Owning vs Emphasizing Your Feminity

On her AuntMoxie blog, Mary Michael Townsend recently wrote about the motivation behind her decision to begin a mini-revamp on her personal image.  While I tend to respond to such discussions with a “Meh” (I am just not a clothes and make-up kinda girl), the first words caught my eye:

Despite knowing I’ll get ripped for sounding sexist, I’ll say it: I think a lot of single women would probably feel more empowered over their dating lives if they’d own their femininity rather than shove it in their work suits. 

Okay, Mary, I dare you to tell me more about “owning my own femininity” without sounding sexist.

It hit me the other day while on a Southwest Airlines flight on which the flight attendant females walked the aisles in golf shirts, Dickie’s work pants, and something akin to truckers’ shoes. They looked like they should be directing planes on the Tarmac; not serving sodas. What happened to the days of the tall boots and mini skirts? It was so much more… well… feminine. (Yeah, I know. It’s a dirty word to some women, but I have no problem with it. Women and men alike enjoy looking at attractive women. Tall boots? Short Skirts? Just throw in some tights, and I’ll put them on now!)

But the sight of these women was just another reminder to get on the stick with something I’ve been wanting to do for a few weeks now: a mini-image revamp. Unlike the direction that Southwest is headed, I’m going full-throttle feminine. Not boobs-in-the-face, crack-showing, “hey-do-you-want-a-piece-of-this” pseudo-femininity feminine (as a lot of the teens and twenty-somethings seem to deem sexy), but old-fashioned feminine with a sophisticated, modern edge.

WHOA THERE!  Sounds to me like Mary is equating or confusing the words “owning” with “emphasizing.” 

Since when are skirts and dress blouses important to “serving sodas”?  Why is a woman who isn’t in heels and hose only suitable for “directing planes on the Tarmac”?  When one woman’s opinion is that tall boots, tights, and miniskirts are “feminine”, this woman’s opinion is that tall boots, tights, and miniskirts are an affectation designed to make ourselves more visually appealing to men while forcing us to walk like prey animals.  (There’s no surer way to make yourself seem like something to be protected rather than respected than to not be able to walk with a sure, strong stride at a quick clip on your own two feet.)
“[T]he direction that Southwest is headed” makes my heart sing.  Enlightened companies with non-sexist dress codes are the ones that receive my resume.  I don’t want to work for a company that attracts and caters to Barbie Doll women.  I don’t need to compete with the Bimbo Brigade while they ostracize me from the informal networks that create successful professional relationships.  I definitely don’t do well in environments that respect physical beauty and politics more than efficiency and quality work product. 

Business Casual Attire
For the record, golf shirts (and the very similar item called polo shirts) are available in female cuts/sizes, and the two pair of Dickies “work pants” that I own look like slacks when ironed.  “Business Casual” usually includes slacks and polos.  Such attire is common today, especially in environments where employees will have to step, fetch, and perform any type of manual labor as part of their job duties (flight attendants, PC support, and inventory clerks are good examples).  People required to be on their feet for hours at a time deserve the respect and kindness of shoes that fit their feet, not feet having to fit their shoes. Activity-appropriate footwear is actually a safety and ergonomic issue.

I will spare you the rant that comes to mind because Mary’s only criticizing the female flight attendants.  God save us from returning to the days of inequitable professional dress codes.  We’re still fighting the equal-pay and equal-promotion battles, and retro thinking hasn’t helped. 

As for the “boobs-in-the-face” and “‘hey-do-you-want-a-piece-of-this'” types of emphasized femininity, these expressions are just as valid as the Mad Men image that Mary prefers or the Rosie the Riveter image that Southwest’s female flight attendants invoked in her.  The last thing that women need from other women is judgment regarding their work clothes, especially when it’s uniformed attire (which he vast majority of flight attendants wear).  Even if it’s not a uniform, if you don’t have something useful or supportive to say, would you kindly shut your mouth? 

How do you think a female flight attendant from Southwest would feel if she read this?  Are you really advocating that we should all return to impractical (and expensive!) clothes and hair, shoes that hurt our feet, and other affectations that detract from our independence and equality?  Seriously, I’m okay with you saying this is how you feel about you and your style, but not with your saying that we all should do the same.

Isn’t it lovely that our culture has evolved to the point of allowing each woman to choose our her personal style?   Sure, “women and men alike enjoy looking at attractive women,” especially those emphasizing (or over-emphasizing) their femininity.  The proper time and place for that is social, though, not professional.

~Riot.Jane

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About

Middle-aged, life-long Texan with a substantial chip on her shoulder.

Posted in career, feminism
One comment on “Owning vs Emphasizing Your Feminity
  1. OptioneerJM says:

    Interesting perspective and read. Part of the problem these days is I don't think that we really know who/what we want to be. I'm not a fan of the young gals not leaving anything to the imagination yet can't fathom the investment it would take to outfit like the "Mad Men" era … its conflicting because i BELIEVE you portray something about who you are/how your self-esteem projects based on what you wear. Like I say to my husband, women don't dress for men, we dress for other women (because we know they're really the ones who judge our appearance).Thanks for the read!

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