Sunday, July 20, 2014

Feminine Sacred Shopping: No Dudes Allowed

Lurking Where No Man Should 

By Mahlia Lindquist

I want this blog to be a cheerful place, so I try to avoid stoking the fires of controversy here.  However, something happened recently, something so irritating, so, so, so… wrong that I feel a moral imperative to take a stand. Undoubtedly, some people with whom I am otherwise simpatico are going to howl their disagreement with this one. I should just let it go, as I have grudgingly learned to do with life’s zillions of other irritants. I just can’t do it this time.

What’s eating me was a man, no make that three men, in the dressing room of the Boulder Anthropologie (women's clothing store) last weekend. Is nothing sacred?

With very narrow exceptions for gay man besties or straight men buying a gift for a woman, males should just steer clear of women’s clothing stores in general. Under no circumstances should a guy be inside the actual women’s dressing room. It’s weird. More importantly, it intrudes upon what should be regarded as a feminine sanctum.

As difficult as it may be to believe for people who loathe shopping, for others of us, usually women, it is something we sometimes do for the sheer pleasure of it. We especially relish the communal aspect of shopping with close women friends, mothers and daughters.  

My girlfriend Jodi and I have shopped together for over 25 years, and some of our most profound bonding has taken place in the context of retail therapy.  Our shopping excursions have a ritualistic quality. First, we do a sweep of the store, gathering clothes that look promising. Then we consult with each other to eliminate “don’t even think about it” items. Next, we head off to try on our culled selections. With each change, we converge in the common area of the dressing room to bare our bodies (and in some ways our souls) in front of the large mirror that is always just outside the individual rooms. 

I have an unfortunate tendency to gravitate toward teen fashion, most of which is intended to be worn without a bra.  At my age, and after having nursed two children, a strapless romper has a sad, yet comical effect. Even if, thanks to some miracle of nature or surgery, I did not sag, the truth is that a strapless romper is not the best look for a middle aged me.  The problem is that when I look in the mirror I am like a 90 lb. anorexic who sees an obese image, except in the reverse. What I see is my perky breasted 20 year old self.  It is Jodi who snaps me out of my delusional reverie with a diplomatic suggestion that perhaps we should check out J. Crew. When I am suddenly jerked back to reality, and see in the mirror what Jodi sees — a middled aged woman in an outfit meant for a coed going to a rave, we both snort with laughter until our stomachs hurt.

Women of all ages and sizes share this type of dressing room magic. A shapely 20 year old is no different than a no longer shapely woman of a certain age — both have insecurities about what they regard as their physical imperfections and want to look their best.  When in the dressing room together, friends and strangers caught up in the Zen of shopping, we women are as One. We cross generational and socio-economic divides to exchange compliments, encouragement, and tactful fashion advice. 

l get that consumerism is epidemic in our society, and masks our collective inner emptiness and all that. I also get that certain self-satisfied, holier-than-thou, judgy types might think snotty thoughts about women with insecurities and how we should find something better to do than shop. But, there’s no denying that sometimes it’s fun for a woman to buy stuff with someone— a female someone— who she loves. 

Such moments of fun and connection in the dressing room simply do not happen with a man hovering about.

The guys pictured above were two of three dudes lurking in the Anthropology dressing room recently as Jodi and I tried to get in some sacred female bonding action. I gave them my most  withering look to encourage them to at least  politely look away while we went about our lady business. But noooooo, they shamelessly continued their curious gazes in our direction, as if we were exotic zoo animals. Now I know why certain mammals do not breed in captivity. Like shy pandas, Jodi and I stayed in our individual changing rooms and skipped the inspection-in-front-of-the-mirror portion of our ritual. (The only time these dudes actually looked away with a modicum of embarrassment was when I photographed them from the safety of my little dressing room.)

Men who don’t care if they encroach upon sacred female bonding territory should at least think about their own image. In law school I learned about the importance of avoiding “the appearance of impropriety.” That concept applies to men hanging out in the women’s dressing room. Even if perfectly normal, those guys appear to be either whipped, control freaks, or just plain creepy. Gentlemen, think of your reputations.

Ladies with guys who want to “help” them shop … guys with women who can’t choose a pair of socks without her man’s input ...  please heed this plea:

Just Say No to Men in the Women's Dressing Room.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Football Fans, Caring, and How I Failed My Daughters

Mahlia Lindquist

To my mind, a big difference exists between being a fan, and actually caring about a team.

My friend Bud cares about Gators football, though for many years I mistook him for a mere fan. Yes, a cluster of ceramic alligators lie in wait outside his front door.  Yes, a spectrum of cute to ferocious gators adorn Bud’s cutlery, mugs, and cocktail napkins. And yes, even the decorations at his annual holiday party are Gator themed. But, I assumed his Gator accoutrements were gifts from friends for a hard to buy for dude. It never occurred to me they were a reflection of bona fide concern for the Gators. 

At Bud’s house for a football party one afternoon, I learned  I had grossly underestimated the depth of his feelings for the Gators. When the game was over, Bud was morose and I asked what was bothering him. He seemed surprised I didn’t know, but patiently explained he was upset because the Gators had lost. At that moment I realized the Gator stuff wasn’t just in good fun. Bud actually cares if the Gators win or lose. 

At first glance, my mom seems similar to Bud, except rather than alligators, her decor has a Native American theme, in honor of the Florida State Seminoles. Headdresses and tomahawks adorn the walls.  My mom’s phone rings to the tune of the official Seminole war chant, and she faithfully posts “Go Noles” on her Facebook page on game days.  She has a pontoon boat painted with the FSU logo, and flies a Seminole flag whenever we go boating. As we motor down the Homosassa River near her house, Mom gleefully exchanges the FSU tomahawk wave in solidarity with other Seminole fans and taunts passing Gator lovers. 

But after talking to Bud, it is clear he and my mom are of a different ilk. Unlike Bud and his Gators, there is no change in my mom when FSU loses. Before, during and after a game, she is there for a good time, and a losing team could never ruin that for her. Though my mom revels in being part of a larger something, she doesn’t actually care if the Seminoles win or lose. She is a mere fan.

Bud is like the Christian who goes to church and truly has Jesus in his heart. In contrast, my mom is akin to the churchgoer who attends without fail, but mainly because it’s fun to see what the other church ladies are wearing to services.  To the outside observer they both seem devout, but only one of them really cares about God.

Unlike my mom, when it comes to sports, I am like the heathen who never even bothers making a show of going to church. Even as a cheerleader in high school, the only sentiment I could muster when our team lost, was regret that the post-game party would be a downer. I felt zero attachment to whether Miami Sunset High won or lost.  Though I am ashamed to say so, I was a cheerleader fraud.

That sense of detachment has stayed with me. I felt nothing for Colorado teams when I lived in Boulder, nor do I care for any of the Florida franchises now that I am back in Miami. Last month I could detect the collective sense of pride pulsing through my community with the Heat in the basketball finals, as well as the communal shame when they were crushed. But I was as indifferent as ever. 

It’s not that I don’t get or like sports. I understand and actually enjoy watching games. I admire the discipline, talent, courage and artistry of great athletes, teams and coaches. It's just that I am not a fan of one in particular and I certainly don't care about any of them. 

And, it’s not that I am at all critical of people who do. I myself actually want to give a whit, and am pretty sure it’s a fundamental character flaw that I don’t. With the extensive coverage of the World Cup, I see the fervor of soccer fans, their obvious sense of belonging, and wish I identified with a team in that way.  Instead, I am stuck in the role of the curious, but ultimately detached, observer. 

Talking to Bud that day, I struggled to understand why he loves the Gators. I suggested that his allegiance was irrational, in that Division I college football is pretty much about the money. That cracked him up.  When he learned that my girls had never even seen a football game, he was aghast. Bud’s reaction was similar to my girls’ Catholic grandparents when they learned I was not got going to baptize their grandchildren. 

That’s when I realized I had failed my daughters. I had raised them in Boulder without television and sent them to groovy schools that promoted yoga over sports. At ages 16 and 13, Dylan and  Zoe didn’t know a touchdown from a free throw. To put them at risk of spending eternity in purgatory was one thing. To make them sports handicapped and social outcasts was quite another.  How were they going to function in society? How would they ever fit in? According to Bud, it was not looking good.

I tried to make up for lost time, taking them out whenever possible to watch games and discuss football basics.  They were eager students, but the byzantine intricacies of American football  need to be absorbed over time. It is now four years since that fateful conversation with Bud, and at ages 17 and 20, neither daughter is even close to conversant about football or any other sport.

Even with continued remedial measures, when it comes to sports they will feel like an immigrant who learns the local language, but speaks with a thick accent and doesn’t really get the natives’ jokes. I have unwittingly raised my daughters to forever be sports outsiders. They will never be fans, much less care about a team.

I wonder if it’s too late to get them baptized?