7 September 2011

  • Abstract Floral-Print Dress: Gap Maternity
  • Turquoise Cardigan: Caslon via Nordstrom’s, gift from Mom
  • Necklace: Gifted
  • Brown Die-cut Flats: Lifestride via Zappos

While most of my time at school is spent, well, going to class, the other part of my “day job” is as editor-in-chief of one of our school’s many law journals. Occasionally, this is a job that obliges me to speak in front of large groups of people, like at our new staff orientation, an annual ritual involving overwhelming the new 2Ls with information of occasionally debatable utility about their responsibilities for the coming year. Because, as a good law student, I’ve never met a checklist, flowchart or decision tree I couldn’t come to love, my process of trying to figure out what to wear consisted of a series of (increasingly hilarious) if-then balancing statements. If I must stand on my feet for almost two hours . . . then I must wear flats. If I must wear flats . . . then I must wear a skirt because I don’t fit into any of my pants that were hemmed for flats anymore. If I want it to be totally unambiguous that I’m, in fact, extremely pregnant, but I don’t want thirty people to be staring at my belly button the entire time, while looking appropriately authoritative and not too hopelessly uptight, then I must wear . . . a (woven) floral print dress and a brightly colored cardigan? Okay, so maybe there was a significant logic leap on that last one, but I think it mostly worked: I stayed on my feet without too much difficulty, and my clothes made me feel confident without being in my way.

What didn’t require a significant logic leap was realizing that this would likely be one of those events that functions as a kind of focusing prism for all the weird ways that the embodied experience of being a 3L and an authority figure in some respects and nine months pregnant all at the same time sometimes forces that discussion. See, e.g., the otherwise really sweet new member of ours who asked me, with a completely straight face, “are you married? Was that planned?” a question my dear friend C2 suggested would only be appropriate to ask one’s own teenage daughter. And while I knew, I suppose, to expect it, it has been the aspect of the being-pregnant-in-law-school experience for which I was least prepared and by which I am continually disarmed. This is obviously a problem for which a mere sartorial solution won’t quite cut it, but I’ve been thinking about it more as I get dressed for school these days, as I ponder all the messages that my decidedly-non-neutral body sends to the people around me, whether I intend to send them or not. The odds of my finding the perfect answer in the next (hopefully few!) days and weeks seem slim, but it’s worth thinking and talking about.

Regardless of what circumstances motivated you to do so, have you ever thought about dressing as a kind of armor in this sense, about dressing to deter certain perceptions or cut off certain lines of inquiry? If you have, did this kind of defiant dressing have the effect you anticipated?

7 September 2011

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  • http://biblioMOMia.blogspot.com BiblioMOMia

    I love your concept of “defiant dressing,” and I think that I was handling it in a superficial way in my playgroup post yesterday.  I often find that clothing is armor and my first layer of defense – I’m a huge believer in first impressions, and in daily life, that impression is often clothing.

    I got many similar comments at the start of my pregnancy from my colleagues and superiors, but then again,  my pregnancy WAS unplanned and I WASN’T married (although we got married right away, as we always thought it was just a technicality anyway).  I think there’s something about the pregnant body that becomes public property, for good or ill, and that people approach you and ask questions that they never would without the visibility of your baby.  In your case, it’s even funnier – here you are, in a position of authority that you (presumably) have achieved through hard work!

    • http://narrowlytailored.blogspot.com S. of Narrowly Tailored

      It was pretty hilarious — but you’re right that it was yet another illustration of the ways people seem to assume that a pregnant woman’s choices are everybody’s business. It’s also one of those interesting ways that the process of being a parent and the process of being pregnant are different from a public/private/work-life-balance/whatever perspective: unless you tell people about your kids after you have them, your pregnancy is the only moment that really desperately foregrounds — whether you like it or not, your status as not only a woman but a mother. I think in some ways, it’s added to my ohmygoodnesscouldijusthavethiskidalready anxiety this week, whether or not I’m willing to admit it — the being-looked-at-ness is starting to get to me a little more than I had anticipated.

      Planned or unplanned, though, it isn’t really anyone’s business at the end of the day, right? Extra bluebooking for my extremely forward 2nd year…

  • http://sfeslaysthebeast.blogspot.com/ SFE

    My defiant dressing comes out at the beginning of every term that I teach:  straight lines, darker colors, and heels that are at least 3″. And this is something I’ve been thinking about lately because this limits my wardrobe significantly until October.   

    I remember the first time one of my students told me she was pregnant (she was in her second trimester and arranging appointments between work and university) and I was immediately thankful for the Catholic school apparatus lodged in the back of my brain: You always say congratulations. So I did. She really seemed to appreciate that because I don’t think a lot of people including her instructors were saying that to her. Please tell me that the 2L said “Congrats” to you before she asked if you were married/planned?

    I’m really curious what the thought process behind the 2L’s question was–it may have been that you were the first time she encountered the possibility of expectant/parenting female law student.  The “it” you describe that you’re continually unprepared for might also be the fact that we’re constantly surrounded by people who think so far outside the box–problem solvers, activists, theorists, feminists–and yet are fairly conservative about rules, set trajectories, and ideas of success. 

    • http://narrowlytailored.blogspot.com S. of Narrowly Tailored

      SFE! So good to hear from you again! 

      Out of curiosity, why straight lines? 

      I think she did say congratulations, but I think it was an “oh… [pause] congratulations!” which I think is funny at this point, because if you can’t tell… I start to want to remind you that this is a profession in which one’s powers of factual observation are in fact highly relevant. 

      I’m also wondering what her thought process was, and in addition to being fairly certain it was the first time she’d seen a pregnant woman in law school, I think it may have just been one of the first times she’d been around a pregnant woman, period. She’s a straight-through, so she’s maybe 22 or 23, and I think the idea of someone in her relative age bracket having a child was just way outside her experience or thought process. Which, while it manifested itself in an unfortunate way, is fine—I think it was pretty far outside my universe of experiences when I was her age, too!

      I think that tension between conservatism (and among law students, risk aversion) and abstract thinking is part of what makes being back at school while so very pregnant so strange, and the age issue just magnifies it and makes it that much more dramatic. There are so many people who are nominally my year at the law school who are just living lives that are totally different from mine—and to be fair to them, it’s a life I can’t evaluate meaningfully because it’s not a place I’ve ever been. And this is something that has changed a lot about law schools in the last ten year sand is continuing to change now. When the generation of people who are senior professors and senior partners now were in school, the situation I’m in now was literally not possible, because there weren’t any women at a decent number of elite law schools in the country! And even twenty years ago, virtually no one took time off—and certainly not more than two years—before going to law school, so the situation of a large and growing population of students who have been out for some period of time and are coming back to school with more of a “rest of life” going on is something that’s still pretty new. As much as I can rationalize it, though, I’m always struck by the sort of strangely airless feeling I have when I walk back into the building at school, where the “space” for the rest of my life seems to just melt away. And that’s really the most relevant challenge: figuring out how to not be bothered and distracted by that sense, and to remain confident and assured in the choices I’ve made, even if they may be different than other people’s choices.

      When I figure out how to solve that one—and particularly if I figure out how to solve it with my shoes!—I’ll be sure to broadcast accordingly ;)

  • Anonymous

    The way you style pregnancy is absolutely fascinating!!

    • http://narrowlytailored.blogspot.com S. of Narrowly Tailored

      Thanks, and thanks for stopping by!

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