Mar 11, 2023Liked by Leah Libresco Sargeant

For me, the unspoken "command" to wear makeup is still strange. I generally go without makeup, but I know that compared to pictures in ads or movie characters and women who wear makeup, I look like a sickly person (blonde, fair skin, light eyelashes, sometimes just plain sleep-deprived). And this is a normal human appearance! My, normal body. A man walks out of the house as he stands, and that is ok.

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My greatest fear as a teen was unwanted pregnancy from being assaulted. I was a homeschooled evangelical and I was deeply afraid of what people would think of me given our church's emphasis on purity. I was afraid of being visibly female in public; my mom had me wear a lot of large skirts, dresses, and oversized garments to try to hide my shape. I know many women raised the same way with the same story; the female form is assumed to be a stumbling block for men and it's your job to safeguard their eyes. This complicated my relationship with my husband, unnecessarily.

I am now a mother, and a Christian - but a progressive sort. I observe a few things now that I move in both "liberal" (metro workplace, progressive liberal colleagues) and "conservative" (many old friends, some family) circles.

Some conservatives (theological, political) are both openly and secretly preoccupied with policing physical appearance, grooming habits, and overall surveillance and control of the female form. Some conservative women I knew growing up put a premium on this; womanhood is white, slender, groomed, affluent, "the angel in the household". I say "some" because this is a generalization. It's what I observed.

But, I think liberal women are far more likely to *perceive* harassment or negative surveillance of their forms in public. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've been harassed. For some women I know, they say it's almost every time they go into public. I think we interpret behaviors differently. I don't mind friendly catcalls of appreciation, if they're in daylight hours in well-populated areas. Honestly, I find them flattering.

I work in a female-dominated workplace that's very friendly to babies and families. I don't feel I need to hide or adapt my body to fit in. I am lucky; I know that's not the case for, e.g. service industry.

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I suppose makeup is one, the pandemic did it for me, not having to dress up and go anywhere, although for a while I put on makeup for Zoom calls.

Another one? I gradually began tossing out my bottles of nail polish. I used to polish my nails, but then it got to be too much. I'm always cooking and cleaning, and I don't want pieces of polish falling off while I work.

Moreover, polishing one's nails always seemed to be such a frivolous thing, of being a woman of luxury who doesn't do any kind of manual labor.

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I have so many thoughts... thank you for sharing your article about the breast pumps. I work full time at a reasonably flexible job with great “wellness” rooms and have spent two of the past three years pumping at work for my kids. The breast pump fills me with so many emotions; from gratitude for having the tool to rage that I need it in the first place. I think for the tool to give freedom it needs to be freely chosen. For me it was the least bad option in an economy that presumes a two-income household. Why aren’t there more part time options in more industries?

When I was a girl, when the topic of “what do you want to do when you grow up?” came up. I felt almost ashamed of my desires to nurture, to teach - those were girlish and I was talented enough that people felt I had the potential to break glass ceilings in business or science should I put my mind to it. I felt it was a duty to represent in an underrepresented space instead of embracing my own desires as good and worth pursuing.

Now in my current field (building maintenance), I often see the tension play back and forth between the push to standardize and optimize the technician’s processes, measuring performance by creating nice and neat quantitative data and that fact that not only people but the physical world is messy and the most efficient way of doing something can be having familiarity to know that particular machine sometimes sticks unless you wiggle this piece juuust so. I don’t think these necessarily have to be opposing forces. But they need to be held in balance to work together. There is a limit to how much the messiness of the physical can be forced into an repeatable automated process, but the quantitative data can be a useful tool to help give deeper insights into the bigger picture and trends.

Like the breast pump, tools should be chosen to enhance our abilities and freedom in the world, but they can easily be misused to force us into standardized boxes at someone else’s convenience and ignore the need human need to interact and accommodate the individual (“Why do you need more time off with your child? You have a breast pump!” “Why are you complaining about you need help with your baby? You chose to not use contraception!”)

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To be perfectly honest, I have not ever felt "unwelcome" as woman in this world. Is it then the "world" that is unwelcoming to women, or specific arenas of the world that are not welcoming? I have felt unwelcome in different arenas of life, but never because I was a woman.

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