The subject of why there have been no women presidents has come up a few times in the past couple of months. It first came up around Presidents’ Day in February, and most recently when Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her candidacy.
Raising a 7.5 year old daughter, it results in me giving explanations using broad generalizations that are easily digested and understood by someone her age, yet fully knowing that the issue is overwhelmingly much more complex and, in a word, disheartening. Rightfully so, she is confused and downright surprised by the current and historical state of affairs. I tend to agree; it makes no sense.
I did the math. Here’s how old she will be for presidential elections in the coming years:
2016 – 9 years old
2020 – 13 years old
2024 – 17 years old
2028 – 21 years old
This means that, at least for presidential elections, there are 13+ years until she can vote.
And when I think about that, I wonder what she and her peers (of both genders) will witness during the intervening years. Will she see more women throw hats into the ring or the same thread of hesitancy? Will she see arrows aimed at gender instead of ability? Will she see women candidates’ outfits discussed more than their politics, especially when compared to their male counterparts? Will she see the bar set unreasonably and unfairly higher for women? Will she see words like “feminist” and “equality” hurled like barbs? Will intelligent, assertive women candidates be pegged as bitches, yet equally smart, ferocious men be called strong leaders?
As we enter this next presidential race, I hope that we—the adults—start changing the dialogue when we discuss candidates and their campaign platforms. Whether we’re talking about women or men, let’s say things like, “I don’t like his/her stance on _______” rather than “I don’t like him/her”. Or maybe we support our opinions with things like, “I think his/her track record with ________ would make him/her a strong/weak president” rather than “He’s/she’s a liar/moron/thief (or worse)”. Let’s have intelligent and spirited debates and dialogue about all of the candidates, but support them with reason and fact (to the extent that we can extrapolate that from the media), not mere gender bias.
Assuming all other things are equal, I want my daughter to witness women being given the same respect and opportunity to win as men. I want her to be encouraged and intrigued by women entering the race, rather than jaded and confused by how they are ultimately treated and discussed and vetted. I want her to ask the pointed questions about why or why not someone might be an ideal leader. I want her to believe that, in the end, people do not vote for or against a candidate solely based on gender.
These children of ours—our boys and girls—they are watching, and they are listening. No matter how you intend to vote, how will you talk about the candidates?
Copyright (c) 2015 Kristen M. Ploetz
I had my daughter when I was 33. Certainly not ancient, but still on the older end of the childbearing spectrum. I am 40 now and my daughter is seven.
When my own mother was 40, I was much, much older. I think about that sometimes: how just the fact of how old I was when I had my daughter sometimes alters my experience of being a mother, at least when compared to my own mother or any number of women who have children at a younger age.
This difference cropped up unexpectedly two weeks ago. I was in my bedroom getting dressed to go to my annual physical and first mammogram. I remarked about how I had to remember to not put on antiperspirant that morning because it can affect the accuracy of the mammogram. My daughter heard me say this and then proceeded to ask me what I was talking about.
It dawned on me in that moment that I probably was not even aware of mammograms, let alone my mother having them, until I was closer to twenty. It was yet another way that my experience (let alone my daughter’s) will be different just because I chose to have a child later in life than my mother did.
At seven years old, she’s not quite at the precipice of puberty and changes in her body, though I can already sense they are on the horizon. But she is mature enough to understand some basic things like the importance of taking care of our bodies, that breasts serve an important function, and that there are some routine medical examinations that are preventive in nature (and therefore not inherently scary). So I used it as an opportunity to explain what I was doing that morning. I explained to her the why (in very basic terms) and the how (in seemingly excruciating detail due to a gazillion questions and request for a visual demonstration about how the machine works…ahem). I was comfortable telling her and was very matter of fact about it, and she responded like a seven year old might: lots of giggles about boobs, followed by “Oh, OK, cool, Mommy. Can I have some strawberries with breakfast?”
I’m somewhat of an anxious person, especially when it comes to medical testing. But I’ll be completely honest: this particular test did not have me feeling worried. That’s really never happened before. Instead, I felt a sense of gratitude that I even had this chance to have a mammogram. In fact, while I was in the waiting room at the mammography center, sitting there with about six other women, all dressed only in a robe from the waist up, I felt a silent solidarity with them. Most of them were far older than me (which was evidenced by the inability of two being unable to work the iPad check-in form), and who knows why any of the others were there. Maybe it wasn’t a positive experience for some of them. But I felt a sisterhood, in age and physical form, with these women. We really are all in this together. In my head, I wished each one of them well.
If you want to make your mammography nurse giggle, ask lots of ignorant questions! Turns out the reading of “21.5 lbs” I saw on the digital display while the nurse was setting up my breast in the machine is not how much my breast weighs. It is the pressure being exerted by the machine. The more you know…
My results came by email a week later. Happily, the mammogram was clear. I reported back to my daughter, just in case there was a worried loose end floating around in her (often worried) mind. She smiled. And then proceeded to randomly yell across the house to my husband a few days later, “Hey, Dad! Mama’s boobs are healthy!”
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. If you are unsure about whether a mammogram is right for you right now, check with your physician or start by reading the guidelines offered by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The procedure is relatively easy and only momentarily uncomfortable.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
Maybe around the time I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was preoccupied with the dark freckle that took up residence just left of center on my nose. It was hard not to be worried about this smudge of melanin.
Hey, Kristen, you’ve got dirt on your nose!
Oh, let me get that, there’s a fly on your face.
Hardee har har. These were the jokes of my classmates, usually boys. I thought it was awful. I was embarrassed and self-conscious about my face.
And then I got boobs—way earlier than most of my friends—and realized that that tiny little speck paled in comparison.
Unwanted attention? What an understatement.
And yet here I am, at forty years old, and I find that it hasn’t changed, both the unwanted attention and my utter discomfort with it. You see, I am “fortunate”—a benchmark largely set by society, it seems, and certainly not me—to have a large chest. I hate it. A lot of it is the result of some (OK, lots) of
post-baby post-first grader weight that I never lost, but most of it is just genes and pure dumb luck. I hate it. I can’t wear most button down shirts. I can’t wear anything too low cut and have to be careful with certain cuts of bathing suits because otherwise it seemingly sends a message that I am not even transmitting. I can’t even wear a modest tank top in the sweltering summer heat without wondering whether I’m too “out there”. I hate it.
Let me give you a very recent example. I went to the grocery store last week to get a few odds and ends, the least of which included some half and half for our morning coffee ritual. Happy to be able wander the aisles alone for a change, I sauntered and enjoyed the solitude. It was a hot summer day outside and the air conditioning felt wonderful on my skin. As I approached the dairy aisle, I could feel my skin responding to the colder air, including under my shirt. I was, in effect, smuggling raisins now (as my beloved friend so aptly put it one day long ago). Ladies, you know what I mean.
Crap, I thought. I just want to get this half and half quickly and get out of here and back outside in my car.
But as I darted toward the milk section, I felt two sets of eyes on me watching my every movement. These eyes belonged to two male customers, and they were hoping to catch a glimpse of my breasts. The hair on my neck rose and my face became flush with embarrassment. Their staring was palpable.
Oh by the way, this is what I was wearing:
Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t think I could’ve gotten any more modest for a hot July day.
Almost any woman can tell you: this is not wishful thinking, these kinds of men staring. This is where so many men’s eyes go, it seems. Instinctively or inquisitively, I don’t know. Half the time I don’t even think they realize they are doing it, but there are other times when it is more than overt.
We’ve all had it done to us, and for me, I can’t think of any time when I’ve actually wanted it. At least not in the dairy aisle. Or work. Or the subway. Or going for a run. Or asking a question after class. Or standing in line to buy stamps at the post office, while I ‘m wearing my wedding ring, no less. Or walking into the library with my 6.5 year old daughter holding my hand.
Don’t get me wrong. This is just the short list of locations, the ones where I’m fully clothed. Let’s not get started about what happens at the beach.
I’m not implying that sexual or physical attraction must be stunted whole hog. No, I’m not saying that at all. What I’m talking about are the times when we women are just going about our business and want nothing more.
The thing of it is is that I am not even sure how to handle this or what the best solution is. I can’t put these things away. I don’t want to wear five extra yards of fabric just because someone can’t keep his eyes averted at the supermarket. I don’t want to hear that schools have to change their dress code to accommodate the uncontrollable nature of some male students. I don’t want to be taken less seriously because I have these two wonderful gifts that fed my daughter for thirteen months. I don’t want to have to feel violated just by walking around, especially when I have a husband at home who was given priority seating in this regard long ago.
I don’t want this kind of discomfort for me, and I certainly don’t want this for my daughter who will be going through her own body changes in just a few short years. Does it feel worse or more prevalent to me now because I am a mother of a young girl, or was it always like this? Are there more wandering eyes these days because having fleshy women sell everything from shoes to beer to music has become the new normal? Has it become expected that we—us regular women just trying to buy a bit of cream to soften the blow of our morning coffee—are considered fair game for ogling now too? Goodness, I hope not. Otherwise, I am going to have to learn how to drink my coffee black.
But the thing is, I tried that. It’s too bitter that way, figuratively and literally. I like a bit of dairy in my coffee, and I like not having to accommodate the inabilities of others to control themselves. So when I go to the dairy aisle to get the cream, here is some advice for you men out there who think you’re sneaking a peek on the sly: we see you. We know what you’re up to and you need to stop. You need to stop for the sake of your wives and girlfriends, sisters and friends, mothers and daughters. It’s that simple. There is a time and a place for everything, and the grocery store is not the place nor the time. Neither is the bank nor the tire shop nor the ice cream stand nor the park. So conduct yourselves accordingly, and perhaps then we might notice you.
Copyright (c) 2014 Kristen M. Ploetz
The impetus for today’s post is this article here on Huffington Post. I get that it (and other articles like it) is supposed to be an uplifting, “we’re making forward strides” kind of piece, and to a large extent, it is. But, ultimately, articles like this gnaw at me on some level because they make me question whether we really are making progress when it comes to describing women, particularly in media. This open letter is my response.
An Open Letter to Everyone Who Continues to Use the Word “Plus” When Describing Women (or Their Clothing) of a Certain Size:
Stop. Please, please stop. The use of the word “plus” to qualify (and quantify!) the size of a woman or the clothes she wears—it has got to stop.
I write this letter because I’m almost 40 and if I’m honest with myself, I am effortlessly a size 14 and with more discipline (read: no ice cream) a size 12. There, I said it out loud. Maybe a size 10 during a good span of consistent healthy eating and exercising, like right now. But I am well aware that 12 and 14 continue to lurk in the shadows of my running shoes and reveal themselves often. But I’m old enough to now know, accept and appreciate that there is a vast range of body sizes and shapes amongst us. I don’t need you or your ad copy to go out of your way to make the point.
I also write this letter because my daughter is 5 and a half years old. She is not yet aware that there are such adjectives used to describe the size of the female body or clothing. And, if you listen to me here, maybe she will never have to. Though it’s going to be hard as she soon grows out of her size 5 clothes. This size 6x that rests on the racks between 6 and 7—what exactly is that? Never mind, don’t tell me. I think I already know.
Think about it. “Plus” size. Plus what? Why do we use this kind of descriptor only when it comes to clothing size?
Correction: Women’s clothing size.
I’m not trying to suggest that there are not folks (like me) who are bigger than others. Of course there are. And of course you need to give sizes to things so we can find, order or buy them. It’s a range, like everything else. But considering the average size of women, why do we not instead call our sisters wearing sizes 0 (!?) to, say size 10, “minus-size” or “inferior-size”? I’ll tell you why, it’s because those sound silly. Just like “plus”.
And, while we’re on the subject, how can anyone even be a size 0? Zero is nothing. Nada. Zilch. So if there is a tag that says size 0 (or, insanity at its best, 00), why is there a pair of pants attached? What’s next? Size infinity with an endless bolt of fabric just clipped to the hanger? Don’t even get me started on vanity sizing. Though it does beg the question of what we’re even talking about anymore when it comes to size.
How come we don’t ever hear about “plus-size” male models? No, they are merely big (which can be equally offensive, in my opinion) or tall. How nice for them.
Let me make my point another way. We also don’t ever hear about “plus-melanin” skin or “plus-age” individuals, just to use two easy examples. Indeed, to do so would be derogatory and discriminatory because it inherently sets an arbitrary, if not idealistic, benchmark of what society and the media supposedly finds minimally (or maximally, as it were) acceptable. Maybe this particular point is best highlighted by the pomp and circumstance that is generated when an average sized woman makes the cover of a major fashion magazine, like today’s article on Huffington Post about the new Elle Quebec cover featuring Justine LeGault. Don’t get me wrong. I love that she is on the cover. LOVE. How can anyone not?—she is stunning. But I don’t care for the singling out that often ensues because of her size.
Or what about the fact that plus size clothing is too often sold in different sections of a store, or a different store altogether, even though the women who wear all of these clothes collectively gather and mingle together as friends and family. Or how about the cutesy ads and reminders from retailers that they have the latest trends in “my size” too. The size of a woman or her shirt shouldn’t be newsworthy nor should it be exiled to the far corners of retail shopping with pejorative labels.
If these women are truly models, then, by definition, they are simply meant to display clothing to prospective buyers like me. Buyers of all sizes. Under that definition, we should be able to see, on a regular, uneventful basis, women with whom we might just as easily share clothes. Certainly not all of the time, but enough of the time so that it is mainstream. Prospective buyers want to know how those dresses and pants will look on them, not some unattainable, unrealistic ideal. But by rarely using anything other than smaller sized models, media and the fashion industry are turning these models into an ideal. An ideal that the rest of us cannot relate to. An ideal that ultimately causes the unnecessary media frenzy when a larger woman makes the front page.
Here’s a thought. Focus your energy on selling and showcasing beautiful clothes and models—in all sizes. Describe the fabrics and the handcrafted details of the dress on the cover. Tell me about where the model is from and what she loves to do on the weekends. I don’t need you to add in whether or not she is “plus” size, I can take note (if I choose) all by myself, thank you very much. But please, above all else, stop using the word “plus” and patting yourselves and each other on the back when an average-size (or ANY size) woman is featured on a cover. It makes a spectacle out of the models and the rest of us women like her, including, quite possibly, my daughter someday.
Copyright (c) 2013 Kristen M. Ploetz
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