When in high school, I wasn’t one of the sorority girls. I roamed the hallways of Lewiston High School during lunch time to drop into any number of groups, listen to what they were saying, voice an opinion. and then move on. I wasn’t a joiner back then. Women were discussing women’s issues, I was looking for my soul mate, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a woman. Over the years, most especially since I did find that special man who complements and completes my wholeness, I’m now getting to know women better.
I had a bit of trepidation when pulled into a women’s writing group on Facebook. At the time I thought, “What?” And then I just decided to go with the flow, thinking “Maybe it is time for a sorority?” I still believe I’m the odd woman out, but there I am, still listening and voicing my opinions, and really getting to know women better… appreciating them in ways I could never have imagined years ago… Maybe giving birth to three daughters has also helped me to understand this mysterious creature. (I wonder if I was a guy in my immediate past life; I grew up as a total tomboy?)
Recently, I read a story on Steve Heimoff’s blog, entitled: Wine and the Feminine Esthetic. I loved his story, because he was honoring a woman who had blazed trails for me. And, even though I didn’t know her, as Steve stated, neither did he… still, he felt moved to single her out and thank her in her passing.
He wrote: I didn’t know Shirley Sarvis, even though she was a legendary resident of San Francisco, and despite the fact that I own some of her books, including “American Wines and Wine Cooking,” which she co-wrote (with the great Bob Thompson) in 1973. She died last week, at the age of 77.
I was touched and wanted to comment. I moved through his comments and found one that took me by surprise, because it wasn’t about Shirley Sarvis; instead it took a completely different tack into winds of gale force. The author Meg Houston Maker is a writer whom I greatly admire. She has her own wine blog called, Maker’s Table. This woman is brilliant, if you’ve not come across her blog yet, be sure to check her out. She’s a serious wordsmith and concept crafter.
Here’s what she wrote, which for me… got me going, too, but in a bit different direction.
Meg wrote: The “feminine aesthetic” is a myth as dangerous as the feminine mystique. There is a long tradition in formal criticism to group like ideologies, aesthetics, and praxis: fine. But associating an approach primarily with gender is fraught, partly because exceptions are more common than the supposed rule, but mostly because an explanation from gender, tempting as it seems, often glosses over other, more nuanced drivers, deeper structures—ones we need to probe further to understand fully.
Okay, wow…. Then, I wrote my comment, while also reacting to Meg’s; because not only had Meg written her thoughts, but a couple more women chimed in, agreeing with her.
I wrote: Thanks for your piece on Shirley Sarvis and the feminine aesthetic. I, too, never met Shirley. Any woman who’s carved a path for other women… the likes of Shirley, Leslie Sbrocco, and Jancis Robinson, is very special. Your mention of me in this delightful group… I’m beyond honored to be included.
If it weren’t for women who know who they are and what they want… beyond barefoot and pregnant, we’d still be light years away from doing our own thing and getting respect.
As for Jancis… she’s the real deal. I once ran into her at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival, and she was as down to earth as anyone can be… Perhaps people have to experience her live and in person… for me, up close and personally.
I love my feminine aesthetic, by the way… Just as I love my husband’s masculine one…
I’m writing the following blog, because it shows a dialogue of where women have come in their thinking, and the civility of where we can agree, disagree, or agree to disagree. It’s worth historically sharing. (Web 2.0 has allowed for so much more than what we shared years ago… it’s a different edge, POV, etc.) Meg is so articulate, and had a profound influence on me that day… One that I’ve yet to shake, but will with this story being out there for others to also ponder, because it brings up some great points.
I believed, on that day, that Meg misread Steve’s story. And with the ensuing comments that developed on his blog, I thought… “Uh oh… she’s got the group going.” I went right over to Facebook and found exactly what I thought I’d find.
Meg: This headline, and the post’s assumptions, make my blood boil.
That’s all she had to write, and included the URL: Wine and the Feminine Esthetic
The race horses were off and running….
This post mobilized my group in a way that was one sided against Steve, and I just didn’t see it the same way. I couldn’t resist jumping in and defending my friend. The stream had become one person after the other defending Meg’s blood boiling.
She later explained to me “I’m… not sure ‘anger’ sums up my reaction completely, even though I said it had made my blood boil. I left a carefully worded comment on Steve’s post, cautioning that explanations from gender are dangerous. Largely, I was disturbed by what I viewed as a simple gloss on feminine aesthetic by yet another male writer.”
I jumped into the Facebook sorority fray, writing…
I disagree, ladies… (Don’t say it’s because he’s my friend or that he mentioned me). It’s because I loved [I didn’t write “lived” for a reason] through the 60s, when we fought like mad to get what the next generation is enjoying, which is more respect, more jobs being available, and pay coming up.
I’m not saying all is perfect, but I am saying that it’s greatly improved from what I lived through, and many of you weren’t even born.
Wine and the Feminine Esthetic, his title honors women. When Paul Mabray wrote about his top ten bloggers and no women were in the list, we went nuts. When we’re mentioned as having a point of view, let’s celebrate the writer.
ANOTHER CASE IN POINT: Wine blog awards… everyone was grumbling. I said, let’s do something about it and got you all nominating and voting. You got your awards because we mobilized… See how it works? It won’t work if we rant, rave, and rag on those trying to say we have a voice and opinions that count.
Also, I got Cyril Penn into the judging post, which has had him pick up a few of you as credible writers…
A great response came back from Meg:
I respect and admire the trail our sisters blazed. The core of my argument is that while it’s tempting to ascribe a phenomenon to gender, that approach often ignores deeper drivers. When you’re talking about a woman, look for reasons beyond gender. They are there, and are often more interesting, and say more about culture, than gender alone can explain.
To which I added:
The phenomenon goes both ways. I commented on Steve’s post: I love my feminine aesthetic, by the way… Just as I love my husband’s masculine one…
Again, the fact that he’s written about a woman of importance is something to celebrate in my view. If he didn’t look beyond all the other implications, that’s because it’s his blog and what he felt like writing. He’s also a product of the 1960s, having lived in an upstate commune for years, and… is very in tune with our struggles. He would NEVER be a sexist… and like many of us, just writes what he’s thinking at the time.
This is a woman’s writers group, because we have an aesthetic, do we not? …
I know we all want equality, and perhaps I’m where you all were 20+ years ago, so I’m less testy, especially when it comes to embracing (literally and figuratively) my supportive husband… and, where you’ll all be 20+ years from now.
We’ve chosen to come here to celebrate what we bring to the diversity table. Let’s champion the champions… while enjoying our aesthetic…
Well said, Jo. What I value about this group is not, actually, a shared aesthetic. I don’t get a sense that one exists, because I see a great diversity of sensibilities, approaches, and styles among our ~100 members. I really do value that diversity.
What we do share, I think, is not so much outlook or Weltanschauung as our position in society — our way of being viewed rather than our way of viewing. The benefit of the group is being able to share our experiences, get support, get a fresh take, and, with luck, expand both our personal and collective stature.
My final word on this one:
And well said by you, Meg. Especially the word of the day, Weltanschauung… Good one!
From Steve’s sharing with me… His “aesthetic” was more about the beauty that women bring to the world of wine, versus the scoring it by numbers, that we can taste and write with nuance. Women have been proven to have a more defined sense of smell (we have to be able to pick our babies out of a herd, if we lived in a more animal world)… It’s about the delicacies and empathy… and Steve gets that… I, too, am using the word aesthetic in the same way.
The point here is that we all have different opinions, and see life through a different set of glasses. We can voice our thoughts and concerns in evolved ways that aren’t jabs or name calling; while learning more about who we are and what we want, and continue to grow in our sharing.