Friday, April 6, 2018

Women Who Hate Beautiful Women

Once upon a time a zealous young radical, by name of Naomi Wolf, wanted to advance the feminist cause. She concocted a theory about what she called “the beauty myth,” and wrote a book explaining that society’s interest in female beauty was a vast right wing conspiracy to keep women out of the workplace.

In her words:

The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us... [D]uring the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty... [P]ornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal...More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.[1]

If one were in a cranky mood, one would remark that the rise in eating disorders and plastic surgery, coupled with the obsession with dieting might well have been the byproduct of feminism. Rather than throw knee-jerk shade on the patriarchy, we can note that feminism militated to undermine women’s happiness about being women… thus producing the negative effects that Wolf noted. 

Thanks to feminism women were no longer allowed to like being women. They were told that being a woman was a social construction designed to keep them pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen. Thus, the only life worth living was one that corresponded in all particulars to that of a man.

Even if you take the major article of feminist faith, the notion that women must postpone marriage and family until they are firmly established in their careers… consider that a woman in her mid to late thirties, competing against women in their twenties, will be at a material and biological disadvantage. She will feel a need to mask her age with all manner of beauty products and potions, with all manner of lingerie and sex tricks. True enough, it shows how superficial men are, but a minimal understanding of Darwin would have provided a more cogent explanation for the male attraction to more visibly fertile women.

Wolf is certainly correct to see that pornography is not a woman’s friend, we also understand that the national conversation about women’s issues invariably focuses, like a laser beam, on sexual matters, even on what Hamlet called “country matters.” No one forced women to put on their pussy hats and to march forward reciting The Vagina Monologues.

Unfortunately, Wolf’s analysis also reduces to the charge that women, especially those who are spending lunch hour at Sephora or browsing the racks at Nordstrom’s, are mere tools of the patriarchy. It assumes that they would never buy all of the unguents and lingerie if men had not somehow tricked them into doing so. Apparently, being strong and empowered, being financially independent, not needing a man for anything more than a sperm donation, turns women into marionettes… with men pulling their strings.

Will the irony never cease.

Anyway, the most minimal reflection will tell you that beauty is not a cultural construction, that women in all places and at all times have been concerned with it, and that, beyond women who are oppressed by degrading dress codes—ones that force them to cover everything up—all women care about how they look, about the face they show to the public. 

This face, I daresay, does not signify social standing as clearly as does a male uniform, but it ought, at the least, to show dignity and self-respect. The dress codes are different, but women are clearly inclined to show themselves to be beautiful. A married woman will not present herself in the same way as will an unmarried available women, but all women try to look beautiful. It is their right. It is their privilege. It should not be denounced as a crime against feminism.

And yet, around the time of Wolf’s book, a beautiful young woman who was not a feminist intellectual, suffered a strange phenomenon: women hated her because she was beautiful. It’s a strange form of misogyny, a function of competitiveness over a quality that can barely be quantified, but clearly, it suggests that we should not overestimate the joys of sisterhood. Within certain circles, cattiness reigns. In an age when sisterhood was powerful, presumably liberated women laid down some serious hate against a woman they perceived to be beautiful.

New York Magazine allows this woman, now in the fifties, to tell her story. She does not reveal her name... and a good thing it is. If she did the trolls would emerge from their caves to trash her to within an inch of her now-fading beauty. Her story is harrowing and compelling.

Of course, the woman in question gained many advantages from being beautiful:

Around eighth grade people started to tell me I was pretty. I was tall and willowy. I had a great figure and I never weighed more than 120 pounds throughout my 20s. I started modeling in high school and had waist length dark brown hair and brown eyes. When I do the whole makeup, eyelashes, high heels, gown look I am very intimidating.

My looks definitely opened doors for me. I worked in PR and as a news producer, writer, reporter, and talk-show host. I did acting in daytime soaps, TV commercials, and theater. I never interviewed for a job I didn’t get. I had a good degree from a good college, sure, but I think all things
being equal I’d get the job above other candidates because of the way I look.

But then there was the downside. Other women despised her:

One of the worst things about being beautiful is that other women absolutely despise you. Women have made me cry my whole life. When I try to make friends with a woman, I feel like I’m a guy trying to woo her. Women don’t trust me. They don’t want me around their husbands. I’m often excluded from parties, with no explanation. 

At this point you are thinking that perhaps this woman had an unacknowledged personality flaw, perhaps she suffered from bad character. Perhaps this is true. By her reckoning the judgment visited on her and the opprobrium cast on her was visceral and predated any effort to get to know her. She is describing an attitude that bespeaks bigotry, as in prejudgment or prejudice.

One of the worst things about being beautiful is that other women absolutely despise you. Women have made me cry my whole life. When I try to make friends with a woman, I feel like I’m a guy trying to woo her. Women don’t trust me. They don’t want me around their husbands. I’m often excluded from parties, with no explanation…. 

Throughout my life, competitive, attractive, wealthy, entitled women really hated me. At my first job after college, my female colleagues conspired against me. They planted bottles of half-drunk booze on my desk so that it looked like I was drinking on the job. Two women were obsessed with me. They told my boss lies to get me fired. I talked to some of my superiors about it and they put it to me straight: Look, it’s pure unmitigated jealousy. They really do hate you because of the way you look.

I was once engaged to a man who ended it after his sister-in-law spread gossip about me to his family. They threatened to cut his inheritance if he stayed with me, so he left. That broke my heart. I think her feeling was: I am the princess of this family, that woman must be eliminated. Later, after I married another man, I went through hell with my sister-in-law. She still doesn’t invite me on family vacations, she’s blocked me on Facebook.

And yet, as Judge Judy famously said, beauty fades. And the woman in question has discovered that when a woman reaches a certain age she becomes invisible. At just the time when you might crave it, the dread male gaze looks elsewhere. I trust that someone will say that it’s the fault of the patriarchy, but doesn’t that sound like an overindulgence in paranoid thinking?

Today, the women is in her mid-fifties, mother of two teenage boys. She describes her current situation:

These days, since I have aged, when I don’t wear makeup and I gain a bit of weight (which happens often) I pass as normal. As far as men, and anyone under 40 is concerned, I am invisible. They do not see me. I could walk across the street naked — it’s that bad.

Here’s the really sad part. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you were in your youth; when you age you become invisible. You could still look fabulous but … who cares? Nobody is looking. Even my young-adult sons ignore me. The irony is that now that I am older I am a much better person. I went through some suffering in my 40s — raised two kids, dealt with an alcoholic husband, watched my parents get sick and pass away — and I really grew. But as far as the world is concerned? I’ve lost all my value.

Being beautiful was a curse. And yet, now that she does not have as much sex appeal, she is barely noticed in public. She regrets what she has lost. You can’t win. 


art.the.nerd said...

Stuart, I find it hard to believe that you were taken in by this person's whining. As you yourself wrote:

> Being beautiful was a curse. And yet, now that she does not have as much sex appeal, she is barely noticed in public. She regrets what she has lost. You can’t win.

In Other Words:

Age 20: Women, don't hate me because I'm beautiful! Men, stop undressing me with your eyes!

Age 50: Look at me, dammit, and find me attractive!

Shaun F said...

Women being catty? Not at all. "Friendship between women is only a temporary cessation of hostility."

Anonymous said...

My wife is beautiful, reasonably thin, and 65. Men still try to pick her up at Home Depot or Krogers. However, the experience of inexplicable hostility from other women has certainly applied through our 40 years of marriage.

Sam L. said...

I have this recollection of reading that Benjamin Franklin advised young men to pursue older women because they'd really appreciate it.

Ares Olympus said...

I suppose when the SJW talk about privilege, this is what they meant, unearned status by having some natural trait that is attractive. But in the case of a woman's beauty, it is mostly a temporary status, or one that is easy in youth and progressively harder to maintain with age, although obviously personality can compensate. Meanwhile other women can try to compensate by putting a lot of effort into makeup and how they dress and partially catch up by effort.

For men, it might be height gives a similar status, and perhaps height is a better deal than beauty since you don't lose much of it with age. But it is similar in the sense that people treat a tall man with higher authority, and if he has the intelligence to work with that, he probably will rise faster in any hierarchy than other men without this advantage, although they can try to compensate with other skills within their control and partially catch.

Probably its true that men and women with whatever attractive traits have a surplus of opportunities, and they can make more mistakes, and get away with more without being called out for it. Even if envious individuals will see such fortunate people as having bad character, even if the attractive person is more objectively judged saintly and always considerate towards others. And psychological projection means we'll see our dark sides in others who we choose to hate, and become hypocrites if we happen into some unearned power through a different door.

Anonymous said...

misogyny def: when a man dislikes a woman as much as other women dislike her.

Sam L. said...

Anon, it be wise to stay anon...

Anonymous said...

Misogyny def: (or something very close) was attributed to Ambrose Bierce 1842-1914 and the saying is so widely known among those with an education in literature before the current trend of "all dead white men are bad" took over Universities that I thought it redundant to quote. Sam L you must be younger than 60. Doubt if Abrose cares if he stays anon or not.