Crushed velvet

My time at the Union Chapel was fruitful for this blog, as I not only speculated about the kind of man on stage, but was also reminded of the power of a certain type of woman in the audience. I like to call her the Crushed Velvet.

You know this woman. She dresses like Stevie Nicks in skirts made of scarves. Or she might have macramé pants. She’s usually skinny and pretty tall (and because of that, tends to slump a bit). Her hair is long but slightly unkempt. She has a pretty voice and she probably plays acoustic guitar. At night, she lights candles, burns incense and writes songs or poetry. The lyrics are prone to be a bit shit.

This may not be the prettiest of pictures (nor is it the ugliest) but hear me now, ladies. This woman — the Crushed Velvet — is cleaning up out there. No one can bag a man like she can.

I’ve always gathered that it’s her vulnerability, or that men get a sniff of her emotional instability and assume she’ll be a wildcat in the sack. Whatever the reason, this woman is pined after by the sensitive singer/songwriter type described in my previous post (if not invited on stage to duet with him).

Since I was at the Union Chapel with a thoughtful man, I asked him about the siren song of the Crushed Velvet. He explained something to me in simple terms that frankly frightened and enlightened me in equal measure. Using an analogy from nature, he said that men are typical predators. When they see an alpha female in a pack, they assume she is either already spoken for or will require too much effort to take down. So they look for the weak ones on the perimeter. The ones caught up in their own long limbs.

Despite the analogy, it occurred to me that it’s not easy to be a man. As women, we take for granted that it must be hard to muster the courage — and the basic energy — to approach the object of your desire. You can understand them going for easy wins.

That said, I’d rather we wore a welcoming smile and had an open — but straight — posture that attracted men with confidence and charisma rather than questionable frocks and fragility.

I also like to go against nature. If we charm them into our circle and surround them with our strength, who’s the predator now?

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Sensitive types

The Union Chapel is a gorgeous venue for music. As its name implies, it’s a dimly lit converted chapel, making it the perfect trap for acoustics… and singer/songwriters.

The other week, I was privileged to watch one such singer/songwriter at work. He was sensitive; his lyrics were brilliant. This is a man who has felt love. And pain. And love again.

Listening to him for a moment I thought: I hope a man has felt this way about me. And then I wised up. It’s men like this, I thought, ‘the sensitive ones’, that are doing the most damage to us, individually and to us as a group.

Why?

  1. They make women sound really, REALLY difficult. Heartbreakers. Cheats. Just. Plain. Hard. Work. We’re not, usually. If you’re straightforward, most of us — the best of us — respond in kind.
  2. These sensitive types play a sneaky game. They act like they desire a true equal, nay – a superior. They put us on a pedestal while other men snigger, ‘under the thumb.’ ‘Pussy whipped.’ ‘Henpecked.’ But don’t kid yourself. Men are men, and men want respect. Should the glow fade and the bloom fall off the rose, they will hold you accountable for their subjugation — even if was they who put the pattern in place.
  3. And when that happens, they will eviscerate you lyrically and publicly.

Okay — so not everyone has a stage and an audience. And I cannot deny that there is a world of female warblers out there playing the same (ahem) tune. You heard me, Taylor Swift.

Am I saying that men are incapable of feeling deeply or falling hard? Nope. Generally, I think men are more complex then we give them credit for. But we women fall victim to a number of fantasies and fictions. We know where to file a simpy romantic comedy, but the poetry and the intricacy of lyrics can suck us in differently. We tag these songs as our anthems; we devote them to past loves, and when we hear them, they often keep us down versus lifting us up. We wallow. We pine. We get stuck.

It’s time to get unstuck. When it comes to men — when it comes to anything for that matter — let’s seek to be elevated rather than sunk.

Longing, wanting, fighting: it’s that tension that makes it all seem worthwhile. But it’s deceptive, too, isn’t it? If the best music collections comprise quality and cheese, don’t the best matches of people also balance passion, levity… and release?

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Ann Romney

I never intended for this blog to be overtly political, but I do need to declare some affiliations in the spirit of disclosure. As an expat, I vote in America — and when I do, I vote Democrat. But this post, like all my posts, are about women’s issues. And what woman’s issues have been in the spotlight this week? Ann Romney’s.

Lest you think I am going to break down the content of her speech, I’m not. Other writers and bloggers have done a much better job of that. I am going to talk about reactions to Mrs. Romney on my Facebook feed — mostly from my other Democratic friends. You may speculate that she was being attacked. In fact, she only received compliments.

If you have eyes, you probably agree. Ann Romney is pretty. She looks good for her age. She is composed.

Good for her.

Every girl wants to grow up to be pretty. Much as it pains me to admit, I would be a much smarter person if I devoted the time and energy that I spend depilating, deep conditioning, body scrubbing, eating right, working out and reading women’s magazines to higher intellectual pursuits. And let’s not even get started on the inflated percentage of my hard-earned wages that goes toward clothing, high heels and lingerie instead of shrewd financial investments. I know this is flawed, but I no longer rail against the Beauty Myth, seeing it instead as a feminine perk. The manipulation of our appearance allows us to express facets of ourselves that men simply cannot. So I embrace it. Obviously. This blog would not exist if I did not.

Here’s what I will rail against. The sentiment that Mitt Romney’s pretty wife somehow raises his street cred. Also, if I’m honest, I don’t love the fact that she, or any political wife, gets that much time on a national stage to endorse her husband in the first place.

I mean, I think we all know who she is going to vote for, don’t we?

But I’ll tell you what really pisses me off: the fact that most of this noise was coming from Democrats. If I said this blog isn’t political, then what am I on about?

Democrats are supposed to be a party for women. Then there’s that stat about ‘blue states’ having the best universities and higher IQs on average. Okay, people. Remember some remedial lessons. Beauty is only skin deep. And it’s HER skin we’re talking about. Not his. Did we lose sight of something here?

I get especially ranty when I realise that most Republicans would rather throw up in their mouths than concede that Michelle Obama has incredible shoulders, that Teresa Heinz Kerry was sexy and worldly, or that Hillary Clinton, when not ragged from being a supremely effective and hard-working Secretary of State, is rather attractive in real life (the camera does her few favours).

In addition, as we look at HIS marionette-like visage, we remember that the Romneys are rich. We also know that other than the saddest cases (The Spellings), money can buy good looks. And to quote one of my most intelligent Facebook friends, it’s perfectly plausible to presume that there’s a Dorian Gray-like painting hanging behind locked doors back at Mitt’s mansion.

Yes, Ann Romney is pretty. But let’s not dumb ourselves down saying so. Ann Romney is not running for office. You may be curious to see how she looks on Inauguration Day, but you’ve got him for the following four years at least. Look below the surface at what that really means. Especially for women.

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Beach volleyball

On a website dedicated to style that attracts men, I know that beach volleyball belongs under the sartorial category of So Right, but on the social side, I can’t help but to think So Wrong.

Am I a buzz kill? Probably. But first let me say this: I love a bikini; at last count I had 12. I also love athletic bodies and powerful woman. Put the two together and you’d think I’d be in Heaven.

But the feminist in me can’t help but to get irked by the production, the photography and the pervy focus on secret hand signals that cause commentators eyes to linger on women’s asses. Or the water cooler chat about it all.

These Olympic games gave us some of the most inspiring women in recent times, especially in Britain. We had the unfathomable graciousness, talent and six-pack of Jessica Ennis, the history making punch of Nicola Adams, the endurance of Judo player Gemma Gibbons who fought back the pain of a broken thumb to take Silver. Then there’s the combination of speed, power and extreme modesty present in multiple cyclists at the Velodrome and multiple rowers at Eton Dorney. We even saw Sarah Attar, the first female from Saudi Arabia to compete in Olympic athletics, complete her race even though she was 43 seconds behind the competition. She hoped it would ‘spark something amazing.’ That is what the Olympics should be about.

Yet, for the first few days, men were entranced about the camera angles and interactive features of beach volleyball. And women played right into it, cooing about what we’d do to have a body like that (here’s a tip: start with the gym). We didn’t flag that in the realm of all Olympic events, beach volleyball is definitely on the more leisurely end of the spectrum. And those outfits? To pretend for one minute they have anything to do with performance — IN A LANDLOCKED LONDON, MOSTLY AT NIGHT — is laughable. People wear bikinis to play beach volleyball because we are at the beach. You soak up some sun, you go for a swim, you eat a sandwich, you work it off in a playful set. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I know I’m risking losing some subscribers, but I can’t help to call sexism on this one. (By the way, please don’t leave me, instead just leave mean comments. I love a debate!)

These Olympics have been amazing and I don’t want them to end. London has been a phenomenal host. These athletes have impressed me like none before. I don’t mean to take anything away from the beach volleyball players who have worked so hard to get here, but I do want people to take into account some of the less noble traits that colour society, even within the greater vision of the games.

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Male friends

This is an excerpt from a recent article on SheKnows.co.uk that is in the style and voice of Soho. For more of my articles, click here.

It’s logical to assume that having loads of male friends will open doors to other networks of male friends, increasing your chances of finding one suitable for you. It’s also nice to have access to the other side’s playbook. We love hearing men talk about women — and we love getting their advice on our romantic dilemmas. After all, who knows the male mind better than… a man?

Yes, male friends have their perks. They think differently, they talk straight and they forgive easily. We don’t get ‘girl drama’ with a man friend. Of course, this also means they may be less thoughtful and attentive confidantes. Let’s not diss the girls.

But they also carry risks if you’re single.

Risk 1: Blocking anatomy

First ask the question ingrained in our minds since When Harry Met Sally. Is there such a thing as a platonic relationship between a man and a woman? If the study results published in the Journal of Sex Research (2011) are right and men think about sex 19 times a day, then the answer is no. They have likely thought about having sex with you — and if that’s true, they probably don’t want somebody else to. Check to see they are not working against you when you are working a room.

Risk 2: Confusing signals

This one is pretty obvious, but worth stating. If you’re out with a man, especially one-on-one, other men are bound to think you are with that man. If you’re a good listener, your eyes will be locked on him and you won’t be able to survey the room. And if you’re scanning, the people you’re making eye contact with might think you’re a player wasting another guy’s time.

Risk 3: The good time girl

Being one woman in a group of men (or one of very few) certainly lets other men know that 1) you’re a lot of fun and 2) you can keep up with the boys. It can also lead people to think you’re a bit “laddish” and not a serious prospect.

Risk 4: Weight gain

Men eat and drink a lot and you will, too, if you go out with them often.

With all this in mind, what are our risk management tips?

  1. Use one-to-one time sparingly — Know your motive and plan accordingly. Are you looking to pull or are you looking for a catch up? If the latter, either stay in or resign yourself to a night without a new number in your phone.
  2. Integrate women into your group — This will help you look more approachable and feminine. Who knows, you might even play matchmaker.
  3. Keep your eyes open — If it’s true that men and women can’t truly be friends without romance getting in the way, take a closer look at your group. Ask if what — or who — you’ve been looking for is in front of you. It happens all the time.
  4. Remember that men do forgive easily — If you have to abandon them for a romantic pursuit, they might be more understanding than your female friends.
  5. Ask if it’s worth it — Are your male friends giving you more joy than finding a new mate would? If the answer is yes, then who cares about the risks above? They are far outweighed by benefits.
  6. Join a gym — You’ll need to work off those pints and crisps.

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Catwomen

If you haven’t seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, I strongly recommend it. I’m no film critic, but what I can tell you is that Christopher Nolan is a god, the special effects are jaw-dropping (and yet not overdone), the story is intricate and reflects a lot of issues germane to our times, the female characters are immensely powerful, and that other than one fleeting moment of bogus acting, which would be a spoiler if I revealed it, I can’t fault a performance.

A stand-out? Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, who is not overtly referred to but obviously known as the Catwoman.

I cannot imagine that men don’t love her, possibly because my vision is clouded by my own adoration. Other than a sketchy past that she’s trying to escape (who amongst us?), she’s everything you want to be: clever, wry, mechanical, supremely sexy, spandexed, shapely and super-fit. Plus, she has a great collection of little black dresses which are ladylike and vampy at once. And, she can work a string of pearls better than Jackie O on a good day.

But here’s what I love most about the superwoman that is Catwoman. She is literally a super woman. She is resolutely and unapologetically female. She purrs, she works her feminine wiles, she uses her typically female powers of nuanced and critical thinking and in the end, she still opens herself up to love… ultimately coming back to her man (again, I ask: who amongst us?).

And that’s my take on feminism — and the very point of this blog. We win when we do what we do best — and that is precisely what we were genetically programmed to do: Be. Women.

I am a proud feminist and because of that, I embrace what is feminine. What scares me is the notion that we must be bashful about our womanly ways in order to be taken seriously. So what do we get? ‘Professional’ women dressed in genderless suits, acting like poor imitations of their male counterparts and beating themselves up over the notion of having it all (a paradigm that has never, nor will ever, exist for men).

There are some damn good mimics out there, but an imitation is never as good as the real thing. Instead of trying to be something that we’re not — or worse, a new, androgynous category that never existed — why don’t we make the most of what we are? Proudly, strongly feminine.

Ladies, please… don’t neuter your Catwoman.

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Perfume

I was at a perfume counter with a friend when she recounted a story about how her husband loved Shalimar because his adored Aunt wore it when he was a kid, and it has since stuck in his consciousness as a symbol of femininity. The woman behind the counter listened intently and butted in with a thick New York accent – and opinion.

‘All men like Shalimar,’ she said. ‘It’s the scent of a real woman.’ She proceeded to envelop us both in a gas cloud of the stuff, continuing to proselytize about her perfume choices. She warned us that men don’t like ‘these new fragrances that make you smell like you just came from the shower.’ No, she said, they like it strong and musky. ‘They like to know you’ve made an effort.’

I can’t say whether she’s right about Shalimar or not, but the sales woman hit on something when it comes to making an effort.

So I recently attended a political meeting. The content was thought-provoking. The people were brilliant. They expressed themselves so passionately and articulately that I envied them like an agnostic who hungers to know what real faith feels like. But that’s substance, what about the style?

The fact is, that room smelled like sandals and dandruff. Gazing at the nodding heads, I spied grey roots, grease, a potential spiral perm and two (TWO!!) scrunchies. And the woolens?! How many llamas froze to death for that meeting?

Now let’s rewind to a less serious evening: date night. The pre-date prep was immense. I showered, I shaved, I scented; I used product in my hair (Kerastase for God’s sake, the good stuff!). By the time I showed up for that date, I wondered what it must be like to be a man and I envied them, too. I mean, I love a man – and the scruffier the better – but while we show up scrubbed and sweetly smelling, they, like my political friends, often reek of head.

Yes, it’s another double standard.  They can be sloppy and still score and we may not have that luxury. This is precisely where my political allegory clicks. It comes down to this: whether you’re a woman on the pull or a party out for polling results, it often doesn’t matter what you’re saying if your audience doesn’t think you look good saying it. Or if it all smells just a bit funny.

Should higher-minded issues to be cloaked by superficiality? No. But you wouldn’t hide your intellectual light under a bushel, so don’t hide it under a fusty smelling llama jumper either.

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