Friday Fragments: Personal

Graphixia World Tour

My husband comes home tomorrow (at last!). If you’re interested in comics, you can check out what he’s been up to. He and our colleague Brenna Clarke Gray (some of you may know her as a Book Riot contributor) gave a paper on Scott Pilgrim and Canadian identity at Comics Forum 2012. Check out their videoblog of the conference. Then with another colleague and fellow Graphixian, David N. Wright, he gave a paper on Seth’s Dominion City at a conference on heritage districts in Beijing. I imagine they were the only people talking about comics at that one!

Black Friday

The only thing I bought today was groceries. I did start feeling the Christmas panic, though. In the last few years, Canadian retailers have tried to combat cross-border shopping with “Black Friday” deals of their own, and ads for those deals. This phenomenon led to the following conversation with my ten-year-old:

Her [indulging in some dramatics, as usual]: Black Friday! It’s a holiday for evil! Black is the color of evil!

Me: *Explains concept of “in the black.” Thinks I should tackle this “black is evil” thing sometime when I’m not trying to make dinner.*

Her: So it’s a random holiday for people to buy things?

Me: *explains American Thanksgiving’s four-day (for some people) weekend and its convenience for Christmas shopping*

Really, though, her explanation is better: it’s a random holiday for buying things, and there are evils of one sort or another associated with that.

The Social Construction of Desire

Anna Cowan wrote a really interesting post (and if you’re not reading her blog, why not?) exploring the way that desires and fantasies are socially constructed, and the way romance fiction could help us examine those constructs.

She begins by asking how one can write about female desire in a world where women are constructed as the objects of desire, not as desiring subjects:

What women have learned to be aroused by has traditionally been shaped by male desire. . . .

I don’t want to just write my heroines as objects of desire – but just because it’s learned doesn’t make it any less real. In fact, when our learned desires come into conflict with our educated feminist ideas, they can gain a level of taboo that only heightens them.

So how do you write what’s genuinely arousing, without playing into an idea of female sexuality that doesn’t allow for real female pleasure?

One answer, Anna suggests, can be found in Cara McKenna’s Curio, in which the characters “understand the role fantasy and objectification play in arousal, and . . . allow it to heighten their arousal. . . . Caroly plays with different fantasies – different ways of constructing herself sexually – but none of them defines who she is.” In a sense, the very “artificiality” of the fantasy frees the characters to play with and enjoy it.

At the risk of TMI, I connected with this post because these are questions I struggled with in my own life for years. Were my desires really “mine”? Were they acceptable, feminist, ethical, etc? It’s really only in *cough* middle age *cough* that I’ve let those worries go. Of course my desires are constructed. I am Freudian enough to believe that there is no such thing as unmediated access to our “authentic,” unconscious desires. They are always filtered in some way. I believe my desires are shaped by the patriarchal culture in which I live. But I’ve also come to believe there’s no getting outside that. That acceptance has freed me to explore and express myself more fully. I’d say reading and discussing romance fiction has been part of that process, and for that I’m grateful.

Vanity, Vanity, All Is Vanity

Anna’s post also made me think about my eyebrows. I had my eyebrows waxed for the first time this week. I went with a friend, and we had coffee after, which was a nice oasis in the midst of my time as sole cook, bottle-washer, laundry-doer, chauffeur, etc. But why the heck did I do it? My desire for different eyebrows was entirely socially constructed.

I used to like my eyebrows fine. But lately I’ve been seeing them as kind of messy. I’m not sure whether they changed. Probably they got shaggier with age, as eyebrows do. But it’s also true that as more and more women around me started getting their eyebrows done, my natural eyebrows began to look wrong and weird and unattractive to me.

So there it is. One part of my mind said that the only person I really want to find me attractive likes my eyebrows fine (or, in his words, “You’re not going to get those freakish skinny eyebrows, are you?”); that I should be above such shallowness and grateful for the perfectly good eyebrows God/Mother Nature/my parents gave me; and that the beauty industry is oppressive and sucks up women’s money that could be spent on other things (Hey author, how many eyebrow waxes is your book worth?). My desire for skinny eyebrows was learned from patriarchal culture, for sure.

Once, I would have beaten myself up for this. Once, I felt guilty about coloring my hair, but I’ve been doing it routinely for years (it darkened in my thirties, and I felt it made me look old). Now I just figure, well, my desire for different eyebrows is unnatural, but so what? What’s wrong with enjoying artifice? They look okay, I guess, but I’m not sure I’ll bother to do it again. Maybe I’ll just make more effort to keep my natural brows a wee bit tidier. Or maybe I can’t be bothered.

Speaking of Socially Constructed

I’ve seen a number of enthusiastic comments about GoldieBlox. I certainly support the idea of encouraging girls’ interest in engineering and science. But . . . I’m not sure what I think about this approach. In my day, we had engineering toys for girls: Lego, Tinker Toys, Erector Sets, etc. Why do we need a special pastel toy with a storybook and cute characters to interest girls in engineering? My suspicion? Because parents won’t buy them “boy toys.” Girls learn early that these toys are not for them.

If we want to encourage girls to go into STEM fields, we should probably start by ensuring that they have the same fucking toys as boys and making places like Lego and robotics clubs welcoming to mothers and daughters, not just fathers and sons. Excuse me. I guess I am sure what I think. But I’m as guilty as the next parent of buying my kids gendered toys, despite my best intentions. Social Construction R Us.

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7 Responses to Friday Fragments: Personal

  1. Ros says:

    My real question about eyebrow waxing is not ‘how many books is it worth?’ but ‘how much did it hurt?’ Because pain is the one thing I’m not prepared to pay for the sake of artificial constructed ideas of beauty. Ow.

    One of the things I really do love about my PhD (and there are very few so I cling to them hard) is that the Song of Songs is a book about female desire. There is male desire too, but the woman’s desire is front and centre throughout. She’s not afraid to say what she wants, even when it’s socially unacceptable or brings conflict. She’s not ashamed of what she wants and goes after it hard.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I didn’t find it hurt that much. Although it wasn’t exactly pleasant. The hardest part for me is that I am very sensitive to touch around my eyes, and after a bit my whole face just wanted to twitch and it was hard to relax.

      Re your PhD, how successfully much of organized religion has suppressed that. It’s definitely an imperfect social construction.

  2. Las says:

    I know, social construct, but damn, I’m jealous. I’ve been getting my eyebrows (and upper lip) waxed or threaded twice a month since I was 13. I know I don’t “need” to get them done any more than you do no matter how much hair I have, but not doing them feels the same as wearing a skirt with unshaved legs.

    Not that I think gendered toys aren’t problematic generally, but pastel colored Legos and such make even less sense to me, since girls playing with what are considered boy toys isn’t anywhere near as taboo as boys playing with girl toys. Are there really so many parents that won’t buy Legos for their daughters because they don’t come in pastel colors, or is Lego trying to attract girls who prefer traditional girl toys?

  3. cecilia250 says:

    A few of my students missed school on Friday because their parents took them down to the States for the shopping. This makes me feel very judgmental, I’ll admit. If they’d missed two days because they were visiting family for Thanksgiving, I would have thought nothing of it.

  4. jmcbks says:

    I do not shop on Black Friday. But then, I avoid the mall and refuse to buy at Walmart anytime of year, so that’s not a big sacrifice. I love the internet, which makes gift shopping so much easier 🙂

    On eyebrow waxing, I’ve had it done regularly in the last couple years. When I was younger, I had very nicely shaped brows, enough that people commented on them (weird, right?), but in the last couple years, they’ve crept toward a unibrow, which I don’t like. I color my hair, too, because I was noticeably gray by the time I was 25 and I hated it. Now I’m mellower about it, and don’t much care about visible roots. I group both of those things in with pedicures: buying in to a socially constructed image of women to some degree, but also enjoying the pampering of someone rubbing my feet, washing and styling my hair, etc.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Yes, although waxing was not entirely pleasant, it did involve lying down for 15 minutes with soft music playing. Never an awful thing!

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