Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sizing up the gender jeans

In the past several months, American women have been engaged in intense public hand-wringing dialogues with themselves over whether they should "lean in" to be more aggressive careerists; whether it is okay to even mention a woman's gender when writing about her scientific accomplishments; whether an obituary can discuss the deceased woman's domestic skills (and in which paragraph such information belongs); whether women at Ivy League schools should seize the opportunity to find husbands among their intellectually equal classmates (or whether this is a deeply regressive antifeminist impulse); and whether a female CEO is betraying the sisterhood if she outlaws telecommuting.

As a man, I have been happy to sit back and let the ladies hash these things out among themselves. But a question has been gnawing at me, and I decided to respectfully address it to All Women at Once, in the person of my professional feminist academic friend Gina Barreca, whom I have on the phone. Gina, why is the feminist movement, now well into its dignified middle age, still in the throes of an adolescent identity crisis?

Gina: Take off your pants.

Gene: Excuse me?

Gina: Take off your pants. I'm taking off mine, too.

Gene: This would be a lot more exciting if we were at least in the same city.

Gina: What does yours say on the back?

Gene: It says "Levi Strauss and Co., Original Riveted. Waist 34, length 32."

Gina: Mine are also jeans. They say "Adriano Goldschmied." Period.

Gene: Your point?

Gina: No women's jeans would ever — ever — have a size on the back for everyone to see. If the waist-to-length ratio is a little high, we'd worry that people will think we're fat. If it's a little low, we'd worry about being judged scrawny. If it suggests the exactly mathematically perfect 0.8 waist-to-hip ratio that supposedly defines hotness, we'll worry that people will think we're bragging. This is all because women are burdened by a self-enforced but culturally imposed sense of shame.

Gene: You have completely changed the subject.

Gina: I have not. Bear with me. When men go shopping, they look for clothes that fit them. When women go shopping, we look to fit into clothes. It sounds the same, but it isn't. Men are entering a place that is tailored for them; women aren't. The clothes industry is notoriously indifferent to how we really look and what we really want. But when we can't fit, we blame ourselves. Worse, we shop with prescriptive guilt. "I need to be a size 8 by Marcia's daughter's bat mitzvah." Have any men ever thought, "I need to be a 42 short for the holidays"? The point is, as long as we keep trying to fit ourselves into what's out there, constantly trying to figure out what is wrong with us, we're doomed to live in an existential angst — or, as you put it, an adolescent identity crisis. Same with the workplace and our roles as professionals, lovers and mothers. What we need to do is grab the existing fabric of society, rip out the seams and sew it back together in a way that fits us.

Gene: Nicely done!

Gina: Thank you. We need to begin with mandatory quality child care in all places of business. Mandatory flexible hours, offered to everyone, men and women. A system of workplace job assessment and promotion that values quality of work, not the number of hours put in.

Gene: That's it? That's your prescription?

Gina: We get those two things done, the identity crisis is over.

Gene: Can I put my pants back on?

Gina: No. You look silly. I like that in a man.

© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group

Sizing up the gender jeans 04/27/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 7:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post - Writers Group.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Meet 'rave pops,' the EDM-loving, hard-dancing 72-year-old who went viral via the Sunset Music Festival (w/video)

    Music & Concerts

    Alan Grofé is a 72-year-old, semi-retired entrepreneur and former tech executive with frost-white hair, two grown children and five grandchildren.

    Alan Grofe dances at the Electric Daisy Carnival festival in Orlando in 2016. [aLIVE Coverage for Insomniac]
  2. Humana adding 200 telemarketing jobs in Tampa Bay

    Economic Development

    TAMPA — Health insurance company Humana Inc. is hiring more than 200 workers in Tampa Bay. The Louisville, Ky.-based company said Wednesday that the new positions will focus on phone sales for Humana's direct marketing services department.

    Humana is adding 200 positions to its Tampa office. Theo Sai, chief medical officer for seniro products at Humana, is pictured in the company's Tampa executive office in 2015. | Rachel Crosby, Times
  3. Congressman wants Trump to pay for Mar-a-Lago travel


    WASHINGTON -- This bill won’t go anywhere, but give Rep. Alcee Hastings creative points with the TRUMPED Act, aka Taxpayers Require Urgent Mandatory Protection from Egregious Debt Act of 2017:

  4. U.S. President Donald Trump and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel walk together during arrival at Melsbroek Military Airport in Melsbroek, Belgium on Wednesday. US President Donald Trump is in Belgium to attend a NATO summit and to meet EU and Belgian officials. [AP photo]
  5. If Tony Dungy sticks around, he'll broadcast the 2021 Tampa Super Bowl for NBC


    Lost in the Super Tuesday news of the Super Bowl coming back to Tampa was this nugget:

    Pictured, from left, Dan Patrick, co-Host, Tony Dungy, studio analyst, Aaron Rodgers. [Ben Cohen/NBC]