Sublimefemme Tells All, No. 14

Never stand between a femme and her destiny, especially in the shoe department.

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Bettie Page: In Memoriam

“I was never the girl next door.” –Bettie Page

The iconic pinup girl Bettie Page died yesterday in Los Angeles. I’ve always been captivated by her images–particularly, her rare ability to express both the reassuring, sunny optimism typically associated with the 1950s and the darker, more dangerous currents of sexuality that were becoming increasingly visible during that era.  

Bettie was America’s high-heeled return of the repressed–with a whip.  She was natural and perverse, naive and knowing, dominant and submissive. At a time when gender roles were highly polarized, Bettie’s persona challenged the angel/whore opposition by insisting that  women could be naughty and nice.  It’s a powerful legacy that remains vitally important today.

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In Praise of Fishnets

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 “Hon,” I asked coyly after dinner last night, “what did I wear on our first date?”   Van replied right away, “Fishnets.  A push-up bra.  And a shirt that tied up the front, which I imagined untying all night long.”

We periodically play this game.  Our first date was many years ago, and the more time that passes, the sexier my outfit becomes in Van’s recounting of it.   For the record, I did really wear a biker chick, lace-front black bustier that was part of my out & proud bi femme/pro-sex feminist gear back in the day.   (I was one of those faux bisexuals who was annoyed by men who expressed interest in me at  potlucks or pride marches.  Sorry boys!) 

But I didn’t even own a push-up bra back then and I most certainly did not wear fishnets on our first date!   Still, no matter how often I say it, Van doesn’t believe me.  In fact, when we debated this for the upteenth time last night, she insisted that I wore fishnets on all of our early dates.   In a few more years she’ll have me topless!  I did wear fishnets once, though, either on date #2 or 3; obviously, they made a big impression.  Who knows, maybe I have them to thank for “catching” the love of my life?  😉

Nowdays, fishnets are still a part of my hosiery wardrobe, although I tend to wear variations on the traditional fishnet, like black micronet tights (with skirts) or knee-hi’s in a neutral color like beige (with pants), because they’re fun but still appropriate to wear to work.  But I do have a confession.   Although I hate to admit it, I’m starting to think that any sort of fishnet, no matter how subtle, needs to be worn with caution.   For example, I had a student write “Love the fishnets!” (among other inappropriate comments about my appearance) on a course evaluation.  I was pissed. 

“But I never even taught in fishnets!” I protested to Van afterwards.  “Maybe once or twice during the winter I wore  micronet tights with a skirt and boots, but my students could barely have seen them–at most just a glimpse of my knees in the tights!”  Clearly, fishnets are so eye-catching that a mere glimpse is more than enough to get people’s attention.  Girls, consider yourself warned!

I’m No Lady

I hate being called a lady.  It’s almost as bad as being showered with “yes, ma’am’s” by my students!  I’m not against manners; to the contrary, I value them highly and even keep a copy of Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior on hand in case of an etiquette crisis.  (I kid you not.)

Pulling out my dictionary, I see “lady” not only means that a woman is polite and considerate but also that she’s “proper” and/or “virtuous.”  Which of course implies that other women are not.   Maybe that’s why, for me, lady is a category that tends to resist ironic appropriation.  However, I will admit that there are a few important exceptions:

  1. when used by drag queens
  2. in Tom Jones’ song, “She’s a Lady”
  3. when used by the glorious Lady Brett Ashley, whose namesake (a character in The Sun Also Rises) is independent, sexually liberated and drinks her way across Europe.  What’s not to like?

But let’s face it:  sometimes being called a lady is just plain sexist.  For example, I was appalled when a man (himself a writer) called me a “lady writer” a few years ago.  Ugh.  There are also times when people use the word as a synonym for woman, as in “My new tattoo is a hit with the ladies” or (to a child), “Say thank you to the nice lady.”  I’m not a fan of this more “neutral” use of the word, because I don’t think lady can ever be neutral.  That’s the point.  It’s a value judgment. 

Historically, ladies were the object of a knight’s devotion, so the term suggests chivalric codes as well as a particular social position.  I love being treated chivalrously and think the practice of chivalry can be feminist, but I think it’s problematic to encode chivalry in identity categories (e.g. butch/male lover and femme/lady beloved).  As many feminists have observed, a  pedestal is a small place to live.

Why do I feel immediately constrained when someone (however well-meaning) calls me a lady?  I think it’s because of the engendering work the term does–its quiet insistence that women follow certain codes in order to be thought of as meritorious, desirable, or attractive.  Although I certainly respect those femmes who find a retro appeal the identity of the lady, I see “femme” as a category that breaks gender norms and “lady” as an enforcer of them.  That’s why I’m proud to say I’m no lady. 

Zen and Beauty

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Beauty takes time.  However,  incorporating a beauty regime into your everyday schedule is a huge time saver as well as a great way to ensure that you stick with your regime.  Before long you’ll be looking as luminous as Jean Harlow does in this photo!  And–as I discovered today–with luminosity comes serenity.

I think femmes instictively appreciate the zen of beauty.  For example, this morning I woke up at 6 AM and exercised, gave myself a facial (graded papers while the mask was on), did my nails (read and did course prep while my nails were drying), showered, dressed, and did my hair and makeup. 

The amazing thing is that I managed to do this all without rushing, which is highly unusual for me in the mornings.  I have to admit, it was rather glorious.  I arrived at my morning class feeling relaxed, energized and polished.  Perhaps serenity is truly the higher goal of beauty.  Who knew?

Sublimefemme Tells All, No. 13

Nice is highly overrated.

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Get Your Femme On! (Holiday Edition)

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Yes, my lovelies, it’s the post you’ve been waiting for–how to get your femme on for the holiday season in 5 easy steps:

  1. Embellish.  More is more.  Pull out those dressy accessories and wow coworkers at the annual holiday party with a fab new look that says, “the only good thing about having to go to this party was dressing for it!”
  2. Take Risks.  Those super high stilettos that you can barely walk on?  Now’s the time to wear them!  People will be too drunk to notice you’re wobbling.
  3. Think Glitter.  The holiday season is your chance to show your more glamorous side.  And nothing says “happy holidays”  like sequins and glitter eyeliner.  
  4. Be a Sex Kitten.  Show cleavage.  Wear the fishnets.  Who cares if people gossip about you the next day?
  5. Embrace Artifice.  Pull out your metallic eyeshadows and spritz on a bold fragrance.  Anyone who tells you to keep your look “natural” for the holidays is boring.  Why be low-key when you can be fabulous? 

 Disclaimer:

By choosing to “get your femme on,” you assume all risks associated with being a sexy, sparkly femme. 

Sublimefemme Unbound shall not in any event be liable for any direct or indirect damages arising from your unbridled femmeness, including excessive and irresponsible shoe purchases, overaccessorizing, death by glitter, or trip and falls resulting from women throwing themselves at your feet.