War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

notes from PhD land - negotiating femininity

just walking back from the library, I cross the beautiful campus which is a Victorian (Edwardian?) arboretum. an astonishing collection of thousands of trees and shrubs from around the world – what a hobby that original owner of this land the univ. inhabits must have had. I come across a young woman apprentice gardener in uniform. her lovely highlighted hair pulled back, she wears hoop earrings and a bright, large pearl necklace. not blingy, but definitely shiny and white.

she’s doing a fab job of demossing around the big trees, making the grounds look really, really nice (there are 33 full-time gardeners). I tell her so and compliment her on her necklace.

“I do off road biking on weekend and wear a helmet and protective gear and all of us girls always wear necklaces and earrings so we don’t look like the boys” she laughs.

I tell her about the women I met during my time spent with the army and how I met the most amazing women out there in the middle of dusty dirty dryland where they commanded a company or a LAV and how they always kept a part of themselves über-girly… nice highlights, long hair (braided in theatre), nice nails (not blingy) etc.

one woman engineer, a Sgt. whom I met at Wainwrightistan with the 22em, had the most gorgeous hair and face and lovely demeanour, yet she could spit chew like the best of them, and drop F-bombs left, right and centre. her LAV crew adored her. said she was the best Sgt. they’d ever had. she did two CIED tours defusing, blowing things up.

I always dressed down when I was in the field with the army (not that I’d ever be considered anything other than an aunt!). super grubby, loose clothes. old glasses. messy hair. often had a dirty face. I’m sure I frightened the boys . then after they came home, I went to a special service. I wore a nice dress, heels, washed my face, brushed my hair! they hardly recognize me. the first words out of Sgt. Major’s mouth when he saw me across a room were, “looking good PL”. last time I saw him I think I had guntape on my glasses and hadn’t had a bath (a 3 minute shower wasn’t cutting the dirt) nor a change of clothes for a few weeks. I laughed.

awhile ago I was told by an old middle-east hand that women soldiers and I were perceived as a “3rd” sex to the locals. not male obviously. not female (because we wouldn’t have been present in mixed company), but something different.

whenever I was with the boys I think I was a 3rd sex. I wore grubby desert coloured clothes. yet I always wore my diamond shepherd hook earrings. they were my one concession. around all that metal and diesel, all those boys and tattoos, I needed just a tiny bit of bling, not for them, but for myself.


1 Comment (Closed)

Susan Hall-Balduf

This made me smile — I wore ladylike clothes, makeup, jewelry, etc. to work every day until we went on strike. Then for 2-1/2 years I wore flannel shirts, jeans and boots because I spent my time picketing with Teamsters and I wanted to fit in.

Jul 06 2012 · 15:27

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled notes from PhD land - negotiating femininity. It was posted here on July 06, 2012.

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