Beauty & Misogyny

I've been thinking about this ever since I read Cassandra's post on the topic. I had decided not to say anything, on the grounds that it violates my general rule relating to relations between the sexes. That rule is this: "Women should teach girls to be women, and men should teach boys to be men." I don't try to tell anybody what a woman's place is, or what a woman should or shouldn't be like. In return, I'll thank you to let me raise up the boys I encounter (and especially any I father) to be fighting men of the old model.

Seems like a reasonable compromise to me. We grant the founding principle of feminism -- women should be free to make their own decisions about what they want from life. You grant the opposite: so should men. We shake hands, and get on with being friends. It's like keeping separate bank accounts after a marriage: it just makes everything easier.

All that said, it's becoming obvious that somebody has to draw a line here.

Consider this article:

"Shoes," Sheila Jeffreys says, "are almost becoming torture instruments. During a woman's daily make-up ritual, on average she will expose herself to more than 200 synthetic chemicals before she has morning coffee. Regular lipstick wearers will ingest up to four and a half kilos during their lifetime." We are talking about Jeffreys' latest book, Beauty And Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices In The West, and she is in full flow about the horrors of what she calls "the brutality of beauty".
Nasty stuff, that, which leads to this conclusion:
Jeffreys, a revolutionary lesbian feminist, is pursuing her 30-odd-year mission to shift women out of their collective complacency. Beauty And Misogyny is her sixth book. Like the others, its central theme is an exploration of the use of sexuality by men to dominate women. Much of it is spent arguing that beauty practices - from make-up to breast implants - should be redefined as harmful cultural practices, rather than being seen as a liberating choice.
This is not a position restricted to revolutionary lesbian feminists, as Cassandra's post makes clear:
[A] woman ought to be doing [a particularly invasive sort of body modification] for her own satisfaction/convenience and not so she'll be 'good enough' to appear in your mental burlesque show after taking your kids to soccer, bringing home a paycheck and cooking your supper. When was the last time the man of the house checked in for a little intimate depilitation? Eyebrow tweezing? Surgery? Bikini wax? Maybe a Wonder Jock?
I think we need to get one thing clear. "Men" are not asking you to do any of this stuff.

When was the last time a man said, "And be sure to spend twenty minutes preparing yourself before we go out to the grocery store"?

I don't like lipstick. I've been trying to talk my wife out of it for years. She insists. "Hey, how about running out and grabbing a box of baking soda at the gas station?" Not until she's had a chance to shower, put on fresh clothes, and a little makeup...

Both of these authors identify genuinely awful trends, to which I'll gladly add a few more: body piercing, tattoos, hair-dying with harsh chemicals, wearing high heels even of the less-punishing variety. The problem is that everybody wants to lay this right down at the feet of men.

What's the evidence that men are driving this trend? Cassandra cites a Cosmo study on "what men want." Any of you guys out there ever been interviewed for one of these things?

Me either.

Cosmo is a fashion magazine published by women, for women. The only men they know are men who work in the fashion industry, i.e., not regular men. Men who are, as the article puts it, "accustomed" to certain standards of feminine appearance... because they're used to seeing it that way in porno movies.

I'm just going to go ahead and draw that line in the sand. Here it is:

Ladies, none of this is our fault. You're doing this to yourselves.

I love a beautiful woman first thing out of the bed in the morning, or with her hair slicked wet from a shower, in her work clothes, or just when she smiles for a moment and I can see that she's really happy. That's all I've ever asked from any of you. If I ever said, "Hey, why not wear a skirt today so I can see your pretty legs," I never stopped liking you (or your legs) when you decided to wear pants instead.

It's no fair blaming the fashion industry on us, like this:
Some designers are using 12-year-old girls in shows because their bodies are perfect to show off the type of clothing being peddled at the moment. Many men are sexually excited by this look, and the industry exploits this...
Nonsense. If it depended on us, the fashion industry would not exist. Period. It simply would wither away and die.

Now, I'm on your side as far as agreeing that this kind of thing is hideous, and ought to be stopped. I agree that women are beautiful, even (especially!) the ones who don't work at it too hard. Nobody loves strong-minded, independent women more than I do -- they're the only kind I like, in fact.

But let's not be throwing around words like "misogyny" here. This isn't our doing. No man anywhere is thinking in terms of using the fashion industry to keep women in line. Damn few of us remember, from day to day, that there is such a thing as a "fashion industry" at all.

You want this problem fixed? Stop listening to "the fashion industry" about what men want. Start listening to men. The ones who say, "Don't bother with curling your hair -- we're just going to pick up some nails at the hardware store," or "Who cares if you can't find your lipstick? Can we just go?"

And the next time the man in your life comes around and grabs you about the waist, some time when you're feeling tired and fuzzy and unattractive -- take an object lesson. We love you just the way you are.

Preferably, right now.

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