Tuesday, December 16, 2008

RIP Bettie Page 1923-2008


Here are some links to excellent articles on Bettie, her life, her legacy. I won't try and re-write them or whittle them down. Instead, just my favourite quotes from each article.

"She’s not playing stupid in these pictures, and it’s genuinely hot. She’s naughty without seeming to have an ounce of guilt to her. They cater to the fantasies of men who want something more interesting than cheesecake. But it was women (well, women like me and a lot of women I know) who put her popularity over the top. I suspect a lot of women see her picture for the first time and think, shit, I can actually be sexy without getting breast implants, dyeing my hair blond, and adopting a cloying posture. For real."

"I remember finding one of my grandfather's Playboy magazines and finding the image of Bettie wearing nothing but a santa hat pinning an ornament on a xmas tree. I sat there for hours looking at her. It was her joy and sexual confidence. She looked so different than the other women in the magazine. She was happy. She was sexually expressive. And she was powerful. "

"In light of her status as a darling of third-wave feminists -- between the sexual liberation and the cute bangs, what's not to love? -- it's worth remembering that her fame came, at least in part, from a lack of options. Page had already tried and rejected being a teacher, a secretary and a housewife when she got into modeling -- there weren't too many more careers available to women of her generation."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Do High Heels = Empowerment?

I read this article by Germaine Greer today. In it she is suggesting that high heels don't empower us, and the addiction to them is all "our" (read: women's) fault. Yes, it's all our fault! We prevent our own empowerment. With our love of shoes.

Now, it's worth a read, and I do suggest you pop over there and have your thoughts provoked. But it's something about the following paragraph that really puzzles me:

"Ever since the courtesans of Ancient Greece signalled their presence by the clacking of their shoes, high heels have been sexy. The margins of my surviving schoolbooks are filled with drawings of f***-me shoes. As an eight-year-old whiling away the long hours of watching over my baby sister I would prop my feet on dominoes set on their ends, and twirl my newly leggy self in front of my mother’s full-length mirror, yearning for proper high heels. Sadly, long before I was old enough to wear them, I had grown too tall. Like Jackie Kennedy, Princess Di and now Carla Bruni, I found myself restricted to kitten heels or downright flats. "

When I read this, I think....um, you aren't allowed to wear high heels because you are tall? How exactly is specifically choosing NOT to wear heels, because of your height, empowering yourself? Wouldn't it be quite the opposite?

Now I know some very tall women who don't like to wear heels. They don't like to tower over men, or their friends. It makes them feel less feminine, I suppose. As a person who is, by conventional standards, tall at 5'8", this has never been a question for me. I always wanted to be taller. So I will wear 4" or higher heels without a second thought. In fact, there's nothing I love more than the feeling of being taller than a man, or looking eye to eye with a man over 6' tall. I find it empowering, and it makes me feel sexy. Which is also empowered, in my books. But that's another blog entry, I suppose. And so it's hard for me to relate to the feeling of being "restricted to kitten heels," because I've never felt restricted.

Isn't this the ultimate in empowerment? Freedom? Never feeling restricted? That it is your choice to do and say and wear whatever you please?

The love that women have for shoes runs much deeper than the height of the heel. Single women are a new purchasing segment of the luxury market - and yes, we are sold to in a sexist, sometimes offensive manner. But we have spending power like we've never had before, because we are more liberated than we've ever been before. The correlation between Sex and the City and shoes isn't just that Carrie Bradshaw preferred shopping to sex, as Greer suggests. It is simply a new model of woman. Carrie Bradshaw, however unrealisitically, was an independant woman. She had her own apartment, worked full time, dated, had friends, and bought herself things with the money she earned. I don't want to equate empowerment with the ability to buy things. However, one way of looking at it is that Carrie wished to demonstrate her wealth - her self-made wealth - with her shoes. This is her choice, and I'm not sure that I can buy that this action constrained her in any way.

To me the modern idea of feminism and empowerment is centered on the right to choose. One must be aware of the fetishistic association with heels, and the physical discomfort. They can think of the weakness that heels ensure - for example the inability to run away from an attacker. If a woman is aware of all of these things, yet chooses to wear the shoes anyhow - for her own reasons - is this right to choose not empowered? I feel that it is. I feel empowered in the right environment in high heels. Because I dress for how it makes me feel, not for how I think it makes others feel. I think most women do.

What are your thoughts on this?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December is Buy Nothing Month

Buy Nothing Day. Have you heard of it?

If you haven't, the quick answer is that it is a day, usually the friday after American Thanksgiving, wherein you choose not to purchase anything. In doing so, you are protesting consumerism. Some would say that the day also "raises awareness" of the pitfalls of consumerism.

The Friday after Thanksgiving is known in the US as "Black Friday". To Canadians, we could really only compare it to Boxing day sales - our Christmas season starts after Halloween, so the Christmas rush has a slower start here, more gradual. Black Friday in the US is the offical start to the holiday shopping season, and it is on this day that the protesters have chosen to protest. The busiest shopping day of the year.

I have a lot of problems with the concept behind Buy Nothing Day.

Firstly, it is impossible for me to buy nothing. If I want to work, I have to buy gas. I also have to have auto insurance and home insurance and mortgage insurance, etc. Just some daily costs of living. However, there are plenty of others who simply couldn't buy anything at all. In contrast to myself, they are unable to participate in the consumerist society. It is very unfortunate. So, what exactly am I raising awareness about? How middle class I am? That I could buy anything that I want but I'm choosing not to? What value does that have?

Let's look at my lifestyle: Besides the things that just have to be purchased, like my gas, I also need to eat. I guess I could fast for Buy Nothing Day, but that seems to be unfair. Am I raising awareness about hunger and how mean I can get after six hours without food? Or am I protesting consumerism? Does food count? There are people who couldn't even buy food if they wanted to. Wouldn't it be better if I bought someone else something? What about Buy Someone Poor Something to Eat Day?

Not only is it insulting to not buy something for one day in protest, only to turn around and buy it the next day (or day previous), it's hypocritical. As such, I think if you really want to protest consumerism, you should do it in an authentic way. Perhaps giving some of your worldly posessions to charity would be a good idea. Donating some of your work wardrobe to an organization that helps young women find jobs. How about you hold a yard sale, sell your stuff, and then give the money away? That would be fighting consumerism. After all, consumerism is wrapped up in how your things make you feel. For me, my shoes make me feel good. Also my lingerie. What things in your life make you feel good. And could you do without them?

My job is in the wholesale business, so consumerism pays my bills. It keeps me in a nice home, and allows me to live a luxury lifestyle - not compared to television - but compared to the world. For me to not buy something, for one day, does not protest the world we have created with our North American capitalism. It also protests my own life and existence. It does not fix anything for anyone anywhere.

Raising awareness is one thing. Actually doing something? Much better.