Have you ever had one of those awkward self-conscious moments when you just want the earth to swallow you whole? I had one the other day!
Here's the scenario. I was invited out for lunch with a group of women to celebrate International Women's Day. Yes ... I know ... that in itself can be problematic! But I am trying to say "yes" to things. Trying not to retreat into my usual place of safety.
I've never been relaxed about going out with people. To begin with, I'm never sure what to wear, and my anxiety has been heightened by a series of outfit blunders over the years. One of these disasters involved attending a feminist pot-luck supper when I was at university. This was a time when women's studies had emerged on the curriculum and there was a heightened sense of feminism. My mum had been a women's libber, so I was both drawn to and repelled by feminism!! I liked the aspects of female independence and choice, but I wasn't sure about the responsibility part! I still kind of liked the idea of being wooed by a guy and put on a pedestal. I still liked the idea of doors being held open and chairs pulled out! I wanted to be romantic and feminine but also kick-ass!
Things were a bit confusing in my house concerning women's rights. Firstly, my mother married a chauvinist, so she wasn't really off to a good start! Secondly, she proceeded to allow him to control her life and to rob her of what was left of her already low self-esteem. She would dutifully cook dinner for him, and then keep it warm in the oven while he was out drinking and spending the household money. Her main act of defiance was to play Helen Reddy's song "I Am Woman" at full volume.
On the flip side, however, my mother was largely responsible for establishing a lunch room at my primary school, so that women who worked wouldn't have to send their children home to an empty house at lunchtime. Ironically, my mother was a stay-at-home mum! She had strong feminist ideals and she would make them known, even if she couldn't follow through with them herself. I can remember her outrage at a Paul Anka song "(You're) Having My Baby"! My mother felt it was an affront to all women ... and, actually, listening to the song now, I think she may have had a point! YouTube it if you don't believe me! Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3y0zh-3VJg.
To further add to my confusion, my mother also loved Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass! One of their album covers, called Whipped Cream and Other Delights, depicts a naked girl covered in whipped cream licking her finger! Not to mention, much of Herb's music sounds like stripper music! Is it any wonder I grew up confused?
So, back to my feminist pot-luck supper! My friends and I intended to go to the supper, after which we would kick on and see a band. We showed up at the poor host's house, dressed in our "going out" best. As I recall, I was wearing a red mini skirt and high heels. I had bright red lipstick, black eyeliner and my hair was teased and sprayed to within an inch of its life. Nothing says feminism like a mini skirt and high heels! The women were shocked at our appearance but had the decency not to make a big deal of it. I think they could see we were hungry undergraduates and despite our appearance our hearts were in the right place!
I wish I could say that my days of inappropriate dressing are far behind me, but alas not so. Only a couple of years ago I invited a friend to go to a cabaret style night out. I had it on good authority that everyone (and I mean everyone) dressed according to the theme of the event. On this occasion, the theme was based around the movie Caberet with Liza Minnelli. I donned my fishnets and hot pants with all the "divine decadence" I could muster. My friend did so as well. We arrived at the event to discover that everyone (and I mean everyone) was wearing normal clothes! To make matters worse, the event took place in a rather seedy district, making us look less like we were there for the entertainment and more like we WERE the entertainment!!
Now, back to my International Women's Day lunch. Are you still with me? I spent an uneasy afternoon trying to find something to wear! Something that said serious, but not too serious ... sophisticated but not too overstated. When I couldn't find anything in my wardrobe along those lines, I settled for op shop chic ... my favourite. I don't even have a proper going-out handbag. I have a backpack. It's a nice backpack, but it's still a backpack.
Things were going OK ... until I arrived, that is. I arrived right on time. Yes, right on time. Usually, I arrange to go to events with a friend, because I am so hopeless at entrances. I hate the awkwardness of arrivals. This time, however, I slipped up and went solo. I swanned confidently into the restaurant clutching my backpack, only to discover I was the first one there. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal, but it was a nice restaurant, with stuck up waitresses and lots of men in suits. The waitress sat me at a table for six, right in the middle! There I sat, like the proverbial sore thumb ... for half an hour!!! I was dressed appropriately, at least, but I still felt completely self-conscious. By the time the others finally arrived, avec swishy handbags, I might add, I was exhausted from trying to look relaxed and confident! I realised I had nothing left for the lunch. After placing my backpack surreptitiously under the table, I spent the rest of the lunch nodding and smiling. The conversation ranged from boob jobs to designer shoes to children's birthday parties!
As I sat there listening, one thought came to mind ... I'm still confused!