Here's What I Think - Lois Greene Stone

Buyer Beware

            Have you been manipulated by the sing-song chant, “You get what you pay for?” This trite expression is a money-extracting message, and there is no function key to depress to erase it.
            In the garment business, circa 1940’s and ’50’s, American-made women’s clothing with a high price tag had wider hems, deeper seams, plaid patterns perfectly matched, overcast stitches on raw edges, linings, hand-done buttonholes. Now, ‘designer’ frocks put together in exotic-sounding foreign lands are finished with skinny, machine-interlocking stitched hems, curling elastic waistbands, pinked skimpy seams, and fabrics (such as acetate) that any chemistry student can tell are inferior.
            People assume that added cost creates a superior product, but women who really want quality clothing might sew their own items. Designer labels proclaim ‘dollars spent’, not workmanship.     
            Goodwill Industries, decades ago, was able to benefit from consumers’ reasoning that both visible labels and spending more assures better-made items. It was unsuccessfully trying to sell pre-worn jeans for 49¢ a pair. So, Goodwill put a Goodies label on each rear pocket of these second-hand pants, elevated the price to $3.95, and sales increased.
            The cosmetic industry sells hope and fairy godmothers. No matter that an occasional magazine article reminds readers that lipstick is largely castor oil and costs little to make and place in plastic tubes. How many women linger at a department store’s high-priced lipstick counter convincing themselves that dollars buy beauty? A major business newspaper once reported that foreign women exchange literally two days wages on inflated-priced mascara assuming cost and quality are compatible.
            When some shop for food and then price-compare supermarket private labels with national brands, there’s often doubt about the quality of cheaper store items; we forget that major companies have big advertising expenses.
            Exposes have noted facials offer mostly psychological benefit, yet, country wide, complexion businesses have accelerated. ‘You get what you pay for’ centers charge to deep clean, aerate, and so forth, promoting expensive products. Pampering is done, and those benefits are emotionally uplifting, but people want to believe otherwise. How come no one questions all the wrinkled or freckled skin that is still on all those who go regularly for facials? Why don’t costly cosmetics make us gorgeous?
            Remember when a major American car company’s V8 engines were unmasked as other than what was advertised for its specific autos? Since snob appeal on the OUTSIDE mattered more than production line deception, those cars continued to sell.
            ‘the best one ever made’, ‘finest construction’, ‘choice workmanship’…why are we so gullible!
            An a-la-carte baked potato wrapped ‘in shiny silver foil’ is probably the same one covered in what we commonly call aluminum foil and included with dinner. A chef salad at a five-star place may still be a chef salad at a specialty stand in a lower rent district.
            Shoes, pretending to look like leather, are often man-made material throughout. Status from writing on the insole has gone the route of jeans: little tags sewn outside name-drop. Better yet, women buy the expensive high heels with the red soles which scream four-figure price for merely one pair. Plastic soles and heels, even transparent and trendy, are a poor substitute for leather or non-skid rubber. But they must be good; the outlay of money is high.
            We’ve been passing this phrase on as if it were a legend that must be transmitted to each generation. As intelligent consumers, isn’t it time we refused to be seduced by Madison Avenue hype?

Published on the Op-Ed Page of Gannett News Times-Union, July 25, 1995

So, Why Isn’t a Rose Called Petunia?

            It read: “Dear Ms. Stone…buys First N.A. Serial Rights; enclose s.a.s.e. for the possible return of your ms.”
            As I stamped and addressed a manila envelope, I began thinking about abbreviations and the then-adopted, 1970’s, newest homograph in our already difficult language. N.A. (North American) and s.a.s.e. (self-addressed-stamped-envelope) seemed satisfactory as symbols for words. Ms., though, is Miz or manuscript depending upon whether or not it is a proper noun. Has it then made Mrs. improper as a noun or a name? Am I to have an identity only if the grammar is correct?
            For me, Ms. is impersonal; I am someone’s wife… a role which I willingly accepted and one I rather enjoy. I try to carry my husband’s name with dignity for he selected me to legally use it. Yes, I do use my maiden name as a middle name. My deceased father had no sons; I feel his name will openly continue through me until I die. Also, what I am and grew to be as a person began with Miss Greene. Because of my girlhood, I developed into the woman titled Mrs. Stone.
            Being married is not easy. The amount of energy, tact, patience, and affection I constantly expend is ‘work’ in its exact definition. Maintaining a sense-of-humor and flexibility requires emotional fortitude. Forgiveness after angry words is always an accomplishment.
            After years of leaning and being leaned on, reproducing, respecting, learning to receive and return, I dislike the somewhat asexual symbol Ms. I really don’t want to be mistaken for a document depending upon one’s knowledge of orthography.
            My emancipation is a mental state. Liberated and loved link as well as liberated and lonely. Morally, legally, emotionally, and physically I am Mrs., and passivity is not a prerequisite for using that title. The Miss in me is not inert. Quite possibly I accept the Mrs. because I outgrew the Miss… and no one ever mistook the latter for a pile of papers.
            “Dear Sir: Enclosed with ms. is an s.a.s.e. Please address further correspondence re ms. to Mrs.”
            Ms. 2020. My computer’s word-processor’s dictionary defines it this way: “abbreviation (1) manuscript. (2) Mississippi. (3) multiple sclerosis.” When I click on Google’s dictionary, that site’s second choice for Ms. says. “unlike Miss or Mrs., it does not depend upon or indicate her marital status”. Nothing has changed since the 1970’s! I’m not ‘neutral’ nor need an ‘alternative’.
            Feminists claim men have no ‘neutral’ title so one would know if any are married or single, so why should women? Okay. I understand preference and that, for some, Mrs. is not demeaning. Allow that without hostility. I do have degrees I could put after my name, but I’m not offended by the married-awareness. Did just by using Ms. before a woman’s name, in the 1970’s or everything now produce change regarding equal pay for equal job, or such?
            We define our educational status with Ph.D; R.N.; C.P.A.; M.D.; D.D.S.; M.A.; C.F.O., for example. Would our social system allow placing marital status after legal names when writing that out? Ah. John Doe, BA, MA, MBA,” Mr”.

Published by Clear Mt., February 2010

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard and softcover anthologies. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.