Performing Femininity

The following is the introduction of the forthcoming book FEM–out later this month:

I remember getting into a fight with a boyfriend (a real fight, not an argument) and fleeing the scene to buy two new pairs of heels. Two good ones too—gold leather gladiator sandals (not some obnoxious shit either) and a pair of brown and black faux-snake strappy sandals.

I was still boiling mad at checkout but buying them made me feel whole again. It made me feel like I was still my own person no matter what else was going on—even if I went back to the dude in those same shoes the next week. They weren’t designer and I don’t know what happened to either pair now, but at eighteen, they mattered. I wore them all the time.

I had recently started wearing shoes around that time because of an office job. Well, it was only a workstudy position, which is a minimum wage work at a college reserved for low income students. But it was my first decent-seeming job after years of food service jobs. I’d been a busboy, a cashier, a bakery clerk. I learned quickly how different things were when you’re not wearing a hat and black pants to work. When I finally got a job that let me wear what I wanted and I didn’t spend on my feet every second of the workday, I started wearing actual clothes and stuff.

That job was also my introduction to the education field that went beyond taking classes myself. I was on the other side of the desk, albeit administratively, but it was professional. It was for a program that helped high school students get ready for college. Whole time I was taking the bus and was still in a bad relationship, but at least I didn’t make it look like it.

A million years later, I still wear heels and stuff most days. I just like being put together and being ready to go anywhere. Performing femininity is fun. It makes you stand up straight. How do I walk around all day in these shoes? Well, once you walk out the house with them on, they’re on. You just keeping walking.

I know being a feminine woman isn’t necessarily revolutionary. I know I’m not rejecting the patriarchy by buying and wearing skirts and heels and low-cut shirts. Aligning traditional womanhood on a traditionally attractive body and face is not very radical. But the control that I do have gives me the creative decision to do it a certain way.

Because like I used to think I was ugly. True facts. In high school, I was mad insecure and would look at myself in the florescent lighting at vo-tech like, wow I’m really ugly. Sucks. I think it didn’t help that I was still dressing like I was in middle school—jeans and sneakers jeans and Timbs. Then back to jeans and sneakers in the spring. For work, all I did was trade jeans for black pants.

At that time, if I wasn’t at school or work, I was booed up with one serious boyfriend or another. I wished and still wish I had someone looking over me more closely. I was just doing whatever. Working here or there. Smoking this, drinking that. Chilling different places. Everything around me kept me in that uniform.

The luckiest thing for me was that I always had a job and I was always good at school. Even without much effort, I did well. I knew what to do in a classroom, knew how to write, and I eventually learned how to advocate for my ideas. And I think that’s part of why I stayed in school for as long as I did (and have). That workstudy lead to tutoring which lead to a teacher’s assistant job which lead to a TA position which lead to adjunct and now instructor.

Part of my academic path had to do with the clothes too. My first major in college was nursing just because, well I don’t know. It seemed like a real job and I was in the trade mind state from high school. But by the end of the first semester I changed it to psychology partially because I didn’t want to wear scrubs every day. (I’ll note that I also didn’t “get” what I’d do as a psychologist either.)

It’s kinda dumb looking back. I half-wish I would have went up like no I should be a medical doctor, but I didn’t really know what was going on. And it’s really fine. I was always interested in reading and writing, so I think I landed where I was supposed to. I continued to flounder around throughout college, plus ya know ruining my life via men. But eventually I found my footing at the school. Click clacking down the hallway, even when I was pregnant in grad school.

I once read someone saying that dressing well was polite. I also think it’s part of having a poker face. No one can tell how much money I have or don’t have or that I’m raising a kid all by myself or that I’m feeling antsy at my job or I think I want to jump ship and move to another country to do a Peace and Conflicts Studies degree.

No. The only thing that people know is that I look good, if only to cope.

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