Sunday, July 3, 2011

Feminists Against Beautiful Women

Feminism has produced a new wave of repressed women.

Faced with the difficult task of knowing what to say to a friend’s five year old daughter, Lisa Bloom got in touch with her inner feminist and repressed her first impulse.

In her words: “I squelched myself. As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.”

Why does she repress her normal impulse? Bloom explains that American women are obsessed about their looks, to the detriment of their self-esteem. She proposes to solve the problem by leading a crusade against telling girls that they are beautiful. To her mind this will allow women to give more value to their mental prowess.

Bloom feels that she is striking a blow against the beauty industry. But this blow is anything but original.

The feminist assault against femininity and female beauty has been going on for decades now. So much so that I suspect that feminism has caused women to suffer an unhealthy obsession with beauty because it has forbid them to be normally concerned with how they look?

It’s been twenty years since Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth launched a full frontal attack on the fashion and beauty industries. After twenty years of Naomi Wolf and forty years of contemporary feminism, lo and behold, many young woman are obsessed with their looks.

To me it feels more like a backlash against feminist repression and tyranny than anything else.

Feminists should stop being so modest. They should give themselves some credit for creating the situation that they are railing about.

Bloom is writing as though feminism did not exist and did not influence the way people bring up girls. In that she is surely mistaken.

Picture the scene: a little girl is beaming because she is wearing a new dress or has gotten a new hairdo. What kind of ideological perversity would prevent you from acknowledging the fact? Doesn’t that strike you as gratuitous cruelty?

Why does Bloom believe that telling a girl how good she looks will somehow cause her brain to atrophy? Do you really think that it’s an either/or proposition?

Perhaps feminists do think it’s either/or. Perhaps that’s why they are horrified at the prospect of a Sarah Palin or a Michele Bachmann or even a Nikki Haley... beautiful women who are also successful and accomplished.

Why wouldn’t feminists see these women as apt role models for girls who might want to grow up to be both professionally successful and beautiful?

Doesn’t Bloom’s reasoning tell us that the feminist cult demands strict ideological conformity? Is it possible that feminists see themselves as the unbeautiful girls and that they are jealous of the pretty girls who get the best guys?

Lisa Bloom seems trapped in either/or thinking: a girl can either be beautiful or she can be a published author? Will a compliment about her looks undermine her career or will it make it more difficult for feminists to draw her into their cult?

Feminism notwithstanding, every adult male knows, if he is involved in a relationship with a woman, that he bears a sacred duty to tell her, often and unambiguously, that she is beautiful.

It may be an offense against feminism, but the vast majority of women invest considerable time and effort into presenting an aesthetically pleasing appearance. A man who fails to recognize the work that went into the appearance is going to have problems. A man who allows his wife or girlfriend to believe that he does not find her attractive and that he is not proud to be out in public with her is going to have problems. No man passes through adolescent without learning this.

An interesting sidelight: while it is perfectly normal to tell women and girls that they look beautiful, one never says that a man looks beautiful.

We say that women and children are beautiful, that art works are beautiful, and that nature can be beautiful. We never say that a man is beautiful.

Judge a woman by her looks and she will be flattered. Judge a man by his looks and he will be insulted.

Until they repeal human nature, that’s how it is.

To feminists this means that the language is sexist. Of course, any feminist can strike a blow for equality by telling men that they look beautiful. Let’s see how that works out.

If language is not a vast right-wing conspiracy, then the way we normally speak reflects the history of language usage. Language was not created by a group of elders or wise women. It’s as close to a truly free market as we will ever get. And it’s an instance of the free market giving us a glimpse of a truth.

Whatever the ideologues think, the marketplace tells us that men and women are not the same thing.

What does it mean? It means that a man’s value does not lie in his beauty, but that a goodly part of a woman’s value does. It means that if you tell a woman she is beautiful she will glow. If you tell a man that he is beautiful he will feel insulted. .

Of course, we commonly say that men are handsome-- anything but beautiful-- but somehow this description does not bear as much power as the attribution of beauty to a woman.

Forget to tell a woman she looks beautiful and she will not forget it. Forget to tell a man that he is handsome and he will barely notice it.

Worse yet, from the feminist perspective, a good part of a woman’s confidence depends on her perception of herself as beautiful. Said perception is based on how many of the people who matter to her give her compliments about her appearance.

If you’ve never done it, one day you should turn on a television make-over show... the ones that are dedicated to beautifying women, the ones that show that any woman can be beautiful.

They all have a climax when the woman who has been subjected to the ministrations of an army of stylists and cosmeticians walks out onto the stage looking like a radiant, resplendent beauty. When hostess asks her how she feels, she invariably says that she now feels more confident. The boost in her beauty quotient has boosted her confidence.

Ironically, increased confidence in her looks often translates directly into increased her confidence on the job. No woman is going to do a good job if she goes to work thinking that she is ugly.

With men it’s slightly different. To feel confident in his ability, a man also has to adopt the right look. For him that involves conforming to a dress code and wearing the right corporate uniform.

But, what happens to little girls when the women, and men, around them repress their normal impulse to tell them that they are beautiful?

If you don’t tell your daughter that she’s beautiful she will conclude that she isn’t beautiful. And she will act accordingly.

If you don’t tell her that she’s beautiful but you do tell her that she must have a career, she will conclude that no one will ever want to take care of her, and that she will always have to take care of herself. And she will act accordingly.

If a girl is not told she is beautiful, she will think that she isn’t. This might lead her to neglect her appearance, but it might also lead her to exaggerate the importance of her appearance. Looking good will then feel unnatural and forced.

If you have ever seen a make-over show on television, you know that the subjects of these Cinderella-like metamorphoses have often let themselves go, as though they have been telling the world: don’t waste your time looking at me; look elsewhere.

If a girl has not been told that she is pretty, you know what can happen once she enters the world of dating and mating. She might mistrust any man who tells her she is beautiful. She might believe that she has little intrinsic value, and therefore must accept men who have little value themselves, who treat her badly, or who disrespect her.

Lacking confidence she will act as though she is desperate. She will be more willing to accept a hook-up because she feels that she must choose between random, anonymous sexual encounters and nothing at all.

If a woman feels that she is beautiful, if she has always been told that she is beautiful, she will have more confidence in her ability to attract a worthy man. She will be more judicious about how she conducts her dating life and more willing to allow her relationships to develop slowly.

On the other side, a woman who receives the feminist message might have a high level of career success coupled with a low level of relationship success.

The failure to have a satisfying relationship will often make her career success feel like consolation prize, afforded to those women who are not sufficiently beautiful to attract a worthy man.

This will often cause her to resent beautiful women who have both satisfying relationships and careers. Given her prominence in the workplace, she will set out to undermine the careers of her more beautiful “step-sisters.”


Unknown said...

Interesting thoughts. I've just finished "The Beauty Myth" as I wanted to have read at least one book from feminist literature before graduating.

It was disappointing man-bashing, a couple of her points could have made really interesting arguments if only you didn't have to wade through all the dripple to find them.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that there are a number of cultures where calling a man beautiful is a complement. Most noticeably in Italy.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, Sinead, for offering us your reactions to The Beauty Myth.

I hadn't thought of the way other cultures speak of men... in France, a man can be called un bel homme, without there being any insult.

And thanks for the link to your enticing blog. I hope that everyone will check it out.

David Foster said...

"Bloom explains that AMERICAN women are obsessed about their looks, to the detriment of their self-esteem" (emphasis added)

People too often assert that AMERICANS do X, where X is usually something the writer thinks is bad, without considering the possibility that X may be a human universal rather than a society-specific trait. For women to be concerned about their appearance is almost certainly a human universal; men focusing on their own looks or not seems to be much more society-specific.

The idea that young Americans of whichever gender suffer from a widespread shortage of "self-esteem" seems pretty questionable.

NancyLee said...

A thought-provoking article. What comes to me about women feeling beautiful or not is how her father saw and treated her in childhood. It's not enough to tell a girl she's beautiful - more important is to PAY ATTENTION TO AND BE AWARE OF HER in a kind and patient way. Girls whose fathers do this grow up to be beautiful, confident women. Girls with impatient, weak, and/or absent fathers often grow up to be hateful feminists.

We see the results of this growing in our "cult"ure - more and more girls without decent fathers, now joining gangs and becoming more warlike. And the "victim" women on the other side - having sex with virtual strangers - babies with multiple men, etc.

It is very sad.......

Dennis said...

NancyLee, Why do you think feminists have spent so much time denigrating men and the role of fathers in a girls/women's life? Just as a mother who knows how to be important in her son's life it is extremely important for fathers to be a part of their daughters/granddaughter's. We set the example of what being a male is for them just as the mother sets the example for what being a female is suppose to be.
Feminism feeds on the ugliness of life and the problem it creates. It should surprise no one that there is an "ugliness that defines "feminism." It is filled with hate, misandry, and the desire to destroy anything or anyone who stands in their way. Beauty is an anathema to feminism. When one hates themselves and is insecure then any beauty shown is bad for that self loathing.
Much of feminist drivel depends on the idea that men cannot see past "physical" beauty to the beauty of a true woman's being. Something I have never seen in an avowed feminist by the way. There is nothing so uplifting as being around a woman who truly loves being a woman. Her smile and persona just elates one's soul. Can anyone who doesn't hate wonder why men love a beautiful woman.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I agree with NancyLee and I appreciate her qualifying my point. Beyond telling a girl that she is beautiful a father should also spend time with her, pay attention to her, and be aware of her. The quality of this relationship is often decisive in a girl's development.

And Dennis is also correct when I explains that feminism has made it increasingly difficult for these father/daughter relationships to develop.

The feminist message has concerned sisterhood, not father/daughter bonding. Feminism has said that men are not to be trusted, that they exploit and abuse women and girls. Thus, feminism has made these relationships much more difficult to sustain.

It's an interesting and frightening sidelight, but the men who are most likely to abuse girls are not their fathers, but their divorced mothers' boyfriends and husbands. If feminism has tried to undermine marriage, so that women could run out and seek true love, it has also been instrumental in setting up a family dynamic that is detrimental to the well being of young girls.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Nancy Lee and Dennis. A father's interest in his daughter's life enriches her life with love and self-confidence. In her future she will be more judicious in the men she chooses to associate with and will not feel the pressure for attention. She knows she is beautiful and has value because she has been treated with respect and caring from the beginning of her life.

Anonymous said...

Years ago, I met a woman who wa trying to hire a nanny for her children. She had one staunch rule - the nanny was never to say 'no' to the children. Even after all these years, I am still quite proud of myself for not collapsing with laughter in the middle of the department store when she told me why she had that rule. It seems that she was scared that her child might one day run out into the busy street and be hit by a car. If the child had heard the word 'no' too often, she would fail to heed the warning and continue running. Hearing the word for the first time would cause her to stop. Hearing this idiot babbling on about the word 'no' nearly killed me, I can only restrain from laughing for so long. I have no doubt she would whole-heartedly embrace Lisa Bloom; perhaps they are related?

Flyover Pilgrim said...

Lisa Bloom was never told she was beautiful, when she was a little girl.

Cassandra said...

Judge a woman by her looks and she will be flattered. Judge a man by his looks and he will be insulted.

Who wants to be "judged by their looks"?

It's one thing to have someone notice you have taken pains with your appearance: that you have chosen an outfit that flatters you, that your new haircut is attractive, that you are neat and well groomed, etc. This is recognition of effort well expended.

It's quite another to have someone focus on your appearance as though it were the most (or even the only) important thing about you. This author's own description of what she was tempted to say sounded a bit excessive:

"I wanted to squeal, "Maya, you're so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!"

When I was a young lass that type of remark would have made me cringe. But then, I was taught by both my mother and father that remarks about a person's physical attributes (whether positive or negative) were rude because none of us can help - much less take credit for - the way we were made.

Saying, "Why don't you look nice today", or "What a lovely gown - it suits you" seems like a more appropriate reaction (less intrusive and personal) than asking a 5 year to pirouette or walk back and forth so you can look at her and gushing over how cute she is.

Interestingly enough, when my boys were growing up I regularly complimented them when they took pains with their appearance because I wanted to encourage good grooming and teach them that the face we present to the world matters.

Sometimes I told them they were growing into handsome young men.
I do the same with my nephews. But I can't imagine embarrassing them with the kind of effusive remark the author (IMNSHO) wisely thought better of - mostly because I recall many of those remarks and how they made me feel when I was growing up.

This has less to do with feminism than with simple self restraint and consideration for others.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

People are judged by their looks, whether they like it or not. Girls seem to know this and women seem to know this... thus they spend a great deal of time and effort and money trying to look beautiful. When they make the effort it should be acknowledged.

I do not quite understand how you can acknowledge the effort a girl makes trying to look beautiful without telling her that she looks beautiful. You are not going to tell her that it is wonderful that she has made such an effort, or that she looks handsome and well-groomed.

Perhaps one would choose a better expression than the one that Lisa Bloom imagined saying, but still, there are many ways of telling a girl that she looks beautiful, and it is better to choose one that is apt than to repress all tendencies to remark about her looks.

I think it good to tell boys that they look good, that they are handsome when they are well groomed. But still, you do not tell them that they are beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Beauty and wanting to be beautiful is not bad in and of itself. It is when beauty is taken to a grotesque level, in which females and males alike starve themselves to attain the unattainable when beauty becomes bad.

Unknown said...

Perhaps it has something to do with values we were taught from childhood. My brother and I were told that discipline and effort reap rewards in all aspects of life and that includes appearance.

Many of us won't win the genetic lottery and that's fine. Why should it stop us from making the most of what we are blessed with and trying our utmost everyday? Appearance doesn't need to be sacrificed to pursue education and careers. We can be all-rounders and truly have it all.