Thursday, July 24, 2008

I might be rockin' the stereotype, but that doesn't mean that's all there is

I'm girlie. I worry whether my face is shiny (oops, need to reapply a dusting of mineral powder) and my lipstick is still fresh and not on my teeth (quick glance in mirror, possible fast reapplication). I like my clothes to be flattering, well-coordinated, and au courant. I apologize too much for things that aren't my fault and need no contrition.

I scan the gossip rags in the supermarket aisle, tear up at tender moments, choke up in emotional dramas (such as Hallmark commercials), read chick lit and women's lit, and leave most of the yardwork and tech stuff to my husband.

I am not a big sports fan (excluding hockey, but I don't follow it and store stats in my head like my husband does, and, according to my husband, worst of all, I've been known to applaud a brilliant play even if done by the opposing team).

In short, in many respects, I am a shining model of the female stereotype.

This has been bothering me for a while, and I've been remiss in figuring out why, but over the past few months, it's been slowly coming together for me.

A male reporter was actually instrumental in helping me lay the first brick in the answer wall. New York Times writer David Carr wrote a fairly scathing judgment of women, particularly those on the Internet, based on the success of the Sex & the City movie and a poll about popular Web sites for women.
[Sex & the City], a big-screen take on the long-running HBO series, left critics scrambling for synonyms for the word “vapid” and true believers in a state of bliss.

“I’m coming back like, oh, about 30 times,” said one young woman, tottering out of the premiere on the kind of shoe-like contraptions that suggested she had internalized one of the franchise’s core messages.

. . .

And what are readers interested in? This week, it was wedding trains big enough to require their own ZIP codes, shoes that cost as much as cars and loving loutish men who do a poor job of loving them back. Jezebel live-blogged the public premiere of “Sex and the City,” (in flip-flops no less, how very 2.0), Journal Women looked at the implications of combining cleavage and pinstripes, Glam went wall-to-wall with “Shoes and the City,” Shine had video interviews with the franchise’s four principals. SheZoom had a five-part deconstruction teasing apart the ethos of the show. Some sites sat out the hype, with The XX Factor preferring to focus on the tidy pleasures of a “Daily Show” spoof of the show and Divine Caroline, a West Coast site, focused on issues closer to home and office, such as, “Why do guys think it’s appropriate to adjust themselves in public?”

Quippy flippant comments aside (and he doesn't spare men of his scorn either, in fact, they might fare worse) for some reason, Carr's article stung, largely because of his ending, which read, "After so many years of being on the wrong end of what (male) media executives choose to dish up, women have taken matters into their own able hands. So far, it’s a shallow revolution, but one that carries deep implications."

I wish he had expanded on what he thinks these deep implications are, because at the end of the day, I was left to imagine he meant "ah ha, women are exactly that which male marketing executives have always imagined them to be: that is, to wit, ridiculously obsessed with pointless issues such as shoes."

I imagined that to be the case because he called the women's presence and new dominance on the Web a "shallow revolution."

I wrote to Mr. Carr (oh yes I did) and said:
Sarcasm aside, I agree that in some sectors it has been a shallow revolution, completely replicating the vanity-geared magazines for women. However, it's not exclusively so, and angling in that way ignores a wide variety of additional sites and endeavors on the Web lead by women.

You caught up with Lisa Stone of BlogHer but failed to notice that BlogHer is a powerhouse group much beyond the shallow. In addition to charitable activities and the largest gathering of online women and women in online business, BlogHer offers a wide range of topics of deep and introspective nature, reflecting all types of women.

Then, even though I concluded with the point that I'd like to see him similarly judge men for their hobby and fluff sites, I felt dissatisfied with my response.

What troubled me?

It finally hit me recently that what bothered me about my response was that it was defensive, and through that, appallingly bought into the patriarchal cultural belief that feminine pursuits are frivolous and unworthy.

I didn't need to hold up a placard and inform Mr. Carr that there was much more than fluff on the Web, and he wrote back and told me this himself, "If I gave the impression that those sites were the only thing going on on the web, that's my bad. I know there is plenty else to click from. part of what I was reacting to a list of leading women's sites from ComScore, but I know that a million flowers are blooming, including your sites."

I understood that he was reacting to the fact that the highest scored sites were those that seemed shallow, such as quick fixes for shiny noses and which celebrities broke up last night.

I responded, incorrectly, to the idea that he was missing the Other that was out there, growing, and strong. Places with strong and radical discourse, intense evolution. Things that I thought deserved the props and respect more than slamming the fluff sites.

When I went back recently and re-read the article, I saw how off-base my reply to Mr. Carr was. In his article he conceded the male fluff and that fluff was inevitable and acceptable:
Besides, I realize we are all, like it or not, having a moment with “Sex and the City,” no more or less frivolous than the Super Bowl. It’s just odd that while there has been a significant advance in sites by and for women, much of what is being produced replicates, rather than revolutionizes, the template set down by women’s magazines for decades.

“The lack of evolution is disappointing to me,” said Caterina Fake, one of the founders of Flickr.com. “Back in 1996, it was going to be this brave new world where women were finally going to take control of their stories, and to me, it is often more a crushing sameness.”

When I boiled it down, I realized he wasn't thinking simply, as I accused, that, ". . .the hobby sites were vast in quantity yet insubstantive in quality, and that there was little of substance on the Web when it came to sites created by or for women." he wasn't, as I further accused, missing that there was much of substance and quality by and for women out on the Web.

He got it. He was just disappointed that there was more fluff and the fluff sites scored highest. For a second, I shared his disappointment and the scorn of Caterina Fake.

Women finally got the market control and opportunity to dominate the Web and what did we do? Created fashion slam sites such as fugly.com and frou frou sites "with an edge" such as Jezebel.com (celebrity, sex and fashion for women).

David Carr and Caterina Fake were right, I thought: we blew it. Our radical and awesome sites such as the deep sections and charitable endeavors of BlogHer, Moms Speak Up, MOMocrats, and others were simply overwhelmed by the shopping, fashion, and celebrity gossip sites. We were whispers in an echoing hall of "blah blah blah...wtf? did you say politics? oh la, that's not fun!"

I break with the stereotype of women when it comes to the list of leading women's sites from ComScore. I don't tend to scan fashion or gossip sites. My time is limited, and I'm more likely to hop on alltop to see in one glance what the other politicos are punditing about.

Lately---as much as I love kirtsy and think the entire endeavor and group of people are great---I've even felt alienated by kirtsy because, well, it got too girlie for my tastes. I'm not interested in wedding tips (been married fifteen years), how to green my reception (again with the married forever and a day), how some uber skinny celebrity tells me I can diet to look just like her. At last kirtsy browse, I didn't even see one thing in the most popular items that I wanted to click through, much less vote for, and that seriously depressed me.

Is that all women really want, the most? I worried.

Is kirtsy a microcosm or a larger issue? I went to see what was up on the front page, and popular, as well as what the editors had picked. It seemed to prove Caterina and David right even more:

Botox, fashion, summer makeup, games, gift cards, and celebrity gossip.

But before the big sigh could even leave my mouth, a second thought occurred to me.

At BlogHer, we were doing the usual squee, hug, you look fab, and demurring, "What? Who? Me? With this crazy frizzy hair?" From that came several things.

My friend Sarah said, "I can't believe I flew all the way to BlogHer and we're talking about hair products!"

My friend Maggie said, "Are you getting MADE UP?"

My friend Deb said, "That's it, Julie, I don't want to hear you volley back one more compliment about how you look. Just say thank you! Because you are the one looking good!"

Go ahead, take a minute, put it together.

What do you see?

Many women are, in general, interested in self-care products, things that make them look better, and other areas of interest such as fashion and celebrities. But we aren't supposed to be, and the truth is, this is a limited topic for most of us. It's fine for a bit, but then we're ready to talk about the Rest.

Kirtsy isn't wrong; it's simply reflecting back the major common denominator among the vast majority of women. Frivolous topics are mind candy, and an easy relating point that breaks the ice, like chatting about the weather, only maybe a teensy more interesting to a lot of women who might not happen to be meteorologist buffs. But then comes...the Rest.

The fluff? Is actually...a fluffer.

How diverse and contradictory are the messages, and internal desires.

But not anymore, not for me, not on this subject.

Let me bold this because in a way, it's my lead, and it's very buried:

The botox, the lotions, the fashion advice, and so forth is merely a thing most women are interested in, but it's not necessarily the thing we are most interested in. That last bit varies wildly.


I had a lot of fun fun fun and many intense and insightful discussions and experiences at BlogHer. In my pocket of memories, I cherish most of all:

* the one on one with Cyn in my hotel room where we discussed politics
* the amazing and insightful, honest and sharing conversation Gwen, Deb and I had at a diner while waiting for our flights
* the hurried last minute conversation with Sarah, while we sat, bleary-eyed, on the last day, hair wet, faces void of artifice, and discussed where we'd like to go with our writing art
* the powerful intimate panel with fellow political junkies, and the awesome plank planning session with MOMocrats and Silicon Valley Moms
* the personal discussion about the treacherous trap DIY home remodeling and working with family can be with Backpacking Dad

But I also enjoyed the free makeover, the hair product idea sharing, the fabulous rose pattern jacket at Macy's and pointing out outfits and shoes we'd look spectacular in with Amie, Kelly, Jaelithe, Steph, and Cyn. I had fun joking around and being a silly goofball, trading quips with my fellow BlogHerteers, and so forth.

And why shouldn't we?

The front page of kirtsy and the highest rated ComScore women's sites might relate most to frippery, but that's simply because it's the largest common denominator. Underneath that are vibrant and strong interests that even David Carr would call a deep and significant revolution.

I'm still more likely to scan the political section of alltop on a daily basis, and you're more likely to find me at sites that others might call complicated, but if I have an "issue"---such as a desire for whiter teeth---I'll be Googling or searching in kirtsy, to find the best info I need in that moment, and I'll be awfully glad for it.

The nice thing about getting to be my age, you see, is that you are about ready to drop the shoulds and adopt an attitude of who cares about that sort of thing.

I'm beyond thinking I need to be whatever other people think I need to be: more deep or less deep, more frivolous or less frivolous, think more or think less, more practical or less sensible, more into the nicety gestures like sending gifts to bloggers in the mail, or being the Most Popular on Twitter.

It's been a journey the last month and a half, but I think my absolute favorite souvenir from BlogHer was a staggering realization: I'm simply not that into worrying any more about whether you think me, my life or what I do is worthwhile, and you know, I'm really okay with that. Now that's radical, and that's a deep implication.

In the immortal words of Michele, from Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, one of the best movies ever (and yeah, I like it, a lot, and I'd choose to see it before A Room With a View even):
[ Romy ]
ALL I EVER WANTED WAS FOR PEOPLE TO THINK... THAT WE WERE BETTER
THAN WE WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL. AND NOW WE'RE JUST A STUPID JOKE,
JUST LIKE WE ALWAYS WERE.

[ Michele ]
NO, ROMY.
CAN I TELL YOU THE TRUTH?
I NEVER KNEW THAT WE WEREN'T THAT GREAT IN HIGH SCHOOL.
I MEAN, WE ALWAYS HAD SO MUCH FUN TOGETHER.
I THOUGHT HIGH SCHOOL WAS A BLAST.
AND UNTIL YOU TOLD ME THAT OUR LIVES WEREN'T GOOD ENOUGH, I
THOUGHT EVERYTHING SINCE HIGH SCHOOL WAS A BLAST.
I THINK WE SHOULD GO BACK OUT THERE AS OURSELVES... AND JUST HAVE
FUN LIKE WE ALWAYS DO. THE HELL WITH EVERYONE ELSE.

Amen, Michele.

I might rock the stereotype sometimes, and boost the ComScore of so-called shallow and frivolous Web sites, but I think that's fine. It's not all and it's not even most, it's just the most common.

I grew up in the age of feminism and had it beaten over my head to the point that I get the post-feminist guilt (omg am I capitalizing enough on my freedom and opportunity?) and post-feminism rejection (the hell with that, I'm going to stay home and raise my kids despite the PhD from Harvard because I want to, and I can).

To that end, any article that promises to help me overcome my major obstacles---keeping my house clean enough, green enough and cooking healthy meals---will snag my attention. But so will ones about the current political races, human rights issues, and the state of humanity around the world.

So David Carr, you were on the right track. Women sometimes teeter on high heels and see "vapid" movies more than once, but that doesn't make us shallow. It doesn't mean our revolution failed. It means we know how to indulge our frivolous side. You stopped before you reached the station, Mr. Carr, you needed to expand on the deep implications and realize that the Rest does matter, even if it doesn't cap out at the top of ComScore. Nothing is ever as simple as ranking, and the Rest might very well outweigh the top scorers.

I won't apologize for boosting frivolous rankings because I've rejected the idea that common feminine interests such as fashion are frivolous, and that frivolous equals unworthy. All work and no play would make us all very dull indeed, in fact, a bore. It would make us bores. So I celebrate that we all have our various frivolous indulgences, whatever they are, and encourage you to believe that they are not just worthy, but are, in fact, enriching.

Hump Day Hmm for next week---get your big kid britches on people, because I'm going to ask a lot of you and I hope you join in: what stunning realization has enlightened you recently or at some point in your life and caused you to take a turn, either in your life path or in your thinking? And...what happened next?

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
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41 comments:

Mama Luxe said...

I like your point about these things being the common denominator--and hopefully leading to more profound shared discussion.

I find the same thing with Mom's groups in general. We talk about our children because we know we have that in common. It is relatively safe. But I long for other discussion--I'm just not always sure how to find it, outside of my college friends or on the 'net.

To some extent, most mass culture is vapid...because it is, well, mass culture. That's probably always going to be true. Sure, people used to go see Shakespeare for his wit and word coinages...but most were no doubt there for the bear baiting and raunchy jokes.

Backpacking Dad said...

That conversation was a highlight of my weekend.

Lawyer Mama said...

Holy crap, Julie! Did you just come up with that Hump Day Hmmm specifically for me???? Because, dude, I'm all over it.

And I agree with you. There will always be some people who stick with the shallow, but the vast majority of us head into the shallow for fun and into the deep end to feed our brains and souls. It's no different from the guy (or girl) who checks out ESPN.com for sports scores.

My favorite sites? Alltop, Huffington Post, Politico, MOMocrats (of course), and Hello Lover - a blog about fashion and shoes. Like Mama Luxe, in new groups I tend to talk about my kids or my shoes because it's safe. But when I find someone to discuss the Other with, Wow! That's why I enjoyed hanging out with the MOMocrats so much this weekend.

Angela at mommy bytes said...

Ack!! It's all my fault!! Scanning your kirtsy screenshot, it looks like I submitted the Botox article and the Playboy invites female bloggers to pose nude on the Top Stories to the right. But I didn't pick these to be titillating or vapid.

The Botox story was actually a witty, funny commentary on the state of our society from one of my favorite bloggers. Meredith O'Brien also writes for Mommy Track'd and left the Boston Herald blog to pursue her own personal blogs. I felt this was a strong showing of her wit and prose and wanted her to be exposed on kirtsy. And how titillating your title is on kirtsy has a strong bearing on how many times it is read. So, a method to my madness.

And I'm totally not a girly girl and most of the stuff on kirtsy is not for me either. But a lot of my cool or geeky picks fall flat. It's a tough balance between being relevant and being entertaining enough.

Julie Pippert said...

Angela I hope you get I'm saying the kirtsy stuff is all valid conversations, too, and that I reject the notion of anything not automatically labeled "deep" as "unworthy" and that we can all benefit from what seems surface superficial but actually holds deeper meaning...right?

Cuz you know I give you your props, right?

Mama Luxe said...

Oh, and wanted to add--I have no problem with the raunchy jokes. The bear baiting? ...not so much my thing.

Kady said...

Awwww, Julie.... I'm gonna be forever grateful to you for writing this. As the completely incomprehensible econ nerd, I always knew that my blogging would have to fight to be heard. But I wanted moms out there to know that being a mom, being a woman, and knowing about the economy are not incompatible things. That's why I'm grateful for the Momocrats, grateful for this post, and grateful every single time that someone comments on one of my econ posts and says, "thanks, I was wondering about that".

anniegirl1138 said...

We are all stereotypes until you get to know us - female or male.

So this guy was a bit judgmental? Aren't we all and why not? It's easy and it sells - just like gossip and beauty tips and the Super Bowl.

There are probably men and women who engage in nothing but the shallow but for most of us, shallow is the break we take from lives that grow more hectic and hard to maintain/afford daily for reasons that the writer will never know because he doesn't know the people he is criticizing.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my mainstay the summer before my first husband died. It was the mental vacation I allowed myself every night after my toddler was in bed and the care-taking and thesis writing was done for another day. Was I shallow?

Can't really judge from a distance.

Amanda said...

I hadn't planned on it, but now reading this I realize that for as sheepish as it may make me, I need to hit publish on the revelation I had. I need to fess up to what I do and don't do, the stereotypes that I embrace, but would never own and the others that I thumb my nose at. I'll let you know when I get it done, though I doubt it will be as thorough as this post.

Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

This is a beautiful article. Truly. Proximity aside - I would love to meet and talk to you about your art of writing. I think I could learn a thing or two from you!

Ilina said...

Hey, I love the latest celebrity rag and fashion trends, but that's not all that my eyes scan. My magazine subscriptions run the gamut from Lucky, Cookie, Southern Living, and Self to Entrepreneur, Newsweek, Consumer Reports, and Newsweek. Same trend with my online viewing. It goes to the old issue that women can be BOTH smart and hot; one does not preclude the other. Thanks for an AMAZING post!

slouching mom said...

yay! i loved our sunday morning chat, too. it's a good thing you woke me up. ;)

(btw, did you get my fiction links?)

i dig this post. and i dig you. makeover, shmakeover. if it makes you happy, get a makeover. and i will be glad of it, because my friend enjoyed herself.

Angela at mommy bytes said...

Hi Julie, yes, I do get that there is more than what seems to be superficial and frivolous on the outside. I just thought it was ironic that my kirtsy posts were especially "vapid" recently. Because I'm so not into that girly stuff. I didn't even have bridesmaids!

And I put this post up on Kirtsy. Let's see if I wrote the title well enough to get some hits.

SciFi Dad said...

I think that the circumstances could be boiled down to this: while topics such as cleansers and shoes and lipstick and fashion and gossip interest women, they are not all that interest them. There are subjects too: politics, the environment, equality, social norms, et cetera. Like many forms of media in this day and age, it's the topics that get play because it's the topics that catch more people.

It's the same reason we have entire cable channels dedicated to fashion or gossip (or sports, for the men) and none dedicated to political commentary or environmental concerns.

wheelsonthebus said...

No time for a long comment but just want you to know I LOVED this post

Andrea said...

Enh. I don't know.

I mean, truthfully, most of the girlie stuff is so boring to me I can't be bothered with it. It's not a common denominator that includes me. I've never read people or any of their imitators, haven't picked up a fashion magazine in years, don't buy hair products and makeup hardly ever, don't even own a blowdryer--who want sto spend precious time making hair dry when it will do that on its own?

So much of girl culture seems, frankly, awful to me. A horrendous waste of time and money, a misallocation of resources. It's clear that I don't get it so I try to keep this to myself, mostly, since my aim is not to be judgmental or whatever--but--I can't honestly see why anyone would want to embrace mainstream girliness. I don't see what it offers that's of value.

Why can't the largest common denominators be something valuable, something positive? Why botox, anti-aging, green tea diets, this season's hottest lip colour, more purses than anyone could ever possibly use, shoes that deform the feet? Besides the conversational shorthand, what does this offer to anyone? Why can't the conversational shorthand be something that makes us healthier, happier, stronger, smarter? Why do all the common-denominator girlie things have to be built on a foundation of and designed to address chronically poor self-esteem?

Why are men's common-denominator fluff subjects about pleasing themselves just to please themselves, and women's are all about pleasing themselves by learning better how to please other people?

It's depressing.

Blogversary said...

Julie, I have never met you and we are on different sides of some "issues", but I love ya and your writing. You take the time to write what I think and I can't wait to ponder next week's hump day hmmer.

Wonderful post. I couldn't agree more.

Sunshine said...

This, officially, is my favoritest post of yours ever in the history of your blog. For real. All the way.

And it must have taken days to write, holy shit.

But, you rocked out so many conflicting nuances about why it totally kicks ass to be a chick, I so dig that you nailed it like that.

And I got a pedicure yesterday on my last day of family vacation, my first pedicure in months.
And now I feel prettier.
And if some dude thinks I'm shallow for that he can stick my freshly painted toe up his ass.

Julie Pippert said...

BV, thank you, heartfelt, and ditto back to you.

I don't know, Andrea. I don't think girl culture is inherently awful and thus am not sure what response will be efficacious. "Why can't the conversational shorthand be something that makes us healthier, happier, stronger, smarter?" The problem with this for me is that once again, I am facing the presumption that feminine pursuits are frivolous, oppressive and unworthy. I disagree. I enjoy chatting with girlfriends about things I do that make me feel good, and these might include something you find ridiculous.

At base, I reject the notion that just because it's "girlie" I am doing it to please others.

That really underestimates my female power.

I'm nearly 40. I'm going to call my 40s the "kiss a rat's ass decade," really I am. I like my lip plumper lipstick. It makes me happy and frankly, I don't care if anyone else likes it (I bought it without checking for approval) or finds it worthwhile.

Emily, oh the ways I miss you. I need to come visit, get a dose of you. Hear how your vacation went. And thank you.

Scifi Dad, if I could reach through the computer and kiss you like a sister on both cheeks right now I would. That. was. brilliant.

But I don't know what's up with Canada. Here in the US I have two green channels at least and more political punditry stations than I can keep up with. Especially now. I have my conservative, my liberal, my pretending to be neutral, and my full of shit. So all the gamut. :)

Angela, and now I feel a teeny bit heelish. Sorry babe. You have my respect.

SM, I could cry from missing you. I want you over here tomorrow for coffee and planning and chatting.

Ilina, great comment.

You remind me. Sometimes I read those frou frah magazines to appreciate where I am and what I have.

E. R. thank you, very much! And anytime!

Amanda, hit publish and let me know!

Annie, spot on with the insight about distance.

Kady, my gratitude for your economy info knows no bounds.

LM, even I am not that good but I am in alt that it hit the right chord at the right moment (really just happy you are sucked in LOL).

BPD, it's redundant, but clearly it was a good time in my book too.

ML, you win a blue ribbon with that comment. It's so true the conversation can stagnate at that first gate (the common, the mass market, the A topic) and we can long for the Other and Rest.

You mention online and VOILA! There is the deep and radical revolution: we find the Rest here!

My hope is that by becoming more comfortable discussing meaningful things meaningfully, we can get more confident to broach that next step in corporeal life, too.

Love you people...for real. Love these comments.

Lady M said...

Good heavens, lady! You always impress me with your thinking and writing. I'm sorry we didn't get to talk more at BlogHer (both your voice and me running home a lot to nurse the baby). Next time!

Julie Pippert said...

Oh and Sunshine, who just made my day. Thanks!

You can either say it took me two hours or a month and a half to write this post, depending upon your definition of "write."

;)

I think a lot of women like aesthetics, and that's another post entirely LOL, and it is mistaken for something shallow through oversimplification.

Kate said...

I found your site on Blog Nosh and have been reading it ever since (loved that piece on young girls feeling it is rude to declare their worth). I liked that the editor that chose the post said that your writing is always "well thought out." That is an understatement.

So many of the blogs that I enjoy offer small amounts of humor and insight and the fact that they are easy to scan before moving onto the next may be a small part of what makes them appealing. And of course the ones covering the more frivolous subjects are fun as well. But I think I'd rather limit myself to reading one or two this kind of post a day than 25 of the others. This is much more satisfying and thought provoking. I'll be thinking about this all day.

And I particularly liked what you had to say about Kirtsy (again - very well thought out - not just an easy criticism). I remember the early promos for it and know what the creators were trying to do - but it's ultimately just a site that reflects the exposure of what women are reading. Everyone checks the same "fun" sites - so those go to the top of the list and the more topical sites get buried. So you really do have to dig to find the cool stuff. I guess that's just the way it is with everything from conducting internet searches to just getting to know someone.

Okay - this is way longer than I meant it to be. Just wanted to thank you for the effort that goes into your writing. Not to say that I'm not going to check out my pretty design sites anymore - but I will always make time for quality writing like this!

Magpie said...

I'm in the middle of my "kiss a rat's ass decade" - but I think I never learned to be a real girl. Maybe I should have a pedicure...I've never had one.

LizP said...

I've been reading your blog since you posted about abstinence (can't even remember how long ago that was) and your posts always blow me away! I can always tell which posts on Momocrats are yours before I get to the bottom too!

If men can be captivated by porn (which I imagine is the #1 money maker on the internet), sports, and internet poker then why can't we browse what they call "fluff"? I sit at a computer crunching numbers all day. Reading "fluff" helps relax my brain and if I learn which tooth whitener is preferred by women 35-50 then I just that much more informed.

I'm a couple of years into the "kiss a rat's ass" decade and it's true ... the older you get the less you really care what other people think.

I don't put "product" in my hair but I love a good pedicure. It's all in moderation and what works for you.

Andrea said...

So what is hte point of lip plumper lipstick if it's not to make other people think your lips are bigger than they really are? And what is the point of heels if not to make other people think you are taller and thinner than you really are? It all gets buried under a pile of "you're worth it!" but at base it's all about looking prettier (to other people) or being more pleasing in general. Whereas guys get to "bond" around stuff that makes them LESS pleasing to other people. Especially their wives.

There is a difference. Men's fluff is self-centred and women's fluff is other-centred,a nd yes, I will say it, this strikes me as a failure of feminism.

I'm all for not caring what other people think--including what I think, why should you? But buying something that will make you look nicer to other people strikes me as an odd way of going about this.

Now, I totally get the inherent contradictions. I'm not free of this--I let Frances's hair grow long because on some level I think it's important for her to be pretty, and that it's important enough to sacrifice comfort and ease for, and I recognize this. I wear skirts (with pockets) because I enjoy looking pretty too, but it would be ridiculous for me to claim that "looking pretty" has any objective reality outside of social norms and the opinions of OTHER PEOPLE. Hey, I own lip plumping lipstick. But in what sense can it possibly make my life better, except that *other people* might approve of me more? I have it, I never wear it, I regret buying it, I haven't noticed any change in mood or events or success or anything when wearing it or not wearing it. (Although it would make me afraid to kiss Greg b/c that stuff stings.) I do not think my life would be meaningfully damaged if all lip plumper lipsticks were to plunge off the face of the earth tomorrow in a freak accident. I just can't see it.

If you were on a deserted island, and there was no one around to see how plump your lips are, would your lip plumper lipstick have any effect on your happiness? If no one had ever told you that plumper lips were better lips to have? If so, how? Because I really don't get it.

Happiness isn't some independent function of these products. It's a function of our expectation of these products, which is in turn formed by what we imagine other people's opinions and responses to be.

All I am saying is that this is not a convincing argument to me.

Miscellaneous-Mum said...

What frsutrates me about hegemonic masculinity is that by it's structure males - esp media types - like to point out on how feminism has failed, how women aren't fulfilling their potential, but then we never hear talk (well, we're starting to) on the flip side of the coin. The sex and the city movie/semantic example is frustrating me these days because no one talks about the 'blokey' films which come out and evoke every mascluine sterotype under the sun and no one pokes their fingers at them saying, "This just as unreasonable."

But that is an aside to the main debate at hand.

Anyway, hope that made sense. It's early here.

jeanie said...

Ahhh - yay - mind fodder blogging!!

Having never really been a very girly girl (but also not a tomboy) I know that a lot of females get off on a lot of all that frips - and I even pretend to squee along to be part of the crowd on occasion - but would prefer the world to realise that there is so much more out there than just looking young forever and being fabulous.

I wonder if men ever have such schisms - the ones who aren't into sport, aren't into cars, aren't into what defines them (by mass media) as male.

Kathryn said...

This sums it all up for me perfectly:

"The botox, the lotions, the fashion advice, and so forth is merely a thing most women are interested in, but it's not necessarily the thing we are most interested in."

Perfectly stated!

Julie Pippert said...

Jeanie, yeah, men do, even if, in ways, they are into typical "male" things.

My husband is wicked into sports, for example, but he's always enjoyed friendships with women because he relates to many things women do.

I think it's multi-layered.

On the surface, my husband and I seem pretty stereotypical guy and girl.

It's the next layer down that's the more interesting bit.

I'm a sort of rushed person, often, not that into the frou frou of some social niceties (e.g. giving gifts all the time) and I don't scrapbook or craft. I tend to be opinionated and forthright

This distances me from a lot of women, who feel uncomfortable with me. But men seem fine with it.

My husband is more mellow, tends to not have strong opinions that he foists our assertively, and he likes to garden, and so forth. So this brings him close to a lot of women, who feel very comfortable with him.

Then there is also acceptable and unacceptable behavior by gender roles.

But then we have a really long comment that probably should be five or six blog posts LOL.

But I will throw in this:

Think about how acceptable---even expected---it's become for women to be sports fans.

But what does society say about men who like to craft and are into fashion?

Is that as acceptable?

There we are: Hump Day for week after next.

Julie Pippert said...

Oooh Karen, how brill you are for the early a.m. Yes, absolutely. I want to throw that into the next Hump Day Hmm along with my point above.

Let's do it: talk about gender, baby me, talk about you and me, talk about all the good...

And I'll end the singing now. ;)

*****

Andrea, in all of this, we just disagree. And that's fine.

What value has any of this got outside of wanting to please others?

Loads.

It's an evolution IMO.

I have learned through my 30s that I absolutely can't control what other people think or do. Can I influence? Do I affect? Sure, but I am powerless.

Why does writing make you happy? Why does a bluebird on the branch make me happy?

Happiness is hard to quantify.

So is feeling good.

What I do, what I wear, what cosmetics or accessories I put on my body...I do it for me. I really do. And I know that because I know I can't control what others think.

So I put myself together---physically, emotionally, spiritually---in a way that I think makes me attractive. Then I feel good about myself. Then I act like a better person. Then I know it is worth it for me.

I think you've mistaken, though, my "rat's ass decade" to mean I don't care what others think. Hopefully I've revealed myself to be a person who does care about others, but not to the point of trying to make myself who others want me to be, and *that's* what I mean. It's not about "not caring." It's about accepting I am powerless over others.

I don't necessarily think men's fluff is self-centered, but I do think men are encouraged to be self-centered in too many ways.

And I don't think women's fluff is all about pleasing others, although in our 20s and younger it probably is, and a lot of that is due to media ads, "Drink this beer and be POPULAR woot woot." WTFE

I'm saying I've broken free of that. Outgrown it.

So now? The point of lip plumper? Is I like how it feels. I like the tingle. I like how it keeps my lips moist and they don't chap, because chapped lips irritate me. I like Burt's Bees pomegranate chapstick just as much. If both vanished off a cliff, I'd miss them but I bet I could replace them pretty happily.

Do others like it? Good. If not? Oh well. If they worry about it? Here, let me show them statistics on the number of uninsured children in the USA.

What this is all about is my perspective, my internal landscape.

My me is maturing and solidifying and it's all right.

I know I can chat about how I like my lip plumper or chapstick for preventing chapped lips, how my Vitamin B has helped my allergies, or that the Vitapointe hair lotion controls my hair frizz and still know that I'm also the girl who, baby in sling, handed out a trunkload of diapers that I collected from stores and hospitals to Katrina evacuees. And I know others know this about me, and this this weighs more.

If you asked my friends, it is the heart of me they'd mention, despite lip plumper.

So where do I really do for others? There, at the heart.

The lip plumper? Is a silly indulgence for me.

le35 said...

I think that one of the reasons that the "fluff" sites are the top on the net is one of the same reasons that the gossip magazines are the ones at the check-out stands at the grocery store. Many people go to the internet for their entertainment. Much like they would go to the magazine section of Wal-mart, Barnes and Noble, or the local news stand for a serious magazine that they wanted news from, they look elsewhere for their news. When they go to the computer, for many people, that is their down time. They want to do the frivolous then. It's the way they get away. Everyone needs a few minutes in which to zone out from life. In the world of computers, that zoning out time is the "fluff" sites.

Robert said...

It seems somewhat ironic that it suprises anyone that the most common interests have the most people interested - shouldn't that naturally be the result? If you took a poll that asked whether people think the sky is blue on a sunny day, wouldn't it make sense that most say yes? The strange thing would be the percentage who say no. Yet people get surprised and annoyed by being considered stereortypical or "normal" simply because their answers to poll question are among the most popular.

I imagine my take on this is odd, but that's I felt. Odd. Odd that it seems at all surprising that the most popular sites answer the most common questions, because that would be the biggest market need, while the sites that fit less common or popular needs are not as popular. Of course they are not, but then, the fact that they exist at all is the important thing. The Internet gives people the chance to express themselves in one of the most public ways ever. Enjoy the rainbow.

Melissa said...

I agree with the commenter that said that the 'net is entertainment. For me, it is. I mean I work on it too, but I'm just as likely to do something silly as not.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I had a much better comment in mind when I read this three days ago in my mobile reader, but it's gone now. Sucked out by the wonderful air in Kemah.

Christine said...

god i love you julie.

really, this post was great. I feel like i have so much more to say about it but (as usual) i can't get all my words together. i guess what it boils down to is this: I, as a woman, am the sum of many things--everything from my love of shoes to my politic leanings make me who i am. and i do not feel any shame in that.

thanks for this.

Donna said...

Damn, you're good.

I hope I am half the writer you are when I finally grow up.

Now I'm going to move my shallow ass over to the TV to watch my favorite SATC reruns. :)

Gwen said...

Julie, I really liked this. And I wish I had the time to reply properly. But right now I have to go try to make my skin as lovely and luminous as yours. What do you use again?

;)

cynematic said...

Oh poo, my comment never made it through. Wordpress borked on me as I pressed send.

I too loved our little one-on-one. It was nice to just relax and chat.

And as for the lipstick, the hair, the discussions of shoes and lip plumper or whatever... I consider it a more advanced form of primate grooming. Time to socially bond and be amiable. Like when we sit down for a meal together, but primate grooming is, wonderfully, calorie free. :)

nonlineargirl said...

I really appreciate that distinction - that the glossy stuff is something, not the thing, we care about.

Natasha Becoming Something said...

This was great and in response to your Hump Wednesday, I MEANT to post a link to my first blog post on "Examining Discretion" but accidentally posted a link to another post that is also pensive and somewhat of an aha! moment for me.

I agree with what Andrea said but I don't see how it contradicts what you said. Except for the point she made about Feminism. It is a good point that our silly interests are centered on other people and comparisons whereas men's silly interests are often self-centered. ALTHOUGH... if you pick up a copy of Men's Health mag and read it, much of that theory goes out the window.

Hmmm....

Natasha Becoming Something said...

I just read your comment to Andrea. What you said is very similar to what I said here: http://becomingsomething.typepad.com/becoming_something/2008/07/examining-discr.html

However, I don't think that you and I represent the majority of women. I could be wrong and I feel bad about even casting a judgment but if I'm being honest, that's the judgment pool into which I cast my rod. We may even have enough friends like us such that we feel we're not alone but I'd argue that we've just attracted those people to us, or vice versa. I don't think that most women are like us. And if that's true, Andrea's point has some weight.

MommyTime said...

I don't know that I can add anything substantive to this conversation, as the comments have been nearly as thought-provoking as the post itself. But I wanted to thank you for yet another post that makes me think hard about myself and the life I'm trying to lead.

The desire to balance the "deep" with the "shallow" is never-ending, I find -- if for no other reason than that BOTH can be exhausting efforts, but in totally different ways. For me, each serves as a "break" from the other. I would feel completely unfulfilled without a life of the mind. But I would also feel anti-social and lonely if I never thought about the exterior parts of me (some of which concerns are, I freely admit, frivolous). I'm not saying these two get equal time and energy from me, or that I don't spend lots of time changing diapers and reading stories too, which is another category altogether. But I do think it's true that all people are multi-faceted, and the fluff (like you say, Julie) is only one facet.

And I just want to add a note for Kate, if I may. As the Blog Nosh editor who chose Julie's post, I am delighted to know that readers have found her and stuck with her as a result of it -- that's our dream over there, to connect readers with writers they'll love. Thanks for saying so!