Sunday, 28 February 2010

Beauty and Misogyny - part 2

Sheila Jeffreys' Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West was a revelation to me - and a shocking one at that. I need to make my own views clear before I start. I do not wear make up; I do not wear a bra; I do not remove any body hair and I would never have cosmetic surgery. I'm not militant about it I just don't see why I should. I am way past the age when I feel I need to impress anyone. I can do dressed up as well an anyone - but I rarely do because there's no need to. I won't wear shoes with heels because I put comfort above everything. I do like to look neat and tidy and clean - but that is far as I go towards meeting cultural expectations.

So I was prepared to be convinced by Sheila Jeffrey's arguments before I started reading. The book is well written and probably aimed at the academic audience rather than the general reader. There is an excellent bibliography and index and a great deal of - lesser known - research is cited. Her basic premise is that much of the fashion and cosmetic world is controlled by men - both gay and heterosexual - many of whom appear to be motivated by misogyny. She examines the fashion shows of various designers - almost exclusively male and gay - and suggests that many of their creations seek to objectify women. She highlights the way models are expected to appear close to naked on the catwalk and shows how much fashion in the early 2000s echoed bondage and fetish clothes - most of which would be unwearable in real life.

Jeffreys covers some of the same ground as Natasha Walter in Living Dolls and Nina Power in One Dimensional Woman. Women as sex objects for the delight of men and women as consumer keeping Western economies alive. Jeffreys argues that the fight for women's rights was not intended to force women into expensive and time consuming beauty routines. Yes if that's how the individual wants to live their life but are many of us just following convention because the ostracism we expect if we don't conform is too difficult to bear?

I was particularly shocked by her analysis of the similarities between wearing stiletto heeled shoes and the damage they do to the feet and the Chinese practice of foot binding. Women in the West have surgery on their feet so that they can fit into shoes with pointed toes. Then there are bunions and hammer toes both frequently caused by fashion shoes. Why would anyone think that wearing shoes which damage your feet is an admirable thing?

The chapter on cosmetic surgery was also frightening - breast enlargement, lipsosuction, labiaplasty, face lifts etc etc. Why do we do it? Why does anyone risk their lives in order to conform to a manufactured ideal of beauty? Why are women so worried about how their genitals appear that they would willingly subject themselves to surgical intervention? To say they do it willingly does not make in any better than Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) which is illegal in the Western World. They are doing it to conform to the ideal as represented in pornographic films and to please the men in their lives. If someone else forces you into it - FMG - then it is wrong; if you decide to subject yourself to it - labiaplasty - then that's legal and acceptable and encouraged. There is a very fine line between the two in my opinion.

There is always a danger that any criticism of such practices comes over as anti male but that is not my intention or the author's intention. The book is not written in emotive language - and is all the more effective because of it - but it does highlight the way women themselves enforce beauty routines on each other - 'you'll never get a man if you don't alter your body'. So in effect the whole aim of cosmetics, fashion and cosmetic surgery is aimed at keeping women attractive to men - however you choose to justify it.

The author also examines the transsexual/transvestite scene and shows that most men who are involved in it are attracted because dressing up as women or becoming women - the subordinate sex - fulfils their masochistic tendencies. If women were not subordinate to men - still - the men would not be attracted to it. My feeling is this might be a little far fetched but I can follow the logic of it. I would agree that women's liberation still has a long way to go. When women no longer hate their bodies and consider that all shapes and sizes are acceptable and that it is possible to leave the house without makeup and wearing comfortable clothes and shoes then we will have greater liberation than we have now. Women should not need to put on a mask and fancy dress in order to be noticed in the real world.

Shocking stuff and well worth reading.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Beauty and Misogyny

I have just started reading Sheila Jeffreys' Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West which looks interesting. A sort of academic version of Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth - which I have yet to read. I will report at greater length when I've read a bit more of it. So far she is likening many acceptable cosmetic practices in the West to female genital mutilation - just because you want to do it doesn't mean you haven't been unduly influenced . . . . Much food for thought here.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Terror Dream

Susan Faludi's The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post 9/11 America is interesting. Not as good, in my opinion, as Backlash, but still worth reading. It analyses the media's reaction to 9/11 and how almost before the ashes were cold the attacks were interpreted as being attacks on domestic life in America and were in some quarters attributed to feminists. If feminists hadn't 'weakened' America then the attacks would not have happened. Overnight influential female commentators were removed from all sections of the media.

Faludi shows how there was an upsurge in apparent interest in domesticity. Women were said to be giving up their high powered jobs and returning to the home - leaving the dangerous work to the men. It was as though men could only be heroes if women were wimps and needed protecting. No one wanted to interview the widowers of 9/11 victims - it was all about the widows of hero fire fighters. Once those same widows started making new lives for themselves they were criticised by the media as though they should remain forever in the slough of despond. No one mentioned the women and children killed in the attacks or that most of those rescued actually rescued themselves with no help from anyone else.

The second half of the book examines America's early history and shows how the female early settlers were more feisty and self reliant than has generally been supposed. Women kidnapped by Indians either succeeded in rescuing themselves by fair means or foul or preferred to make a life with their 'captors' rather than returning to their Puritan communities. This history has been rewritten as men being heroic and taking care of everyone - even though many men fled in the opposite direction at the first sight of a tomahawk leaving women and children to fend for themselves.

The book concludes that America needs to examine its prevailing myth of men being heroes and women being damsels in distress as this will not wash in the modern world.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Is rape the victim's fault?

50% of women in a survey recently thought so. Why? My thoughts are:

  • Rape is the only crime as far as I am aware in which the victim is usually blamed.
  • Advice suggests you never get drunk or wear provocative clothing or walk through dark streets late at night on your own.
  • Rapists do not identify themselves by a sign on the forehead so the standard advice suggests you are at risk wherever there are men.
  • But you are regarded as a man hating feminist if you say this
  • Are male victims blamed if they were out clubbing in tight trousers and got drunk?
  • Men who blame the biological imperative are virtually saying they have no self control and should not be expected to have any.
  • Women in Burkhas and nuns get raped - so clothes and behaviour are not the whole of the story

OK life isn't perfect and you have to make sure you don't get into dangerous situations but ultimately no means no and not yes if you buy me another drink or yes if you give me a lift home.

Is this the 21st century or are we still living in the 19th century?

Monday, 15 February 2010

Do we need bras?

Do we really need bras? Personally I don't think so. Since I retired last year I haven't worn one. Many people of both sexes will immediately say - how disgusting. But I've always hated wearing one and before I retired it used to be virtually the first thing I took off when I got home in the evening.

I think bras were invented in the early 20th century and prior to that women didn't wear them though they did wear various forms of corsets and many layers in most eras. So why do we wear them now? Some people say your breasts will sag if you don't wear one - which turns out to be rubbish. Breasts aren't muscles and all you can do is exercise the underlying muscles which might make a bit of difference, but really as you get older they will gradually drift towards your feet as the breast tissue becomes less dense. I've just finished reading a book about a woman in America battling breast cancer and when she was told during her radiotherapy treatment not to wear a bra as it would irritate her skin - she disobeyed the instruction. She could not possibly be seen outside the house without a bra. That to me is stupid.

I think it's about time we started a campaign for the natural look - no bra. If they sag, they sag. People need to get used to it. Women do not develop with rigid ice cream cones attached to their chests. If you do a lot of sport I can see a reason for wearing a bra which will support you - for the same reasons men wear jock straps. But this is a practical reason for wearing a supporting garment while performing a particular activity. Ordinary every day life - why wear one? You won't have back ache, red marks on your shoulders, or chafing under your breasts if you give it up. People don't like it? So what? That's their problem.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Obey thine husband

A curate - Mark Oden - of St Nicholas in Sevenoaks, Kent - has outraged many parishioners and many readers of the Daily Mail by preaching a sermon in which he attributed the high divorce rate to modern women and their behaviour. In order to have a proper marriage women should remain silent and let their husbands make all the decisions and do all the talking.

His Vicar Angus MacLeay is a member of the Christian group - Reform - which is opposed to the ordination of women. The group has produced a leaflet 'The Role of Women in the Local Church' which urges women to remain silent and to obey their husbands in all things - using quotes from the Bible to back up what they say.

So is this the 21st century or the 1st century? It seems certain sections of the population are trying to turn back the clock.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Is there really a difference in the way men and women communicate?

I've recently finished reading Deborah Cameron's The Myth of Mars and Venus; do men and women really speak different languages?. It is really interesting because it shows how wrong the books are which constantly tell us communication between men and women must always be fraught with pitfalls. This is a small book with a somewhat chick lit cover but inside the text is easy to read and full of information to allow you to research the subject further if you wish.

The author highlights the research studies which have shown little or no difference in the way men and women use language. Contrary to accepted myth men actually talk more than women and gossip just as much - though they call it information gathering. The book suggests it could be in some people's interests to perpetuate the so called differences and to suggest they are inbuilt so that we can't do anything about them.

Interesting reading.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Mail order brides

The F Word - link on the right at the top of the page - have an interesting post on the blog titled 'Same Garbage, Different Continents' posted on 7 February 2010 - concerning this growing phenomenon. It seems Western men are not interested in independent Western women who will not give them unconditional love and service and tell them how marvellous they are every five minutes. They want traditionally feminine qualities in their wives so that there is always a hot meal on the table when they get home from work and the kids are looked after and well behaved. What they really want is a slave or a housekeeper - but one who is prepared to provide sexual services as well.

It is difficult not to regard people who buy mail order brides as male chauvinist pigs - especially when they spend all their time saying publicly how marvellous it is to be married to someone who knows her place and does what she's told. The post reminded me of Henry Makow ( whose whole argument is that women are only happy when they are looked after by men and give up their own ambitions to support their husbands. Women are - and should be - a man's possession according to Henry. I found myself almost spitting with rage as I read his book - Cruel Hoax: Feminism and the New World Order.

He thinks women can only be happy if they go back to their domestic tasks, give up their own wishes and do as they're told. Added to which he thinks women working was fostered by the rich Western banking families to make them richer. Women have been brainwashed by these powerful factions to disobey men and break up the family - which will make populations easier to control. What he's saying is men want to have all the power and be condescending and kind to the women and children. Grhhhh!

Saturday, 6 February 2010


I'm still ploughing on through Melanie Phillips' The Sex-Change Society: Feminised Britain and the Neutered Male - whose cover I think is really dreadful so I will not reproduce it again here. She seems to blame all the ills of society on feminism. If women hadn't wanted to fulfil themselves and achieve their ambitions society would be a lot better off, men would be happy and children wouldn't be running wild. Women should go back to being selfless and self sacrificing and then the crime rate will decrease, all children will do well at school and men will go back to being fathers again.

So women have to be sacrificed on the altar of society? Why? Isn't there another way? She will keep saying we have a no-fault system of divorce - which it isn't. If you want a divorce in anything under 2 years you have to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour or 2 years separation - all of which are summed up as 'irretrievable breakdown'.

Divorce is no walk in the park and women - contrary to the opinion of this author - do not undertake it because they are bored. More women file divorce petitions than do men - this does not indicate an unwillingness on the part of men to be divorced - if it did there would be more contested divorces or unilateral divorces where the other party does not consent - which take longer and need a greater period of separation than the 2 years separation mentioned above.

Divorce courts lean over backwards to favour women? Only if they have custody of the children - otherwise it is pretty equal treatment. Courts have to make sure the children are fairly treated. Why should they live in squalid surroundings while the father lives it up in a posh area of town? I exaggerate but many men think women should just walk away with the children and leave them with all the assets. Why? The children are the responsibility of both parents and both parents should contribute to the costs of their upbringing. It isn't always the case that the man made all the money and the woman sat around and did nothing - in spite of what she seems to be saying.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Living Dolls - Natasha Walter

Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism by Natasha Walter is excellent and terrifying reading. She presents a Stepford Wives culture which is somehow sold to young girls as empowerment. To become a prostitute is empowering because you're making money from men - you're in charge. The height of many teenagers' ambition is to become a glamour model or a footballer's WAG. Looks are everything and you have t conform to a particular type of beauty - by fair means or foul. Girls are getting boob jobs for their 18th birthday, young girls are having surgery to make their labia look like the ones they see in porn films. No one will go out with the intention of sleeping with a boy unless they are completely waxed and depilated.

Walter's interviews with teenagers and women in their 20s make tragic reading and show how girls are put in a straight jacket even more than they were prior to the 70s. What is even more tragic are the thoughts of the girls who don't want any part of this culture and who feel completely cut off and ostracized by their peers because of it. Prostitution is seen as empowering and liberating and as something girls choose freely.

The second half of the book demolishes stereotypes which are frequently deemed to be inbuilt and biologically determined. Walter points out that the studies which show little difference in mental functioning between the sexes get no publicity. She also demolishes the few well publicised studies which do show a difference as flawed. She suggests that such books as 'Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus' do more harm than good to the relationships between the sexes.

The media, as the book shows, seem bent on perpetuating old fashioned stereotypes with their emphasis on women's looks, catching a man, worshipping domesticity and turning it into an art form. Women in top jobs and positions of power are declining in numbers as pressure mounts on women to stay at home and be feminine. The section on how high powered political women are lambasted by the media is frightening reading. Appearance and behaviour are all. If women start behaving in a powerful way they very quickly get knocked back. Harriet Harman for instance who if you can actually get accurate details of what she says frequently does make eminent sense. But she is misrepresented in the media - probably because she has no problem with speaking out.

This is a really good, well written and frightening book and I would urge anyone - male or female to read it.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Thoughts on current culture

I'm about half way through Natasha Walter's Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism. It paints what to me is a very depressing world in which teenage girls think it is 'cool' to sleep with as many men as possible. As I was reading it I started to think about my own chequered past. Yes I slept with several men but virtually all of them were friends as well as lovers - some over a period of many years. The only times when I had sex for the hell of it I regretted it virtually immediately. I felt as though I'd let myself down and not adhered to my own standards of morality. So for me sex without some form of emotional connection as well is just not an option.

I can't say I was particularly influenced by conventional morality as I did sleep with married men both when I was married and when I was single. But to me sex for the physical release of it is somehow empty and not satisfying so I would be something of a fish out of water if I was young now.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The factors preventing full equality

In my opinion people will never be treated equally unless we change social attitudes. Not easy to do. At present the media are still trying to present the tired old stereotypes as the norm. Mothers should stay at home with their children - why shouldn't the fathers stay at home? If the mother earns more than the father - or more than would be paid out for childcare - then it makes economic sense for the father to play the domestic role.

Many magazine and newspaper articles are still criticising women for not staying at home with their children. I have yet to see one criticising men for working long hours and not seeing much of their children. It seems we cannot get away from the idea that men must always be the breadwinner and if they're doing that then they shouldn't be criticised for failing to spend time with their children. We're told it's down to men's inherent desire for status - the fast car, the house, the high powered job. But are all men really like this? Wouldn't many of them like an opportunity to stop trying harder, to settle for what they've got and work shorter hours to spend more time with the kids?

But working or not working is far from being the only area of inequality. The pressure on young women today to conform to a particular image in how they dress, what they weigh and how they behave must be crippling. I would hate to be young today. The pressure just wasn't there when I was in my 20s and 30s. Cosmopolitan magazine - when it first came out - was not all about fashion and slimming and plastic surgery. You wore what clothes you wanted and no one tried to get you to lose weight or have a boob job. Now you can't pick up a magazine or newspaper without seeing an article about something you're doing wrong. Women must conform if they want to get on or get a man.

Is there the same pressure on men? Not as far as I can see. Men can still do what they want and be what they want. They're in the majority in Parliament and in big business as well as at the top of the Civil Service. Is it that women just automatically focus on getting a job, having a career, which they can combine with family responsibilities? I've read several times recently that only about 20% of women are career orientated and about 20% are family orientated - which leaves 60% who would prefer to combine the two. So really we're back to mothers working.

In which case the only solution is to change how work is organised and have more flexible jobs which can be done wherever is convenient. Is this why more women are becoming self employed and starting small businesses? It means they can work when they want and where they want. I've read somewhere that female business start-ups are more likely to succeed long term than male start-ups which is interesting.

All this boils down to:- change general attitudes to gender and change working practices.