Behind Home Plate: Considering a Woman’s Place

league3In my hometown, girls who wanted to play in Little League played on co-ed baseball teams until the 5th grade. Despite being the generation that watched “A League of Their Own” in the theaters, there weren’t many of us who wanted to be Dottie Hinson (played by Geena Davis). We were evenly distributed across all the teams, and that meant that most of the time there were no more than two of us. I wanted to pitch, but a coach told me: “Girls don’t pitch.” But I had a good arm, so I was put in right field (well, that was the justification for it, anyway.) Girl 2 on the team was also put in the outfield… a fake position called “center right.”

Often at practice, Girl 2 and I would out-slug the guys. But when it came to setting up the order, we were always placed at the bottom. Come game time, when we’d get up to bat we were heckled by the boys on both teams — by our teammates and by the opponents. The male coaches never did anything to make the boys shut up. If I struck out, which I did a lot (and no more than the boys), I’d be met back in the dugout with “what do you expect from a girl!?”

When I was finally old enough to join the all-girls softball league, everything changed. I became a starting pitching, a top-of-the-order batter, an All-Star. When we’d play co-ed softball in gym-class, I was a first round draft because I could out-everything the boys.

There was no more heckling. There was just the game.

1923570_528551231932_5298_nI remember being in pre-school and wanting to be a boy. I’d try to pee standing up (I learned after one attempt that we’re just not built for that.) I guess it’s a phase all children go through — that phase when they’re trying to understand what makes us different from the other kids on the playground, and then trying to appropriate some of those differences… because the grass is always greener on the other side.

Maybe that’s why I preferred a hammer, nails, and a block of wood to dolls when it came to toys. My school folders had cars on them instead of “My Little Pony.” As I got older and moved into sports, I always played with the boys. I’d swim in the boys’ lanes, or go to their practices in girls’ off season. I fight the boys in karate and bout with the boys at fencing practice. In college, I majored in Economics. I did my problem sets with the boys and go for morning runs with the boys.

And then I’d throw on a pair of high heels, a bedazzled shirt and some eyeliner and drink beers with the boys. The boys would often still be in their gym clothes.

The battle of the genders begins from day one. There’s only a short, sweet time when the playing field is level and then the realizations kick in – boys and girls are not the same.

We fall from Eden.

Putting aside basic biology, what is it that makes men and women so different? To me, it’s all about experience. We fall from Eden not because we realize our nakedness, we realize we don’t have access to the same opportunities. The boys on my little league team were never told they couldn’t pitch because they were boys. As we think of what makes us strong as women, so much of what empowers us is how we learn to define ourselves in relation to the boys — even if we don’t want to admit it. What if my little league team had been 50-50 boys and girls? What if my coach had had daughters instead of sons? Would I still have been told “girls can’t?” Would someone have said “boys can’t?”

 

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Reflections: She’s More than a Pretty Face

Last week I opened a new exhibition. It’s been two years in the works, and to date is my biggest curatorial achievement. People seem to like it. They’re telling all their friends and sending me nice emails. It’s bringing people together.  So I’m kind of proud of it.

A friend who came to visit was kind of proud of me too, and  passed my catalog onto a friend of hers who happens to be a hugely influential collector of contemporary art. He flipped through the catalog, recognized two of the significant names, and then shared his one comment on the content…

“Oh wow! She’s really pretty!”

He was referencing my head shot.

I laughed when she told me. Inside, I was rolling my eyes.

It’s like Hillary Clinton being told to smile more.

If I were a man, would he have told her I was really handsome?

There really is nothing more demeaning to a woman in a professional setting than a reference to her attractiveness. Don’t tell me I’m pretty. That’s not going to convince an artist to work with me (well, it might if that artist were Jeff Koons) or a museum to hire me. “Pretty” isn’t something I’ve worked to achieve — it’s not a professional milestone. When it comes to my job, I’d rather a criticism on the quality of my work than a compliment on the quality of my face.

good smile
“Good Smile, Great Come” by Tracy Emin. Maybe it’s time we start talking about how men look in the workplace. 

 

One Dress, Two Women: Or One Size Doesn’t Fit All (Actually and Metaphorically)

My best friend Liz and I wear the same dress size. I won’t tell you what that size is, but we wear it well. Take the same slightly fitted shift dress, hand it to each of us and this is what happens…

IMG_20150614_184223

Liz and I are physical opposites. My bra is like the equivalent of pasties on her, while her bikini bottom becomes a thong on on me. She has long lean legs, while my lower body turns every dress into a Hevre Leger bandage dress. She’d spend the whole night checking her neckline to make sure “the girls” were in check. I’d probably go braless, but spend most of the night checking the hemline to make sure my butt cheeks were still under wrap.

In short, Liz and I could wear exactly the same dress, but it wouldn’t look like the same dress. We’d wear that same dress entirely differently.

Now, I’m gonna go ahead and make a philosophical and metaphorical leap here…

Just as no two women wear exactly the same dress on the hanger in the exactly the same way, no two women wear the dress of womanhood in exactly the same way. Life presents us with experiences that are ours and ours alone, that shape our individual identities. And yet, as women, there are experiences universal to the Sisterhood.

We’ve all gotten our periods at the most inopportune moment — like on the morning of a big athletic event, or when we’re wearing white, or when we’re on our first sleep-over with the new plus one. We’ve all faced some kind of gender based discrimination at some level — whether it’s in little league (girls can’t pitch!) or in the corporate office (women make $0.70 for every dollar a man makes.) Big girls don’t cry. We’ve all sat on the couch with a friend, and talked trash about the man or woman who most recently broken our heart. Etc.

Some of these shared experiences transcend “Woman” and are universally “human” — like broken hearts, feelings of inadequacy, moments of joy, the euphoria of love, etc, but some are ours and ours alone as women.

While we all wear the dress of womanhood differently, we’ve been growing into it and altering it as our custom piece of couture from the day we were born.

Elinor Burkett was making a similar point in her NYTimes opinion piece “What Makes a Woman?” — it takes a lifetime living as a woman to really BE a woman, because womanhood isn’t just about biology (and that is part of it.) Being a woman is about sets of shared and individual experiences.

About a year and a half ago, I started work on an exhibition about feminine identity. My driving thesis is that femininity, and gender generally, is one big performance art piece — a sort of play within and against socially constructed norms and personas. A battle between self-definition and societal-definition.

I am most certainly a product of a generation raised on the doctrine of inclusivity, to acknowledge and embrace differences. To understand that the world doesn’t exist in simple binaries — straight or gay, black or white, etc. And yet, I am also the product of a society that is built on a system of binaries — us or them, male or female.

Language is surprisingly limited.

In the sandbox on the playground and into the sandbox of my adult life, the Battle of the Sexes was always simple — us vs. them: Girls rule! Boys drool!

So while I’m embracing of the transgender community, and everyone’s right to live as he or she chooses, I can’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea that a born man can, with the help of medicine and performance, transition to a woman and get to be a She in the same way that I am She.

The Monday after Burkett’s piece ran in the Times, we had a meeting with women leaders from my community to discuss how we’re partnering on this exhibition. We talked about the Caitlyn Jenner Vanity Fair cover and Burkett’s op-ed feature. One of the woman shared an apt analogy:

“If your 4 year old child came up to you and said, ‘Today I am an adult!,’ would you accept that at her word? Or would you tell her she still needs some experience? That she has some growing up to do?”

Caitlyn Jenner is a she, but she wears the dress of womanhood differently than a 65-year-old born woman wears it. Ms. Jenner metaphorically walked into the store, tried on the dress, and bought it. I was handed that dress in the womb… and so was every other born woman. We didn’t get to chose the dress. We’ve spent our lives breaking it in, figuring out which angle is the most flattering, where it should be nipped or tucked so it fits like a glove, patched the holes we’ve picked up along the way…

Ms. Jenner can wear the dress too. That’s okay, and welcome to the club! But I’m not sure it fits her yet, not just yet.

Trying on dresses with the gal pals... we're not sure this one fits Caitlyn.. but it will, eventually.
Trying on dresses with the gal pals… we’re not sure this one fits Caitlyn.. but it will, eventually.

We Had Dinner. We Kissed. Now What?

It wasn’t just a random hook-up. They had met through a Friend. Spoken on the phone. Gathered for dinner. Caught a movie. And made out in the parking lot like a couple of wayward teenagers.

He told her she was amazing. They agreed it had been a fun night and stared into each other’s eyes with clear intent. She turned to make her far-too-early departure, but not before he planted one more kiss and said:

"Soon" is non-specific. How soon is soon? 72 hours later or 5 months later?

“Let’s get together again soon.”

Recounting the date over brunch with her girlfriends, this was the phrase that raised all our eyebrows, hers included. “Soon” is non-specific, and we all tacitly confessed to having done it before — met someone (an old friend, a new friend, a recent date) and said “let’s get together soon,” with plans to avoid a follow-up.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve run the full gamut of date follow-up possibilities – from the guy who calls tomorrow because he can’t wait to see me again to the guy who stays in touch, but waits 5 months before suggesting a second rendez-vous.

Both blooming relationships faded away. But I’ll confess, the boy who sent me the “So rarely does a woman meet my expectations, let alone exceed them…You’re wonderful… are you free next weekend?” was the boy more likely to win my heart than the one who took 20 weeks after our first kiss to ask me to dinner.

More often than not, we walk away from a first date with a certain ambivalence. We had a nice time, but we’ve yet to make a decision about what’s next. He had a great sense of humor, but can he be serious? He had nice eyes, but do you really want to take his shirt off?

When it's more than a kiss, it's more than an stamp of approval -- it's a slobbery promise.

Sometimes, to help us make a decision, we need a nudge. A kiss at the end of a night is supposed to be a good sign — things went well, the attraction is mutual, here’s a stamp of approval. When it’s more than a kiss, it’s more than a stamp of approval. It’s a kind of slobbery promise that there will be a next time.

But more than a kiss followed by a “let’s get together again soon” or “…one of these days” and well, the scale hasn’t been tipped in favor of a round 2.

When you’re out there playing the game for love rather than lust, both sexes need to take some Jane Austen advice to heart: “In nine cases out of 10, a woman had better show more affection than she feels… he may never more than like her, if she does not help him on.”

Frankly, a “soon” doesn’t help me on.

Next, please!

My Adopted Extended Family Weighs in on My Love Life

It could have been a scene out of Steel Magnolias.

As they grilled me about the boy who wanted a second date, I thought It could have been a scene out of Steel Magnolias.

My finger nails were wrapped in acetone-soaked cotton balls, one foot splashed in a tub of soapy water, the other foot was being assaulted by a file, and I was surrounded by a team of women in white lab coats all asking the same questions: What’s his name? How’d ya meet him? What does he do? Where are you going? Is he good enough for you?

Marbella, Linda, Suzan, and Margaritte — these are the women that keep my hair neat, my nails manicured, and my bikini-line in check. They’re also my adopted extended family. With relationships forged in my pre-teen years, they’ve followed me as I passed from one phase of  young adulthood into the next. We’ve traded life stories, swapped allergy remedies, rejoiced in each other’s successes, and lamented one another’s losses.

So, if there’s one group that has a right to weigh in on my love life, it’s these women. Not only have they all called dibs on wedding-day preparations, they’ve reserved the right to inspect all potential suitors.

If there's one thing I've learned in dating, it's to never put the cart before the horse

I sat there like a deer in the headlights, trying to keep my composure while Marbella swiped on a second coat of “fruit sangria” as they all grilled me about the guy who sent sweet text messages, made me laugh, and wanted another date. I knew if I started to talk, I’d start to gush, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the great game of dating, it’s to never to put a cart before the horse.

“Just tell us! Do you like him?!?!?”

My lips were sealed, but my cheeks, which had just changed to match my neon-pink toenails, provided answer enough.

We’re All Pretty, Pretty, Neurotic Princesses

Of late, I’ve found a kindred spirit in Cinderella.

Sure, I have neither an evil step-mother who locks me in an attic nor ugly step-sisters who steal my clothes and spill pizza grease on them, but I have my share of chores that keep me looking like I just rolled around in a cinder bin.

 

Every Cinderella needs her own set of seamstress mice

 

Mornings are spent makeupless in old jeans and a t-shirt running errands for the family while my mother recovers from her recent hip replacement. I race through grocery stores, power-mop the kitchen floor, dust away the cobwebs from the corners of the living room, transfer the laundry from the hamper to the washing machines, groom the dogs, and put two meals on the table while prepping the third for my return at night. The projects I’m working on have me on call 24-7, and the majority of what I accomplish during the day is done between blackberry emails on the run and conference calls from my compact-SUV. At night, I’m “training” and if I’m lucky, home in my sweats by 10PM.

In short, I’m like every other modern woman as she tries to make her way in life on her own two feet while contributing to her family’s overall well-being. There isn’t much in the way of glamor, but there isn’t much to complain about.

On the console table near my front door sits an invitation to a charity ball. The event is being organized by a woman whose generosity, strength, and heart I greatly admire, and who has recently emerged as a fairy god-mother of sorts. A little bit of sparkle is something to look forward to, especially in the name of a good cause. As for the Cinderella transformation, do you remember that scene in the Disney movie when all the worker mice team-up and create a ball-gown for Cinderella from scraps of material? Yea, I’ve got seamstress mice too. Rather than buy something new, my tailor is reviving a unique vintage piece. It is a recession after all, and I’m a big believer in “once couture, always couture.” A needle, some thread, a little bibbidi, bobbidi, boo, and I’m good to go.

Hopefully, I won’t leave a Ferragamo behind on the dance floor.

All these parallels got my friend Annie and I thinking: If the 21st century New Yorker edition of Cinderella looks like me, what would the some of the other princesses look like in today’s Grimm fairytale?

 

Grace (of "Will & Grace") is the modern Snow White, and we love her

 

Rapunzel is that girl that lets men walk all over her. She’s the one most likely to get back together with the jerk who dumped her. Because she spends most of the day locked away in her room/office, Rapunzel is bound to get into trouble when she’s partying away a Friday night. As she goes off to the bathroom to make-out with the bartender, her friends say “It’s no wonder her mother had to lock her in a tower!”

Snow White shares a flat with 3 gay guys. In fact, all of her friends are handsome gay guys who take her shopping and tell her she’s fabulous and that they can’t live without her. She stopped having girlfriends after her jealous best friend slept with her boyfriend. Snow often eats indiscriminately and feels bad about it later when she’s passed out on her sofa in an apple-turnover-induced food coma.

Sleeping Beauty is the girl we all hate because every guy hits on her and she’s totally oblivious. She has no idea how beautiful she is or how charming. Men stumble over themselves trying to buy her a drink. She’s nonchalant about dating because she never has to work to get asked out, but she doesn’t like to ruin a good night’s sleep by having a strange guy stay over.  All her friends secretly hope she has an eating disorder…