I am tired and tapped out. The following was posted a couple of years ago...
I remember having to take a class on gender and politics during my undergrad years and I really wasn’t feeling it. Not that I didn’t identify with women’s causes, I did, and always have, but a part of me felt that the class had no real relevance for me.
Jeeez, was I ever wrong!
Jeeez, was I ever wrong!
That course would change my worldview in significant ways and would open the door to other avenues to explore academically. I can’t get into all that without losing my friends who have some form of attention deficit, but I will say that I learned a lot in that initial course. Later, I would take more advanced courses and eventually work with two leading female researchers in the field of developmental psychology.
Three works stand out for me during this time. The first, “The Egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles,” (Martin, 1991) taught me that medical and scientific research reinforces gender stereotypes by presenting “facts” that reflect social biases about gender. In other words, just because a person puts on a lab coat doesn’t mean they leave their cultural mindset behind. This may not sound like a lot, but it was huge in influencing how we think of research and science. I’ve written about the second work, In a Different Voice by Carol Gilligan (1982), previously. In a Different Voice stood the scientific world on its head and created a revolution.
The next work, The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf (1990) I will address today briefly. Controversial, critically acclaimed, and wildly popular, The Beauty Myth helped usher in what some call the third wave of feminism. I find that its thesis is even more relevant today than it was when it was first published.
After a lot of jerking off and even more reading, what follows is my synopsis of this work. Please! Because I’ve had to simplify and cut down this work, there’s a lot missing. I would strongly recommend it as reading material.
Simply put, Wolf argues (quite successfully) that our culture judges women (and women judge themselves), against an impossible standard of the “Ideal Woman.” Wolf calls this “beauty pornography.”
Magazines are full of images of impossibly underweight models, for example, that are between fifteen and twenty years old. We rarely see a picture of a woman who is not wearing make-up applied by an artist, hair and clothes professionally styled and designed. A professional artist airbrushes all flaws and wrinkles out.
This is a form of social conditioning that keeps women competing against each other in and out of the workplace. In truth, it has been going on for years, but the recent availability of cosmetic surgery encourages a form of female self-loathing and disgust when achievement that standard look is not possible. If you are not tall, thin, and under twenty you have little chance of success, the message goes.
Now, before I get the pat “Well, not me, Eddie… ” comments, let me point out that this is not about you per se. It’s a social issue and before commenting, you have to think about this issue beyond your individual mindset. Personally, I feel the high incidence of eating disorders among all women, and specifically young women, is a direct consequence of the beauty myth.
Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women's development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Martin, E. (1991). The Egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 16(3 ), 485-501.
Wolf, N. (1990). The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women.
: Random House. New York