Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shoes as a feminist issue

In her recent book "The Beauty Bias," Stanford University Law Professor Deborah L. Rhode asks: If men can manage to be sexy without help from their footwear, why can't women?

I wish I knew the answer to that, but right now I'm obsessing over the possibility that my search for blood-red heels for a major event two weeks hence might indicate I'm not a feminist. And this troubles me nearly as much as my inability to find the perfect shoes.

According to Webster, feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. While I have believed in this my entire life, three decades of living with males have finally forced me to concede that there is no equality in how men and women think -- or behave. Nonetheless, I consider myself a feminist because I believe the same opportunities should be available to everyone, irrespective of gender.

But does feminism have to apply to shoes? Or wearing nail polish? Or whether I decide to cover the gray in my hair like two-thirds of American women? Can't it just pertain to equal pay and opportunity? I really do think I need those red shoes.

Rhode says her interest in the "Beauty Bias" -- that women face standards of beauty more exacting than those for men and that unattractive people are less likely to be hired, promoted or make salaries equal to their more attractive co-workers -- began with the observation that so many accomplished women were standing in lines for taxis or late for meetings because they couldn't walk far in their fashionable "killer shoes."

She goes on to cite the statistic that four-fifths of women experience back and foot problems because of shoe choices, and women account for 80 percent of foot surgery -- much of it related to wearing high heels. And while she acknowledges that shoes do not rank among the greatest challenges facing women in a country where 4 million of them are victims of domestic violence and 20 million live in poverty, she believes they could be symbolic of the bias that women find themselves facing when it comes to physical appearance and societal expectations -- and the subsequent civil rights issues. (Again, why don't men need shoes to be sexy?)

As a woman with large feet, I'm not sure I've ever considered my shoes sexually appealing. And since I generally care more about whether I can get from Point A to Point B than how my feet look, I also don't own a single pair of "killer shoes." In fact, I suspect my shoe "collection," such as it is, is the smallest -- and most boring -- of all of the women I know. Most pairs are black, all have low heels and each was chosen for the ability to be worn without discomfort for long periods --and to prevent risky encounters with the ground. As a result, my feet are blessedly free of imperfections like hammertoes and bunions, but people rarely have the opportunity to admire them because they are usually encased in practical black shoes.

However, I won't deny that I have succumbed to other societal pressures affecting women, such as makeup -- which, as Rhode notes, is not an issue for men. She also observes that three-quarters of women consider appearance important to their self-image, and over a third rank it as the most important factor.

She goes on to say that our annual global investment in appearance totals close to $200 billion—and female consumers account for 80 to 90% of those purchases. Equally disturbing are the statistics that 80% of the 10,000 ingredients in cosmetics and personal care care products have never been assessed by the Food and Drug Administration -- and the findings of an Environmental Working Group survey that nearly 400 personal care products sold in the U.S. contained chemicals prohibited in other countries. I wonder if the statistics would be the same if men comprised the predominant buying group.

Rhode also notes that society and the media focus more on a woman's appearance than a man's. For example, the media might describe a prominent woman as dowdy, but would never use a similar appearance-related description for a male. Or consider the media circus that followed the news that then-presidential candidate John Edwards spent $400 on a haircut, but the response was far more muted to word that the Republican National Committee was spending $750 a day for a traveling hair stylist for vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and forked out an additional $68,000 for a makeup artist.

Taken together, these statistics and findings do give one pause. I know they have caused me to reevaluate my thinking regarding fashion choices and my shoe quest. However, it also has not escaped my notice that the red shoe on the cover of "The Beauty Bias" would be perfect for my outfit.

Does anyone know where I might find two of them?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Travel mugs, shoes-Part 1 and another hike

Husband No. 1 considers spending $20 for a travel coffee mug excessive given that his commute is down one flight of stairs, although I have tried to convince him a Contigo container would mean he, too, could have hot coffee still waiting in his car after a workout at the gym.

I love a mug that can keep coffee hot for four hours and cold items in that state for 12. And as we were driving 1.5 hours north today en route to another mountain to scale, I couldn't resist noting my coffee was still hot and his was not. "It's funny how the small things can make you happy, isn't it?" I asked. HN1 did not respond.

Looking back, that may have been the happiest moment connected to today's outing -- Take A Hike #3, purposely scheduled the same weekend as the infamous 5K race I planned to run (despite qualms related here earlier) until I discovered I REALLY hate running.

Good thing I never bought those expensive running shoes. Experience has taught me not to invest in footwear for a specific activity until I'm certain it will last more than a few weeks, which is why I was the only person hiking Mount Kearsarge in sneakers today. But I digress.

The attendant at the entrance to Winslow State Park informed us ice had been reported on our intended trail "so be careful because we don't want to call in the rescue people again." I exchanged glances with Husband No. 1 and gulped. "There's just a little mist and hopefully the rain will hold off until this afternoon," she added cheerily.

This caused HN1 to peer at the water-soaked windshield and then at me. "Didn't you tell me the forecast called for 50 degrees and sunny? That sounds like pretty loud mist," he said.

These should have been signs to go home: Ice, rain and the only restrooms were portable. "Why are we doing this again?" HN1 asked.
"To do something fun together," I replied.
HN1: "Couldn't we have fun together at a 5-star restaurant? There's no ice or rain, and it would have a real bathroom."
Me: "But we wouldn't get any of those exercise endorphins. Come on, this will be great."
HN1: (Insert grumbling here.)

Rather than bore you with a description of the grunting, tangled tree roots, slippery rocks, sweating, ice encountered (see photo to the right) or the mud, let me just say that when we came upon a pile of rocks (see photo below) I suggested that perhaps it was a monument to all who died on the mountain before us. "You mean this month?" HN1 said. Then we heard birds, really loud ones. "Do you think those are vultures?" I asked.

"They're probably just tearing off skin now," said my mystery-writing hiking partner in an attempt to comfort me.

"I bet it's someone with sneakers," I noted. "By the way, how many feet high does something have to be for it to be a mountain because I'm beginning to think we should have started at 1,000-footers or below, and worked up to 2,937 feet like this one."

"That's not a question you'd ask in a 5-star restaurant," he observed grimly.

When we encountered an athletic-looking couple in full hiking attire and accessories heading down the trail, it gave us an excuse to rest. "How far are we from the top?" I asked between wheezes. The man looked at my shoes. "About 20 minutes. The views are great, though."

Forty minutes later we reached the bald rock top of Mount Kearsarge. You may already know this, but when they say "bald rock" in a trail description, they're not describing someplace with handrails -- or guardrails.

"Boy, that's a big drop. If we fell, we'd have a long way to hike back up," I noted.
"I don't think you'd be thinking about hiking back up," HN1 replied.
"Because I'd be dead?"
"That would be just like you to die and leave me with the dog," my spouse observed. I was too busy trying to pull my way up the rocks to offer an appropriate response.

As you can see from the photo to the right, we eventually reached the summit and when we sat down to eat lunch, HN1 gazed across the cloudy vista and said, "Is this what 50 degrees and sunny looks like?"

"But isn't it peaceful up here, with the wind and all?" I asked, watching to make sure he didn't eat his second sandwich in case we needed to live off that one PB&J if we got lost.

"I thought that was the blood rushing through my head."

Climbing up a bald rock face means you have to climb back down it, too. I'd already had enough encounters with the trail to wonder if there might be a market for T-shirts that read, "My butt kissed Mount Kearsarge." I could feel a whine coming on. " This is too steep. I really don't like this," I said.
"OK, we'll only hike flat mountains from now on," HN1 offered.
"And where would those be?"

About an hour later I shouted, "Cue the theme from 'Rocky,' I think that's the parking lot. Wait a minute, I shouldn't jinx this -- I did fall just 15 feet from the parking lot on the last mountain and still have the bruise."

"It's a mountain mirage," HN1 said glumly. "It's just more rock."

It was beginning to look like we might need that PB&J to survive after all. Meanwhile, the mist was now a downpour, my sneakers were soaked from mud and ice, and all that butt-kissing with the mountain had taken its toll. And when we reached the car, my coffee was cold. Could things get any worse? Then I noticed the bumper sticker on a nearby vehicle that read: "Pain is weakness leaving the body."

With all that weakness gone, there was room for something else. "Where can we get some hot coffee and pie?" I asked. "We don't need a 5-star restaurant for that."

Note: Shoes Part 2 next week will discuss why the search for blood-red heels has become a feminist issue. Contigo travel mugs can be purchased online, at Target and sometimes at Costco.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

There's a name for people like me....

As Husband No. 1 tells the tale, we were mid-meal when I looked down at the dinner he had prepared and announced: "I can't eat this -- I don't eat red meat."

This declaration apparently came as a great surprise to my family, especially HN1. As he noted in our holiday letter that year, no such aversion to meat, red or any other kind, had been expressed during the preceding 25 years of marriage. However, you'd think he'd be used to unexpected declarations by now.

In my defense, I had been considering the red meat issue for some time. I guess I just forgot to mention it to the people living with me, including the person who cooks the majority of our meals. When my family asked why I was adopting this new lifestyle, I explained that owning a dog had changed my view.

"You're doing this because of Buddy?" asked an incredulous No. 1 son. "I really don't think he cares, Mom."

No. 1 son also was incredulous several months later when I noted the waitress taking our lunch order seemed perplexed and reluctant when I ordered my vegetarian burger "western style" with barbecue sauce -- and bacon.

"That's because you're the world's worst vegetarian," he said as he bit into his burger.

OK, so I'm not a strict vegetarian. I'll admit to a longtime addiction to Five Guys hamburgers (even driving over 80 miles to eat one), as well as a fondness for bacon and shellfish. But I've given up every other kind of meat, because spending so much time with a dog has heightened my awareness that animals can think and reason, and develop individual personalities. I am reluctant to eat creatures with these capabilities.

Even chickens have personalities, according to people who raise them. Yes, I know, so do pigs and the cows used to supply Five Guys. I feel really bad about that. Fortunately, I haven't seen any studies or YouTube videos that indicate shrimp, clams, and scallops are in this category but if I have missed this disturbing news, please do tell me.

So what am I? I can't honestly call myself vegetarian, although the majority of my diet is vegetable-based. And I'll never be a vegan because I love cheese too much (and cheese doesn't kill anything other than possibly some humans who've succumbed to cholesterol-related issues).

Fortunately, I have discovered that my semi-vegetarianism is not all that unusual and there's a name for people like me -- Flexitarian!

That means we're flexible vegetarians, according to experts like the Mayo Clinic. And we're so trendy that cookbooks are being written for us.

To quote a September 2008 Newsweek article: "It might seem like being a vegetarian of convenience isn't particularly inspiring, but a growing number of experts and even some famous foodies are fans. They say that cutting back on meat, rather than abstaining completely, may be a practical compromise that benefits our bodies and our environment."

Flexible? Trendy? Practical? And doing good for the environment? These are labels I don't mind having. They sound so much better than "world's worst vegetarian."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Care to Wear Pink? And other topics...

Pink has never been my color and quite frankly, I've always considered it a little too girly for my personality and politics.

In fact, prior to this weekend, my only piece of pink attire was a "Keep Austin Weird" baseball hat given to me by a dear friend. I wear it partially as a joke because my dad's name is Austin and he's a bit unusual, though in a good way (sorry, Dad).

But, as you may have noticed, it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month and lots of folks are donning pink. Last week, one of my work tasks involved spending the day with the Governor and his Executive Council (which in NH makes many of the decisions governors in other states make on their own, FYI) and one member of the august group had a dark pink strand in her bangs as her way to help raise consciousness about this terrible disease that has impacted far too many women.

Then there are the companies cashing in. Buy a pink version of Dannon yogurt and log in online and the company will donate 10 cents to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (and Dannon no doubt will capture your information for future marketing). Buy something made by Proctor and Gamble, and that mega-company will contribute a whopping 2 cents per item (and also capture your information). I suppose if pink products raise awareness of the importance of breast exams and that too many women are being diagnosed with, and dying from, breast cancer, it's a good thing. However, the cynical me wonders if any pink products also contain chemicals that lead to breast cancer because, yeah, I do believe toxins added to our environment might be be to blame for nasty elements lodging in fatty tissues like breasts.

But when I found out my local Fire Department was taking part in "Care to Wear Pink" and all the firefighters will be wearing pink shirts on their calls this week, I wanted one, too, because the money goes to support Portsmouth firefighter Sarah Fox, a young mother of five who has terminal cancer, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation (which has a slightly higher charity rating than the previously mentioned foundation).

Firefighter and paramedic Sarah Fox is just 38 years old and as of last spring, was told she had less than a year to live. She received her breast cancer diagnosis literally hours before her twins were born on Oct. 10, 2007. After chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, she was back at work by August 2008. Then the pain started and what she thought was a groin pull turned out to be a significant tumor. The breast cancer had metastasized. Although she has health insurance, the co-pays and other family expenses are formidable. The Portsmouth Firefighters Charitable Association has staged a number of events to raise funds on her behalf.

In this case, I very much like the idea of "spending local" and supporting someone connected to my community. I hope you'll do the same in yours during this Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

If you'd like one these $15 shirts, they're on sale at all Portsmouth Fire stations and To learn more about Sarah, visit the Firefighters Charitable Association site or click here to read a local newspaper article about her.

Calendar Girl...If you saw this photo in the Oct. 4 date block on your calendar with the caption "Call your mother!," wouldn't you do it? After all, how could anyone miss such a ridiculous and unflattering photo?

Apparently you can if you're one of my beloved sons. When the phone didn't ring last Monday, I knew that once again this year they'd failed to spot the "call your mother" photo randomly inserted to gauge their use of the calendars I created for them the past two Christmases following many hours of labor. (Beginning with birth, these children have not always adequately appreciated my labor on their behalf, mind you.)

It appears I'm going to have a whole lot more time to devote to things other than calendars this Christmas season -- like figuring out another way to get them to call me. Since neither calendars nor guilt seem to work, I'm open to suggestions (and not above blackmail, by the way).

Speaking of Holidays...Spooky is October's theme at the other place I blog, Working Stiffs, and I am having a difficult time coming up with anything scary or otherworldly to discuss. Apparently I'm not interesting enough to have such experiences on a regular basis, unlike my fellow bloggers who have been visited by dead heroes, pets and relatives. But I have to fill the space. Husband No. 1 suggests something related to our Lhasa Apso because according to legend, this breed was used to guard Tibetan temples against evil spirits. And while our dog often barks at the wind, it will take some imaginative writing to make a cute canine named Buddy into something scary. If you get bored this week, stop over at on Tuesday to see if I've succeeded.