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Harassment or Flirting?

Like many other women I have had many experiences where men, for whatever reason felt the need to let me know that they found me physically attractive. So what do you think, are these instances flirting or are they harassment?

I walk down the street by myself after school (High School mind you) and count no fewer than 30 car horns honking at me. Every time I walk to dance class or to meet my ride. One of the car horns actually made a sound like a wolf whistle. That means that not only do they do this more often than they use the horn for its intended purpose, but that the product is on the market.

When I lived in southern New Mexico and had to pass the border patrol to visit my boyfriend, my stop was always significantly longer than later when I was wearing a wedding ring.

When I leave dance class to run a message to another teacher in the school and after delivering the message I find that an older boy behind me has been staring and is grinning at me.

When a male guest is very curious about my pregnant belly and tells me all about how he would never know I was pregnant. (Is that a compliment to anyone? To me it sounds like ‘Hey I would have just thought you were fat’)

When a guest tells me that he is ‘keeping an eye on me’ and that he will ‘be back later’.

I understand that the intention for all of these is probably to compliment, but on my end it comes across as creepy. I have actually had my husband come by the hotel to walk me to the car after work after a particularly nerve-racking incident. When I brought it up to the other girls they all agreed that it sounded creepy, but once they found out who it was, they brushed it off. Once I found out who it was I asked his roommate, who I was more comfortable talking to, to let the guy know that it made me uncomfortable. He tried explaining that his roommate was just being nice, as if that solved the problem. I found that explaining the situation to a guy who I did not know I felt like I was being paranoid, or over-reacting. But having felt the need to have other eyes on my walk to my car for several nights by this point, I found that I could not find a way to explain to him why I felt that way.

 

Donald Trump as President

At first I thought this post would say something like, ‘Ok, the joke is up, it’s not funny anymore.” But it is way past that point. I am truly terrified about this. At first it was just as an idle ‘what if,’ but the polling numbers make this a real possibility.

facebook page supporting Bernie Sanders posted a question, ‘What worries you about Donald Trump being president?’ I found that my answer was far too long for a response in the comments.

Entitlement – It started with Trump’s 1% attitude. He thinks that he got himself where he is today. As I have said before, I don’t really believe that is how capitalism works. Our economy does not get people where they belong based on work or ethics, but primarily on family wealth and/or unscrupulous behavior. This is shown with his ‘small $1 million dollar loan’. Little does he realize that this is more money than most Americans will even handle in their lifetime.

Trump feels that he is the best. His success has given him the idea that he can do whatever he wants. And the US legal system supports that. The fact that he has declared bankruptcy makes him feel that he has seen the worst. And the fact that he came back stronger makes him believe that he is even stronger than an ordinary millionaire. He thinks that he is so infallible that no matter what he does he will succeed.

As someone who already benefits from the elaborate protections the wealthy have on their money, Trump is likely to keep those and create more. All of these protections are damaging for those who cannot take advantage of them. For every penny that they keep is a penny out of circulation. Each penny is another one that will not be paid to the hard-working employees to buy food. In the end, each penny they hoard is a penny they don’t have to steal a second time.

Cruel – The television show, The Apprentice, is known for Trump’s coldhearted treatment of the contestants. While one could hope this was just for sensationalism, it is precisely that sensation that propelled him to where he is today. It is that attitude that has earned him fans. Having anyone in charge who thinks that people are disposable is a recipe for disaster. I doubt the people who work for him are treated very well. And these people we see on the show have been mentored by him, sometimes for several weeks. Even that does not help him to show any sympathy. What can we expect him to feel for people he has never even seen?

Bigot – Trump has gained his thunder through cruelty in general, but now he is directing it. He knows that he needs certain individuals to support him, and is directing their existing fears and prejudices to his advantage. His hate speech is terrifying to me. We forget that Hitler did not round up everyone he disliked at once, he started small and gradually worked his way up as fewer and fewer groups were there to protect one another. This is one of the reasons that we must protect other people’s freedoms as well as our own. American history that I grew up learning was a consistent progression of gaining equality and rights for the disenfranchised, but within my lifetime we have gone back centuries when it comes to this progress. Trump is even more overt about it than Bush.

Followers – The most terrifying thing to me is not that there is someone in the world like this. I know they exist. The fact that he has power is frightening, but what scares me the most is that people follow him. He has supporters who believe the outrageous claims. He is working them up to a fever pitch, allowing people who were considered ‘fringe’ before for their radical views to come into the limelight. This is the Tea Party, but perhaps even more extreme. This is dangerous.

 

A Costume Designer’s Perspective on Halloween

In case you could not guess, I am a big fan of Halloween. Not because I can dress up, since I do that anyway (and at work it doesn’t matter, I still can’t.) It is because other people dress up, it’s like the one day that the population at large joins me in my world. It is special. This means that unfortunately I expect a lot of people. Looking online I see pictures of inspired, intricate costumes that took planning and dedication.

Last night and tonight I have been watching costumed guests pass through the lobby at the hotel. People put in time to get ready to go to their parties, they get all dressed up, they do their makeup, they do their hair. Some of them look pretty good. Sometimes they do themes for groups of friends. You know it’s a good day when a total stranger asks the only woman in the building who is not wearing any makeup how to apply pencil eyeliner.

That is what I want to see everywhere, and for some reason I am surprised every year when that is not what I see.  I know that for most people it’s just one night. They will throw something together at the last minute or buy something cheap off the shelves just to ‘get in the spirit’. This bothers me a little bit. It’s like they think that these cheap costumes that can only be worn once before they fall apart puts them in the same category, ‘people who dress up’. I find these cheap costumes insulting. When I make something I make it to last. Yes, to most people it’s just a costume,  but I value the time and effort. I value the care and dedication. People who wear these cheap costumes cheapen what I do. By using disposable costumes people tell me that what I do is worth no more than that.

More than that though, the problem that I have with these costumes is how sexist they have made this beautiful holiday. Women, and even girls, find that most of the costumes available are ‘sexy’ versions of something. Even the ‘original’ version is often unavailable. This makes it so that women have no other option than to try to be sexy. It is so pervasive today that even the homemade costumes usually lean this way. This year I have noticed several of these costumes with no more than underwear to cover the lower half!

Let me pause here to say that I have no problem with sexy costumes. I have no problem with women, or men, exposing their bodies. I do not believe that doing so inherently objectifies them. I do have a problem when a person’s sense of self-worth comes down to how others perceive them. I do have a problem with women being reduced to no more than their bodies. I do have a problem with having no choice but to dress provocatively. I do believe that this lack of choice objectifies people. They do not have a way to fully express themselves.

There is another problem that this revealing fad causes. Halloween falls during a time when it is getting colder outside. Girls are forced to choose between having the full effect of their costume or of staying warm. That is not healthy. Most girls grin and bear it. Most guys seem oblivious to it. Those that do take notice end up working for the girl, if they care. This means that women are put into a position of helplessness. They will wait inside while the boy goes to bring the car around, or she counts on his coat, or cape, or whatever.

Men, at least, have some choice in their costume type. But even that falls into certain categories, all of which are carefully chosen not to lose any semblance of masculinity. They can be funny, they can be scary, they can be sexy, or they can copy the original (as long as it is a manly thing). The other way that they can preserve their macho-ness is to not really dress up. I have seen many groups where the girls are done up all-out, while the guys just wear a t-shirt with a Velcro cape attached. Okay, I love those shirts, but I was honestly hoping that they would be an introduction to the everyday costume, not herald the end of dressing up.

On another, but related, note. I saw a costume of one of the monkeys, or whatever from The Bloodhound Gang video for The Bad Touch. I stopped myself from complimenting the reference because I realized what stereotype a woman who likes The Bloodhound Gang would fall into. I would instantly go from ‘responsible employee’ to ‘sex fiend’. I am a happily married woman, I like the music, and I find it funny.  If you listen to the music, it is all about sex, but it has never seemed to me to be necessarily about anything more than a guy who likes his girlfriend, which is fine. It is acceptable for a guy to make the reference, although the stereotype would probably lean towards ‘woman user’, since that is what most people think of the band. Unfortunately that stereotype is something that is acceptable, and even funny to most people.

Halloween symbolizes the best and worst of society. It brings out people’s creativity and individuality. But it also cements many popular trends. I am hopeful that I am wrong, and people do know the difference between a disposable costume and something that will last. I am hopeful that people will learn to escape the boxes that marketing and stereotypes have forced us into.

Happy Halloween everybody!

Freedom of Expression; Gender Identity

My son is about 18 months old now, and I want it to be his choice when he gets his first haircut, because I believe that it is about self-expression. His hair is getting long enough to be in his eyes, and I sometimes manage to pull it back for awhile before he takes out the hair tie. Because of the long hair people always assume he is a girl, but especially when it is up. I don’t really care, at that age gender doesn’t mean anything. To me the only thing gender means is how you have sex, and some limited biological brain functions. Most of what we consider gender identity is created by our culture.

Today my son was wearing a red flannel shirt and jeans while his hair was pulled up in a pink hair tie because that is what I happened to have with me. A gentleman stopped by to say hi and asked “who is this sweet girl?” I introduced him as my son. I thought it was rather amusing that it was more believable to the man that a little girl would wear a full boy’s outfit than that a boy would have long hair in a ponytail. In our culture girls have more freedom in this regard than boys do. We have fought for it. A century ago a girl wearing pants was even more taboo than a boy wearing a skirt is today.

Not only do women have a box they are expected to fit into, so do men. For women it is about fingernails, hair, and makeup. It is about shopping for shoes and clothes that allow her to be the woman she is supposed to be. For all of the fighting that women have done to be equal to men, there is still a box. The fight is not over.

The problem is that some men feel like by women gaining ground they are losing it. That is not the point. I am not sure what about the feminist movement gives that impression, but some people’s notion that women are trying to take over might have something to do with it. Men are confined in a box too. They have always been, and have not put together a fight the way that women have. Men and boys are pressured to be macho. “Be a man”, “Grow some balls”, those types of statements are endemic of the battle that they face. The equivalent “Act like a lady” is reserved for specific situations, but for the most part women have permission to be more manly than men have to be womanly. Not only is the behavioral box more confining for men, they are also more confined in dress. Women are expected to wear makeup, but the choice not to is not as taboo as the choice of men to wear it. Women can wear all sorts of tops, dresses, or skirts or pants. Men get shirts and pants. The variety even within that is very limited. As a costume designer I find designing for men from the 19th century on rather boring. And to top it off, men are expected to support the women in life in a way that they can do the shopping they are supposed to do.

I believe that the crisis that some people have with gender identity would not be nearly as bad if they did not feel pressured into a mold they did not fit. When a boy is forced to be a boy they feel the need to push back just because they like some things that are considered ‘girly’. Rather than sending this child on a whirlwind of identity, how about we just let him play with the dolls if that is what he wants. Later he may turn out to be straight, or he may turn out to be gay. He may even turn out to identify as a girl. That is okay.

To me it seems that the dichotomy between male and female has created a very damaging society. I understand that for some people who identify as their non-biological gender they only feel complete once they have completed their gender re-assignment surgery. I have no problem with the surgery, if it is that important to you, go for it. I support you 100%. My concern is that some people feel that in order to fit they have to completely identify as one or the other. I would rather live in a society where a man is allowed to wear a dress and makeup when he feels like it, but is still allowed to go hunting with the guys. Rather than having distinct gender identities, and spending so much time categorizing people (including adding new distinctions) we should just let people be themselves and skip the labels. For some people just being allowed to be themselves is enough, they would not need to go through all of the physical changes. For others the body they were given is not themselves, and they should have the right to change it.

 

Freedom of Expression; Costumes and Dress Codes

A few days ago I was reading a blog by a teacher about the day after Halloween. I did not save the link, and I should have. One of the students wore a cape to school that day. The teacher kept considering telling the child to take it off, but she noticed that a child who is normally awkward and clumsy was far more confident. The article seemed to be written in order to pride herself on doing a great thing for this kid, as it seemed to help him in the future as well. No students even mentioned the cape, although teachers did do a double take. I think that all of this is great. But in the end, the teacher, while she did compliment the cape, told him not to wear it again. I cannot figure out why.

I wore costumes to school every day. I got a lot of flak for it from my peers, but it allowed me to be who I am. In high school, people who did not know me by name knew me as Little Red Riding Hood because I always wore a red cape that I had made. Today there is a lot of discussion about school dress codes. They are being attacked for being sexist, and even for creating the very over-sexualized environment they were created to fight. I agree with all of those points. The rules are often stated in ways that target girls more than boys. They are nearly always more strictly enforced with girls than with boys. By making such a big deal of it, we are teaching young kids to look at one another’s clothing and bodies and question “Is that enough clothing”, “Shouldn’t they cover up more?”, and “Why, what is wrong with this outfit that I have to change?” We are saying that what they wear is more important that who they are, and more important than why they are at school.

Some of the rules are unfair to certain body types. In my district short and skirt lengths were determined by arm length. A silly rule since some girls were completely within regulations and still showed ass when they sat down, while I broke that without ever being questioned since my skirt was plenty long because my arms are long.

This is not the message we should be sending kids. We need to be encouraging them to look beyond the clothes, and beyond the body to what a person is really made of. When we focus on the clothes, the person gets lost. This encourages people in our society to dehumanize one another. This allows people to do things to people without feeling regret. Whether that action is teasing in school, or physically assaulting someone. We live in a society where we do not have the luxury to personally meet everyone that we interact with. This means that we cannot afford to make any of the interactions we practice with those we do know contribute to that dehumanizing effect.

The point of many dress codes is to avoid ‘distractions’. This is ridiculous. The fact that a girl’s skirt is a little short, or that a boy’s pants are too baggy (showing my age a bit) should not be allowed to be a distraction in the first place. A teacher notices that someone is leering, call them out. If they persist, they should be sent to the office. Not the person they were looking at. We should not be teaching children that others, girls especially, should cover up so that people looking at them can feel more comfortable. We need to be teaching children that people have different tastes and make different decisions. We need to be teaching children that they are responsible for their own actions.

I went to a middle school with a more extreme dress code, called a Uniform Code of Dress. It was not quite a uniform, but very close. We had 2 colors of pants or skirts we were permitted to wear, in one style, and 5 colors of polo shirts. This was initially instituted to prevent students from wearing gang colors. My friends and I were so out of touch with that world that we could not even tell you the names of the gangs active in our area, let alone what their colors or signs were. I would probably have worn gang colors a lot without realizing it, as many people do.

This system ended up in a lot more time tied up in determining if students were within regulations or not. Not only were we measuring if the girl’s skirts were actually longer than their finger tips to also trying to determine if someone’s pants were the right color. My first dying project was adding coffee to the washing machine while washing a slightly lighter skirt that had been called white too many times to make it more khaki. After I left the school, it was decided to keep the style restrictions, but lift the color rules. So the entire reason for the Uniform Code of Dress was thrown out the window.

During this period I was very frustrated with the rules because I could not express myself. I took to wearing what I call “happy socks”, or the ones with bright colors, pictures, or separate toes. I took a lot of time braiding my hair on the car ride in so that it was as weird as possible. In trying to find ways to express myself I tested the limits that no-one had thought to make. But I also lost something. The goal was not about me being me, but rather about being strange or drawing attention to myself. I still wear the happy socks, but the hair took too much work, and did not really mean anything to me. Later I turned to doing elaborate masks in makeup, which worked when I had an hour and a half bus ride each morning, not so much once I started driving. I kind of miss the masks.

There is another issue that is gaining attention these days. Gender identity. I think that this ties in perfectly with this topic. In high school I had a gay friend choose to wear a skirt one day. I honestly did not even notice it until he mentioned at lunch how much shit he was getting. He had chosen to do it in part to find out what the reaction was. He committed to going a full week. Of course when he stopped, the people around him may have felt like they won, but there is no point in continuing something on the principle of proving someone wrong.

I do believe that clothing is a key way to express who you are. I look back on that as inspiration to be myself no matter what since I cannot wear costumes to work every day. These days wearing a full costume is rare because I am lazy and getting all dressed up to go shopping doesn’t really feel worth it. Childhood is a special time, you do not have to worry about what bosses or clients think. If we allow children to express themselves when they are young, they will be more accepting when they are older, and they will have a better concept of who they are. I do not think that expression should be restricted unnecessarily, to me it is a part of Freedom of Speech. It is a human right.

 

Entering the Workforce – Then & Now

I am not old enough to have first-hand experience of the ‘then’s that I will discuss. I have not done any solid research on the history of job hunting, it is to be taken purely as my impression (perhaps a hypothesis) of the way that finding a job has changed through recent history in America. I am a historian and have a basic knowledge of how the economy fits in. I would love to hear from people of all ages to see how your experience matches up, or doesn’t.

I will start with the Great Depression: At this point, as we all know, there were no jobs. People were laid off en masse. When these newly unemployed people joined the ranks of the job hunter, the market was flooded. The few places that needed workers had great pickings. Each person, new to the workforce or not did everything they could to find a job. I am not sure how much the modern ‘application process’ would apply, but I do know that every place they asked about employment said in no uncertain terms that they were not hiring. This hiring freeze got so bad that people had to move across the country. (Made worse by the dust bowl, which was made worse by farmers unable to afford to plant.) When they got there, they might be able to work, but they could scarcely get paid.

http://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/his1005spring2011/tag/great-depression/

In the face of this crisis, the government stepped in. The WPA (Works Progress Administration) was created to provide jobs for the unemployed and create valuable infrastructure. Much of what this agency created is still standing. There has not been such a massive infrastructure boom since. This gave people valuable income at a time when there was no money exchanging hands. The WPA, while a valuable aid to ending the Great Depression, was by itself insufficient. As terrible as war is, WWII saved the US economy. Men entered the army, women were hired to produce the things needed to arm the country. Prior to the war, we had been so long isolationist that we had very little military establishment, and everything had to built from scratch.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:We_Can_Do_It!.jpg

Following the war, men returned to a domestic job struggle. Women had been working outside of the home in large numbers, and doing jobs traditionally done by men. The image that we have of the 1950’s as a time when women stayed home and cooked and cleaned for her husband in perfect marital bliss was largely a media campaign to encourage women to give up these jobs so that returning soldiers could take their place. Some women welcomed this, others did not. Either way, the genie was out of the bottle. Women knew that they could do it too.

http://www.returnofkings.com/2283/modern-women-prefer-1950s-men

Many of these unemployed women took a more active role outside the home. At this time it was possible for one person to support a household. The economic boom that the war had provided made sure that there were jobs for whoever wanted them. Businesses were able to reap the hiring rewards of a generation of men returning from the war as well as a generation of boys coming of age with a higher education. Job seekers benefited as well, as long as there was a surplus of empty positions that needed to be filled. Connections with family and friends was a key way to find a better position.

By the 1960’s the hiring boom was over, and young people were not being offered jobs straight out of college. The harder-to-find jobs in part contributed to the unrest of the period. This time the war made things worse. The Vietnam War was wildly unpopular and men were resentful of being forced into that career. There is also a section of this generation that lived off of their parents, who were still making enough to support their grown children. After the war, the veterans of Vietnam were not received with open arms as the WWII veterans had been. People hated the war, and they extended that to those who fought in it. This is particularly unfortunate since so many of these men did not support the war either. Many of these veterans make up the numbers of the homeless to this day.

The 1970’s seem to have found a balance of sorts. People who had been working for many years were retiring, opening positions for the young. The economy was growing, and a job seeker could find something that matched their education level. This trend continued for much of the next several decades. However the wages did not match economic inflation, and it became necessary for more and more families to have two wage earners.

In the late 2000’s the bottom fell out of the economy again, and many people were laid off. This created a similar dynamic to that of the Great Depression. Businesses were not hiring, as too many unemployed workers flooded the market. This has never hit those levels thankfully, but it has been exacerbated as people were forced to put off retirement due to losses in the stock market.

This has created a system whereby the employers can have their pick of any number of applicants. Of course they usually choose someone who they have evidence will do quality work for them; someone who has a track record in the field, someone who has held a job before for a significant amount of time. The more work that they think they can get out of a person for the minimum amount of money is the rule.

This means a few things. It means that people without an official job history have a difficult time entering the workforce. It also means that when you do get a job, you have to work hard to keep it. Employers know that if you do not pull your weight, there is a long line of people ready to take your place. They also know that people are desperate for work and will take what they can get, so they feel no compulsion to pay well.

In the past, having higher education meant that you were more likely to be hired in your field. Today in order for that to be true, you need a minimum of a master’s degree. This means that people with college educations, who have worked hard to get a good job are left finding work that does not need their particular skills, largely minimum wage positions. In some places having that higher education can be detrimental if an employer thinks it means that they will have to pay more. In others it can help show a track record of determination. Either way, there is really no-where to go from there.

There are some businesses that have an active policy of randomized schedules that prevent employees from going to school or having other jobs.

http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/

There is no initiative in the business world to pay people more, when people need the job so badly that they are willing to work for less. For many businesses internal promotions are more cost-effective than looking outside the company, because the people who work for them are desperate for a raise, cannot get one in the company without promotion, and work too much to find alternative work.

Today the job market is optimized for the employer. This is a trend that has been on the horizon for many years, but has fully come to fruition in the last decade or so. There is still work that they want to do to make it even better, like eliminating workers rights. On average our economy is strong. It is not like the Great Depression. There is plenty of money to go around. The problem is that it is not moving. It is always getting more difficult for people to defend themselves, and as such the sooner action is taken, the more effective that action is. We cannot wait until we have completely lost our rights before we realize what we have lost.