Bad Fashion Ideas, Fall 2013: This Isn’t Funny Anymore, OK?

Omigod.

OK, so, I just went to the mall to check out what was happening in the anchor stores, what’s being marketed to women, what is determined by corporate buyers as completely appropriate and (at least on some level, I would hope this was a goal) aesthetically pleasing for the American woman buying clothing today.  And usually the clothes kind of suck but they’re also often a little funny and you know, even though you wouldn’t want to put this stuff on your body, maybe, at least you could kind of chuckle about it.

Today?  Not chuckling. Not even a little.

It’s rare that I leave the mall pissed off…I mean, really, really pissed about what I’ve seen in shopping land, but this trip was like a blight unto mine eyes.  For reals. I thought…whaaaaat…the fuuuuuuuuuck…are some of these midrange price point designers/buyers thinking?  If you ever need convincing there’s a secret war on women then come see me ’cause baby, I got the proof.

Usual rules apply: no clearance, all multi-state and/or national (U.S.) chain stores, so the distribution for these beauties is wide-ranging and a recipe for despair.

Let’s just start with this.  How did the conversation with the buyers go?  “Well, you know, that simple red sheath dress is so…sane, and practical.  Have you got any spare material laying around?  Because I’d really like to see this with enormously expansive side panels that add girth to the wearer, make no sense, and look like colorblocked bat wings.  Hail Satan.”

Done and done!

What. Is. This. About.

What. Is. This. About.

Though I’ll grant this: at the very least, this dress is trying.  It’s nightmarish in its efforts and the only message it would convey is that the wearer is either insane or on a mirror fast but, on some sad level, this dress attempts to define a person’s style.  Sadly, this was not the case with much of the clothing I saw in the stores this season.  There was an uncomfortable amount of pre-layered clothes, which are bad because you can never change the look of a shirt (ummmm…it’s better to let some faceless designer at a drafting table express yourself for you?) and the layers wear differently, so if one shitty, poorly constructed layer gets pilled/stained/stretched out of shape, the whole shirt becomes useless.

Though I would argue these shirts are pretty useless already.

Not even copious amounts of rum could ease the pain this shirt brings.

Not even copious amounts of rum could ease the pain this shirt brings.

For those fancy days at the office...

For those fancy days at the office…

100_7952-001

Ladies, repeat after me: NOBODY looks (or smells) good in unstructured 100% polyester.

And if a two-layered look isn’t good enough for you, then let me present you with a triple-layered shirt.  Because WTF.

Come on, seriously?

Three layers?  Seriously?

Worse: there are stacks and stacks of this crap.

Grim.

They suck your life and energy right out from under you.

Grim.  Please, buy separate pieces, people.  Because freedom, that’s why.

There was also a trend in “I Give Up” wear.  A phrase I totally stole from a beloved TV show, I Give Up wear is clothing for people who know they must adorn their bodies with fabrics in order to not get arrested, but don’t care/don’t know how to dress themselves/don’t have faith in their appearance/think for some reason they don’t deserve to look good.  Sad?  Certainly.

Nobody feels great wearing any one of these tops. Not really.

Because nobody feels great wearing any one of these tops. Not really.

And yet, I Give Up wear is alarmingly prevalent. There’s a study out there supporting the theory that zombie stories gain popularity during times of economic downturn.  It speculates about the nature of mindless consumption.  Is this a similar trend?  The economy is bad, the news is grim, we seem to be mired in endless war…just gimme a frigging shirt and STFU or I will eat your entrails off a spike.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I have a deep and abiding hatred for seasonal applique, which is total “I’ve Given Up” wear because people misguidedly think seasonal applique allows them to opt out of thinking about their clothes.  Of course you’re appropriately dressed, right?  It’s the end of August and your boxy, shape-free T-shirt has school buses and apples stitched onto it, so that must be right, right?  Wrong.  It’s not good or whimsical or fun; it’s a hollow bill of sale that makes the buyer think they’re “having fun” without actually…you know.  Having any.  If you see anything that looks like this (or jingle cows or halloween cats or soda-drinking polar bears)…

...RUN...

…RUN…

Try and avoid anything that makes you look like the prison matron from the movie Chicago, no matter how fierce Queen Latifah is in real life. Or anything that makes you look like you’re wearing one of those decidedly un-sexy retro gym suits that were mandatory in US high schools until the 1970s.  Or something that is a combination thereof, as the poorly designed item in the center of the photo below demonstrates. Unless, of course, you have a prison-drab fetish and if so? Then you can pair this blight with the shapeless blue-grey cardigan on the right for a full-out visual declaration that you don’t like yourself even a little.

It's a pity the actual prison matron costume has the most style.

It’s a pity the actual prison matron costume has the most zazz.

Here’s some quick rules by which you should abide when shopping this season. Or any season.

When buying skin-colored leggings (and this applies not just to the Caucasian variety, as the leggings depict but rather, any woman who buys leggings that are fairly close to her skin tone), be careful about the texture.

Because ew, that's why.

Because ew, that’s why.

Exercise extreme prejudice when facing down a short-sleeved sweatshirt with a pearl-embellished closed placket.

Kill if you must.

Kill if you must.

I don’t mind plaid shirts. I don’t mind crocheted lace insets. I DO, however, mind when these elements are all part of one confused shirt, which tries and fails to be cowgirl-sexy.

Poor confused shirt.

Plaid tie front and lace epaulets = a sad and lonely shirt.

Let’s not forget…

ruffles-001

*sigh*

And then there’s…

OH COME ON.

OH COME ON.

I give up.

I mean, I really give up.

There’s no coming back from this.  I’d like to present you with a few more things, just to drive the nail in the ol’ coffin of widely available women’s clothing this season.  First, here is the ultimate “I give up” ensemble.  Oatmeal-colored pants, washed out wallpaper-print pattern.  I even found shoes to match.  Please note: the shirt and pants were merchandised BY PROFESSIONALS as a potential outfit. SOMEONE THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA, AND PUT IT ON PROMINENT DISPLAY.

This is the newest uniform for greeters in Hell.

This is the newest uniform for greeters in Hell.

Seriously. I give up.

But it does make me wonder…these clothes are so, SO bad.  How could this be?  How could one season be so horrifically, pathetically ugly?  I’d even say the clothes this season actively work to undermine women’s confidence and sense of well-being, they are that bad.  How does that happen..?

Wait…

I think it’s coming clear to me…

Do you see it?

It's right there...looking at me...

It’s right there…looking at me…

It’s not…no…it couldn’t be, could it?

As a matter of fact…

...I think it could be...

…I think it could be…

That would explain so much.  I understand now!  Dark Lord Designs for the Fall 2013 win!

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Zamboni Lady Encounters the Worst Sex Advice Ever

DISCLAIMER: The Zamboni Lady is not a doctor, nor does she play one on TV.  She is, simply, a busybody who wants to know everyone else’s business.  The advice, while well-meant, is not meant to substitute for legal advice or protection, indicate a definitive way to live one’s life, or in any way imply that you should take her advice any more seriously than you would the advice of the bestie of your bestie, given out over a long and tear-soaked evening of nachos and margaritas.

***

Recently, I’ve come across the worst advice I think I’ve ever seen in an advice column, and this is for real.  Here’s the problem:

Dear [Advice Columnist],
My boyfriend of one year and I are both recently graduated twentysomethings living at home like true millennials. While this has caused a few bumps in our love life, his mother is very open, liberal and allows me to spend the night at their house with him. Usually his mother gives us plenty of space, except for insisting on making us coffee and breakfast some mornings. The other day as we were being intimate, his mother called him on his cellphone. She often calls even when she knows we’re in the house so as not to barge in. This time, he answered the phone and continued to have sex with me as he talked to her. I was livid and disturbed, not to mention feeling cheap in a very Oedipal way. We talked it over at length and he recognized that it was inappropriate and immature, and he apologized. But I can’t help feeling that this should send a self-respecting young woman packing and running. Am I overreacting?

—Don’t Answer

OK, seems pretty icky, right?  And pretty straightforward.  There may, legitimately, be a time or a reason for answering the phone mid-sex but when that time comes, all booty should stop.  When your boyfriend answers the phone during sex and keeps getting down, it seems to me that he bought himself an express ticket to the curb.  But that’s not the advice this person was given.  Instead, she was basically informed that her instincts preserving her sense of self-worth were off and ultimately, she’s an insignificant tart.  Read on, as I interpret the subliminal context of this woman’s advice.

Dear Don’t,

Obviously what he should have said was, “Mom, we’re in the middle of coitus, so don’t interrupt us.”

I mean, what else was he supposed to do?  He can’t stop having sex because he decided the phone was more important than you!  He’s a guy, if they don’t get that sort of release the sperm backs up and it gets really painful.

Millennials assert that one of their distinguishing characteristics is the seamless ability to multitask, and if you accept the thrust of that argument,

HAHA!  “Thrust”, get it?  Get it?  Get it?  Yeah.  You got it, all right.

then your boyfriend was only demonstrating his prowess.

More haha!  “Prowess”, get it?  I feel absolutely justified in abusing you to your face and telling you that you should count yourself lucky to have your phone-answering man.  Why? Because your question has quickly become invalid; you’re a dirty whore having sex in your boyfriend’s mother’s house.

You’re also looking at the wrong Greek myth to explain what happened.

I need to make you feel stupid whenever possible.

I don’t think the events revealed an attraction to his mother, but to the siren song of the cellphone, a device to which people of all generations often feel more intimacy and loyalty than to their human partners.

So suck it up.

I’ll also offer the following excuse on your boyfriend’s behalf since he neglected to: Maybe when he realized it was Mom calling, he worried that since she knew he was home, if he didn’t answer she might go looking for him and find herself barging in flagrante.

Mother is so sexually naive that she lets you spend the night, but thinks you spend it sleeping.

Alternatively, being in his childhood bedroom may have kicked in the Pavlovian response that when Mom calls, he responds.

A boy’s best friend is his mother, Norman.

Whatever his subliminal thought process, of course his answering the phone ruined your mood. But this is just a tiny hump

HUMP!  OH MY GOD I AM ON A FUCKING ROLL!

in your relationship and not a reason to flee. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson, but the next time you two get romantic, make certain to lock the door and turn off the phone—don’t even let him think about leaving it on vibrate.

Because a phone that’s turned off will completely deter a worrisome, barging-in mother.   VIBRATE!  *tee hee* p.s. I hate your taut young vagina.

I am not making this up.

So let me do what I can to correct an egregious wrong, though I don’t know if the person who asked this will ever see it.  Your boyfriend absolutely took you for granted in the most fundamental and dismissive way possible.  At that moment, you were no more emotionally relevant to him than a fleshlight.  If, weeks later, you still feel betrayed, that’s understandable, and you need to take the time to figure out if you ever think you can trust him again.  Will he always jump at his mother’s call?  Will he always put his cell phone ahead of you in his priority list?  That is not OK.  Start to watch his other behaviors–does he tune you out in favor of Facebook/Halo/Game of Thrones while you’re trying to have a conversation about your day?  Can he leave a text alone?  Is he always like that with other people, or does he only do that sort of thing with you?  I can’t tell you whether or not you should bring your relationship to an end, but I can tell you that if his behavior doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, then you seriously need to reconsider if he’s worth your time.  Good luck.

HBO’s “Phil Spector” Movie: Fail

By now (I admittedly assume), many of you have at the very least heard that HBO has made a movie called Phil Spector.  If you’ve been reading my blog at all you’ll also know that I was at some point legitimately interested in this movie, until they bewigged Al Pacino (who plays Phil Spector) so profoundly that he ended up bearing a striking resemblance to Bea Arthur.

And then came Phi-i-il!

It was on.  I watched it.  And it?  Was. Terrible. Though it was terrible in a weird way.

I mean, the acting is actually quite good.  Jeffrey Tambor, as always, turns in a solid supporting performance.  Helen Mirren is hard to not admire and Pacino has “googley-eyed, crazed, self-absorbed and possibly violent narcissist” down cold, though I’ve never quite forgiven him for casting Winona Ryder as Lady Anne in Looking for Richard.  But I digress.  So no, it’s not the acting. It’s everything else.

David Mamet produced, wrote, and directed this movie.  I kind of have a love/hate relationship with David Mamet.  On the one hand, he and I are worlds apart in our personal philosophy and politics, and I’m fairly sure that if I were to spend any time with him I’d end up wanting to staple things to his face.  On the other hand, his films include The Untouchables and Glengarry Glen Ross, both of which I will be grateful for forever.  I’m not completely dead-set against his filmmaking, as a rule, though to be fair the movies he’s done that I like are 20+ years old.

But.

Phil Spector has its own agenda.  According to the production team (including, of course, Mamet), it is an allegory, which means it’s “…a device in which characters or events in a literary, visual, or musical art form represent or symbolize ideas and concepts.”  Allegory is a powerful tool that has generated significant social commentary.  Pink Floyd’s The Wall is an allegory.  So is The Matrix, and Animal Farm, and The Planet of the Apes, and The Lord of the Flies.  To name but a few.  There is, however, a common thread that runs through all these stories: they’re made up.  We haven’t REALLY landed on an ape planet, there isn’t REALLY a musician named Pink telling us that we don’t need no education, and we aren’t REALLY batteries inside a giant computer program (that we know of).

Allegories can, of course, have a factual basis or inspiration; Animal Farm, for example, was an allegory about the rise of Stalinism. But it’s not set in the Kremlin, featuring people instead of animals, with a mustachioed tyrant named Joseph in charge. p.s. That’s why, as an allegory, it works.

In an attempt to prove the movie Phil Spector is an existential allegory, HBO has included a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie that reads (verbatim):

This is a work of fiction. It’s not “based on a true story.” It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.

They could have put the same kind of disclaimer at the beginning of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter with equal validity. Look!

This is a work of fiction. It’s not “based on a true story”. It is a drama inspired by an actual person who occupied the American presidency, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the events of that person’s early life or his path to the presidency.

And that’s what pisses me off.  David Mamet, I’ll say it here.  You, sir, are a dirty, dirty liar.

It’s not based on a true story except that its storytelling employs:

  • Actual people (Phil Spector, lawyer Linda Kenney Baden, dead person Lana Clarkson)
  • An actual event (the murder of Lana Clarkson and subsequent trial of Phil Spector)
  • Actual witness testimony (i.e., the experts called in to testify, showing taped testimony from ex-wife Ronnie Spector as she recounted his history of violence with her)
  • Actual evidence that supported Spector’s claim (the lack of blood spatter on his coat)
  • Actual evidence the defense disputed (i.e., the chauffeur’s testimony, disputed because “he doesn’t understand English”)

And so on.  It’s not “based on a true story” except when it is.

So there we are, watching a movie about a guy that we know exists concerning an event that we know happened.  And the sets and costuming look right and the evidence is confusing and trying to get past Phil Spector’s (sorry, I mean Al Pacino’s, since this isn’t a movie about Phil Spector, amirite?) massive array of wigs is exhausting…  David Mamet is a smart guy.  If, and I mean only if, Mamet & Co. had written the same movie, with the same characters and the same script, and called it Schnil Schnector, then I wouldn’t care about it even a little.  I mean, there’s a perfectly fine, allegorical film about the perils of rock-stardom called The Rose that everyone knows is actually mostly about Janis Joplin but isn’t because the writers didn’t use that name.  But calling the movie something else wouldn’t allow him (or HBO) to capitalize on the public interest in a lurid trial.  Thus, he calls it Phil Spector and incorporates real evidence and creates the illusion of reality, while his bullshit disclaimer asks us all to ignore the man behind the curtain. It’s disingenuous (to put it kindly) for him to suggest that people wouldn’t see his movie as a biopic/docudrama.

The woman–the dead person–whose brains ended up on Phil Spector’s floor (for real) is barely a factor in this movie, and only then as a suicidally depressed failed actress with a streak of kink (they suggest she wanted the gun for foreplay).  They don’t mention that her blood was found on the staircase (don’t think she was doing much walking after the bullet severed her spine) or that it looked like Spector made a drunken attempt to clean up evidence (there was a diaper used to mop up her blood in the garbage can of a nearby bathroom) or that the gun that killed her was found in her left hand, even though she was a righty.  They don’t mention that she had her purse on her shoulder, which sounds less like “I’m going to kill myself” and more like, “I’m outta here!” Surely if I can access this sort of information from a cursory cruise through the internet, David Mamet’s research team could, as well.

One reviewer said this “allegory” was written to tell the story of the idealized, rational American (personified in the movie by lawyer Linda Kenney Baden) who takes the time to review evidence before making a decision.  I wonder if that reviewer will ever appreciate the irony that–even allegorically–there is no rational decision making when you’ve only got half the evidence, which is at most all this movie presents.  Their claim, using the Spector case as a basis, is that successful men are all targets for haters who want The Patriarchy taken down.  If what the Idiot Left wants to do is take down successful men, then why (God in Heaven, why?) is Donald Trump still freely roaming the world, generating money at will?

It’s not that I object to someone having a different opinion than I do.  I acknowledge that my opinion about Phil Spector’s guilt or innocence is based on what I kind-of know about this case + his alleged reputation for abuse.  I don’t know what I would have thought if I sat on his jury.  But twelve people who were presented with the entirety of the evidence found him guilty. Twisting Phil Spector’s already twisted, tragic story so that it is beholden to Mamet’s personal agenda is evidence only of Mamet’s self-aggrandizing stance as a beleaguered “Successful Man” still nursing a grudge from the flack he caught over Oleanna. Phil Spector, the real person, whose contributions to the world of rock & roll were groundbreaking, deserves more than to be a pawn for David Mamet’s personal crusades. Lana Clarkson, the dead woman at the center of this all, also did not die so she could be Mamet’s whipping post. What David Mamet does in Phil Spector is a disservice to the public discourse, to all the people whose lives have been directly impacted by this case, and the concept of “allegory”.  What I object to, in this movie, is Mamet’s shitty storytelling.

Travel Theme: International Women’s Day

Ailsa’s travel theme this week at Where’s My Backpack? focuses on International Women’s Day.  Awesome.

When I finally decided to get my butt back into school, I had the very good fortune to go to Wellesley College.  Yes, it’s a women’s college.  Wellesley is academically top-notch, I got to study a subject that I loved, it opened up whole new fields of interests for me that I didn’t know I had until I got there, and I was surrounded by amazingly intelligent, funny, interesting women of all ages and backgrounds and orientations and histories, who never seem to want to stop learning and growing.

The school is still a source of mental strength for me.  I go back and visit when I can; it’s an astonishingly beautiful campus.  And the lessons I learned while I was there are with me to this day.  Going there wasn’t “easy” in the traditional sense of the word–I lost a ton of sleep to late-night cram sessions and smoked five times as many cigarettes as I should have–but it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself.

The Carillon.

The Carillon.

The academic quad.

The academic quad.

The library seen through the rhododendrons.

The library seen through the rhododendrons.

Down we go!

Down we go!

My old dorm! That porch was the setting for most of my late-night smoking.

My old dorm! That porch was the setting for most of my late-night smoking.

Me, rowing crew on Lake Waban.  (OK, so I didn't take this picture.)

Me, rowing crew on Lake Waban. (OK, so I didn’t take this picture.)

Reunion weekend!  So glad to be back around fierce women of all ages.

Reunion weekend! So glad to be back around fierce women of all ages.

The Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer

My mother’s neighbor recently moved, and thanks to circumstances beyond the neighbor’s control (advanced age, limited living space, a bossy daughter) much of her non-essential belongings ended up stacked four feet high and three feet deep on her curb in anticipation of their final ride in the garbage truck.  It would have been a shame to have let all her items go unappreciated.  It was a whole lifetime of stuff she’d acquired over the years–furniture, glassware, cookware, tchotchkes.  Of course I raided the stacks and quite frankly, I made out like a bandit.  I got a heavy, lidded roasting pan, a white vinyl step stool that I would say is retro only it’s been with the original owner for about fifty years so that’s…what?…ahh, vintage.  I took so much stuff my boyfriend had to pack the car like it was a giant 3-D puzzle.  Among my favorite things (it’s a toss-up with the step stool) is the Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer.

Swoon.

Let me repeat that.  It is a FOOD.  GLAMORIZER.  Who doesn’t want glamorous food which would then, of course, make you all that much more glamorous by association?  Made by Feature Products of Chicago, Illinois in 1963, the Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer is one glorious streamlined nugget of space-age technology, and ought to be a mandatory component in the tool belt of any domestic goddess.  Look at all it offers.

A masterpiece of culinary multitaskery!

A masterpiece of culinary multitaskery!

If only it sliced, diced, and julienned.

IMG_0016
View One: Strip Cutter, Vegetable Scraper/Shredder and Peeler

Would you like to peel strips of zest off your lemons with ease?  Create carrot curls?  Shred cabbage?  Let the Food Glamorizer help!  And note how the handle slides neatly over the end not in use, to protect wifely hands while making radishes look like rosettes.  Because who doesn’t want their radishes to look like rosettes?  Let’s try, shall we? Using the Strip Cutter, the notch right at the very end of the Glamorizer, you pull down the sides of your radishes and then…

Ehrm...uh...oooOOoooOoo!

Ehrm…uh…oooOOoooOoo!

OK, OK.  This one sort of looks like I’ve stuck an aorta onto the back end of my radish.  Maybe the results with the vegetable scraper will be better.

HAHAHA!  No.

HAHAHA! No.

Mmmm, beeee-yooo-teeeee-ful!

Or, actually, opposite.  I admit, this one sort of looks like I’ve retrieved it from an early journey into the garbage disposal.  Or that I’ve surrounded it in raw chopped meat.  I can’t decide which is less appealing.  They’re both innately wrong.

I won’t trifle with you all regarding the vegetable peeler.  I assume you all know how to peel things.  It’s time to flip the handle and see the other design elements incorporated into the Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer.

Fancy Cutter: Notice the detail!

View Two: Fancy Cutter. Notice the detail!

Behold how the handle flips around and fits easily over either end!  When you have the peeler end covered, it makes for an incredibly comfortable grip for your Kitchen Magician Pocket Shiv.

Well, you tell me what you’re going to use that for.

No, I kid!  It’s not intended for use in stealthy prison murders.  It’s the Fancy Cutter. It’s for fancy cutting!  Let’s see what this baby can do.

Oh, OK, that looks kind of all right.

Oh, OK, that looks kind of all right.

Only…

No it doesn't.

No it doesn’t.

Do note: it’s surprisingly sharp and goes into vegetables like they were made of butter.  This poor, mutilated radish was the result of some only slightly too angled initial cuts.

Sigh.  I thought gadgetry was supposed to make the domestic goddess’s life easier.  I thought I’d be making radish rosettes and harlequined lemons in no time!  Instead, this Kitchen Magician Food Glamorizer is more like a Kitchen Barbarian Food Brutalizer.  No wonder it didn’t become standard household equipment.  I wonder how many housewives of 1963 felt bad about themselves because they were serving their families inadequately glammed-up food?  O, the many perils of womanhood!  Frankly, I’m going to be too busy making food that is beautiful of its own accord to devote my time and energies into mastering the Food Glamorizer, no matter how glamorous that may seem.  But you know what?

It looks kitschtastic when proudly and eye-catchingly displayed on my cookbook shelf.  What more could I possibly ask of it?

WTFery: Where The Girls Are (1965)

While trolling the stacks at a local flea market/treasure trove, I found a book called Where the Girls Are, published in 1965 by Peter M. Sandman and the editorial staff of Princeton University‘s student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian.

Feast your eyes...

Feast your eyes…

Truth: I don’t think I even opened this book at the flea market; I saw it sitting on a shelf marked “All Books 25 cents” and, entertained by the nymphs frolicking at the bottom of the cover, declared it mine.  I don’t even think I read the back cover.  I had no idea what I had in my hot little hands.

Apparently, Where the Girls Are is very difficult to come by.  A (not overly-extensive, but still several Google pages deep) search on the internet turned up listings in used book stores (with a first edition going for as much as $45!), but gave me no real excerpts.  Fine, I say.  I’ll make them myself.

You see, as a woman, and as one who went to college, I was of course attracted to something that promised to be a cornucopia of the craptastic and focused on the wimmens.    What I didn’t realize was just how malignant this book is.

It is, of course, a product of its time, and the perspective re: the battle of the sexes was markedly different in 1965 than it is today.  Even with that being said, Where the Girls Are is a nightmare of epic sexism, though at least the introduction written for the female college student reader admits that.  And I quote:

S.T.E.R.E.O.T.Y.P.E.  Stereotype.  We know it, we admit it, we proclaim it.  Where the Girls Are is loaded with stereotypes.  So what else is new?

Niiiiiiiiiiice.

Where the Girls Are (WTGA) is ostensibly a guide to which colleges have the most datable co-eds and having dated in the course of my life I get that dating can be one giant visual feast and con game.  However, the sneering tone with which the authors discuss things like female intellectualism, social class, attractiveness (or attractiveness in relation to their social class), the ways to engineer an invasion of dating turf and each college’s permissible levels of winking-at-the-indiscretions-drunkenness only leads me to believe the author(s) wrote this with the intention of inciting as many boners and/or date rapes as possible.  Consider their descriptions of two different California schools.  The 8,000 attractive, middle class co-eds at UCLA, they say, “…face almost no intellectual pressure and spend most of their time–weeknights, weekends, any time–dating.  They go out as much as they can with anyone who’ll ask them; they’ll go anywhere and do anything; they just don’t care.”  At Stanford, however, a different story unfolds.

“Nine out of ten California girls are beautiful and the tenth goes to Stanford.” So they say along the Pacific coast.  Leland Stanford Jr. University has 1,718 female undergraduates, which makes is undoubtedly the largest collection of Plain Janes in the country.  And what’s worse–O Infamy–most of them are serious book-weenies.  They study a great deal, which on the West Coast just isn’t done, and they earn better grades than their male counterparts, which just isn’t done anywhere.

Though there is some benefit to dating the Stanford female.  Again, I quote, “As one knowledgeable senior male put it: Well, they may be ugly, but they sure are rich.”

Damn.  I suppose I should be grateful for the honesty, since these are the things people think but do not say.  But damn.  At least there are no illustrations.  I mean, could you imagine the snark that would flow from the fingertips of the author(s) if there were illustrations that could be drawn to highlight whatever unflattering stereotype you wanted to highlight?  I mean, THAT would be like calling open season on….

Huh?  There ARE illustrations?  *checking*

Indeed there are.  The 1965-flavor staff at The Daily Princetonian did, it seems, deem it amusing to include drawings that represented various school stereotypes, and what the inquiring dater could expect on his search for the perfect co-ed.

Say, for example, you’re going to be somewhere near the University of Delaware and thought you might check out some local action.  According to WTGA, in 1965 the UofD campus was where “nineteenth-century ideals and mores [were] applied to twentieth-century technology”.  This was at the cusp of the sexual revolution, after all, so the UofD took its “no members of the opposite sex in dorm rooms/chaperoned parties/alcohol free campus/surrogate parenting” duties seriously.  Should the randy traveler find himself at the UofD in search of a date, he could expect…

Grim tidings from Delaware.

Grim tidings from Delaware.

…a scrawny drudge who goes to class with curlers in her hair.  The illustrated co-ed is one of “…all except the third who flunk out [that will] manage to serve their full term (translation: graduate from college), quiet and obedient.”  Of course, the next line reminds the reader, “Quiet and obedient girls can have their advantages.”

*swoon*  Take me away, Prince Charmant!

Or suppose our randy traveler (I need to write a story with a character named Randy Traveler) ends up on the outskirts of Philly, looking for something to do.  Bryn Mawr is close, and it’s a college full of young ladies.  Chances are good that they’re not all claimed by the men on campus, right, ha ha?  Only…

Don't make me philosophize all over you.

Don’t make me philosophize all over you.

Apparently, the women of Bryn Mawr can’t even be bothered to wear non-gnarly socks.  They are “…that dread word–intellectuals.  Not all of them resemble the owl on the school’s seal, but nearly every one of the 750 of them got higher college board scores than you did…”.  Oh, God, no!  Not another school full of smart women!  It’s a place where, “Foreign food is in.  Ivy League “preppies” are outnumbered among dates by the soulful beard-and-jeans set; at Bryn Mawr the description of “Ivy” is likely to be intended as an insult.”

Oh, really, Princetonian, Ivy League guy?  Should they forget the “owl intellectual” comment and throw themselves at your feet?  I mean, not every girl can be like those at the University of Texas.

Yee. Ha.

Yee. Ha.

The women of UT are, apparently, rope-’em sexy, and “part of  a pleasure-seeking herd” who “keep all signs of sophistication well-hidden.”  Apparently, all you need is a way in the front door (find a friendly bro and have him introduce you around; you’ll meet a herd girl), a working knowledge of football and mastery of the terms “Yes, ma’am” and “Y’all come on, y’hear” and you’re ready to take the ladies of Texas by storm!  No substance necessary.

My favorite description in WTGA is, of course, the one about my very own alma mater, Wellesley College.  He starts by talking about Hoop Rolling, the admittedly tepid springtime event celebrated even to this day where graduating seniors dressed in graduation gowns roll their hoops down Tupelo Lane.  It’s a throwback to a much earlier time when the hoop-rolling winner would be the “one to marry first”.  Sigh.  Now the winning hoopster is traditionally the first one to find happiness and success however the winner defines it, but it’s still a charmingly antiquated tradition.  And I digress.

Considering the derogatory evaluation given the skinny girls at Delaware or the “owls” at Bryn Mawr (see pictures to freshen up the old memory), you’d think Sandman & Co. would be glad to see women who have a reputation for athleticism.  Instead…

Hulk smash!

Hulk smash!

Code name: Lesbian.

This is only highlighted by the statement that “The Wellesley girl’s athleticism, by the way, is mainly confined to athletics.  The occasional juxtaposition of energy and romance is most likely on the shores of Lake Waban: If you walk around the lake three times with a Wellesley girl without proposing, she can throw you in.  She probably will.”

Translation: Don’t expect to get laid.  EVARRRRRRR.

Sandman noticeably leaves the Ivy League schools alone; there is no mention of Harvard, Yale, Princeton.  In 1965, most of the Ivies still weren’t admitting women as undergraduates, though there were a few that did allow students in as graduates.  There are two notable exceptions included in this book.  He talks about the “surprising number of uglies” at the University of Pennsylvania, trapped in the flaccid city of Philadelphia (elsewhere touted as a great place to go).  He also talks about the over-hyped intellectual rigor at Cornell, and that it’s easy to get around the admissions requirements.  Part of me thinks this could simply be sour grapes, and he’s swinging away at schools that have the wimmens close by, since his school doesn’t have any.  Smart money says Sandman’s UPenn girlfriend dumped him for a Cornell man and there is no small amount of vengeful backlash in these two entries.

Ultimately,  I don’t care that he thinks Wellesley women are wink-wink “athletic” or whether or not Stanford women meet his measure of attractiveness.  What I do care about is his anti-intellectual bias and the way he switches evaluative measures; women in this one school aren’t smart enough, in another they’re too smart.  They’re too skinny, too middle-class, too tied to their homes, so pretty they’re not available, not pretty enough, too free-spirited, too constricted, too outdoorsy.  It’s dizzying, and ultimately highlights the fluid nature of the “standards” women have been asked to live up to.  Menfolk: I get that there are a host of conflicting standards by which you are expected to live your lives, too (do you make enough money?  Do you use that money to control people?  Are you athletic?  Are you too much of a jock?  And so on, and so on) but I don’t have a book in front of me spelling it all out.  WTGA reinforces blatantly sexist stereotypes, and WTFery like this is still alarmingly relevant.  Don’t believe me?

Read any press ever written about Hillary Clinton over the past thirty years, and see how she’s been represented and misrepresented…smart enough, too smart, not mommy enough, overly emotional, not tough enough.  Nobody ever gave John Boehner a hard time because he didn’t bake cookies.

These women are too pretty to date.

This article addresses the recent controversy over the monitoring and protection of the femininity of female Olympic athletes.

This 2012 article says women have finally stopped playing dumb in order to find a man who will marry them.

This 2012 article discusses the anatomy of the “perfect woman” and includes the statement that “men report less marital satisfaction when the female was the breadwinner of the family. So success is hot—just not too much success.”

This article asks if Jennifer Hudson, overweight when she first achieved fame, is now too skinny.

In this article, Jessica Simpson says that when she saw her weight right after having her first baby, she “thought her life was completely over.”

And on, and on, and on.  Where do you find the balance in all of this?

I do find it ironic that Peter M. Sandman, author, went on to a career as a communications professor and that one of his areas of specialization was outrage management.  I’m fairly sure he’d tell me to get over it, as tongues were firmly planted in cheeks and boys will be boys, har-de-har.  I’m almost certain I’d tell him to go fuck himself, and he can bury his har-de-hars deep in his over-smug self-promoted stereotype, because after all, what are Princeton boys except for conceited tools with a false sense of entitlement?

To Wrap, or Not To Wrap; That Is the Question

About a week ago, I had a completely unexpected moment of social anxiety. George and I had taken a trip to Baltimore to see his daughter and were back home for a day before heading out to do the big round of Christmas vay-cay visiting we do every year.  We went out to get some dinner since neither of us were dying to cook during that one day of relative peace and relaxation, and a lack of desire to cook doesn’t change the fact that a girl’s gotta eat.  The local bar and grill we went to was pretty busy in the dining room, so we took two seats at the bar and figured we’d just have our dinners there.  As we were staring down the beginning of the holiday festivities and I knew we were headed toward some championship eating, I ordered a cup of soup and a salad.  Because I live in America, even the salads are huge.

Not exactly what I had, but close. Photo from http://www.floridatoday.com

With me so far?  Good.

Before I go a step further, you have to understand one thing about me: I am a relentless half-serving eater.  When George and I go out to eat, I almost always end up taking at least half my food home, thanks to the fact that restaurants serve outlandishly large dinner portions.  It usually doesn’t matter what I get; I mentally cut my serving in half and plan for an extravagant breakfast.  George has been with me for eight years and knows this as well as he knows anything else about me.  In fact, he often says he wishes he could do the same, but he is a gold-star member of the Clean Plate Club and that is so ingrained in the fiber of his being that he would need an intervention to help him put the fork down before his plate was empty.  (Honey, I love you, but you know it’s true.)

Anyway.  We were sitting at the bar and I was powering through the mentally allotted half of my ginormous salad, and we were exhausted from driving and laundry and packing for another trip so even though we weren’t quite “done” in restaurant body language (still picking at food, napkins on laps instead of the table, not leaning back in finished contentment), we were ready to go as soon as possible. George called the bartender over, said we’d like the check and asked for a box for me. This is where things got weird. The bartender visibly bristled and said, “Oh, I don’t know, I think she can work her way through her salad.”  Then he turned to me and said, “Are you ready for a box?  Or do you want a few more minutes?  How about I keep an eye on you and see if you need anything?” Remember, I was tired from traveling and was facing more time on the road.  I was sort of checked out from making three tons of cookies for our families.  It took me a moment before I realized…he’s mad.  He thinks George is some kind of control freak monitoring my food, and he’s defending me and my right to finish my dinner.  Which is sweet and all, but George is no more a control freak than I am a member of the Latvian Olympic Bobsled team.

Not me. Photo courtesy http://balticreports.com

What upsets me most is that I spent a few minutes debating what to do.  I thought…if I finish my salad, it will look like I did so in spite of George and will give the bartender some kind of misguided sense of heroism.  And it will reinforce the idea that I need “help” in managing my eating decisions, my relationship, even the sort of lifestyle I lead.  I wanted the bartender to understand that I am an independent woman who made her own decisions, damn it!  Which was why I would…finish the salad he gave me  permission to finish, despite the fact that my boyfriend of eight years knows my habits?  Grooooan.  Conversely, if I didn’t finish my salad, I argued to myself, this guy’s going to think that George is some kind of mean-spirited weirdo who tells me what I can and cannot eat, and so would also, probably, tell me how to dress and who to talk to, though for George, leftovers are status quo and finishing my salad would almost seem defiant, like, “I’ll show you to ask for a box for me!”  Double-grooooan.  I didn’t know which perception I wanted to please, or which to counter and how, because I also didn’t want to seem overly explanatory and apologetic.  That would have made things even more awkward.  For me, at least.  The sad thing is, I waded through all sorts of stress and mental backflippery in working through some entirely invented man-battle over my dietary turf, before I got to the point where I thought…wait a second…what do I want to do with my food?

And so for the past week I’ve been turning this over and over in my head.  I’m not mad at the bartender, because his heart was in the right place even if he completely misunderstood the situation.  I’m certainly not mad at George, because he knows me and my habits and was simply trying to take care of everything that needed to be taken care of, in one swoop.  No, really, I’m mad at myself.  I let myself get completely wrapped up in worrying about what other people may (or may not) have thought about my lifestyle, and my food choices, and what my food choices said about me.  In all that worrying, I put myself dead last.  For all the posturing that there ain’t nobody who’s the boss of me, I dwelled so heavily on what other people expected of me that I almost lost sight of what I wanted.  And if I get lost in other people’s expectations for something so trivial as leftovers, how often do I do the same in my everyday life?  When does it end?

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