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A Citizens Unrest

The NYT published an article today (July 9) that examined a new law that allows citizens to sue abortion doctors and/or clinics that assist in helping women get an abortion. The author, Sabrina Tavernise, writes that the law “contains a legal innovation with broad implications for the American court system.” The law “deputizes” ordinary citizens and provides them with the legal means to enforce the strict anti-abortion laws, rather than rely on the state.

By now, we have at least heard of the different attempts by state governments passing anti-abortion laws. The Thomas Reuters Foundation describes the initiative as an “all-out assault” on abortion rights as “19 states have enacted 94 restrictions on abortion since January.” Emma Batha, the author of the article I cite, writes, “Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious belief to declare it immoral, while abortion rights advocates say a woman should have the right to choose on matters affecting her body.”

This is certainly true- for over a century people have used arguments on morality to govern women’s bodies. Texas, specifically, has used the citizen enforcement model before to great success. Now, I do not know if there is a historian in Greg Abbott’s pocket that he takes out anytime he needs a reference on the legal history of screwing over women, but what I do know is that there is a precedent for having citizens use the law to keep perceived immoral women in check.

In 1907, Texas legislators passed a law that made prostitution illegal in the state, but allowed the cities to rewrite charters and establish “quasi-legal” red light district- regulated and taxed/fined by the local city governments. But how do you get all those sex workers to move? Well, the answer is that the government also gave the average citizen the right to sue for injunctions.

House Bill 10 not only gave the city government the right to create red light districts, but local citizens could sue the courts for injunctions on brothels claiming that the “bawdy house” brought property values down. HB 10 also defined broadly defined “bawdy house” as “one kept for prostitution or where prostitutes are permitted to resort or reside for the purpose of plying their vocation.” A disorderly house is any assignation house or any theater, playhouse or house where spirituous, vinous, or malt liquors are kept for sale, and prostitutes, lewd women, or women of bad reputation for chastity are employed.”

Well, now that is a broad swath of places, right?- brothels, dance halls, theaters, and saloons. All places where the middle-class (mostly white) public argued only the “bad girls” hung out. Houston, TX, was one of the first cities to put this plan into action. The central business district butted up next to “Happy Hollow,” the vice district located near Louisiana and Milam Streets. So, local businessmen and other citizens sued for injunctions to have these women–and yes the law specifically targeted women–moved to another location. Mostly because the businessmen wanted to take over the rest of downtown near Buffalo Bayou to expand business and trade.

Happy Hollow

Of course, the city moved the red light district a few blocks over to Freedman’s Town in the Fourth Ward. The white local officials confiscated land near San Felipe and the Buffalo Bayou, despite the protests of the Black citizens who did not want the vice district in their segregated part of town. But their arguments did not work. Houston erected “The Reservation” in 1908 in the Black section of town, fulfilled all the injunctions of white citizens against “immoral women,” and once again used a socially constructed idea of morality to control women- mostly immigrant, poor, and some Black and Brown.

While I am not comparing abortion to sex work, it is worth examining the ways governments have historically enacted laws that targeted women. Also, the 1907 Texas law provides, if not a precedent, then some context to how the state government places ownership, power, and enforcement of the laws into the hands of citizens it deem “moral.” Whether it’s women who are sex workers or abortion seekers, conservative Texas lawmakers will continue to appeal to their constituents by giving them state backed power.

Sources:

https://news.trust.org/item/20201231112641-qfynt

https://lrl.texas.gov/collections/journals/journalsHouse30.cfm

https://houstorian.wordpress.com/2008/01/23/houstons-red-light-district/

These Shoes Are Made for Leadn’

I have my Chuck’s for Inauguration day. Do you?

If you look at trends on social media, like I do, search any variation of #ChuckTaylors. You will see women around the nation buying and sharing their pictures of their sneakers in support of Madam Vice-President Elect Kamala Harris.

Kamala Harris has made a statement with her chosen footwear, and I love that women from all walks-of-life are using the opportunity to do the same. And for some reason, every time the media references VP Harris’ shoes, Nancy Sinatra’s song “These Boots” pops into my head. I took the liberty to change the chorus to fit my excitement over Inauguration Day. I am sharing so you have the ear worm, too!

You keep lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’
And you keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’
Now what’s right is right but you ain’t been right yet

These shoes are made for leadn’
And that’s just what they’ll do
One of these days these shoes are gonna lead for all of you

I know. . . . Pretty cheesy. But I think it makes a good anthem. Not only the verse of how many people feel about past leadership, but also a song of empowerment for all the women, especially Black and Brown women, who have never had representation in the highest offices.

So, why focus in the shoes? VP Harris told The Guardian that she has a “whole collection” of Chucks to go with different outfits and different settings, like running through the airport. Her casual footwear has endeared her to so many. As she comes bounding out of the plane to head to a meeting or event, it is nice to see someone who seems approachable and relaxed. Her comfortable and casual style makes others comfortable with her.

The shoes people choose to wear make a statement. So, of course I started thinking about the history of shoes and professionalism. How do our dress codes regulate shoes? How are they gendered? What does it mean to have a gender neutral shoe be acceptable in the work place?

Now, in many cases we have to wear shoes according to socially constructed codes. Women often have to grit their teeth and bear the pain of high heels because the sculpted shoes are thought of as more professional. But not too high because then you might look trampy. Not to low or clunky because that might be too prudish. Oh, the shoe conundrum.

Men have a little more flexibility in the professional shoe department with the low heal dress shoe. Although, some men may want to rock their high heels to the office, and that too is regulated through gendered dress codes.

At one time, men did wear heeled shoes. Persian soldiers wore heeled shoes to keep their feet in the stirrups, much like today’s cowboy boots. Then, European aristocrats appropriated the fashion and constructed a idea that the heeled shoe symbolized virile masculinity. The heel highlighted their shapely legs and taut calves. Louis the XIV even passed an edict that only allowed those of noble birth to wear high heeled shoes.

Let’s talk about high heels and the male gaze. Stilettos, in particular, have a hypersexualized history. They are designed a certain way to tantalize men and often associated with prostitution. Stilettos elongate the legs and help round out the bottom and breasts.

I did a keyword search for “high heels” in the newspaper data base and found over 15k articles starting all the way from 1735. So, as you can see, they are a staple in women’s and high heel lovers arsenal. High heels have even been used to kill people–not kidding.

But, I also know how women get creative to be able to wear comfortable shoes. Some carry their sneakers in their bag and switch to heels at work. Me, I wore my heels to school and then switched to my Chucks to teach. Now, I just wear my Chucks everywhere.

Chuck Taylor designed the basketball shoe in 1922 to help support player’s feet. Chuck’s name was added to the ankle logo, sealing the fate of the Converse as the Chuck Taylor All Star. The shoe really gained popularity in the post-war market and remained the shoe of choice for pro and college basketball players through the 1960.

I was part of the “retro” revival in the 1980s. You remember. That’s when the Converse Hi-top Chuck’s came back in style in hyper-pigmented colors. When I was in elementary school, we would exchange one shoe with a friend to wear a shoe of a different color. But be sure to change back before going home.

Vintage 80s Converse Chuck Taylor SNEAKERS / 1980s Orange | Purple  converse, Purple converse high tops, Converse chuck taylor

But now, Chuck’s are worn with everything, from jeans to power suits. I really love that we have a symbol of power connected with shoes, but that connection is also made through the Madam Vice-President. I really do care. Do you?

Sources:

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Killer_Heels/FPtuBAAAQBAJ?hl=en

https://www.google.com/books/edition/Heights_of_Fashion/dpYOAQAAMAAJ?hl=en

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/sep/03/kamala-harris-what-her-sneakers-mean?CMP=share_btn_tw

Proud to be American?

I intended to talk about my Chuck Taylor’s in this week’s blog, but that got shot to hell with the Capitol insurrection. So, I think I will put off that blog until next week–closer to the inauguration, anyway.

Watching the news on Wednesday, in utter horror, while also trying to edit my dissertation, I got to thinking about what it meant to be American. It seems that the people who stormed the US Capitol simultaneously wanted to fight and “take back America” while carrying Confederate and Nazi flags. Huh? My twitter comment went something like – “What defunding History programs looks like in one act.” And that wasn’t the Tweet the went viral–geez.

Several historians (some of my favorites, I want to add) wrote amazing op-eds about the events, placing the insurrection in context of “The Lost Cause.” I completely agree with their assessment. With the Biden/Harris inauguration about a week and a half away, the “New Lost Cause” is idea that the 2020 election is somehow not legitimate. Lost Causers want to overthrow the government and install Trump as leader–all in the name of “saving America.”

A Pro-Trump rioter carries a Confederate flag near the US Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.
I took this image from USA today- but it is everywhere!

But since I am mired in dissertation edits where I talk about American identity, I kept thinking about the insurrection from the perspective of Americaness. What is that? Who gets to claim it? The insurrectionists obviously think it is a mixed bag. But you cannot be a Confederate and an American. The ideas are contradictory.

Many rioters even chanted “1776” in reference to Trump’s education campaign to emphasize Nationalism as a central idea to American history. He wants to protect the historical narrative of the great men in American history. But whose narrative is the 1776 curriculum protecting? White dudes with money. Maybe that is why so many white people in the 2021 riot believed they were revolutionists and patriots? They remember from their history textbooks the painting of Washington looking valiant with his foot on the bow of the boat as he crossed the Delaware, and they want to emulate him? But instead brought the fur and horns dude.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump enter the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851 painting) - Wikipedia

But the “1776 curriculum” was in direct response to the “1619 Project,” which centers the American marriage to slavery and racism beginning at colonization, with the arrival of the first ships carrying enslaved African people. Again, when we study/ teach American history, especially in high school, whose history is it?

Then you have the Civil War (please like and share The Civil War Documentary FB, Twitter, Instagram), which in the aftermath legislators passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.

In 1866 (ratified in 1868), Congress passed the 14th Amendment that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” Historian Eric Foner argues that the 14th Amendment is the most important because of the guarantees of citizenship. At the time, the legislation was meant for the freed black men and women, but is used in all legal arguments about citizenship. Most recently, Trump wanted to do away with birthright citizenship.

Yet, Texas’ own Ted Cruz thought maybe we should all compromise on the 2020 election like Congress did in 1877. You know, the one that ended Reconstruction and walked us straight into Jim and Juan Crow, denying Black and Brown men and women their rights from the 1st amendment to the 15th–essentially American identity.

Historians have written fabulous books on immigration, race, gender, etc- all looking at citizenship and national identity. Here, I am just talking (writing) out my thoughts on what this all means in my own dissertation and also current events.

It is 2021, and exactly 100 years ago, the Texas legislature debated some of the same issues we argue today–who gets access to American rights. Well, Americans, right? But what are those rights? Who is American? One hundred years ago the debates ranged from voting rights, education rights, the right not to get lynched… Of course, only white people really had access to these rights.

In my dissertation, I examine economic access, specifically the minimum wage for women in Texas. In 1919, that legislation passed. Progressive reformers and legislators argued that the minimum wage should be a living wage, you know, back when food, shelter, and clothes were considered a necessity for all (whites). And legislators wanted to pass the law to help prevent white women from becoming sex workers. But when legislators could not prevent Black and Brown women from also getting the living wage, which threatened white supremacy, legislators quickly moonwalked the law back.

To appease the progressive reformers, several businessmen suggested maybe have three different wage scales- “American, Mexican, and Negro.” Clearly, there was and still is an association of Americaness and whiteness. That claim is that only certain white people have access to American identity. I think this quote is one of the most important in my dissertation and speaks to how Americaness is constructed, which is really the answer to all of the questions I typed above.

I am still hashing all this out in my chapters. This is no way encompasses the complete narrative. But any time we talk about what it means to be American there is an association to whiteness. Whether it is economic, education, and especially political, white men and women seem to divide American identity into the three scales much the same way Texas businessmen and legislators did 100 years ago.

Underpaid, But Employed: How the Great Depression Affected Working Women -  HISTORY
Cleaning woman Ella Watson standing with broom and mop in front of American flag, photographed by Gordon Parks as part of a Depression-era survey for the Farm Security Administration.
Gordon Parks/Getty Images

Sources :

https://www.cnn.com/2021/01/07/opinions/capitol-riot-confederacy-reconstruction-birth-of-a-nation-merritt-barnes/index.html

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/01/07/dc-protests-help-us-identify-rioters-who-stormed-capitol/6583447002/

Red Lip Theory

I am just kidding, there isn’t a theory here other than me making something up. Sometimes when I feel down, I’ll go buy a new red lipstick. It helps me for a little while. I like to feel pretty, and in some small way, red lips make me look like I am as hot as a thousand suns, or so I tell myself.

My life has had its share of heartbreak and stress in the past year. Many people welcomed 2021 with celebration and champagne. Not me. I was sad and lonely. After a day or so, though, I had enough of feeling sorry for myself, quoted Lizzo with “boss up and change your life,” and well. . . . nothing makes me feel bossier than a good red lipstick.

Then, of course, I got to thinking about the action of buying and applying red lipstick. Why does the purchase make me feel better? What is it about red lips? What is it about make-up in general? So, then I got to work trying to find the answers to my questions.

My first stop was to my bookshelf to look up what Lynn Peril says in Pink Think. Now, she groans over the consumer packaging of make-up as a necessity for women. But I like her take on a good lipstick. She writes, “You see, I am convinced that the right lipstick not only makes me look taller and thinner but imparts the devastating wit of a latter-day Dorothy Parker the moment I apply it.” I am not a quick wit or particularly funny- or tall and thin. I do, however, catch myself standing a little taller–maybe even strutting– after I apply that silky magic.

Nevertheless, I am a historian. Women and men have always decorated their bodies. But in many cases, makeup or tattooing were linked to sexuality. From Egyptians to Indians, body art held meaning.

Jump to early Victorian history, painted faces were considered indecent and associated with prostitution, a historical subject I study. But by the late 1800s and through the industrial revolution, drug stores and even more fashionable store counters started marketing cosmetics to women. Cold cream was a popular product, complexion whiteners, VASELINE even helped smooth away that dry skin.

As the twentieth century dawned, makeup changed dramatically. I say dramatically because it was largely still associated with actresses–actress was often also used as a euphemism for prostitute. But as actress iconography grew in popularity, so did the public’s desire to emulate them. So out with the greasepaint and in with the everyday wear. With the expansion of department stores, and the increased number of white middle-class women working outside the home, supply and demand high-fived each other and women spent a gazillion dollars on makeup. Newspaper advertisements marketed to white women emphasized the juxtaposition of a pale face and the red-lip. One of my favorite advertisements if the one for a gay-red lip. Everything about this make me happy.

The Centralia Enterprise July 30 1898- this red showed up in newspapers through the 1950s in what I can find.

In the later 19teens the suffragists joined in on the action. Political cartoons often portrayed suffragists as masculine and snarly. Hoping to combat the public image, suffragists applied red lipstick to show the naysayers that had the right to speak up, and with red lips they could be seen, too.

Though, in some 1920 ladies journals, writers warned that women should “practice caution” because it was much too easy to “overstep the bounds of good taste in the use of cosmetics.” “Too red of lip have kept many a girl from progressing in the business world.” (Daily News June 5, 1921)

Nevertheless, red lips were here to stay. In the 1920s, young women kissed notecards to send to a potential love interest. In fact, fashion writers told young readers that “lipstick red is much in vogue at the moment.” From sashes and cuffs, to handkerchiefs and bodices, the color flowed from the magazines to the department store floors. (the term “lipstick red appeared in newspapers across the US throughout 1922)

Black women also saw a mass marketed beauty culture in cosmetics an hair products. As a way to combat the idealized white version of beauty, Black women participated in creating their own beauty industry.

Though, through the 1930s and on, as cosmetics became more mass produced the advertisements changed the foundation of women’s relationship with their chosen products. Cosmetics companies linked personal happiness to appearance. Advertisers told women, especially middle-class white women, not to leave the house without their lipstick case–they even made them purse size! Two of the most popular colors in the 1930s were “lady” and “hussy.” Hussy was a best seller. No longer associated with “painted faced” prostitution to conceal, now red lips could just make you up to just feel like one.

I should also mention the Orientalism fascination in the 1930s advertisements fixated on red lip as a way to be “young and new.” The Chinese Red lip was all the rage in the late 1930s, 40, and 50s, with the advertisements showing up in all the big magazines and newspapers. Advertisements said that you too could look like Rita Heyworth because that Chinese red lipstick brings out that peaches and cream skin tone and makes your teeth look whiter! But the ads also talked about the way to apply the color, making sure to go slow, moving around the curve of the lips “like the orientals.” Terrible.

By the 1960s, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, even Family Circle told women how to catch and keep their man with the perfect red lipstick- but modestly and make sure to clean up after yourself. And if their companions complained about their collar stains, department stores had the perfect soap to get it out.

Throughout the next few decades, make up fashion changed rapidly. In the 1980s, I was still too young to wear lipstick but my mom did buy me some awesome red Tinkerbell lipbalm. I was not immune to the beauty culture. The lipstick balm was my precious treasure. It was the only makeup I had until the 1990s awful golds, oranges, and dark lip liner that took over the faces, I am sorry to say that this included my face, too.

So now here I am, in 2021, all in my feelings and with a dozen or so tubes of red lipstick. I know that I am part of this long history of consumerism and beauty culture. Still, there is something about the red lipstick that makes me feel strong and capable. I may use a matte for just working on my dissertation. I may use a shiny red for that Zoom call. Historian Kathy Peiss called beauty culture “a system of meaning that helped women navigate the changing conditions of modern social experience.” She also writes that women’s “changing status as workers, citizens, consumers, and pleasure seekers was acknowledged cosmetically.” It is a type of empowerment. I do not necessarily feel like I HAVE to wear makeup any more, and throughout the pandemic, I rarely have. Hell, I even posted pictures to social media without lipstick on–shocker. I am more comfortable in my skin. I am getting stronger everyday. But I am also conscious of the paradox of a beauty product filling a hole in my heart. But I love it, especially when another woman compliments me by saying “that red lip, tho!” Fire emoji!

Sources:

Susannah Walker, Style and Status:Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975 (University of Kentucky Press, 2007).

Lynn Peril, Pink Think : Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Steps (WW Norton, 2002).

Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998) 7-9.

Madeleine Marsh, Compacts and Cosmetics: Beauty from Victorian Times to the Present Day (Casemate Press, 2014).