There’s an article floating around Google+ that I haven’t had a chance to read yet – but the headline frames an interesting dilemma. It’s asking if young girls and young women are encouraged to follow fashion rather than focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) classes.

On the surface, I think this is a completely valid question. The lack of women in the sciences is pretty telling about the ways boys are encouraged toward those career paths. I think it’s also interesting, though, because, when we frame the discussion that way, we’re perpetuating the idea that self-representation, presentation, and self-expression are frivolous and distracting. Which… strikes me as a very second-wave notion in a lot of ways.

Presentation and the negotiation of that IS important. It seems counterproductive to rank the soft sciences like psychology and anthropology against hard sciences like robotics, and that’s not quite what we’re doing when we devalue attention to fashion – but it still feels a bit like that to me, as though squishy human things, especially “girly” things, just aren’t as important.

I kind of cringe when “feminine” gets tossed around in conversations because I think it conflates gender and gender stereotype. It’s used when we talk about assigned gender traits – like the way women are supposed to be mothering so nurturing is considered a feminine trait – as though men can’t nurture. But the specific paradoxical fascination with and loathing of paying attention to fashion seems not only anti-woman (of any variety) but specifically anti-FEMME.

Anti-femme culture (and feminists aren’t immune to this) thinks the effort put into femme presentation is a waste of time and energy – or, at the very least, time and energy that could have been spent doing something more important. Anti-femme culture thinks “pretty” probably means “dumb” even when struggling against a culture obsessed with an impossibly narrow beauty standard. Anti-femme culture thinks you can’t do math AND do your nails.

We are humans! We contain multitudes! I do not think it is a problem that teenaged girls are interested in experimenting with presentation via fashion; I think it’s ridiculous and misogynist that they are ONLY encouraged to do that – and that boys don’t have the same freedom of expression.

When I do these photo type projects, like this one where I’m documenting my work clothes and talking about business casual, I am keenly aware that I’m just not butch, y’all. But I am so hungry for butch representation in fat fashion circles. Even as I reluctantly identify as femme, I can’t deny my style, whatever it is, tends towards the performative and girly.

I can do that, magically enough, and still work in an industry that focuses on emerging technology. Other women (of all varieties) can do that! Men (of all varieties) can also do that! People who identify as any other gender can also do that! Because fashion is not just some frivolous way of frittering away time. The more time I spend thinking about it, the more political it becomes (and the more invested I wind up in being able to dress the way I want to dress).

Instead of belittling an interest in fashion, wouldn’t we be better off encouraging young women to start thinking critically about it? And that’s while we figure out ways to encourage them in STEM classes, too.

Life isn’t a zero sum game. You don’t have to trade an interest in clothes for a degree in computer science.

My eyeshadow

I ordered an eyeshadow from MAC’s recent Blogger’s Obsession collection – Jealousy Wakes by Christine from This is a lousy picture. It’s a glorious teal with subtle gold shimmer, which makes it different from the nine other teals I own. *grin* I’m also wearing a grey (Swell, Baby) from the recent Surf Baby collection. That’s it – it was uber simple.

Me, making a face

I spent the weekend at the beach – my hair was still big and curly and beach hairish. And my streaks have gotten VERY BLOND. Which freaks me out a little bit! They are supposed to be blue!

Me, smiling

I went into Torrid to look for boots – they didn’t have them in stock and I wound up buying a new dress instead. I’m kind of madly in love with it.

Me, in grey Torrid dress

This is a size 22, which is actually kind of odd. I’ve been wearing a 3 in their dresses, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. I tried it on mostly to get a sense of what size I should order… and then it worked perfectly.

Me, in Torrid dress

I’m wearing this with fishnets from Avenue. I stockpiled these all winter when they were available and it’s paying off now – because I can’t find them to fit me anywhere. I’m also wearing slouchy grey boots from Target.

Me, from the side

Sometimes we get very used to seeing ourselves from certain angles so I wanted to include this shot from the side. While I often seem very hourglassy from the front, my belly sticks out and I have a rolly little back because my ass sits up high. All of that is okay. It’s just my body and it’s what it does.

This dress is currently at Torrid! The tights and the shoes are not available but this dress, y’all. I really want a million people to buy it so Torrid gets the hint and styles more things like this.

What are you wearing today?

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  1. Posted August 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Just stopping by to tell you how gorgeous you look.

  2. JupiterPluvius
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Love that dress on you. And your beach-blonde hair!

    The thing about a social emphasis on fashion and grooming is that, in some contexts and for some girls and women, it can be a bit of a “second shift” that can take time away from school and work, or change the ways in which girls and women interact with school and work.

    When I was in college, frex, I more than once left a late-night study session or reworking of a special newspaper edition because I had a little voice in my head telling me to go home and get my “beauty sleep.” Not my health sleep, which would have made perfect sense, but my “beauty sleep”—because though caring for my own body and energy didn’t feel like a priority, making sure I was acceptable by whatever “beauty” standards I had internalized did.

    • TR
      Posted August 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

      That’s why the social emphasis is a problem – as I said, it’s ridamndiculous that women are encouraged (and pressured) to fixate on that to the exclusion of all else. But I think it’s the emphasis without options that’s the problem, not the interest in presentation itself.

      • JupiterPluvius
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

        But I think it’s the emphasis without options that’s the problem, not the interest in presentation itself.

        I agree so hard with this. The point I was vaguely getting at is that sometimes people are frustrated with the first and thus discard the second.

        At 47, and thus past my Official Consumer Culture Sell-By Date, I am just starting to enjoy playing with fashion and makeup as a form of self-expression; until recently, it was camouflage/uniform for me. (Which I know is as much about what was going on in my own head as it is about what was going on around me!)

    • Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      Also (speaking as someone who majored in computer science and has worked in software for 20 years) dress DOES affect how you’re perceived. If most of the techies where you work wear jeans and tshirts, wearing a dress is like wearing a suit — it stands out. I’m not saying to not do it, but be aware that you’re standing out.

      Most of my coworkers wear jeans or slacks and polos, Hawaiian shirts, or tshirts. Yes, they’re mostly men. The women usually dress similarly – maybe a nicer or prettier top, but maybe not.

      I mostly wear slacks and knit tops. If I wear a skirt, it’s something I’m comfortable getting under my desk in (I do sometimes need to switch cords around) and probably has pockets. My shoes are chosen as much for comfort and support as anything else. I wear glasses for several reasons, but one is that glasses are very common in the tech industry. It’s a less-femme presentation than Marianne’s, though not butch.

  3. Posted August 3, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I SO love that dress. Glad you got it, it looks great.

    That aside, I agree with the presentation thing. For one it makes me feel better to dress up nice, but I sometimes still do notice the ‘social pressure’ part (not getting mocked) and that +protest (HAH! Now tell me again fatties can’t be fashion fierce!). The thing is I can distinguish this, yet often I read (or get) remarks from radfems that I am still brainwashed by the patriarchal society. Because apparently, caring about how you look=bad and only they can be truly ‘unwashed’ (ehehe, that wasn’t intended XD) and think for themselves. And I love heels damnit. My newest pair is frikking awesome.

    I should post OOTD occasionally, to remind myself. I looked rad. Because accepting myself from a side point is still HARD. Post-ED era and I am still diguisted by myself a lot. Yet I look at you and think you look beatiful, wonderful, from every angle. And I remember your post where you had a picture taken of you from behind. I need this. A lot. Just keep seeing myself.
    I am somewhere midway in my F/A journey. Guess that what I am trying to say is: Thanks for being such an inspiration and reminder of what’s ‘good’. =)

  4. Posted August 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    I’ve noticed that when I dress very femme (which is most of the time) people treat me as though I’m less knowledgeable about science and math and techy stuff. I’m actually pretty good with computers, but people will assume I haven’t thought to try the basics (like restarting) when I can’t get something to work. Some people even seem surprised that I love steampunk and that I really enjoy reading X-Men comics. I work in a more humanities/communications oriented field now, but I was good at math and science in school and considered studying physics in college.

    I’ve also noticed that dressing “mainstream femme” sometimes makes me feel like an outsider when I spend time with women who are nerdy in the same ways I am, but don’t care about fashion. It really does feel as though I’m not supposed to care about both.

  5. Eldritch Panda
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    This is /so/ relevant to my life right now. I’ve come to the path of convergence on this issue! I have set on a path where I’m going to conquer math (Intermediate Alegbra right now, College Algebra next and onwards from there) AND Computer Science. At the same time I’m working on my look. Even though I’m butch, I still am feeling like I need to be more thoughtful about how I want to present and not just to “make a good impression” on people or because I /have/ to, but because I feel like it can be a radical act.

    So yeah! So important. I’m excited about your post!

  6. Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    You look gorgeous! I absolutely love that dress and would love to own it.

    And I agree with your point. We shouldn’t make it an all or nothing deal. Get a science degree and look hot. Why not? Girls don’t need to pick. That is one of the reasons that girls statistically lose interest in the science and math courses in high school — because they feel they have to choose to be “girls” and don’t realize they can do both.

    Great post!

  7. Peregrine
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that dress is awesome on you! I think you’re winning me over to the dark side Torrid.

    I love how you’ve framed this as being also about gender presentation (which it is) instead of just the M/F paradigm.

    I agree that it would be wonderful if all people had more freedom to express themselves and experiment with fashion, as well as if everyone were encouraged to take joy in studying ALL THE THINGS. :-)

    I’m realizing that I’m not butch either, though I don’t think I’m exactly femme. I think my ideal would be to combine both in interesting ways.

    (That won’t be at work, though. Heh.)

  8. Christine
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Seriously you are gorgeous. And that dress looks amazing on you.

    And before I gush on and on about how you look; YES it is damned ridiculous that girls are taught from a young age that so much of their worth is vested in their appearance. That said, I was an English and Italian major, and wish that someone had ever pointed out how good I was at math, because hot damned is that ever more marketable than my BA and even my subsequent law degree. So there’s that…But then, I’m also bringing my own crazy ass opinion into because I’m pretty unhappy where I currently am. So, it would be safe to say I’m projecting. But there we are.

    Wearing! V-neck black with off white polka dot tee shirt with grey suit skirt.

  9. Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I lovelovelove that dress – it reminds me of what Torrid was like in the pre-pink days (I never ordered from there, since I was too young and I didn’t have a credit card, but I spent a lot of time on the website, let me tell you).

    I work in admin, which tends to be women-dominated, so I don’t feel as much like I’m subsuming my knowledge when I dress all fancy. On the other hand, a little more respect for the admin staff from the people we support would be nice, and I don’t doubt that tied up in that is the fact that almost all our academics are men. :/

    • TeleriB
      Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Oh my goodness. I’m in a government lab, and our admins make the world go ’round. We have a sea of forms and websites to sail across for every trip, every publication, every inventory item, and they are our ace navigators. I know I can walk up to our admin and say, “J, I need to do X,” and she’ll hand me the right paperwork without blinking.

      It’s so much a teamwork thing. Without the admins, the techs, IT, and the physical plant folks, we researchers would have a lot of fancy ideas and not much else.

  10. Posted August 3, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I dress rather femme. Take today – I am wearing orange stockings, a polkadot below the knee A-line skirt, an orange top, a black military jacket and pearls. This is.. I guess fairly common? I love clothes, I love colour.

    And I am a scientist. A research scientist in soil geochemistry. Who is in the lab today, covered in a soil covered lab coat, heh. I am very fortunate in that there is no dress code (most of the researchers, regardless of sex, wear jeans and tshirts) and my dress sense stands out, but am ok with that, as I really enjoy what I wear.

  11. Kala
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Hey! What type of emerging technologies if you don’t mind me asking? Where do you work? Sorry. Being nosy.

    I try to be more feminine because I LIKE it. I also work in research administration; my education focused on geology and then journalism with an emphasis in film and television production. I’m thinking of starting another degree in mathematics. I spend quite a bit of time in the field with the researchers so I tend not to dress up often, maybe once a week.

    I don’t think STEM disciplines are anti-femme to the women working in them–at least from my experience–but certainly the active research portion, lab or field, limits fashionable clothing because functionality is the top priority. All it takes in my office is one woman dressing up and the rest follow (research faculty and administrative staff alike), it ebbs and flows. We all certainly dress up for those occasions when our state senators, congressmen and governor show up.

    STEM researchers are HOT whether or not they dress up, man or woman!

  12. G
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    You look faboo! I love that dress on you.

    Here’s the deal for me: I’m a woman scientist in a STEM profession. I feel like work fashion is a double-bind, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If I put a lot of effort into my presentation, then I’m no longer knowledgeable. If I don’t, then I am invisible or sloppy. There’s a grey area somewhere in the middle: just fancy enough to not stand out, and I usually aim for that. That grey area involves plainish clothes that fit really well, and that is DAMN HARD to find as a fatty.

    When I was young, somehow I internalized the idea that I could be either “smart” or “pretty” and I had to choose. I’m finally getting around to the idea that I can be both!

  13. Ashley
    Posted August 3, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe I finally have a relevant story for a comment! I’ve been reading forever, but never had anything relevant to comment about :)

    I have always believed I could be smart and still into fashion and style. The irony is, the reason I had this instilled in me was because I was fat. Basically, through about 5th grade, I had no idea I was particularly smart and I was a tomboy whose favorite outfit to wear to school was a matched sweatsuit. But then in sixth grade, I started getting made fun of for being a geek and being fat and ugly. My parents, wanting to help me out, starting buying me whatever the trendiest, coolest clothes were hoping that the kids at school would have one less thing to make fun of me about. My dad would take me on shopping trips to the mall and let me pick out anything I wanted, and I thought this was great fun. I started caring a lot about my clothes and putting together outfits, even as I took advanced classes and went to college and majored in chemistry. Fast forward to today, and I’m the most stylish chemistry professor I know.

  14. Kelly
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    I just want to add my voice to the chorus proclaiming the awesomeness of that dress on you. From all angles. And is that a bubble skirt? I’m gushing.

    I recently started a new job and with it tried to start dressing up more. I’ve always loved color and realized that it was so much fun and improved my mood tremendously if I wore bright colors. So I do! And, being a creative professional working in the engineering department of a fairly creative company, I find that I am afforded more respect, rather than less when I dress up. I tend to dress rather aesthetically dramatic, but I’m a designer, so that adds to my credibility rather than detracts.

    Today I wore a high waist black pencil skirt, white shell, gray short sleeve jacket, this awesome white feather headband and some killer bright red patent platform heels.

  15. Alexie
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    This is such a can of worms. The reality is, fashion and traditionally feminine skills become extremely important and worthwhile as soon as men do them – see celebrity chefs and most fashion capital runways for evidence.

    It’s the fact that a majority of women do something that seems to devalue it, not the thing itself.

    Re: presentation. One of the defining memories of my work life is trying to get contract work in my profession about eight years ago, when such jobs were plentiful. As soon as I emailed recruiters my CV, they would haul me into their office. And once they saw fat me with not such great clothes, that was the end of that. I should add that (a) I wasn’t badly dressed, just not super polished and (b) it took a while for the penny to drop that maybe it was my presentation that was the problem, because nobody said anything.

    As an experiment, I went out one day and bought a very expensive suit – on my credit card, because it was way out of my normal budget. The next week, I had two contract offers and the employers agreed to higher money when I asked for it. That lesson has been seared into me.

  16. Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    Wait women can think critically about things?

    Today I wore my very elderly Eternal Love black gauze pixy hem skirt, a grey Old Navy tank and my trusty fabric flats. Another no effort outfit I got a lot of compliments on.

    The only downside is that I’m so short that even with my skirt pulled up all the way under my bra I kept stepping on the points of my skirt.

    Ridiculous Goth is Ridiculous.

  17. Liz
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    Firstly, for what it’s worth, you are very beautiful.

    Secondly, I’m one of those – sorta – butch women and I totally agree with you. I get sick of both sides. I don’t want to be judged because I simply prefer the more “masculine” way of dressing, and don’t like things like makeup (for me). I’m not insecure, or confused, or unhappy. I’m not trying to compensate for being a woman by hiding my femininity. This is just…me.

    On the other hand, I see that a lot of people assume that I’m smarter and more capable because I’m more “manleh”. People aren’t as surprised when it turns out that I’m intelligent and articulate.

  18. queenofnuffink
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    OH! I have been wanting to try Torrid! Especially because they actually have some maternity wear for my fat pregnant ass!

    I no longer fit into my work pants, I am only 4 months along and I had to rock out a skirt and sandals today which looks nice BUT puts my poor feet in peril where I work. We have these HUGE heavy carts that we move the plants with and well…hitting your ankle in shoes or boots hurts lots I am pretty sure I would end up with hamburger at the end of my ankle if I do it today.

    *sigh* I need more clothes, and shoes.

  19. Katie
    Posted August 4, 2011 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    I agree with Kala – I’ve had several field jobs that negate any reason for having anything nice/fun/fashionable. Like the year I worked as a biologist aboard commercial fishing vessels – it was sweats 24/7 and rain gear when I had to go outside. A special occasion (like seeing the outside world) required jeans.

    After that job I actually had a super-femme period and I bought tons of skirts/scooters, pink and purple. I was also TAing so I had students watching me lecture 2 or 3 days a week. Making some effort felt necessary to underscore my authority.

    Today I am wearing trouser jeans (Lane Bryant), a yellow camisole and an oversized purple lightweight cable knit sweater (both Old Navy). I like the color combo (and that’s kind why I have so much ON crap- lots of color) but the pieces themselves are kinda meh.

  20. Posted August 5, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I really, really love that dress.

    TODAY! I am wearing… I don’t even know. Skinny jeans with lots of stretch? Jeggings? What are these? NO IDEA. They have an elastic waist band, a button, and no zip and are pretty comfy AND are petite-sized so they fit my stumpy legs. I got them on clearance at Avenue. (I think they will look bangin’ under some really short sundresses I got on clearance. I don’t do short skirts because I am not a fan of showing off my underpants when my short skirt blows up, and if there is one thing I am mega skilled at, it is catching a breeze so my short skirt blows up.) (these pant things have pockets; I am beyond thrilled.)

    Down below that I’ve got my red kicks on, up top I’m wearing a long light grey tank top with dark grey lace edging that I got at Target about a year ago, and a red short-sleeved cardigan. I am also wearing a sterling silver and malachite feather/snake necklace I got in New Mexico when I was in high school, which I haven’t worn for awhile even though it’s one of my favorite pieces of jewelry ever. I stopped wearing necklaces and earrings when my baby was in the grabby stage and need to get back in the habit of wearing them because he’s now a toddler who understands “hey, don’t touch that.”

  21. Ruth
    Posted August 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    I must second the above posters on the awesomeness of that dress.
    The thing for me in dressing for self-expression is that is requires a lot of cultural knowledge. Goth (for example) clothing isnt just about a liking for monochrome and “fancy” styling. It is a cultural statement, and you need a kind of education to both express yourself and understand what other people are trying to say.
    I tend to dress in a kind of uniform of jeans hoodie converse and tshirt. Its not so much that that expresses who I am (teenage student geeky bisexual.. about right) but its practicality, warmth and lack of visibility-harrassment in the street is depressing.

    I dont want to be invisible necessarily, but it is so so easy to just let yourself be.

  22. E
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Similarly to how most fat acceptance activists don’t have a problem with individuals being on diets for their own personal reasons but do have a problem with dieting as a cultural activity, I think that everyone should take as much or little interest in “beauty” as they so desire, but I have a problem with fashion in general. The imbalance of expectations relating to gender is a huge problem (both in terms of the amount of time spent on certain beauty activities, and on the type of clothing expected…high heels, for instance, are incredibly inhibiting compared to the shoes men are expected to wear to be equally dressed up), and honestly the fact that society has any expectations at all is troubling (i.e. “work appropriate”, “fancy bar appropriate”, etc.).

  23. Amber Smith
    Posted August 6, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been listening to you for about a year, but never really looked you up.

    You are SO pretty!!

    I was listening to the dating and sex podcasts and I felt my defensive face melt a little (as I was giggling along with you two). Apparently my not being in bitch-mode made me more approachable to males!!! I need some more of this stuff! (the podcasts)

  24. Chocolateftw
    Posted August 9, 2011 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Ok, size 4 experiencing deep dress jealousy at the moment. You look absolutely fabulous, Marianne!

  25. Posted August 9, 2011 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    That dress is so cute! I went right to Torrid’s website to buy one, and discovered, to my disappointment, that even though the dress is cotton, it’s lined with POLYESTER. Sweat city.

    The polyester linings are one of my biggest complaints about Torrid’s clothes!

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