walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Differential grooming standards

Note: this is tl;dr material. Both articles mentioned below are worth reading. Leigh Anderson may well be taking a complex rhetorical stance in which she purports to hold a set of feelings and attitudes that she actually doesn't. That kind of rhetoric is very opaque to me (autism ftw!). So this is a very literal minded response.

I've been saying for about 30 years now that women and men won't attain anything like meaningful equality until men start primping a lot more and/or women start primping a lot less. This is one of those things that people will think is characteristic of my old age, when I get there (I have a lot of these little nuggets, and eventually I will forget to meter them and just say them constantly, annoying everyone in sight). For example, I also have been saying that men will need to get a lot more openly finicky about their sexuality and women a lot more openly, er, open about their sexuality for that to even out, too. Notice that in the latter case, I'm not suggesting that the underlying number of partners or behaviors was gender differentiated -- just the enactment of gender norms. For the record, I've always been hoping that everyone would primp less (as a commenter on the Jezebel article below notes, it would make me look so much better); in practice, men are primping more. (I also would like more honesty in sexual expression, but I don't expect to see that before I die.)

I assert that we are actually well on our way to both of these things happening, in both directions. We've got an unbelievable amount of guy hair and body product. And it's fairly normal for me to see ordinary, middle-class and up women, going about their ordinary, middle-class and up lives without so much as lipstick on their face. And the tattoo thing of people ever so slightly younger than me (and less fearful of a longstanding allergic reaction to the ink) never seemed gender differentiated to me at all.

So I read with interest Tracy Moore's "Quitting Grooming Won't Get Women Anywhere" over at Jezebel: http://jezebel.com/quitting-grooming-wont-get-women-anywhere-1650451729

itself a response to another, related piece:


The Leigh Anderson piece doesn't describe any urban playground I've been around, but I'm a Seattleite transplanted to a small town in MetroWest Boston. (Name does not begin with W., if that helps.) If you went to Portland, Maine, you could probably find people dressed worse than us, but that's probably what it would take.

She describes moms who are clearly much less fat than I am, who are willing to _iron their blouses_ in an effort to disguise their shape. Perhaps her community is a lot whiter than mine?

She is perhaps a little overly dismissive of the several-day-old beard on the men. I am quite certain I've seen articles over on BI or similar about how to maintain that look. And my eyes glazed over when I read it, because I was like, crap, now the men have started spending time on that look-like-you-don't-spend-time-on-yourself thing. True equality cannot be far away.

Because we are a severely nerdy household, we don't dress as well as the people at Anderson's playground. I spend a bunch of money at Gymboree, so when I inevitably dress my daughter more or less the way I do (stretchy jeans, comfy t-shirts, jersey knit pants), it looks kinda cute (Target works, too, but Gymboree is closer and I am lazy). I long ago adopted the v-neck t-shirt that some activists are trying to sell tech men on, and they are usually solid colors. I rotate them out approximately annually, so they at least don't show excessive wear. My husband's wardrobe is slightly more varied than mine: he wears some t-shirts, but a lot of button down shirts, jeans or corduroys. He is also much more fit than I am. (I have no idea why he stays with me, but I do appreciate that he does.) My husband has clippers, trimmers and a set of shears, so he usually cuts his own (balding) hair and the kids when they like. Otherwise, we just let it grow. We don't even comb it regularly (it is washed regularly and we do use detangler). We're truly terrible parents, when it comes to grooming. When people compliment me on how lovely my daughter's hair is (and they do so, often), I cringe, because I know there are probably knots in there. But I also know that what they really mean has little to do with grooming and everything to do with genetics, which is all to the blame of ancestry lost in prehistoric times.

I do own makeup and dresses and skirts and a suit and shells and more than one really nice cloak. There's a wool dress coat and silk scarves and nail polish and makeup and nice jewelry for those rare occasions when I need that sort of thing. I have a good relationship with the woman who cuts my hair and I pay her a lot of money for the service and tip her generously, because she can cut my hair so that it still looks good even though I really don't do a damn thing with it besides wash it every few days (I do own and use conditioner). My husband also owns a tuxedo. (He got married to me in it. It still fits him. There's a theme here. Are you picking up on it yet?)

I will note that I am the person who takes a look at some item in my husband's wardrobe and decree that if he is going to wear that then I am not going out to eat with him while he does. Usually, he takes a better look at the item in good lighting and off it goes to the middle class guilt reduction station clothing bins. Sometimes, it is saved for yard work or rags. I am also the person who decides which size the kids are currently wearing, and empties the drawers and reloads them when the time comes to move them up a size. I make sure seasonally appropriate clothing and shoes and so forth are readily available for the children. But my husband also contributes to this project by picking up stuff when he's at Costco (we seem to get a lot of jeans and pjs there. Other people who go to Costco probably understand) -- and he dresses the kids and gets them out the door in the morning. (I should probably quit describing my husband. Someone will decide that he's a better deal than theirs and come steal him away from me. Not that it would work. He is also highly fidelitous.) These are organizational tasks related to grooming that take up some amount of time, and they are roughly evenly distributed between my husband and me. I will note that he is stuck with the day-to-day and I get the "projects", the reverse of the typical gender arrangement for household tasks, altho I've never seen a time management expert whinge on this particular niche household task so I don't know if we are normal or weird.

Leigh Anderson quotes a friend (Tracy Moore quotes this as well, and every Simple Life person out there has been saying shit like this for decades): "As a guy, you can wear a button-down shirt and pair of cotton-blend pants from ages 20-60 and be perfectly presentable at nearly all work events these days."

I would like to call bullshit right here. I don't like button-down shirts. I would not take the man deal if that was the deal. When I did clerical temp work, it was long enough ago that makeup was a lot more mandatory than it is now (I really do look at people's faces. Things have honestly changed), at least if they were going to park me in perky blonde mode up in reception and have me answer the phone, direct people arriving at the office and do some light filing, which was a pretty good gig if you could pull the administrative assistant wage while reading a book under your desk between moments when there was something to actually do. It took me maybe 5 minutes do do a full face. It was way faster than the fastest I've ever seen either of my husbands (I was married once before, then divorced, so nothing shady there) or any of my male lovers (in between the husbands) shave or even trim. I have actually watched tech coworkers pull out an electric razor and shave in front of me (at work or at one or our residences) while carrying on a conversation. I've done exactly the same in front of them with makeup (altho I did run into a couple of men who were way too fascinated by the process and didn't do it around them twice). I didn't iron anything even back then; on those rare occasions I owned something that might wrinkle, I hung it damp and the wrinkles never happened (silk was way more forgiving than cotton, when it comes to wrinkles, it turns out). Shirt, pants or skirt, nylons or socks and a pair of shoes, jacket or coat and I was out the door. I knew women who always bought 3-5 of anything they were going to wear to work and had a regular rotation (usually they rotated by 6 or 7 days, so they wouldn't get known for having a Tuesday outfit). [ETA: There is an unclear point here. If you dig down into the details, the men are not actually spending less time than women, and the women are spending less time than it might appear, and a lot of women figure out how to game the system to get down to the "male" level of resource commitment.]

You cannot legitimately compare tech dress code (which is a dress code -- try showing up to a programming job wearing a shirt, skirt, pumps and a cardigan and wait for the barrage of questions about where you are going tonight/at lunch/who are you interviewing with/are you going to be on TV) to the rest of the office. And that is really what Leigh Anderson is doing here. [ETA: And wow, it really is the office. It's like construction job sites, delivery work, restaurants and agricultural work don't even exist in this world.]

The unfairness (and I don't mean some cultural unfairness -- I mean rhetorical unfairness) of the comparison does not end there:

"I asked a woman, Eleanor, who’s an administrator at an all girls’ school in Connecticut, what would happen if her female colleagues adopted a “man’s” standard of grooming, like the one Sarah refers to—short hair, khakis, a button-down. She reports that she has had many colleagues who have indeed done just that. But when I asked, is there any blowback from colleagues, superiors, parents or students? She said, “Oh gosh, of course people make [negative] comments. It’s not PC, but…” Women who show up for work un-primped will pay a professional price, even if it’s just snarky comments—and I wonder if such a teacher would be chosen to represent the school in a public capacity, for example, or if she would be passed over for not being “polished” enough."

The argument against a consistent appearance is coming from _an administrator at an all girls' school in Connect the Dots_.

Let's just contemplate that for a while. You might not know it, but when it comes to gender differentials in the upper class, Connect the Dots has the most retrograde standard you can find north of the Mason Dixon line. Leigh Anderson found the most bitchy person to ask and got the bitchiest answer you could find, because a Southern woman wouldn't ever let words like that cross her lips. Further, there's a ton of research that indicates that mixed gender environments are much more willing to allow latitude in grooming standards (for men and women) than single gender environments.

Tracy Moore came to the perfect conclusion.

"Stop painstakingly pinpointing what we need to do differently or more or less to be good enough (how we speak, talk, ask for raises, dare to walk down the street, etc.) for sexism, especially when history has proven that it's all pointless effort to combat a shapeshifting set of criteria that will be forever one step ahead, and will change the second we do anyway. Bias always has a good reason. Framed that way, spending your time in search of a good lipstick is a much more rewarding, and much better use, of your time."

And I've been thinking I sort of want some new lipstick lately, so I am sympathetic.

But I do think there are other errors embedded that are worth pointing out.

(1) The current male and female grooming standards are actually quite close together now in terms of time and money and composition of tasks. The large scale seeming differences are artifacts of comparing across industry segments, age groups, regions, class markers, etc. Why didn't we talk about fast food workers? What's the grooming standard differential there? (Altho obvs, you have to pay attention to age distinctions as well -- young people working fast food will display vastly different grooming choices than older people working the same job at the same store.)

(2) No one is going to pay you for the 15 minutes you no longer spend on your grooming routine. They also don't pay you for sleeping more or less or how long it takes you to get the kids' out the door or anything else. We need to quit acting like we can do this math problem (multiple hourly pay rate by time spent on something peripherally related to work -- seriously, because you wouldn't get dressed that way just to leave the house? Then WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING AT THE PLAYGROUND DRESSED THAT WAY?) and calculate that somehow OH POOR US we are inadequately compensated for this thing we decided to do.

(3) Whatever you are doing with your time that isn't spent on work (I AM INCLUDING GROOMING ACTIVITIES HERE, because I hope you don't just groom for work, or, ugh, you are more horrible than me, which is saying a lot) should probably be doing something you actually value and hopefully enjoy. If the guys are spending that time playing the guitar and you are spending that time in front of a mirror, or carping about spending that time in front of the mirror, I sure hope that you value spending the time in front of the mirror, or complaining about same. Because otherwise, sad.

Gossip is good. Gossip is communicating shared values. Criticizing other people is how we decide, communicate, share what is important. Tracy Moore decided that we shouldn't criticize other women for their grooming choices. I like that conclusion. She also decided that shopping for lipstick is maybe more fun than that criticism, too. I'm a little more on the fence about that. Criticism is pretty fun and shopping for lipstick is maybe a little less fun for me. But that is all okay.

Here is what I do not like. I do not like when women's culture -- braiding hair, primping, making and selecting clothing, creating an aesthetic effect, blah, blah, bleeping blah -- is called Bad Names, like "cultural theft". Lots of people get stupid rich, so rich they don't have to work any more, and they still engage in this kind of grooming, at an even higher level of costs. Why are _they_ doing it?

"This inequity, which amounts to a cultural theft of time, starts in childhood."

Oh, come on. The only issue here is if there is compulsion and prohibition involved. As long as the girls and the boys get an equal shot at it, go for it.

And yeah, my son wears pink sparkly shit, altho is current uniform is a long sleeved t-shirt from, you guessed it, Gymboree, and pull up, scrubs type pants. I caught a lot of flak from last year's teacher about this, because she felt is was important for the kids to look "normal". Boy did I set her straight. And then I went over her head and to a bunch of other people and made them aware of the content of my passionate little screed. This would be by way of showing that there is a lot more of a grooming standard for boys than Anderson might be aware of.

"If I had a daughter I’m sure I would buy the little sundresses. I’m sure I would spend time pinning her hair with butterfly barrettes, despite her struggling and my exasperation, just as my mother did with me. I would want my daughter to be admired!"

The dresses, I will note, are actually _easier_ to wear than the rest of the clothes. And I never pin her hair. She gets more than enough admiration. Also, in an ideal world, all children would be verbally admired in a plausible way. And it wouldn't be because of their grooming.

"I don’t want to stand at my closet and nix a dress because I didn’t have time to shave my legs. I don’t want to think, are my toenails too raggedy for open-toed shoes? I just want to get out the door. Or play the guitar while I wait for my husband."

Well then just do it. Say, go fuck yourself to the Eleanors at the all girls schools in Connect the Dots. And if the money thing is really bugging you, when you pick your career in high school as you are contemplating which college to attend, take a look at the department of labor predictions for demand and compensation, while you are at it. In the mean time, I am fairly certain that slacks are allowed on women, and so are Mary Janes. You don't ever have to shave again, if you don't want to, altho I am sympathetic that you might feel awkward at the pool on vacation. Even I shave for those.

From this, it should be relatively obvious that "women" can be "guys", too. Just like "guys" can spend a whole lot of time grooming (my Dutch instructor is _adorable_ and I suspect he spends a lot of time on it).
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