COMBING & CURLING
When your mother combs your hair,
Here's a rhyme for you to say:
If you try it, I declare,
It will take the snarls away!
In the ocean of my hair,
Many little waves are there;
Make the comb, a little boat,
Over all the billows float;
Sail the rough and tangled tide
Till it's smooth on every side,
Till, like other little girls,
I've a sea of wavy curls!
Gelett Burgess. Goops and How to Be Them.
My mother, bless her heart, tried hard to make me into a lady. Raised "genteel poor" (a preacher's kid in a family of ten), she relied on both Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt for insights into middle-class norms. My brother and I also read The Goops, though more for fun than guidance. The Goops offered this to little tangle-prone moppets like myself:
My mother didn't recite Burgess as she yanked the comb through my disobedient curls or poked my scalp with bobby pins during the Saturday night hair-setting ritual. She said, "You must suffer to be beautiful". That lesson would eventually apply to pointy-toed shoes, high heels, girdles and bras. And that was just for starters.
But at some point, I stopped believing that. There's grooming, and there's pain, and I am old enough to know the difference!
A. Blouses/skirts, sweaters/skirts, or sport type dresses shall be worn.1. Blouses, dresses, and sweaters must have armholes high enough to cover undergarments.
2. Extremely tight fitting clothing shall not be worn.
3. Skirts shall not be more than four inches (4") above the knee.
4. Midriffs, backless, shoulderless dresses are not acceptable. Spaghetti straps or tie straps are not to be worn. Blouses should be worn under low necked sweaters.
5. Blouses must be worn tucked in unless the blouse [**7] is designed to be worn outside the skirt as an over-blouse.
6. Play clothes, such as slacks, pedal pushers, shorts, Bermudas, leotards without a skirt, etc., are not acceptable wear unless specifically designated for special occasions.
A. Hair styles shall be neat, properly combed, appropriately arranged, and extreme styles avoided. Bangs are to be neat and short enough to show the eyebrows.1. Pincurls, clippies, rollers, or glitter may not be worn during school hours. Head scarves are not to be worn in classrooms.
A. Make-up shall be applied sparingly and not to the point of attracting undue attention.1. Excessive jewelry is not appropriate for school wear.
A. Shoes should be appropriate for school wear. Roman type sandals or boots are not acceptable. Hosiery, anklets, or peds are to be worn for good health practices.
Here's a great post from Kyle Wiley of The Good Men Project (re-blogged via the Huffington Post, but hey, Arianna's rich enough). My favorite line:
It’s not just “a” girl color, but the international spokescolor (yes, a made up word) for the female gender.
Made up words are the best, because like all custom-made items, they fit better than the off-the-rack-versions. That is exactly the idea I have been trying to get across, less articulately, when I talk or write about pink and blue. Blue is NOT a spokescolor; pink is a spokescolor. Why is that, do you think? Is there something magical about pink itself? Mais non.
The magic is one of the oldest known superpowers: giving birth. Stay with me, friends. Here's how I see it: Women used to be powerful because they gave birth. The only way men could be more powerful than women was to control reproduction -- through marriage, through rape, through laws about birth control and abortion. But none of that transfered the magical power from women to men, so a cultural solution emerged instead. Make birth dirty, make sex a sin, make women dirty, weak sinners, lower than men because of their magic power.
Now all you have to do to maintain male superiority is make sure they are not tainted by anything remotely effete or feminine. Punish homosexuality. Raise little boys to be not-girls. Ridicule boys --and men-- who cry, or who are unathletic, or who like pink. It's a small price to pay for a place at the top of the social order.
Why have women put up with this? Many reasons, including a need to protect their offspring, their own survival and this complicated force called "hegemony", which results in acceptance of the dominant culture even when it works against you. (Kind of a cultural Stockholm syndrome.) But all is not lost; there are men and women, mothers and fathers, who believe that all humans have magical powers of love, imagination and creativity, and that humanity will benefit when every baby is valued for its potential to love, imagine and create, not its role in human reproduction.
Peace. (Steps off soapbox, returns to her index cards.)
One of the reasons I wanted to write about unisex fashions is that they seem emblematic of a very complicated -- and unfinished -- conversation about sex, gender and sexuality. Rick Santorum's comment from last year is one expression of that conversation, and I thank him for being so honest in putting it out there. Many of us who grew up in the 1960s have mixed feelings about that era, though mine are more positive than Mr. Santorum's. Unlike him, I feel that family planning is good, abortion should be safe, legal and accessible regardless of income and that biological sex is an interesting category but not my be-all and end -all.
But here's the catch: something happens in the coding for feminine clothing in the 1960s that essentially conflates femininity, youth and sexual attractiveness, and it shows up in girls’ clothing. Six-year-olds in bikinis -- thank the 1960s.
More to come, as I am deep in writing mode for the next nine months. This site will also be changing to reflect the widening scope of my work. In my ample free tie, as they say.
An excellent analysis of the marketing of princess culture, beauty and sexualization since the 1980s.
Yesterday, February 12, would have been my mother's 90th birthday. In her memory, I decided take a close look at children's fashion in the year of her birth. As the third child born to a young German Lutheran minister and his wife in rural Canada, I doubt if she ever wore any of the fancier styles shown here, but family photos certainly confirm the rules of appropriate clothing for children under 7.
Babies from birth to around 6 months: long white gowns, ranging from minimally embellished to elaborately trimmed with lace and embroidery.
Babies from six months to a year or slightly older: short white dresses and one-piece rompers. Again, these could be plain or fancy, depending on the occasion and the family's budget and needlework talents.
Gender differences were introduced between one and two years, with little boys exchanging dresses for short trousers, often attached to their shirts or blouses with buttons at the waistline. Little girls stayed in dresses, but in an array of colors.
Here's a video I created for the occasion:
As you can see, I was a bald baby. A bald baby named Jo, no less. In this picture I am wearing a white batiste dress, which makes me look at least a little feminine, unless you consider that it was a hand-me-down from my brother. (Yes, in the late 1940s, some baby boys still wore little white dresses.)
If my mother had really cared that my sex was clearly discernable by strangers, she would have stuck a ribbon on my head, or made a frilly headband out of lace-covered elastic. Bad Mommy!
Today's little girls are so lucky! Not only do they have entire pink, girlie wardrobes and high heels just for them, but now they don't have to suffer the indignity of baldness.
Because everyone knows that REAL girls have long hair.
(The pink tutu isn't a big enough hint?)
One of the hardest things about writing a book is setting its limits. Pink and Blue is about baby and toddler clothing, not because the rest of the fashion landscape is ungendered, but because the first five or six years of life are especially significant in learning culture. I tried to stay within my own disciplinary territory -- history, not psychology. (Though I do use current psychological theories to try to understand and explain how children might respond to clothing trends and patterns.
This resulted in the omission of one really interesting aspect of gender performance in children: the rejection of pink, girlie style by so many girls when they enter middle childhood. Blogger Suzette Waters posted about this earlier this week, observing that her 9-year-old daughter is "leaving pink behind", and trading it for blue, purple and even black. As I understand the child development literature, this is a clear sign that Anna has mastered the concept of "gender permanence" and no longer needs to adhere to stereotyped clothing and toys in order to ensure a stable gender identity. Suzette ponders the future trajectory of Anna's tastes, anticipating possible conflicts over body piercing.
This complicates the symbolism of pink and the gender markers of early childhood, at least as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old. Besides being "feminine", pink takes on the a additional connotation of "babyish", which many girls reject as they enter middle childhood and adolescence. It also raises the interesting question of what age-appropriate "feminine" choices are available for girls 7-14. From what I hear from parents of that age group, it's a challenge!