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lace, tulle, ribbons, satin– and why I love it all

polka dots lace

“I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of the crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”
Zooey Deschanel

I have mixed feelings about Zooey — well, mostly about the public persona she has– but I do love this quote. I’m not exactly sure who the “they” is that she’s referring to, but I know who “they” are in my life. Sometimes, “they” have been individual people telling me what I should be doing in order to be considered legitimate, or sexy, or mature.

I bought a Cosmo a few weeks ago– picked it up in the grocery store because it had an intriguing line on the cover. One of the features that month was evaluating what men in different parts of the world find attractive or sexy in a woman– and one of the quotes they had was a man talking about how a woman who drinks (and enjoys) beer is just so sexy. I asked my husband what he thought– and he nodded in agreement. “It can indicate that you’re not one of those women,” and he shrugged, flipping through his Aviation Week.

“One of ‘those women’? Who are ‘those women’?”

“Oh, y’know, high-maintenance, kinda bitchy– the stereotype city girl.”


He looked up at me. “What?”

“I am one of ‘those women.'” I tossed my Cosmo away and threw up air quotes.

Now he was just confused. After all, I grew up in the Deep South, I know how to handle guns, I want to buy a dune buggy so we can go “muddin’,” my wardrobe is primarily jeans and hoodies,  I’m a huge geek– there’s nothing about me, on a day-to-day basis, that screams girly girl. Even my own mother would confirm this– she spent nearly every day of my childhood and teenage years trying to get me into something that had lace on it. I detested frou-frou socks,” anything that had a drop waist– and yes, I absolutely hated Peter Pan collars. Hated them. Still do, actually. When I was finally somewhat in control of buying my own clothes, it was baggy chenille sweaters and twill khaki cargo skirts all the way. I spent almost half my life doing everything within my power to avoid anything that I perceived as stereotypically feminine.

Looking back, though, I’m starting to understand how my own in-born sense of style was slowly mixed up with the culture I was being raised in. On top of being burdened with all the restrictions of southern fundamentalist Modesty Rules– there was this entire culture of “tough women” or “Southern women” or “country girls.” I grew up in a place where half the pick-up trucks had “Silly boys, trucks are for girls” bumper stickers right next to the Browning logo. I grew up in a place that mocked the genteel Southern belle and idolized cowboy boots. I grew up in a place the helped create the lyrics of “Before He Cheats“:

right now he’s probably slow dancing with a bleached-blond tramp,
and she’s probably getting frisky
right now, he’s probably buying her some fruity little drink
’cause she can’t shoot whiskey

That’s the message I breathed in right along with hem lengths and collar heights– the kind of man you want to marry, the kind of man you want to be attracted to you, is going to want this version of a woman. The kind of woman you can “ride the river with,” as Louis L’Amour would put it. He’s not going to want some fragile, delicate little thing he couldn’t throw into the back of a Conestoga wagon.

And, I’m not exactly delicate– I think of myself as fierce, and capable, and independent, and a little bit bad-ass. But that does not mean that I automatically fit into every other mold designed to shape a “strong woman.” I cry at everything– everything— and I can’t handle violence in movies very well. I’m easily frightened; I refuse to kill bugs or spiders. I love shopping, and British tearooms, I’m obsessed with Paris and I love, love pretty clothes (<–that’s one of my pinterest boards, for the curious). I don’t like metal music, or heavy rock, and I’m a huge fan of Katy Perry.

In short, who I am as a person fits some parts of a stereotype about “girly girls,” but not all of them.

Part of discovering all of this about myself was incredibly painful. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a lot of things about me when I was in grad school. I did a lot of exploring, made a few decisions I regret, but one of them was allowing myself to be so pressured into not being “one of those women.” In an effort not to be perceived as anything remotely approaching high-maintenance, I down-played and mocked parts of myself. I alienated myself from myself so that I could win some kind of “cool woman” card. I tried 50 different beers looking for one I could tolerate, just so I could be a woman who liked beer, and that was somehow cooler than a woman who liked apple martinis.

It took me a long time to realize that it doesn’t matter.

It took me forever to figure out that I’m bad-ass, but I also want to be held and comforted. That I’m bold, and yet timid. That I’m confident, but terribly self-conscious. And all of these things that don’t exactly make sense when you put them together– they somehow make me who and what I am. Complicated.

And it’s ok for me to totally go ape-shit over haute couture, but spend most of my days wrapped up in my husband’s flannel shirts. And it’s ok for me to squee over the fact that the creators of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries are now doing Emma (which, y’all, SO MUCH FREAKING YES), but also loose my mind over the fact that Ender’s Game comes out in a few weeks.* I can love all things lace and lovely and fuzzy and cute and adorable– and apocalyptic grunge. I can drink my little fruity drinks with the little umbrellas, be a teensy bit high-maintenance, just a touch bitchy, and yet reject any person’s attempt to mock, belittle, or judge me. It’s totes not my problem if Judgy McJudgmentpants decides he doesn’t like me because I toss my hair too much, laugh really loud, and have opinions.

It’s all good.

I’m me– whatever that means.


*As a side note, you should be aware that there are people who are boycotting Ender’s Game because Orson Scott Card, the author of the book and a producer of the film, is a bigot. He’s spent the majority of his career viciously campaigning against LGBTQ rights. I have chosen not to boycott the film, but I believe that awareness of this is important. It is necessary to engage with any of the media you encounter critically.


Fascinating Womanhood: Appreciating and Admiring Men


Covering two chapters today (good thing, too. There’s like thirty chapters or something). Both are dedicated to women fawning over their men, essentially. I actually almost used a picture of Bella and Edward because of the feelings I have toward these chapters.

Sorrynotosorry if you’re a Twilight fan.

Surprisingly, most of the advice Helen gives in “Appreciate Him” is not bad advice. I’m not overly fond of the gendered way she talks about these ideas (as if women don’t need appreciation, too) but, if you take some of the things she said as “what it means to be a nice person,” then it’s golden. She says women should focus on things like character (which included the attribute kindness, shocker), intelligence, and the little things he does for others.

However, Helen also does have a section labeled “When you Can’t Find Anything to Appreciate,” which she subtly blames on the woman. It’s not possible that a husband is deficient enough as a person to not be worth esteeming– to Helen, even abusers have something worth appreciating.

When you have unwavering faith in his better side, you inspire him to live up to your conception of his ability. You offer him hope that he has not appreciated himself at his true value . . . You can, in fact, transform a man from an apparently stupid, weak, lazy, cowardly, unrighteous man into a determined, energetic, true, and noble one.

This, in the middle of a section dedicated to women who have a hard time appreciating their husbands. Instead of acknowledging that there might be some nuance involved, or that there might be a reason why this is a reality for these women, she essentially blames it on them. This book unceasingly puts all of the burden for the entire marriage onto the woman in every single instance. It’s frustrating.

She also tells us to look for “virtues beneath his faults.” If a man is obnoxious, it’s not because he’s self-centered or anything, no, it’s because he’s not appreciated by his wife. That is what makes him a “difficult man to live with.” A moody man doesn’t have any possible underlying issues like depression, no, it’s because he has high expectations that are not being met by his wife. If he’s neglectful, he’s actually a genius, and you just need to stop worrying your pretty little head about it.

She starts off chapter five, “Admire Him,” with a definition, since she notes that appreciation and admiration are similar ideas. The difference, she says, is that “you appreciate a man for his true worth, and what he does for you, whereas you admire him for his manliness.”

Oh, boy.

There’s a common idea in Christian marriage advice books: women want love, men want respect. But here, Helen says respect simply isn’t good enough. You have to admire him, and what she describes… Боже мой. And you specifically have to admire him for his masculinity, his manliness, and if he doesn’t receive admiration for himself as “a man” (starting from infancy, she argues) he will never be completely whole.

I realize that this book was written a long, long time ago, but I am working with the updated edition. If you go to the goodreads reviews, one of them claims to be from Helen’s granddaughter, who says she’s asked her grandmother to “update her language” and Helen refused. If books like Pride’s The Way Home are any indication, people who believed that masculine and feminine stereotypes are essential, they only dug their trenches deeper– and continue to do so.

One of the most damaging problems I’ve seen as a result of this gigantic push back toward gender stereotypes is that is hurts both women and men. In the gender essentialist system, no one wins, because no one is really allowed to be herself or himself. Men are expected to adhere to a gigantic list of what it means to be manly, and they face retribution and mockery if they do anything that could “revoke his man card.”

I was sitting in a bakery with many of my friends on Friday, and one ordered a chai tea because he thinks it’s delicious. He spent some time overseas, serving in the military, and developed a liking for it. When he ordered it, however, nearly every single man at the table exploded in some kind of “good natured” condemnation. Because tea, a simple beverage choice, isn’t manly enough. They seemed to be largely joking– I know that they have a lot of respect for the man who ordered the chai. But they still used an opportunity to mock and belittle a personal choice based on stereotypes.

And Helen is doing the exact same thing here, only in one sense it’s worse– because she’s telling women that enforcing these stereotypes is absolutely necessary in order for their husbands to feel whole. But what if their husbands don’t fit into those stereotypes? What then?

Her failure in this regard puts him on dangerous ground. When a man’s important needs are not met he may be vulnerable to the attentions of another woman who begins to fill these needs . . .

What he wants you to admire . . . are his manly qualities. If you admire only those traits which are alike in both men and women, he will be disappointed. For example, if you admire him because he is kind and thoughtful . . . he may appreciate your praise but it will do little to stir his feelings for you. It is his masculinity he wants noticed and appreciated, his masculine body, skills, abilities, achievements and dreams.



If you don’t, he’ll cheat on you. If you don’t, he won’t love you.

Got it.

I realize that this might have some small basis in reality– I mean, I see my guy friends get into *ahem* measuring contests nearly every single time I’m around them. If I make a comment about my husband’s amazing shoulders (always been a shoulders-and-arms girl. Swoon), he does perk up a bit– in much the same way I do if he appreciates any physical qualities of mine that he likes.

But, if I thought for one second that he was praising my ass because he thought I wanted my ass praised and not because he actually likes my ass, I’d be frustrated and possibly offended. And if I ever praised a physical quality of Handsome’s that I didn’t actually like, he’d be able to tell, and he’d be hurt.

It’s important to think about why we’re doing these things. Telling our partners we love the way they look: always awesome. If we actually love that about them. And every person is different. Telling women to praise their husbands physicality because of gender stereotypes is shallow and deceptive.

Also, she describes “dreams” and “goals” as being innately masculine. Tough luck, ladies. We don’t get to have dreams and “worthy goals” that we can be “dedicated to.” That’s just for our men.

And when you’re listening to him talk about the things he’s passionate about, remember:

don’t become so wound up in the subject that you form strong opinions which lead to arguments. Follow the conversation, of course, but follow the man. He may display special knowledge about the subject . . . if his attitude shows impatience . . . this may indicate that he has ideas on the subject, ideas that need to be appreciated.

Once again, it’s vitally important that you agree with everything your husband does or says, because anything less could cause an argument, and arguments will always end badly. Men and women are not capable of having an honest, tempered discussion about anything. You’ll just fight about it, so why bother?


“you can safely guess that if [your husband] deliberately talks over your head, he is doing so only to arouse your admiration. You need not be well educated or highly intelligent to follow a man’s discourse . . .

Whether you agree with him or not doesn’t matter. You sit there and admire, not his words, not his ideas, but his manliness.

I know I’m not a man, but as a human being, if my husband sat across the dinner table from me and disagreed with me and never said so, I’d be insulted. Because I would feel that he was doing the exact opposite of respecting me, because he would be refusing to truly engage with me on something I truly valued. I want to be challenged, I want to grow, I want to understand more than just what is inside my own head. I married Handsome because I want his thoughts, his perspective, his opinion, his arguments.

This relates to a conversation I had this weekend. Two friends of mine got into some banter about the girlfriend, once again, being right about something. Another man in the car piped up and said “don’t you know you’re in a relationship with a woman, and the woman is always right?”

Later, in a conversation with said woman, she felt that this comment represented one of the areas that women have power in our culture, that it’s a stereotype that “helps” us. I disagreed, because of what this comment represents: a woman’s argument isn’t valid because it’s based on facts, reasoning, logic, or experience. In fact, it’s probably wrong, but, because she’s a woman, it’s not worth disagreeing about, so you just let the silly, emotional woman “be right.” So you can get laid or something, because that’s the world we operate in, apparently.

That is exactly what Helen has been doing this entire chapter. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with him, if you think he’s wrong, it only matters that he thinks you admire him for things you may not even actually admire him for.


This is the fifth post in a series. You can find links to the rest of the series here.