relative femininity

Dr Crazy's been writing some thoughtful posts recently about (among other things) the genre of personal academic blogging and gender normativity. The concept of the "personal" is inevitably coded differently for men and women -- and often assumed to have a connection to the domestic and/or feminine.

I'd think it's quite safe to say that Dr C experiences her gender identity (whether on her blog or IRL) very differently from me -- the ways each of us inhabits her female identity is very different. (I'm much older, less girly, and half of a short-haired, comfy-shoe wearing lesbian couple -- among other things). But I've also been struck by how cushioned I am in my day to day life from ever even contemplating my gender identity these days. No one is likely to comment on my childlessness or my appearance, and most of the time I don't really think about it.

What brought all this particularly to my attention was that GF and I recently attended a funeral and reception involving her extended family and several generations' worth of family friends. I so rarely see so much plastic surgery (kind of shocking when the 60 year olds look younger than I do) up close, so much cleavage, or so many high heeled shoes. And I work in an English department with its share of stylish women. But they're stylish in the way that academics are stylish, feminine, and attractive -- which is to say, very very different from the rest of this city's inhabitants.

I've always thought of femininity as a relative construct. Next to my partner, I'm definitely the femme. In my department, I think I'm about a 5 on a 10 point femininity scale (makeup, but no skirts; boots, but no pumps or sandals; earrings, but no necklaces). I think for most of these women at the funeral, I'm not even on the same scale that they are.

Then, after the funeral, we went to the mall for one of our twice-yearly expeditions. Another version of the same thing. What are these women wearing and why? What does a woman like me have to do to get noticed at the Clinique counter to buy a refill of my sunscreen? (Sometimes it's mighty difficult. I left one department store where the clerks refused to pay attention to me and went down to the next one where they were happy to take my money.) In my usual routine of university, yoga, gym, grocery store, post office, and library no one cares what I look like. So it's a bit of a shock to be reminded of what mainstream culture thinks.

I should be clear: I don't want to look like scary plastic surgery lady or a girly girl. I'm mostly content with how I look and I'm certainly content with how I perform and experience my femininity. But I guess in losing some of my youthful self-consciousness I've also just stopped thinking about these things so much. What that means I'm not yet sure I've considered.