I’m working on a Ted X talk on why do we gender clothing. I want to thank you for your work and insight.
It’s extremely helpful as I finesse my language around this topic.
I opened The Phluid Project a year ago with the mission to eliminate gender barriers and restrictions around fashion.
For me, and many others, you are an icon.
A long time ago (sometime in the 1980s), I gave a paper at a regional Costume Society of America meeting. I can't remember the topic, and it isn't even listed on my CV. Only one thing stands out in my memory: I was introduced by Richard Martin, at that time one of the brightest stars in the fashion studies firmament. Only one year my senior, Richard was an established curator and scholar, producing several blockbuster exhibits a year at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He had graduated from college the same year I graduated from high school, and earned two master's degrees while I was still waiting tables. In short, he was brilliant. He was also gracious and generous; there are many "stars" in academic fields who are willing to lower themselves to occasional brief appearances at conferences, where they hang out with the other stars and ignore everyone else. Richard was not that person.
So it was that Richard Martin (THE Richard Martin) was at a regional meeting presiding over a session of papers by junior scholars and graduate students. I was probably the most senior presenter, but still an assistant professor; my very first article about boys' clothing and gender had just been published in Dress. And he introduced me not just with a list of my degrees and positions, but a description of my work. WHICH HE CLEARLY HAD READ. And he called me an iconoclast. On my secret, imaginary business cards ever since, is the line "Richard Martin called me an iconoclast".
Yesterday I got this message via Linkedin from Rob Smith, founder of The Phluid Project, a gender-free store in New York.
So: iconoclast icon? Iconic iconoclast? I think what it means is "don't stop". So I won't!
It is 1970, and I am working at my first waitressing job at the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I am wearing the classic black maid’s dress, complete with white apron and frilly white cap. It is the first time I have ever worn a uniform for a job, and I like it. During the day I wear my faded bell-bottoms and one of a number of colorful shirts, and on the job I have my uniform. Bliss. So blissful am I that I find myself making lists on my 3 by 5 inch notepad. They look like packing lists for a trip, but they are really a plan for my ideal wardrobe – one that is ENOUGH but never TOO MUCH. I don’t have the lists today, but remember the basics:
The only ominous thing about this fixation with the minimalist wardrobe is that I was, at the time, a fashion design major.
Fast-forward to my life as a retired professor in 2019. Most days, I wear comfortable casual clothes, usually jeans and one of several turtlenecks or tees I own in different colors. I have six linear feet of hanging clothing (half for cold weather, half for warmer months), 12 pairs of shoes, one winter coat and one bathrobe. Am I in possession of enough, or still in its pursuit?
Stay tuned for more.
Can you imagine how the world would be different today if the people who have been climbed over, stepped on, and silenced had been able to tell their own stories, play their own music, create their own art? Can you imagine how the world could be different without fame and success being the reward for oppression, cultural theft, and abuse? I wonder about this all the time, more and more thanks to #BlackLivesMatter #MeToo and #TimesUp.
Was "Annie Hall" brilliant because of Woody Allen's appalling sexual behavior, or in spite of if? Does the beauty of the blues justify 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow?
It's one thing to know that terrible circumstances can result in amazing works of expression. It's another to believe they are necessary, and accept crimes against humanity as the price to be paid for those works. And it is still another to admire or even protect people who use other people as objects or chattel because we like their music/art/athletic ability/writing/politics/comedy.
That's where I am this morning.
In the last six months, three of my closest friends have moved away. Carol and Sara moved in July; one went north (State College, PA) and one went south, to Raleigh, NC, each about five hours away. The final blow was Katie's slo-mo move to northern California, which commenced last Friday. She's visiting family and friends along the way (she's retired, too) and as soon as I heard her plans, I said "ROAD TRIP"!! The general idea was that I 'd ride along until I needed to head home, and Katie would plan an itinerary that would intersect with an Amtrak route.
Everything depended on weather, of course -- winter road trips are like that -- so it turned out that I could only manage the first leg, from Maryland to Raleigh, North Carolina. TO SEE SARA!!! Katie and I had a great day: light traffic, gorgeous weather, and lunch at a brewpub in Richmond where we practiced our posing skills.
Arriving at Sara's ****awesome**** coworking space in late afternoon, we enjoyed a tour of the "neighborhood" (a huge warehouse), which included a brewpub and a neon glass studio.
The glass studio is inhabited by some of the most interesting human beings I have met in a long time, but I am giving a special shoutout to DJ, a recent MFA in jewelry design, who is apprenticing with Nate Sheaffer, the owner of Glas, learning glass blowing and incorporating their new skills into all sorts of art. Take a look at the jewelry! And the glass! Stop by when you are in Raleigh, visit the Loading Dock (pat the dogs, take the tour), enjoy the beer, and BE SURE to look at all the amazing neon/glass work.
Katie left the next morning after breakfast (snif), leaving Sara and me to gad about Raleigh and environs sampling beer, eating great food, and going to dog adoption events. Her parents were looking for a pooch to fill out their cat-heavy menagerie. Success was achieved with the arrival of Winston, a lively Pekinese mix. Meeting families of friends/students/colleagues is always interesting; it adds another dimension to the person you think you already know. In Sara's case, it was easy to see where she got her love of animals, sense of humor, and sweet hospitable nature.
I also got some good work done with my brain, but it is still cooking and not ready to serve yet.
I had an interesting conversation with a visiting journalist from India not long ago, in which she asked about how I had organized my research career. The short answer is that it was not exactly organized; in retrospect, it seems more orderly than it was. Here is how I see it now:
What was particularly helpful for me personally was realizing about forty years ago, as I was starting my PhD, that my goal was not to understand fashion, but to use fashion as a lens to understand gender. That freed me to use other lenses as well, while building my specialized expertise in fashion. So while my research and writing focused on clothing, I read far beyond clothing, and read less of the fashion literature that did not incorporate gender. What I have learned about toys, food, film, and other cultural products that also reveal gender has helped me understand fashion/gender better. Within the last twenty years or so, I have expanded this frame of reference to reflect my realization that gender is itself a lens through which I study culture. I wonder how my work would have been different if I started out forty years ago focusing on culture, then narrowing to gender and then to fashion. But evidently that is not how my brain works.
It is through the similarities and contrasts between the US and India that I am learning the most. We are both democracies, both former colonies, both religiously and culturally diverse. We have been a nation longer, but India is the cradle of much of what we think of as "western" civilization. Pajamas? Dungarees? Shampoo? Bungalow? Just a few of the common words of Indian origin that made their way into everyday English. in fact, we share much more a few recently adopted terms; Engllsh is part of the Indo-European linguistic family, and owes as much to Sanskrit as to Greek and Latin.
The most interesting films for me are the ones that open my eyes to my own culture and my own assumptions and beliefs -- most recently the romantic film Jab Harry Met Sejal, which is appealing to this American not only because the music is glorious and the acting superb, but also because while love may be universal, the lovers' expectations and boundaries are bound up in their identities as Indians. The more I understand Harry and Sejal, the deeper my understanding of their world and my own.
Thanks, India, for over 100 years of films to explore!
Although my last official day at work was June 30, my emotional last day was over a month earlier, when I attended my last graduation ceremony as a participant. Since then, I have been on a sort of pilgrimage, traveling to various places and gathering bits of my past, present and future to craft into my next life chapter. The word "retirement" holds no meaning at all; For the foreseeable future, I plan to read, think, and write even more than I used to. It's likely I will also be talking, listening, and discussing more than I was able to -- at least, I hope that's the case. Some of it will happen on social media, some of it over coffee, beer, or a meal, some of here. This is a catch-up post that also serves as a preview of some future entries. An appetizer, I hope.
Since late May, I have traveled to Portland, Maine, New York City, Baltimore (close, but it counts), Star Island (twice), and San Francisco by way of a shirt stop in Chicago. I have read more books in eight weeks than I had time to read in my last entire school year. I have sewn -- a little, not enough. I have watched dozens of movies (most of them Indian). I've played with my 4-year-old grandson and learned of the death of my youngest aunt, who was barely in high school when I was born. I have said goodbye to close friends moving away and hello to new people in my life. I have done much, much more than that, and promise to fill in some of the blanks later. Mostly, I have been filling myself up, refueling for the next leg of the journey.
Friends have warned me about the dangers of overcommitment in retirement. Frankly, I'm not worried; my secret superpower has been the ability to say "no" for some time now. (If anything, it's my reluctance to say "yes" that can get me in trouble.) For now, my plan is to mostly think and make things while I think -- my favorite form of meditation. I will share sometimes, but not everything. Every draft does not need a reader, and not every sketch wants a critic (even a friendly one).
This blog will continue to live up to its name -- everything else -- I have posts cooking away in my brain on my cross country train trip, the latest Shah Rukh Khan film, reading and "real books", beer culture, and other random topics. Watch this space. My more focused work on gender and clothing will be posted on Gender Mystique. (Yes, I am still working on that third book!) Local friends, feel free to pull me away for a chat; but no meetings, please!
Having freed myself from the tyranny of StoryADay’s prompts, I am moving on to my real reason for taking up this challenge. I wanted to turn my blog posts from my trip to Nebraska last fall into a personal narrative. I realized that there were many stories running through my nearly-daily entries, from personal reminiscences and to discoveries about my political and spiritual identities. Bear with me; this is a draft of a revision of a series of drafts.
At first, it just seemed like a big adventure. "We're moving east; Daddy has a new job in New York." New York! To a little girl on the high plains of
I cannot tell a lie. No, really. The best I can do is just keep my mouth shut and hope that people interpret my silence as agreement. That's probably why writing history comes easily for me, with its comforting foundation of dates, quotations, and artifacts. Whatever interpretation one wants to draw from the evidence, the evidence is there for anyone to handle and inspect. Boys used to wear dresses. There was no "girl color", pink or otherwise. Make of it what you will, but the facts won't go away. After he was forced to recant his claim that the earth orbits the sun, Galileo allegedly muttered "And yet it moves", because there really are such things as facts.
Yet all my life I have longed to write fiction and poetry. I usually explain my inability to make up stories in terms of my innate honesty; I cannot tell a lie, therefore I must write nonfiction. But over the last few years, a strange transformation has occurred in my brain. Whether I am in conversation, watching the news, or just planning my day, I become aware of a second, ghostlike consciousness telling the same story, but with a twist. The most vivid version of this has been in meetings, where "surface Jo" is listening politely or offering her measured opinion, but "alternate Jo" chimes in. Her voice getting louder and louder, she makes rude comments or imagines more and more fanciful variations of what is actually going on. I used to worry that her words would suddenly appear running across my forehead for all to see, like a movie marquee, until the day a few weeks ago when I said them right out loud. I clapped both hands over my mouth, but it was too late.
I take this as a sign. Either I am showing early signs of some kind of cognitive decline -- impulsive behaviors are associated with Parkinson's Disease, or various forms of dementia -- or my inner storyteller is trying to be heard. It could be both, but either way, it feels like it is time to pay attention to alt-Jo and transcribe those stories.
Here's the curious thing: I still cannot tell a lie. My stories will be true, although they may not be factual.
I usually work at home on Mondays and Wednesdays, but the last week of classes is always special, meaning dotted with extra meetings. So I went to campus for a debriefing session regarding our capstone sequence, wherein American Studies majors plan and execute their senior projects. It was a thoughtful, fairly productive meeting, to I contributed two "fucks" and one "we've been diddled". A clear sign that it's time to turn in my chalk.
So I headed to the coffee shop to get my daily story done -- not my best, but the goal is a daily writing habit, not the Nobel prize for literature. and now, the week behind me, and nothing between me and sweet freedom but a pile of grading, one more meeting and two commencement ceremonies, it's time for a beer. Meet my new best friend, Chester Copperpot.
My Gender Mystique blog focuses on my work on clothing, sex, and gender. That's not all I do, so this blog is about everything else.