Happy St. Distaff Day!

OK, there’s no “Saint Distaff.” Although, any woman who had to wield a distaff when spinning wool or flax is a saint in my book.

Rather, “St. Distaff Day” is Ye Ole Catholic Church’s way of saying: “Get back to work!”

Back in the day, Christmas partying lasted until the Feast of the Epiphany (it still does in some Christian cultures). You know, the old Twelve Days of Christmas” racket.

The day after the Epiphany, the fun was over. Women picked up their distaffs again and resumed their lives of ceaseless toil. Men resumed their ceaseless pastime of tormenting women, which on St. Distaff Day included stealing the spun wool and flax and setting it on fire.

There’s even a snatch of doggerel to mark the merry moment:

“Give St. Distaff all the right;

Then bid Christmas sport good night,

And next morrow everyone

To his own vocation.”

I am on a business trip, so no textile work for me!

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Making a Buck from International Day of the Girl Child

October 11 is “International Day of the Girl Child,” a day the United Nations designated to to celebrate girls and to raise awareness about their challenges and triumphs. Since most cultures on earth greatly favor male children, and since girls have to persevere despite inadequate health care, education, discrimination and violence, it seems like a worthy “day” to me.

It also sounds like a great day for a male-dominated business to make a buck, don’t you think?

Steam, the PC game platform that’s overwhelmingly male and that hosts plenty of antagonism against women, offered a big sale today on “female protagonist” video games. “Ooh,” I thought, “let’s check that out!”

On sale were seven games. Seven. Out of the tens of thousands of games available through Steam, these alone were notable for their female protagonists. And I already had played four of them – all first-person adventure types of games where the protagonist is a young woman. Here are some quick reviews:

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Screenshot of a “Gone Home” poster
  • Gone Home – A college student returns home to find an empty house and no sign of her parents and sister. Players explore and follow clues to figure out what happened. The story unfolds slowly and builds to a climax, sort of like a novel in video game form. The game includes some lesbian themes. This game is a bit basic, but I liked the story.
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Screenshot from “What Remains of Edith Finch”
  • What Remains of Edith Finch – A young woman returns to her ancestral home to investigate a so-called curse on her family. She steps into the shoes of various relatives – from infants to old men – to learn about how the curse affected them. This is a gorgeously made game – full of laughs and tragedy in equal measure, with a good surprise at the end and some deep ideas about the unbreakable bonds of family ties.
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Screenshot from “Life Is Strange”
  • Life Is Strange – A high school student navigates the intersection of school, friends and the supernatural in this game, which unfolds somewhat in a “choose your adventure” style. Players decide how good or bad they want to be, interacting with many complex characters. Actions have consequences. This game includes disturbing episodes of violence against women. It also makes many strong points about the nature of lifelong friendships. I enjoyed playing it, although it was difficult to take at times.
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Screenshot from “Tacoma”
  • Tacoma – In this game, from the makers of “Gone Home,” the female protagonist investigates a mystery on a space station. It’s gorgeously and inventively made, including good, diverse characters (race, sexuality, body type, ability) and some good female roles. This game also includes some lesbian themes and unfolds much the way “Gone Home” did, but with more wit, inventive gameplay and  imaginative detail.

Who made these games? Only Fullbright (the makers of “Gone Home” and “Tacoma”) has women in leadership positions (the privately held company’s leaders are half women, half men).

The developers of “Edith Finch” were all men at the company Giant Sparrow. A female-led company, Annapurna Pictures, published it. Annapurna is better known as a film production company, whose president, Megan Ellison, has been nominated for Academy Awards for producing “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Her,” and “American Hustle.”

“Life Is Strange” also was developed all by men (Dontnod Entertainment) and published by SquareEnix (all men, yet again, but you knew that already). The developers say that other publishers pushed them to make games with male protagonists and that they weren’t trying to “make a statement” by using a female lead. Having played the game, I can tell you they needed to make the protagonist female, because otherwise the whole violence-against-women theme would not pan out. So, yeah, no statement to be made here.

When I play a first-person game, I play as “me.” With most video games, “male” is the default. Why? Because men don’t think it’s important to have a female character, and because they’re afraid that men will be turned off by anything with  whiff of “girly.” They’re trying to sell to men, so the characters are men. If women want to play, that’s fine, but it’s playing in a man’s shoes. Aren’t most animated things like this? Why are all the Minions “male”? Why is there only one female Smurf and one female cartoon M&M? And why does the one female character have to be sexy?

Some games let you choose an avatar for your character, and I choose a female character then. So do a lot of men, only when the avatars can be sexed up in ridiculous costumes. If they play games were they spend a lot of time looking at their avatar’s backside, they’d rather see a woman’s backside in a thong. This is not progress.

If you want to explore games with female characters and feminist themes, I highly recommend the “Nancy Drew” series from HER Interactive. HER is largely run by women.

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Nancy Drew game cover art

Nancy’s a feminist icon, to be sure, and she’s fearless and capable in the games, too. The games have a kids’ mode and an adult mode. They’re popular among parents because there’s no sex or bad language, and the violence is pretty benign compared to most games (Nancy gets trapped someplace and has to escape, or has to flee some threat). The games usually have equal numbers of male and female characters of various ages, races and body types, and a recent game had a lesbian character. I also like the games because they display remarkable affinity for rational thought. Nancy’s often called to help solve mysteries where someone attributes a problem to the supernatural – you know – a ghost is haunting a house or whatever. Nancy is clear that she doesn’t fall for ghosts and other woo-woo but rather sticks to the facts until she uncovers that – just as in real life – people use others’ superstitions or religious beliefs to cover their own misdeeds. The games are great stories to bash magical thinking.

It’s interesting to note that even when there are female protagonists, they are thin and young. Would the entire gaming world explode if a game featured an overweight 48-year-old protagonist?

Stash Busting for Charity – Put a Hat on It

Do you have lots of random scraps of things in your stash – bits of fabric that are too big to toss but too small to use for much?

Make hats! For charity! Or for yourself or your family or friends or for kids in the neighborhood. Whatever… if they have a head, put a hat on it! For about a fat quarter of knit fabric each you can have… all this!

The pink hat is the “Scrap Cap” from Green Pepper Patters F822. It’s made of fleece left over from the Pussyhats I made for the Women’s March on Washington in January 2017. Damn Trump is still the damn president and we women have even MORE to march for this year. I made this for the daughter of a friend who’s marching with us in New York in January.

The duo of white hats is from Simplicity 1566 – a pattern envelope with an entire wardrobe for a baby or toddler. This is a great package of patterns for gift-making or for kitting out your kid with cute, simple, easy-to-make styles. My favorite in this package is the little hoodie. This hat is OK  – I wasn’t crazy about the shape and the ribbon ties. I decorated them with some trims I’ve had in my stash for 10+ years. The hats are made with leftover cotton jersey from a T-shirt project. I’m donating the hats to a charity that collects winter clothing for the needy.

The trio of blue, white and black hats also will go the charity. These are made from leftover border-print viscose knit and rayon jersey. The pattern is “Mountain Cap,” also from Green Pepper F822. These go together very quickly on the serger – I think I made all three in under an hour. I made one child size, one teen and one adult just to see how they fit. The teen size is perfect for me. I added a little cuff to it, just ’cause.

Thoughts on Thinx

I bought two pairs of this special underwear called Thinx that’s meant to be worn when you have your period. The underwear has an absorbent and odor-neutralizing crotch panel that can absorb a tampon or two’s worth of menstrual blood (depending on the style of Thinx you choose). In theory, you can go without tampons or pads at all and just wash and reuse the underwear.

In short, did they work? Yes. They are probably not for everyone, however.

This is a pretty long post and has a lot of details in it. If you’re squeamish, find something else to read. I am not affiliated with this product in any way, and I did not receive any free samples or other compensation as a condition of writing this blog. This is really just my thoughts and experiences with this product.

I bought two pairs of Thinx for a few reasons:

  • I’m very interested in new textiles and how garments can be used to support medical needs, be it menstruation, illness or disability.
  • I’m interested in alternatives to standard menstrual products in general. Having consumed these products most of my life, I always think, “There’s got to be a better way!”
  • I like that female engineers, businesswomen and scientists are thinking anew about menstrual products, and that they are able to get funding to manufacture and market these products.
  • I would like to reduce my use of disposable, nonbiodegradable things in general. All the wrappers, applicators and packaging of standard tampons and pads could be reduced or eliminated.
  • I think that women should be able to talk about menstruation openly and without shame. Products such as Thinx open the dialogue.

I read over the product specs (see www.shethinx.com for more) and bought a high-waist style ($38) and a hip-hugger style ($34) to try. Based on the measurements, I ordered a large but they were too small, so I got a refund and bought an extra large in each style.

Because I like to sew, I know when I am looking at a well-made garment, and these were. The lining of the underwear is made of a cotton and elastane blend. The waistband and outer layer is a nylon-elastane blend – the waistband has a pretty, sheer stripe detail. The absorbent inner liner is made of a polyurethane laminate, or PUL fabric. It runs from waistband to waistband front and back and is encased in the lining and outer fabric. The sides are sheer.

I tried them this week. I wore the hip-huggers on Sunday, under jeans, without any back-up tampons or pads. They performed admirably with no leaks. I was aware each time I used the toilet that the underwear was absorbing blood, but it soaked in to the absorbent layer and did not feel sticky, just a bit damp. The underwear was a bit bulky, but not bad, especially under jeans. There was no smell at first, but by the end of the day, I could detect a scent – not the usual menstrual blood scent, but a scent that’s hard to describe – a bit plastic-y and sharp. The scent wasn’t objectionable, really, but it was there.

I wore them for the rest of the day and to bed. I woke up with no stains on my PJs or sheets. The odor was much stronger at this point, but that’s to be expected – I wore them for a full day! The instructions say you should rinse the underwear and then wash it, using regular laundry soap but no fabric softener. I saw a lot of blood come out in the rinse, so I let them soak a bit, then rinsed again until the water was clear. Then I let them soak with some laundry detergent, scrubbed them by hand, rinsed and let them line dry.

I had intended to wear the high-waist pair to work Monday, but when I tried them on with my dress, they rode up a bit and were noticeably bulky in the rear with the style of dress, so I switched to some high-waist trousers. This time, I backed up the underwear with a tampon because I couldn’t take chances at work, but I didn’t use a pantyliner as I normally would. Again, they performed well. There was no odor or leaking, although to be fair, tampons did most of the job. The general fit of the underwear was not great and rode up all day. I wore them to bed without any back-up and they were fine – no leaks or stains and the faint odor. Again, I rinsed them and washed them in the sink with some laundry detergent.

I reused the clean hip-huggers to work Tuesday under a skirt without any tampon backup, and they performed very well, although my flow was a lot lighter by then. There was no odor or dampness.

My takeaways:

  • Thinx are a viable alternative to tampons or pads. They do their job and perform as promised.
  • They look nice and are well made.
  • Thinx are not gross or smelly – not any grosser or smellier than the normal menstruation situation, anyway.
  • Using Thinx alone without tampons or pads, I would not want to wear one pair all day but rather would change them after 8 hours  or so. This makes sense, since I’d normally change tampons every 4 hours or so, and the underwear’s meant to absorb about two tampons’ worth.
  • Using Thinx as a tampon back-up, or on a light flow day, I will wear them all day.
  • I will wear the high-waist pair exclusively to bed, because of the bulky nature and the poor fit. I am OK with this because I usually wear big diapery pads to bed (I don’t want to get up in the night to change tampons) and occasionally have to deal with leaks.
  • I can handwash them and let them dry so that two pairs will get me through a typical cycle.
  • The cost alone doesn’t really justify the purchase. At $70 for two pairs of underwear, I could buy a couple hundred tampons, pantyliners and pads.

I will be interested to see how these hold up and perform over time. I will buy more if I really like them.

“Women’s Work”

I’ve had these garden gloves for years. I never noticed the label: Womanswork.

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I love these gloves because they fit perfectly. No wonder – Womanswork is owned by a woman and many key staff people are women and relatives of the company’s founder. (For more info, see their Website.)

Wow does the term “woman’s work” get a bad rap. I have been watching this BBC show “Victorian Slum House” (airing now in the US), one of these shows where modern people try to live in historical times, and this old guy who probably would have been dead in the 19th century is all upset because he’s stuck doing “woman’s work” – making artificial flowers to sell to milliners. He tried “man’s work” at a bell foundry and put his back out.

I felt sorry for him, because back pain is horrific. But I turned sour at his disdain for the flower-making job. It put food on the table and kept a roof over the head of his whole family of five for a week. Why, is his mind, is making a bell more important than making an ornament for a hat? Is it because a bell is big and heavy and a flower is tiny and light? Because the bell costs more? Because a bell is “manly” in some way that a flower is not?

Both iron bells and artificial flowers are fripperies in life, one might say. Not necessary. Not important. One is not inherently better than another. But all work has value. All work matters and should be treated with respect, just as all workers should be treated with dignity.

A lot of young men find themselves out of work nowadays. That’s for a lot of reasons, but one reason is because of their disdain for “women’s work.” Health care is the largest sector of the US economy, yet it’s predominantly female. So is education; except at the collegiate level, female teachers and staff outnumber men greatly. Men need to get over this idea that only certain kinds of work are worthy of them. Or, they can stand back and watch the women continue to outshine them at every turn.

Plant a Tree

I bought a tree yesterday. An Eastern redbud, variety “Carolina Sweetheart,” with red variegated leaves and dark pink flowers.

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We went to a fancy garden center to get it. Few places scream “distaff side” more than a fancy garden center. Farming is  a man’s world. The garden is where the gals go.

We no sooner arrived than the extras from Central Casting appeared: The skinny old WASP-y woman in khakis and tennis shoes, the tummy pooch from mothering 3 or 4 children, broad-brimmed hat shading her face, deeply lined from too much sun and too many cigarettes in her youth. The Earth Mother in jangling bracelets, who let it be known to all within earshot that she drove up from New Jersey that morning because she just had to have such and whatnot. The 30-something French-manicured mom who wants to rip out every living thing from her newly purchased property that she hates and replace it with other living things that she loves, for now.

Some male employees took them around, showing off the plants and listening to these women’s garden glories. The message was plain on these men’s faces, under their hipster beards: “Whatever you want, lady.”

I fled to the ornamental tree section and browsed the redbuds. A young woman who worked at the garden center asked if I needed help. She was maybe 5’2″ with dark hair clubbed into a short ponytail under a floppy sun hat. She wore black-framed glasses and sturdy boots and dirty jeans. Under the V-neck of her T-shirt I glimpsed part of a tattoo of a magnolia blossom (I knew it was a magnolia because under the blossom, “magnolia grandiflora” skated across in script). I also glimpsed a nest of curly auburn armpit hair.

We got to talking, and guess what? She lives a couple blocks away from me. She rides her bike to work in the garden center – at least an hour’s ride up some steep hills. She was funny and knowledgeable and confident. In short, I wanted to be her.

OK, not her exactly. She’s probably half my age, for starters, and no way do I want to be in my 20s again. But her life as I glimpsed it and assumed it to be appealed to me. How nice it would be, to do what I love on my own terms? I don’t know if I’d stop shaving my pits, but I’d love to wear my handmade clothes, eat my fill from my garden, write and just be, on my own terms, more often than I do today.

What’s stopping me? Fear of poverty, I can tell you that. I’ve always been driven to earn money and achieve more and more in my career. That’s brought me to a big job at a big company in a big city, living in a big house with big bills to pay. Has it brought happiness? Not really. I enjoy this life, for sure. But part me of always wonders what it would be like without it all.

When I was in my 20s I tried the bohemian life, but bolted for convention quickly. You marry, buy a house, get your first “real” job. Maybe you have a kid or two. You may want to go back to a simpler time, but you also need to be a grown-up, so you keep going.

Someone with a better sense of humor than mine once said: “If everyone actually did what they wanted to do when they were young, the world would have way too many ballerinas and not nearly enough garbagemen.”

True enough. So I will plant my tree, inhale its floral scent in spring, sit under its shade in summer, collect its autumn leaves, gaze at its naked limbs in winter, and think about what might have been.

165

I stepped on the scale this morning. 165 pounds. I can’t believe it, and yet I can.

In 2010 I started on a diet, for the nth time in my life. I was furious and disgusted with myself. I swore, again for the nth time, that this time was “for real” and I would not give up until I got to my goal of 140 pounds. I joined Weight Watchers online, started a blog, followed the program and got busy.

And you know what? I almost got there. It was easy some days, hard other days, and I was not able to get to 140. In about 2 years was able to get to 150, so I called it a “win” and set about maintaining. I bought nice clothes, changed my habits and enjoyed the “new” me.

Right away I learned that if weight loss is hard, weight loss maintenance is a bitch. A grind. A slow drip from a faucet that requires constant maintenance and attention. And if you do everything right, you know what you get? A brief reprieve from the dreary drips.

The damn faucet leaks some days more than others, and on really blessed days, it doesn’t drip at all. But then it started dripping more and was harder to turn off. So I put up with a few drips. A small price to pay for my sanity, right? That’s how 150 pounds became 155 pounds became 160 pounds became 165 pounds.

How does this happen? I mean, I know how to eat, how to exercise, how to deal with boredom and stress without stuffing my face. But I was not prepared for one big problem. I was not prepared for loneliness. For I have been going it alone for about 6 months, and when I go it alone, I get into trouble.

I credit much of my success in 2010-2012 to a blog I kept on WeightWatchers.com. I started it to be accountable to myself and to remember what it was like to lose the weight and struggle and win. I made some good friends there, enjoyed the daily ritual of writing, learned from people and shared my ideas. It really worked for me.

I drifted away from Weight Watchers because I didn’t think I needed it anymore, I ran out of things to say, then the program changed and I could not cope with the new program. Finally, I cut ties for good when they stopped hosting blogs – the main thing I needed to keep going.

I planned to start a new blog immediately, and yet I didn’t. Why? Laziness, boredom, worry about sharing in an untested environment, excuse excuse excuse. I joined LoseIt to keep tracking my food and exercise. At the time I had 7 pounds to lose – to get back to 150. Now I have twice as much weight to lose  and nothing to lose by blogging again.

So here I am. Thanks for reading.