10 thoughts on “Let Us All Celebrate Together!”

  1. There certainly are many trees left to shake. I couldn’t believe that in Britain women are *still* earning 38.4% (part-time) than men’s full-time salaries!! Crazy. I actually wrote a bit about this for my blog over at Frontline Books…any comments would be welcome – especially from men 😉

  2. What does it mean to be a woman today? What are we celebrating exactly? I’m not really sure these days ( that’s not supposed to sound as pessimistic as it sounds!) I’m just perplexed, because I think we live in a very gender-confused era …


  3. Well let’s see …

    I’ve always been fascinated with the way women do their hair and the signals that sends to their milieu. Here in QuĂ©bec, really short androgĂšne like hair is a sign of intelligent sexiness, freedom, sometimes off-set by the occasional girlish barrette that takes some of the edge off and makes a woman oh so irresistibly cute. It’s hip and young to have short hair, but also “feminist”. I observe hair-does a lot and I’ve noticed that most baby-boomer women who were most probably ardent feminists in the 60s and 70s wear really short hair. The less make-up you were, the more people appreciate you.

    Take a look on the other hand at the wives of conservative politicians … It’s almost always the big round volumptuous hair-do that covers the neck with the nicely ironed classic shirt and pearl necklace … The face is hidden behind a perfectly cut toupette blow-dried to the side of the face

    For arab women it’s almost a universal: beautiful long hair when unmarried, short business-like but not too austere mommy cut after children …

    When I was a teenager, I had long thick black curly hair that stretched down to my lower-back. People would marvel at it. It would take me literally 45 minutes just to rinse it and comb it in the shower because curly hair can only be combed when ultra-wet or you end up looking like a puffed-up sheep. sometimes, my arm would hurt from washing it from the shampoo that I used in enormous amounts. Then, It would take another two hours just to let it dry naturally because you can’t blow dry curls or you get the electric shock look. All of that so I can keep my perfect 360 degree curls.

    I had no idea that hair was so culturally and genderly significant until I decided to cut it at 17. I went to a Lebanese hair-dresser who upon getting the order to cut refused to do so: What a waste! he exclaimed .. he actually told me I’ll just trim it … and you think about it again and then if you’re REALLY sure then MAYBE I’ll cut ( and he said that as if I was subjecting him to torture …) So then I decided to go to a QuĂ©bĂ©cois hairdresser who ALSO refused to cut it but this time for purely competency reasons: She had no idea what to do with so much hair! The thickness and curliness of it scared her to death .. she was too afraid to screw up to even attempt to cut it! So then I went back to the lebanese hairdresser and made him cut it or he would lose me as a client. It still took him a couple of haircuts over a couple of months before he finally reached the length I was looking for!

    When I went back to the Middle-east with my new short haircut .. my grand-mother said: oh don’t be sad, it’ll grow back! (I think she was consoling herself not me!) But then I noticed that my sex appeal took a big hit, which was fine, because guys stopped annoying me in the streets with lame one-liners, but that didn’t make it any easier to be in the public sphere … it was weird because people weren’t really sure what attitude to adopt with me … some thought, here’s the westernized feminist coming to teach us how to be “modern and liberal”, others, like my grand-ma, were just sorry for my misguided sense of style and womanhood! It’s as if I had lost my “gender”. Short hair is simply unsexy and genderly odd for young single arab women

    The irony of this whole thing is between the long-haired young woman and the short haired “feminist” I was basically at the same “social distance” in the public sphere where as women who had the scarf could walk down the street without attracting unwanted attention, get involved in all sorts of conversations in the most conservative of milieus with men who would be embarrassed to be around women who looked too androgenous or too attractive

    But in QuĂ©bec, I was Miss popularity all of a sudden (which I never was a teenager), it’s as if the alien factor had just went dramatically down …

    So when western feminists with edgy short hair-cuts accuse the veil of being this thing that strips a woman of her sex-appeal and womanhood, for me it’s reflection of a very ethnocentric and reductive view of beauty and of womanness. The sadest thing about that is that they have no idea sad that in the Arab world, they are the ones who look sexless … Ironically, the sexiest and most free woman in the arab world is the veiled woman … She can go where no other short-haired or long-haired woman can go, she has total access to the public sphere without losing any aspect of her womanhood or self-respect.

    Now why did I go there? Hmm… oh yeah, since I still have short hair, it goes to show how confused I am about what being a woman today means!

  4. {Ugh! Lost my comment. Good thing I have Cocomments on…}

    Personally, I don’t perceive you as confused. What you’re saying here (deserving of its own blog entry, for sure) is as insightful as Lila Abu-Lughod’s diatribe on the Western perception of veiling. One thing you do which Abu-Lughod doesn’t do, is discuss the importance of sex-appeal, for some women. It doesn’t correspond to the image you want to project and it does bring about some unwanted attention, but sex-appeal is sometimes a desired character that women want to have regardless of what men have to say!

    To be very male, for a second. I think that some women use sex-appeal as a way to make men behave awkwardly. We (men) tend to fall prey to some of the easiest tricks, because of our sense of foolish pride.
    Being raised by a very strong-willed woman in a gender-conscious part of Quebec society, I tend to see women in general as powerful and wise. In fact, so do my hunter friends in Mali, who also tend to be somewhat “macho” in their attitude. On occasion, men are more afraid of women than they are patronizing.

    One thing about the association between womanhood, sex-appeal, and beauty is that it’s not a one-sided model. It’s also somewhat disconnected with the issue of “power,” as usually understood. Yes, there are men who objectify women, want to dominate women, and adopt inappropriate sexual behaviour with women. But the aesthete isn’t a domineering figure and can clearly be asexual.

    As I once said in class, cajones are gender-neutral. 🙂

  5. Thanks for the positive comment! Actually I did copy the comment and put it on my blog when I saw how long it really was! I was thinking of posting something fo women’ day but had no idea what! So your post inspired me!

    About sex-appeal … I mean don’t we all want some sex-appeal? I personally have no problems with it. But I did notice that the fact that I wear make-up can give a false impression of who I am … I’ve had occasions where I had the distinct feeling that other women and men did not take me seriously or took me for a “coquette”, precisely because of the make-up.

    I’m also conscious of the way sex-appeal plays in the field, whether we like to admit it or not.

    Now, being conscious of the different critirea for beauty and femininity in different places, I do change my look depending on where I am. In Lebanon, the eyebrows are perfectly groomed and the kohl goes on. I’m more conscious of my clothes too. In QuĂ©bec , I do the makeup in the morning and let it wear-out through the day without ever thinking about it. And I make an effort not to be over-dressed even though I do give that impression anyway ( according to some you have told me so!)

    Now kohl is really amazing as a cultural sign. I mean I see lots of quĂ©bĂ©cois women, young women with a hippie side to them put it on, and that gives out the signal that they’re culturally and politically “aware”. But on an Arab woman, it gives out a totally different signal in the same QuĂ©bec context: It evokes oriental exoticism of women, coquetterie and melodrama. So I don’t wear it in QuĂ©bec … I mean this might all be in my head … but I usually have a good sense of these things so I don’t think I’m too off-base here …

    But I do think we are in a very particular situation here in QuĂ©bec. I’m always impressed with gender-relations here. What you say about your Mom is I think very representative of a whole generation of men. I’ve also met quĂ©bĂ©cois men who are in a real identity crisis. And there is the high suicide rate among young men that can’t be ignored. As for women, I mean I’m sometimes really sad about the models we have in public life … I mean most women politicians have no sex-appeal and no children. In Academia, it’s the same, most women professors are either divorced or with no children … While other models are well … “models” with high maintenance body-shapes and no intellect. The only actress I really find beautiful and appealing to me intellectually and physically as a woman is Susan Sarandon.

  6. Identity politics aren’t always fun. The issue of role models is a tough one, especially since there seems to be a rule that role models should have conditions similar to our own. As I keep repeating, my role models are my mother, my paternal grandmother, and my wife. My life is quite different from that of any of them but I aim at reproducing some of their behaviours. I find power in their lives. But I can’t possibly live the same lives as they have been living.
    I’m glad that you notice some of the same things I observe, about QuĂ©bĂ©cois men. Being one, I take for granted that I’m too biased to be really insightful. But, I must say, though I’ve seen macho tendencies on the part of some men, I haven’t observed much “male dominance” in my surroundings, in Quebec. I did notice a lot of gender “separation” in the U.S., though.
    We started out with equality and fairness. We now maintain these issues with, in mind, the passion for diversity which distinguishes the ethnographers that we are.
    Now, maybe we should tackle “metrosexuals”… 😉

  7. I have to say when I take the kids to the park … most of the Dads that are there with the kids are QuĂ©bĂ©cois Dads. I admire that. I mean chauvinists are everywhere including here (and the ADQ apparently), but here gender politics are unlike anywhere I’ve been. But then again, we’re in Montreal where a guy went into a university and shot 14 women because he couldn’t make it as an engineer.

    As for metrosexuals, I’m just not sure what to make of it. My cynical side tells me it’s just a marketing label invented by beauty companies trying to make money off men as well as women. It’ll go out o fashion once they find another more profitable label.

  8. Personally, I’d like to be one of those dads going to the park with his kids. In fact, I really wouldn’t mind being the stay-at-home dad. It does exist elsewhere but I do get the impression it’s more mainstream here in Quebec, especially in some neighourhoods.
    About metrosexuals, the marketing of “sex-appeal” to men is, in itself, quite interesting. Not too surprising that it should have come from the UK, where male grooming seems to be quite important. After all, the figure of the dandy (and, later, the skinhead) had to do with social mobility, status, etc.
    In the U.S., men are encouraged to look as if they didn’t care about looks. People coming over from France tend to say that QuĂ©bĂ©cois men aren’t dressed well enough but we’re, yet again, caught between Europe and the English-speaking North America, in yet another continuum of cultural emphasis.

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