imaginary lines in the sand, drawn where they are through a combination of military force and compromise, and that real live human beings live beyond them just like they do within them.

Can you imagine what attention and help we would be demanding from the world if ten thousand people had just died in a natural disaster? For some context, Hurricane Katrina killed 1,833. Almost 3,000 died on 9/11.

I’m reminded again of the movie “The Impossible,” whose subtext seemed to be that true devastation was something that happens to white people who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I understand the appeal of the narrative–it’s pure horror story, the idyllic vacation gone terribly wrong, and a way to get self-obsessed Westerners into the head-space of someone experiencing the tsunami without asking them to do something tricky like identify with someone from South-East Asia–but I was, and I still am, disappointed that the first major motion picture about such a disaster had to be the one from an outsider’s perspective for us to get invested.

What does all of this have to do with Veteran’s Day? I want to believe that the wars that our veterans have fought in have, in the final tally, brought the world closer to the understanding that despite our differences in culture, in religious belief, in ideology, we are all human beings, worthy of respect and of opportunity and deserving of recognition for our suffering and our strength. I want to think that it wouldn’t have to take an Independence-Day type alien attack scenario–the imposition of a bigger, badder “other”–to see unity and understanding between people. I just want to see that information about vitally important world events gets recognition, and isn’t relegated to the margins.

I’m still sorting out the ways in which this all ties together in my mind, but I know the link is there. In the meantime, my heart is with the people suffering in the Philippines, who may not be from my nation, but who are all the same part of my family.

Here’s a link to the Red Cross for anyone looking to donate to disaster relief in the Philippines: Red Cross.

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