Grooming, Clothing, Women and Geeks

Debbie says:

Over at Geek Feminism, Mary just reposted a fascinating essay from June of last year. Since the blog is geek feminism, she’s calling out and looking at various aspects of how geek women dress and groom ourselves. I missed it the first time around, and this time it strikes me as a particular kind of analysis that is rarely done and extremely valuable.

Her opening notes are enough to tell me that I’m in good, thoughtful hands:

* I refer to “geek women” a lot in this essay. All of these considerations apply to other people too in varying degrees, and sometimes more acutely. But given the nature of this blog I am focussing on geek women’s interests, and pressures on them.
* This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of factors that figure into geek women’s grooming: it’s meant to be long enough to demonstrate that a lot of us have to care about it. Undoubtedly it is a somewhat privileged list too. You are welcome to raise additions in comments.

She then goes on to list fifteen ways to consider these issues. I’m not going to reprint them all here; click the link. But here are a few especially important or juicy ones:

Clothing as labour. The vast majority of the clothing the vast majority of people reading this wear is made in factories in the developing world, by people working in dangerous and exploitative positions.

Avoiding overtly female-marked grooming. Women in male-dominated workplaces often desperately want to avoid anything that might cause them to be (even more) othered because of their gender, especially since caring about grooming is frequently trivialised.

This may need to be balanced by expectations in some groups these same women move in by choice or necessity in which interest in grooming is required.

Grooming as marker of a ‘healthy, competent’ woman. For women especially, being groomed and striving to meet beauty standards is considered an informal indicator of mental health. Being considered poorly groomed or lazy about grooming can invite assumptions about being depressed or similar. (This is especially othering of women who do have mental illnesses, who continually receive the message that they shouldn’t have them, mustn’t display them, and will be in big trouble if they do, all while they quite probably have less energy to deal with the whole mess.)

And of course, a privileged woman might get annoying concerned questions, whereas a less privileged women might find, for example, that assumptions about her mental health play into questions about her ‘fitness’ have access to society, to care for her children and so on.

There’s lots more, including excellent comments at the original post.

Clothing and grooming are, of course, major issues for fat women and disabled women, to name two groups with particular challenges in this regard. One thing the post makes clear is that every choice we make has unintended as well as intended consequences, and that even when we can’t make choices because of what’s not available to us that might be available to other women, or what we can’t do that other women might be able to do, our lack of choices has major consequences.

By listing a variety of factors of very different kinds, Mary doesn’t just discuss the issue, she also makes a very respectable stab at showing her readers how complicated the issue is without trying to connect all the dots. The piece doesn’t just make me think about clothing and grooming (though it does that), it also makes me think about what other issues would benefit from this kind of consciously partial analysis. One thing I really like is that she has intentionally set up a format in which she doesn’t have to reach a neat conclusion.

Watch this space; I might be trying this format out.