I had a disclaimer in here about candid discussion of personal appearance but I think it was too much hedging, so let’s move on.
I have been, shall we say, receiving a fair share of male attention lately.
No, we are not getting into salacious gossip about my personal life. I’m still a single Amazon, charging briskly through life at a pace she expects no one else to keep up with, except for her platonic life partners and theatre company cofounders. I mean more the random person-on-the-street kind of attention. The “Hey girl, how you do-iiiiin'” type of attention. Which is interesting, even flattering, but as Amanda Palmer says in her song “Ampersand:”
The ghetto boys are catcalling me as I pull my keys from my pocket
I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective
Has any girl in history said, “Sure, you seem so nice, let’s get it on”
Still I always shock them when I answer, “Hi, my name’s Amanda.”
Someday I might do a little social experiment, turn and introduce myself to the guy leaning out of the elderly services van* to holler at me. I’m afraid, though, that the result would be an awkward date somewhere with someone I’m just hands-down not interested in dating. Because I do like to give people a chance.
The thing that interests me (yes, that is your wait-is-this-a-feminist-rant radar beeping) is that an entire spectrum of male interest has increased dramatically as I have increasingly gendered my appearance.
Let’s take a second to look at a picture of the Laura from about a year ago:
(I wanted to use an even more butch shot but Facebook wouldn’t let me)
It was a summer of hanging out with 19-year-old boys and pretending I was one of them. And sure, I flirted a little at various Fringes, but nothing serious or even potentially promising ever appeared, not even when I was still short-haired but made up. Fast forward to this summer. Chin-length hair at an acceptably feminine bob length, foundation, blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, and pencil skirts. “Cute” is an acceptable term at this point. And a seemingly exponential increase of male attention.
Fine, I don’t have a real picture but here’s a doctored headshot in full makeup and flattering light to make a hyperbolic and unrealistic point:
Ok, ok, so it’s duh-inducingly obvious. You put on makeup, you wear cute shoes and flirty tops and skirts and you’re going to get more attention from guys than if you’re wearing ripped shorts and cut your hair boy-short. Part of this is that putting on makeup and “feminine” outfits is like broadcasting that you’re looking for male attention (we can debate this in a second). At least that it’s welcome. Sure, maybe you have a boyfriend, but the assumption is that you put in that effort for somebody, somebody who is not yourself–or not only yourself. And of course the whistles on the street are not going to be based on your ability to translate French scholars.
I understand that very short hair and traditionally tomboyish attire has been adopted by a component of the lesbian community as an identifier in public. I understand that a woman representing herself in such a way may seem to not be interested in the attentions of the opposite (or any) sex. I understand that even guys go through rituals of grooming and cleanliness in order to attract women. I understand that part of the appeal of a woman, for a man, is their very femininity–the X factor to their Y, the softness, the good smells, the sweetness.
But the part of me that’s militant about gender-blindness and looking at the person as an entity, not at their appearance, and about the (potential) falsity of gender-as-performance hits its head against the wall sometimes when I’m really thinking about this kind of thing.
Just like I resent the implication that anybody who puts care into his or her appearance will be judged as doing so for the benefit of the opposite-or-appropriate sex. We talk a big game about taking care of yourself for your own happiness, but hiding in there is often the idea of attractiveness to potential others. It’s not like I wasn’t taking care of myself when my hair was 2cm long and I was wearing sweatshirts everywhere. I wasn’t trying to impress some guy then and I’m not especially trying to impress some guy now. What I’m trying to do is make myself feel like a part of the milieu I inhabit. When in Rome with teenagers, be a Roman teenager. When at a corporate job with well-dressed ladies, do the same and feel adult.
This is getting long and perhaps incoherent. Here’s what I want to say in a couple of sentences: It disappoints me that people who perhaps don’t naturally fit into one gender-(stereo)typical category of desires and appearance have trouble being appreciated for the people they are. It disappoints me how much physical appearance (and beyond that, comportment) has to do with evoking preliminary interest from the appropriate sex. It disappoints me that this is secretly true for me as well.
Because I have to admit it: When it comes to romantic attraction, I like my ladies feminine and my gentlemen masculine. But somehow I don’t want them to expect the same from me. Which is so hypocritical that I cringe to admit it. And when I’m looking to attract attention, I’m going to put on some perfume and some makeup and my pencil skirt.
Maybe my dilemma can best be solved by some Nature/Nurture wrestling. I’ll bring the watermelon Jell-O.
*An actual occurrence