Every woman should travel/live abroad alone

[For Autumn, on her current adventure] I’m in the middle of Jennifer Egan’s debut novel, The Invisible Circus, which is about an 18 year-old girl who takes off for Europe to search for the place her sister died. The account of her coming of age has gotten me reminiscing about my travels alone. I’ve already written about how finishing my dissertation and changing careers were two of the most significant rites of passage I’ve ever undergone. Prior to graduate school, however, traveling by myself and living abroad (not in the Philippines or the US) ranked highly on my list of transformative experiences. This is a story in four parts.

The US

To my mother’s great credit, she started instilling in me very early on the notion that I should go forth into the world intrepidly. Having seen how a sheltered childhood caused my sister to fear unfamiliar places and abhor being on her own, Mom took care to show me that traveling alone was nothing to be afraid of. Continue reading

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Gender identity, show and tell style

My identity programming has somehow found itself at the bottom of the priority list this past month, but I wanted to share an idea that started rolling around my head a few weeks ago for dissecting gender identity in a workshop setting . Drawing from anthropology (again), I plan on asking participants to bring in one artifact from their lives that seems to say something significant about gender identity. The possibilities are almost endless: They could bring in a personal effect, an image/song/music video, an excerpt from a text, a magazine ad, etc. Each person would have five minutes to present the artifact, and then the group would have another five minutes to respond.

I haven’t had enough time to think about it too carefully, but the guiding questions for the presentation could be:

  1. What is the artifact?
  2. How does it circulate in the culture?
  3. What vision of masculinity/femininity does it articulate?
  4. How consonant is it with your gender identity?

As a quick example, I would probably bring in the full bottle of foundation I bought over two years ago when my mother counseled me after graduation to wear makeup to my job interviews because “that is sadly the reality of the world” for women. So I walked into Sephora, asked for some guidance, and walked out with a bag full of makeup…that has largely gone unused since. It turned out (to my great relief) that the first five professional women I spoke to that summer went into work bare-faced or nearly so. While I admire women who are skilled in the application of a full face of makeup (how do they manage it without looking clownish, and how do they stand it in the full heat of summer?), I am much too lazy and unskilled for this daily undertaking. Additionally, for some reason it makes me feel like I’m in drag. I’m also reminded of how an aunt of mine said that at minimum women should wear mascara and lipstick, so we wouldn’t “look too scary.” I guess men’s faces are somehow less scary than women’s?

Note that I am NOT equating barefacedness with the discourse of authenticity. In fact, I’d love to garner responses from men and women who find makeup to be a tool that is expressive of their personal gender identities.