Friday, November 23, 2007

An Open Letter to Ryan Haecker

Ryan: I've read your opinion piece in the Daily Texan Online and wanted to take a couple of moments to comment. Seeing as to how I'm a man, I'm sure you won't mind. It sure would be unpleasant if some slacks-wearing woman got uppity and decided to share an opinion. It would probably ruin your day. Especially if she had a short haircut.

You see Ryan, I used to teach freshman composition. And I have a few pointers I want to share. From one pants-wearing male to another.

In your opening paragraph you say:

Dresses are the indelible image of womanhood because of the symbolic nature of pants and dresses. If all fashions are symbolic, dresses in particular symbolize womanhood by more fully embodying the ideal of a true lady, the objective understanding of what men find attractive in the fairer sex: passivity, domesticity, childrearing, coital love, piety and fertility. These defining aspects of womanhood are immutable. We all tacitly reaffirm these attributes in our attempts to find a partner. Flirtation and courtship are reaffirmations of what it means to be masculine and feminine because it is only by fulfilling the obligation of our form that we can attract the opposite sex.
Now I'm curious about a few things does a dress (more than pants) signify passivity? Domesticity? Coital love? Fertility? Does the dress in and of itself signify these things? Or are you accepting as a given that one vision of femininity embraces and enacts these things and is more traditionally aligned with wearing dresses that that is the symbol. Also, you say "these defining aspects of womanhood are immutable." Are they? They never change? At all? Are we speaking about just "western" womanhood? Because there are cultural differences at work here Ryan. F'r instance, the Chinese once bound women's feet because they believed small feet were desirable and a sign of femininity. You speak of "true" as though cultural norms are universal. They, obviously are not.

Also, are you speaking for womankind in toto here? Because I hate to tell you, at least on individual bases, these things change. Woman enter menopause. Their attitudes and drives toward "coital love" change due to falling hormone levels and all that go along with it. Some even don't want to have "coital love" at all. Plus, they become infertile. What about women who are of childbearing age but infertile? Are they promoting false-advertising by wearing a dress? Celibate women? Lesbians? And what exactly does that last sentence even mean, in English? I'm sure it sounded brilliant and unassailable in your head. But seriously, it's unclear. I'm betting it has something to do with heteronormative sex, but you're just too much of a gentleman to say no chick in slacks is gonna have the privilege of being the recipient of your missionary position love.

I'm going to skip your second paragraph entirely, because even though you are a history student, you are obviously no student of history. Definitions of femininity and what is sexually attractive in both the feminine and the masculine are mutable. (Refer back to the last paragraph about the notion of cultural differences in what constitutes the feminine.) Also, go back and look at the Raphealite painters, look at Reuben, look at the Flemish painters. Then look at nineteenth and twentieth century photographs or just turn on some Entertainment Tonight; I think outside the broad specifics of female physiognomy, you'll see a large difference in what we find and found attractive.

Are you a fan of Rush Limbaugh, Ryan? Because your third paragraph sounds like his old "feminazi" shtick all dressed up with a pseudo-intellectual bent.

What's not sexy is feminism (not to be confused with femininity), which is directly responsible for the disappearance of our beloved dresses and the adoption of pants by the "new woman."

Feminism isn't sexy? Really. You don't think women should be treated as equals? Equal status or the gall to ask for equal status diminishes attractiveness? You want an inferior, subordinate female partner? Do you have a problem with the idea of an equal female partner itself? Or are women to be mere mute vessels of desire and childbirth? Or objects? Because it seems to me that you are advocating a sort of object status for women as despicable as any centerfold. Are you bothered by feminism in and of itself or more unnerved and disturbed by the cultural and political demands made by women and individuals associated with the Feminist Movement? Also, what about men who are feminists? Are they gender traitors? Are you aware of Third Wave Feminism Ryan? Perhaps you should check that out. I'm also curious how feminism is "responsible" for the replacement of "our beloved dresses" with pants.

Kudos for favoring the elegance of a longer skirtline above the mini. Do you watch Project Runway? You seem to have a good understanding of the dynamics of skirt length and line. By the way...whorification is not a word recognized in SWE (standard written english) nor is androgynization. And I'm not sure how one blurs the sexes of a dress, I think I'll just point those two neologisms out to you and move along.

Let's look at the opening of your fourth and (thankfully) final paragraph:

The androgynous masculinization of the modern woman, through the donning of pants, suits, uncovered shoulders and unveiled hair, has in a sense led to the slow whorification of ladyhood.

I'm curious about the phrase "androgynous masculinization." That sure is a mouthful. And delightfully contradictory. Androgynous indicates that there is a blurring of the sexes, if not an outright presence of aspects of both sexes. Masculinization indicates that one is bringing out aspects of masculinity. So which is it? One, the other, or both? Sad to say though, it's awfully hard to be androgynously masculine. Anyway...who cares about nit-picky things like linguistic accuracy when one is a bold culture warrior like yourself. Let's look at your concluding sentences, shall we?

In discarding feminine dress, women seem to have symbolically discarded femininity and modesty (the virtues of women) in favor of sexual virility, promiscuity and immodesty (the vices of men). The ideal form of a true lady is a constant, immutable aspect of humanity, and this strange new development can only represent a bizarre aberration of a perverse and ignoble culture. Dresses are an essential part of any true lady's attire, and they should be worn.
Firstly, I would argue that virility, promiscuity and immodesty are not always regarded as "the vices of men." In fact men are often praised and admired for these character traits. One could also argue Ryan, that we as a culture have discarded modesty, not just women.

Do you watch Fox News? Have you ever noticed the sheer amount of cheesecake and girls gone wild they show during alleged news reporting? You should look into that. Or is it okay to show half-drunk hoochies in the name of social outrage? And frankly I think you need a couple of courses in semiotics or at least read some Barthes. The thing and the symbol of the thing are not such a simple system.

Also, I'm curious what all this talk of "true ladyhood" really means. You're very careful to just slip this in now and again. Oh, you touch on aspects of it in that dense and yet abstract opening paragraph, but you never really touch on anything material. You talk about aspects, but never specifics. This is called abstraction. It is something generally to be avoided in strong writing.

For instance--what is an affront to "true ladyhood?" Beyond being a slutty feminist? Drinking alcohol in public? Belching? Farting? Excusing oneself to go poo? Once you start assailing behaviors that are human as not living up to an idealized vision, you're letting yourself in for trouble. To paraphrase Shakespeare (who I'm sure you'll agree understood "true ladyhood") "there are more things in blue jeans and skirts Haecker than are dreamt of in your misogyny."

By the way--all women fart. And they poop, too. Not just feminists.


Ryan said...

That was a brilliant anaylsis. You'll forgive me if I don't take the time to answer all of your questions as I'm abit tired, and I've been responding to criticism for the last 5 days on the subject. By far the best critique, of my Op-ed piece thus far. I agree that my writing needs work, but I'm not trying to be pretentious, or pseudo-intellectual. I do, indeed, talk and type in this way.

Adam said...

I absolutely loved this analysis. I honestly don't know which I found more entertaining, the work or the analysis.

Kudos to you.

By the way, Galway Kinnell is my favorite poet of all time.

Mark Alan said...

Hey Ryan, just for the record, the justification you used in regard to sounding pseudo-intellectual doesn't really fly. Just because you really talk that way doesn't mean you're not still trying to sound smarter and more important to yourself and others. It's like saying "I'm not pretending to be smart here, I really AM this smart". If you have to declare your intelligence for others, it's not really that far above average.

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