All posts by Bookish Miss

Changing Ideas of Beauty?

We like to talk about the Beauty Myth, and how women’s magazines, television programs and books and blogs galore have perpetuated it. And that’s all very true, it’s a real thing.

That said, the idea of a female standard of beauty that’s unattainable by all but the wealthiest is nothing new. Here’s an excerpt from “The Ladies’ Toilette” in “La Belle Assemblée,” a fashionable women’s publication from the early nineteenth century.

Of Cleanliness.—The toilette without cleanliness fails of obtaining its object. A careful attention to the person, frequent ablutions, linen always white, which never betrays the inevitable effect of perspiration and of dust; a skin always smooth and brilliant, garments not soiled by any stain, and which might be taken for the garments of a nymph; a shoe which seems never to have touched the ground; this it is that constitutes cleanliness.

Cleanliness can vary from culture to culture, even here in the West. But the writer’s idea of cleanliness stretches my credulity, and I’m the daughter of a nurse and a clean freak.

Bathe regularly, check; clean clothes, check.

Skin smooth and brilliant? Ummm, how ’bout no? My skin has never been smooth and is only rarely brilliant, but it’s always clean. Unless I’ve been doing something to make it dirty. 😉

No stains? Well, I always strive for this, but stains happen and some stains just will not come out. And honestly, if it’s a small stain in an out-of-the-way spot, I don’t really care and no one ever notices. So yes, I’m going to continue to wear my favorite sundress, thank you very much.

“Garments of a nymph?” Well, doesn’t that bring to mind our youth-obsessed culture? Have you seen Vera Wang’s new wedding dress promo??

Shoes. I have a love-hate relationship with them. They’re pretty and I want them, but I hate wearing them — I’d rather go barefoot. That said, I keep them clean and in good repair, but they’re SHOES, you walk on the (sometimes dirty) ground in them. Besides, some of the most comfortable pairs are the most worn.

To this might likewise be added a scrupulous care to avoid every thing that can indicate functions which undeceive the imagination. Women, among the ancients were nymphs, nothing about them belied the graceful imagery of the poets who immortalized them in their works. At Home and at Athins a woman could neither spit nor use her handkerchief in public. If she had a cold, she was under the necessity of remaining at home.

Stay home if you have even a sniffle? Well, yeah, somedays that sounds downright appealing. Other times? Uh, no.

Guess that means staying at home during your period, too. I expect there are many women that would not bother AT ALL. Heh.

For those interested, the rest of the entry can be found here.

The Apple Man

On any given day in September and early October, Hubert Hill can be found sitting in his garage at a small table surrounded by folding chairs and buckets. There’s a calculator and a set of scales on the table, and a refrigerator with drinks, but what’s most obvious is Hubert’s welcoming smile.

“I planted the first apple tree in 1972, before we ever moved into the house I’d built,” Hubert remembered. “After that, I couldn’t stop planting.”

It’s a good thing he didn’t. Today he has five acres that produce fruit, four in apples and one in grapes. The orchard includes a dozen varieties of apples and muscadine grapes, and he also grows a few peaches, plums and blueberries.

“Peaches are harder to grow than apples because they bloom early,” Hubert said. “Granny Smith apples are the local favorite, but I don’t have enough trees (to keep up with demand).”

Despite their popularity, however, he’s not looking to plant anymore. Raising the trees can be quite a bit of work.

Planting apples is not all that difficult to do, he explained. He hired a backhoe to dig the hole for his apple trees, and then he and his sons planted the trees. Digging the holes by hand, he admitted, would be harder.

“It’s a long term project, though, because it takes five years before you see a crop,” he continued. “It takes time to see a return on the investment.”

It’s a myth that apple trees won’t grow in the Piedmont — it all depends on the species of tree, he said — but the weather and the pests are always key players.

Summer's Bounty

Storms have knocked over grape trellises and uprooted trees, but Hubert said the pests are the critical element. This year he’s had a terrible infestation of squirrels.

“The pests are the biggest problem,” he explained. “With apple trees, you keep up with what you’ve planted and add more of the ones that do well.”

After a few years of growing apples he decided to try muscadine grapes as well. He sells some of them to people in the wine making industry, but quite a few are picked by visitors who simply like the grapes.

grape cluster 1

“I started planting the grapes in 1980, and I planted what I intended to plant,” he said. “Some people don’t like them because of the seeds, but a lot people do.”

And keeping up with what the customers like is important because they create the atmosphere. It’s why people from all over the state call and come to visit, like a senior in Asheville who was doing a school project comparing southern orchards to northern orchards. She discovered Hubert through the orchard’s website.

“She had several questions, but the one I remember most is that she wanted me to explain what made my orchard special,” he said.

Hubert didn’t have to ponder the question very long. Customer service, he believes, is what makes his orchard unique, and it certainly keeps people coming back. He’s had visitors from as far away as Florida come to the orchard.

“A lady in Florida called and said she saw the website, and wanted to know if I’d be open that Saturday,” Hubert recalled. “She said she wanted her children to experience picking apples, and she liked what she saw (on the Web site). Sure enough, she and the kids came to visit that Saturday.”

There had to have been orchards between Florida and Trinity, but this lady came all the way to Hubert’s orchard on the strength of a website and a single phone conversation. That says a lot about the orchard and the man, especially since Hubert admits he didn’t start out thinking he would raise apples.

In fact, after graduating from high school he attended High Point College (University). However, a summer job at Thomasville Furniture Industries turned into a part time job, and after finishing his degree he went to work there full time.

“I spent 39 years there,” he said. “I ended up as the supervisor in the accounting office, and I retired 15 years ago.”

These days he operates the pick-your-own orchard from July to October, chatting with the people who come to pick and teaching the children all about apples.

Yes, the children. The orchard has become an important destination for kindergarten and first-grade classes across the Piedmont and for homeschool groups from as far away as Raleigh and Charlotte. Local schools visit too, especially Archdale Elementary, he added.

In fact, Hubert had a school group in the orchard almost every single weekday in September, and said he believes he saw around 800 children. On the day the NEWS came to call, he’d had a group of 127 kindergarten and first grade students learning all about apples, grapes and the orchard.

In fact, Hubert once had a three year relationship with kindergarten classes at Jefferson Elementary in Greensboro.

“They sent a thank you note after their visit, and then I sent a thank you note for the thank you note,” Hubert told the NEWS.

After they received his thank you note, the children wrote back and they corresponded all during the school year. Later the children invited him to their end of school picnic.

“When I got there they had all my letters up on the bulletin board,” he remembered.

He and the kids had a good time at the picnic, where Hubert’s grandson Ryan played violin for them.

For the next two years, Hubert and the school’s kindergartners visited in September, wrote during the year, then met up at the school picnic. His relationship with the school declined when the class teacher retired, but the memories he has of them are as sweet as the apples they picked.

Of course, sometimes they come back. Hubert recalled a little girl who ran right up to him one day and said excitedly “I’m back!”

“It turned out she had been here with her school class the first time, then had her parents bring her back, and then her grandparents brought her back again,” he smiled.

After so many years the children can start to blur together, but occasionally one or two stand out. Hubert recalled another young girl, this one from a homeschool association that came to learn about apples and trees, who was extremely interested in what he was telling the group.

“Afterwards, she came up to me and said ‘Mr. Hill, I like trees too,’” he told the NEWS. “Her name was Peyton, and she just made an impression on me.”

All the kids are eager to be a part of the orchard, he continued, and he enjoys having them visit because they are “a lot of fun.”

Hubert’s a lot of fun, too, and he’s also the reason that the orchard is something special. It may not be big, but Hill’s Orchard and Vineyard is overflowing with the best things in life — fun, fruit and friendship.

This story was originally published in an October 2008 edition of the Archdale-Trinity News.

SSP

Most of the Southeast is suffering from SSP. That’s Southern Snow Panic, for those wondering. See, we don’t get a lot of snow down here and, if we do, it’s usually only a dusting to an inch or so. We’re more likely to see ice (grr arrg).

Anysomehow, the upshot is that we don’t know what to do. Snow pretty much fries our collective gray cells; we lose rational thought and start doing stupid things like abandoning our cars in the road and we have to be reminded to drive slowly and be extra careful. *facepalm*

We’re not stupid, really we’re not. We’ve just got a real bad case of SSP. It happens. 😀

Me? I’m staying in and off the road, mostly cause I’ve got this icky crud that’s going around, but also because my case of SSP is just not very severe. *winks*

Snow on the front porch and in the yard. I'm just lookin' at it, not getting out in it!
Snow on the front porch and in the yard. I’m just lookin’ at it, not getting out in it!

Female Monsters and “Bastard Out of Carolina”

The idea of the monstrous female is a pervasive, but relatively recent concept. It’s really only since the days of the conquering, semi-nomadic Indo-European warriors that the female form has been perceived as a monster. The wonder and beauty of reproduction, revered as sacred by many early civilizations, became twisted and seen as deviating from a male norm. From this women became deviant beings capable of hiding things, of being two (or possibly more) people at once, of being recombined. Thus was born the female monster, twisting pre-existing myths into distorted mirror images that have left their mark on our culture well into the twenty-first century.

Bastard Out of Carolina

… is a semi-autobiographical novel set in Greenville, South Carolina. It is narrated by Ruth Anne “Bone” Boatwright, and examines the expectations of gender and mother-child relationships; it also explores how those roles and relationships evolve and conflict. Class, race, sexuality and gender play out in Bone’s life and in her relationships with others. The obvious primary conflict of the story is between Bone and her mother’s husband, Glen, but the less obvious conflict is between Bone and her mother.

It is also a novel full of monsters. Some are obvious, some are not. Some are male, some female.

Some of the female monsters are archetypes — the monstrous mother, the silent but knowing opposition and the independent woman.

The Monstrous Mother

Anney Boatwright is one the biggest monsters of the novel. She is the mother of two girls and loves them deeply. However, her love for the girls — and especially her oldest, Bone — pales in comparison to the passion she feels for Glen Waddel. This inevitably leads to conflict, in her marriage, with her daughter and within herself.

When Glen beats Bone, Anney rails and screams but never interferes; she even goes as far as to ask Bone “what did you do?” Even when the rest of the Boatwright clan discovers the extent of Bone’s beatings, Anney does very little. She moves out, but then goes back. And after the explosive final encounter between Glen and Bone, she still chooses her lover over her daughter, even after having witnessed him rape the thirteen-year-old. Despite her motherly love, Anney abandons her daughter to leave with her abusive husband, an act many interpret as wholly monstrous. After all, what kind of woman puts her lover above her children? And yet, Anney is not an entirely terrible person; she is, in some ways, as much a victim as her daughter.

The Silent Opposition

Bone represents a completely different type of female monster. The story is told through her eyes, making her silent observer, the one who watches and listens and gathers information in order to draw her own conclusions. While it’s clear she internalizes messages from her family and society, she still manages to keep her own counsel and form her own opinions.

It is likely her knowledgeable silence, as much as anything else, that enrages Glen — he can’t control her mind and he never really knows what she is thinking. This allows her to read Glen, to decide what she thinks of him, regardless of what he does. He fears this ability of hers could be his undoing, which might explain why he seeks to force Bone into the typical female mold. As long as the dangerous ability is loose and uncontrolled, she has the power to destroy Glen … if only within her own mind.

The Independent Woman

Bone’s Aunt Raylene is another woman who does not fit the mold and is partially demonized. Unlike her sisters, Raylene never married or had children, lived in the same house while her brothers and sisters moved around and has always kept her own counsel. In some respects she could be seen as an older version of Bone, but not entirely. She recognizes that she could easily have become Glen had a past relationship continued; Raylene, more than any other character in the novel, actually recognizes a good many things about herself and others.

Her main monstrosity, however, is her independence. She has no need of a man to protect her and she can take care of herself. As readers we respect Raylene, but we also acknowledge that the independent, unattached, child-free woman is a source of confusion to many in our society. Because she does not fit the mold she is Other – and Other easily crosses the line into monstrosity.

The Takeway

Although we can define monster in many ways — disfigured, recombinant and malformed — in the end it all boils down to Other. And as a society, we tend to see Other as monstrous. Despite inclusivity politics and increased understanding, we still find the Other in those who disagree with our politics, religion, lifestyle and sexuality, to name just a few. Too many still fail to see that we are all Other. Everyone on this planet is recombinant, made of many facets and genes; taken that way, we are all monsters.

And if we are all monsters, then perhaps it’s time we reevaluate what a monster really is.

A few thoughts on OKCupid’s “Ethical Slut” test

So. Yesterday morning I took OKCupid’s Ethical Slut test. The test and the results were … interesting. According to the test, I scored 15 sluttiness points and 30 ethics points. This makes me the:

Happy Almost-Slut

“It’s clear that you’re at least a bit sex-positive but you may still have some hang-ups about the whole consensual nonmonogamy thing. Or, maybe you simply prefer to dabble in slutdom. Either way, you just keep treating yourself and others with respect and you can’t go wrong.”

• You scored 15% on Sluttiness, higher than 24% of your peers.
• You scored 30% on Ethics, higher than 97% of your peers.

As I said, this was interesting. My problems with it are thus:

1) I have issues with the word “slut” to begin with. But those are my personal triggers and hangups, not a general slam against the word itself or people who identify using the word.

2) Multiple choice answers are a crap shoot. There were some questions where none of the answers were what I would have done, not even close. It wasn’t even a case of “choose the best answer,” it was more like “choose the only response that would ever be possible in any circumstance.”

Or the questions were so vague it wasn’t funny. I read and reread one question thinking, I don’t have enough information to make a decision. Overthinking? Maybe.

But maybe not.

3) I have not read “The Ethical Slut” so I don’t know how close this test is to what the book argues, but the test seems to equate being sex-positive with being non-monogamous. Ethically non-monogamous, but still. And that I do have a problem with, because it is completely possible to be monogamous or “monogamish” and still be sex-positive. Having a personal preference does not, generally, make a person prejudiced and bigoted or, in this case, sex-negative; how one expresses that preference does.