Ah, but that is all neither here nor there. What is on my mind right now is the idea that a woman's worth in society is directly proportional to how much your average dude wants to have sex with her. In plain language like that, it might sound a bit odd, but when you think about it, it's clear. We all know that there is an expectation on all women to look a "certain" way. In turn, that certain way becomes the particular look that most men are socialized to find attractive. Women who look this way, whether they actively try to or not, are playing by the rules and are subsequently rewarded for their looks.
So really, at the end of the day, a woman's value is unfairly reduced to her fuckability. But let me back up. I started to think about this in reading Lesley's Kinzel's Two Whole Cakes last week. She says,
Our cultural ideology of beauty-as-personal-responsibility contributes to a world in which all bodies are public property, open to criticism, compliment, or mockery, at all times. There is no line drawn between the faux perfection of models in ads and the real bodies of women going about their lives—we are all expected to strive for the impossible, no matter what it takes, and when we refuse, our subversion is punished by social censure.
A mismanaged body, or rather, a body that is perceived as mismanaged, is a thing to be feared. The overly cared-for body—one that is too obviously embellished with cosmetics and plastic surgery, one that is too meticulous in how it eats or moves, one that is guarded or coddled or fabricated so that the seams are still visible--is as much a source of discomfort and pity as one that seems not to be cared for at all.She expands on this idea explaining how beauty is supposed to look effortless and "natural" but if you're doing it right, you actually must work really hard to maintain a very narrow set of particulars without letting it show. I think most of us can agree with this idea of femininity as performance. The really interesting part to me is how this model requires that we all buy into the idea that bodies, particularly female bodies, are public property. When we do this, it opens the doors for a lot of male criticism and comments and we accept those comments as reasonable, because if a female body is public, why shouldn't people make comments about it? Let me use an example. My friend recently submitted this to my Tumblr project:
|[Facebook status: Lady on TV: "We're here to show the world that super plus-sized models can do anything that skinny models can do." Model a Smart Car for me, babe.]|
This post is exactly what I'm talking about. This guy feels completely entitled to share his thoughts about how he feels about this woman. Because she is "super plus sized" she is open to mockery and disdain from him and his "joke." And clearly, he was supported by his peers because at the time of this screen shot he had 19 likes and not one person calling him out.
Another really great example of this mentality is an infamous Ashley Madison ad campaign:
|[Ad has a fat woman in small shorts and top seductively posed. Copy reads: "Did your wife SCARE you last night? Ashley Madison, Life is Short. Have an Affair."]|
Still not convinced? Think about what happens when a woman who is supposed to be really low in fuckability defies these stereotypes...people freak out. It's a really big deal! I don't watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or Glee, but both of them have displayed evidence of this mentality recently. Firstly, this picture popped up in my Facebook newsfeed.
|[Rotten eCard with an older man saying, "Honey Boo Boo's mother has a boyfriend and you're single. Just let that sink in."]|
The outrage is amplified if the man in question is conventionally attractive. Again, I don't watch Glee but I am aware of a story line where the characters Ashley and Puck had a fling. And people freaked out. The questions over and over were: "Is that very realistic?" "Can a fat girl get a stereotypically attractive guy?"
|[Photo of Glee characters Ashley and Puck.]|
Over and over the cultural narrative emphasizes that a woman's most important task is to be beautiful--and that beauty can only look a certain way. This whole thing is not only impossible and insulting, but it's also exhausting!
Fortunately, there are ways that we can step away from this mentality. One is to actively confront notions of conventional attractiveness and seek to find wider definitions of beauty. A lot of fat positivity blogs do this amazingly. You can also redefine beauty to take into account personal attributes. In my work with girls, this is often the first, most basic step. We help them see a "real beauty" which values their individual characteristics like creativity, kindness, responsibility, etc. instead of their bodies, hair, and clothes. I've seen first hand that this approach is very accessible to girls in the 5th-8th grade range.
But for those of us who are past the 101 point in feminism and self-acceptance, Kinzle suggests that we seek to actively reject the beauty game, which is a very interesting notion. She writes:
I’d prefer to occupy a space outside the pretty/ugly paradigm, a space where the parameters are self-determined. Because I believe there is no circumstance in which these categories will not be oppressive, to someone somewhere. Because I want to reject that kind of system, not participate in it. The longing to appreciate and value oneself as a beautiful person is a fine notion. Confronting, deconstructing, and redefining what counts as beauty is a valiant effort. But we should also be vigilant: Is it personal gratification and self-love we’re after, or the advantages that being beautiful to others would afford us?
No one should be forced to play the pretty game, though most of us born female spend our lives learning the rules and trying to get ahead. We are taught that we are not allowed to even consider removing ourselves from the playing field. And yet it is a game without end. Pretty is not an accomplishment to be won so much as a state of constant vigilance, even for women who qualify as beautiful in the cultural eye, because so many of these women still cannot see themselves as attractive. An intrinsic part of the pretty game is feeling inferior, imperfect, and incomplete. The players can compete, but no one can win.