January 05, 2005

Does This Make Me Look Fat?

Ann Althouse properly jumps up and down on a screed by Laura Kipnis bewailing the Evil Sith Power that is the Male Heterosexual Hegemony known as the Beauty Culture and the apparent inability of the Feminist Jedi to combat it. A sampling:

The reason they're incompatible is simple. Femininity is a system that tries to secure advantages for women, primarily by enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men. It also shores up masculinity through displays of feminine helplessness or deference. But femininity depends on a sense of female inadequacy to perpetuate itself. Completely successful femininity can never be entirely attained, which is precisely why women engage in so much laboring, agonizing, and self-loathing, because whatever you do, there's always that straggly inch-long chin hair or pot belly or just the inexorable march of time. (Even the dewiest ingénue is a Norma Desmond waiting to happen.)

Feminism, on the other hand, is dedicated to abolishing the myth of female inadequacy. It strives to smash beauty norms, it demands female equality in all spheres, it rejects sexual market value as the measure of female worth. Or that was the plan. Yet for all feminism's social achievements, what it never managed to accomplish was the eradication of the heterosexual beauty culture, meaning the time-consuming and expensive potions and procedures—the pedicures, highlights, wax jobs on sensitive areas, "aesthetic surgery," and so on. For some reason, the majority of women simply would not give up the pursuit of beautification, even those armed with feminist theory. (And even those clearly destined to fail.)

Fer cryin' out loud. I thought people weren't allowed to write this sort of thing once they'd passed their freshman psych survey courses.

While I heartily agree that the rise in "aesthetic surgery" (you too can look like a porn star!) is an appalling trend, I really don't think that ordinary efforts to look one's best represent a shakling in Revlon-tinted chains. I also believe that anyone who thinks feminity is defined in the Culture today by helplessness and inadequacy has not been paying all that close attention.

I'm a small-f feminist. Most importantly, this means that I believe girls (i.e., the Llama-ettes) should be taught self-respect and self-reliance. In my experience, it's amazing how many of those snakes-in-the-head problems identified by Ms. Kipnis go away when these goals are emphasized instead of the much-vaunted self-esteem. (As an aside, my mother, another small-f feminist, often notes that the first woman doctor in the United States, Elizabeth Blackwell, received her degree in 1849. Since then, Mom says, any woman who truly wants to be a doctor has had no excuse not to.) However, I do not believe that they should be taught that they somehow are not girls.

The trouble with capital-F Feminism (aside from its tarsome politization of everything under the sun) is that in its radical insistence on sweeping away the entire history of male/female sexual relationships with one fell thunderbolt, it seeks to do just that. And because it seeks to do the impossible, it quickly turns into a kind of frustrated self-loathing. Is it really any wonder that women would want to reject such a philosophy?

UPDATE: The Witty Sex Kitten weighs in with a defense of the Eve Ensler play that started all this rigamarole. As I say in response to her post, my main beef is not with Ensler, who I've not read, but with Kipnis' capital-F Feminism, which I believe, as I do with all such identity-based political movements, to be ultimately harmful to most of those who get caught up in it. With regard to the whole marriage competition thing that Ann Althouse expands on in her own follow up post, I am not even really that interested. My philosophy is that if my girls grow up with a proper sense of self-respect and self-reliance, then the results - whatever they might be - will take care of themselves.

UPDATE DEUX: Sheila gets it. But you knew she would.

Posted by Robert at January 5, 2005 12:09 PM

What I love most about Kipnis' blather is her insistence on the obsession with beauty as being strictly a heterosexual phenomenon. "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" anyone? Bueller?

Posted by: willow at January 5, 2005 02:51 PM

Don't mean to shock ya here but I think you & Eve Ensler are actually aligned...I'll repeat the pertinent part but see here

I don't know about the rest of these bloggers but I have actually read a good chunk of Eve Ensler's book, on which the play is based...and from what I have read, I believe everyone is missing the point of her book. The point of her book is not to let yourself go because feminism and femininity are inherently incongruent, as Althouse rails against for fear of losing out in the great marriage race, but to take all the energy you spend on fretting over the extra inch below your belly button, and the hair that just won't curl properly, and spend it on being a better person. That could only help you "win" in the marriage race, in my opinion, what guy wouldn't appreciate a less shallow female?

I think Llama Butcher is actually in support of Ensler's proposition by encouraging his Llama-ettes to have self-respect and be self-reliant (I don't think he would appreciate being considered aligned with a raging Feminist but, on this point, I really think they are). If they respect themselves for their accomplishments and the persons they are, and rely on themselves to solve their own problems, they will not spend nearly as much energy worrying about the random stray hair. No one is suggesting women let themselves go to hell (well, not Ensler, other Feminists do, obviously) but to spend less of our mental energy invested in worrying about our appearance and more in becoming an amazing lawyer, a supportive friend, a caring daughter, etc.

Posted by: Wittysexkitten at January 5, 2005 05:32 PM

Well, I've never read Ensler, so I couldn't say anything about her in particular. I call myself a small-f feminist and I would stick with that whatever the alignment might turn out to be. What I was railing about mostly was Kipnis' own capital-F Feminism, which is, IMHO, a virulent and ultimately self-destructive brand of identity politics.

Posted by: Robert the LB at January 5, 2005 05:49 PM

If I may, as someone who's seen this from both sides (as a daughter who had a good relationship with a father who honored her mother, and as a mother who just raised two adult sons who appear to have chosen intelligent and self-regarding young women as mates), allow me to pontificate:

Robert, the best thing you can do for your girls is to love and honor their mother.

Girls watch this. They take their model from watching their father and learning (unconsciously, albeit) from what they see at home.

I married quite early, but I chose wisely and well. I credit my father for much of that, as well as having dated from a very early age. My husband is an honorable man, and treats me like a princess, and I treat him as the prince he is in my eyes. Yes, this is all unbearably corny, but if you're going to be married for 25 years, you'd better be able to sustain a few rosy illusions :)

And darnitall, people tend to live up to those illusions. It's funny how that all works out. Old-fashioned, but true.

Children get a lot of their self-image, not only from how you treat THEM, but from how you treat their same-sex parent. That's a lesson many parents don't understand, and it's truly tragic.

The marriage comes first, then the children. I can't tell you how many couples get that wrong. Children need security. Build on that rock, and whatever comes on top of that foundation will endure.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 5, 2005 07:19 PM

Must myself claim a decent amount of ignorance with all of Kipnis' Feminist thoughts...not sure how far she logically extends this in to other realms of Feminism (I put the capital in there just for you LB :-) ) so I won't debate any further for fear of looking stupid.

Must do a little Winter Break reading it looks like...

Posted by: Wittysexkitten at January 6, 2005 01:28 AM

Cassandra - very good point and I couldn't agree more.

Posted by: Robert the LB at January 6, 2005 09:17 AM
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