Women and beauty

A week or two ago, Germaine Greer’s article in The Canberra Times floated around Facebook and made some murmurs. Ok, so Germaine Greer has lost some of her sheen lately for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t think anyone will ever forgive her for commenting on the size of Julia Gillard’s bottom. It was a stupid and sexist thing to say and super disappointing coming from Australia’s most famous feminist. Also, Greer can be a bit inarticulate. I think her writing is sometimes brilliant and always intriguing. But as a speaker, she is, frankly, hopeless. I remember watching her on Q&A once and thinking, ‘Has she lost her mind?’ She actually becomes incoherent sometimes and seems to lose the thread of the conversation.

ANYWAY, her flaws aside, I think she makes a really good point in this article. Women will not be liberated if our self-esteem is tied up with how beautiful we apparently are, or how beautiful we ‘feel’.

Basically, beauty is bullshit. It’s bullshit because it keeps women oppressed. It prevents women from spending their emotional and physical energy on more worthwhile endeavours. By being an impossible ideal that women must strive for, beauty keeps women anxious and full of self-loathing. That women must be beautiful is one of our society’s central values. As I age I feel this more and more keenly. Because old women, you see, are not beautiful. Why would there be such thing as ‘anti-aging cream’ if this were not the case? (Do men use anti-aging cream???) But being older also means being wiser and having the wisdom and freedom to eschew ideals of beauty. The tyranny of beauty is particularly unfair on and dangerous for young girls on women. We seem to live in a culture where young girls are encouraged to give into oppressive notions of beauty rather than fight against them.

I understand this in theory but even I, an ardent feminist who writes things like is, struggle with the tyranny of beauty. And more pressing for me, is the tyranny of thinness. Being thin is a crucial element of being beautiful for women. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s crucial to have a particular body shape,  but being fat is definitely not on. I’m living in Japan at the moment and it’s enough to make me go crazy. Not only are women incredibly thin here compared to Australian women (in general), but the pressure to be thin is intense. Japan needs a fat awareness movement asap. Women are generally lighter than they were a generation ago, and this is particularly pronounced for women in their 20s. And importantly, there’s a gender difference – Japanese men are not lighter. The only fat women on tv are comedians who are the ‘jolly fat lady’ cliche and are also happy to be the butt of fat jokes. There are also, oddly, a few obese cross dressing men. Not sure what that’s all about.

To conclude with a personal (and political) statement: I’m not beautiful and it’s ok that I’m not. I’m better than beautiful. I’m smart, funny and really good at cooking, which means I rarely eat a bad meal. Yay for me. Screw you, beauty.

Women as friends

“Feminists know that we women should put each other first. And that is what, in many ways, we do. Our best and closest friends are women. We believe that unless women can count on the help of their female friends, then there is indeed absolutely no prospect for women’s liberation” (Oakley, 1984, p.122)

Hear, hear sister. Female friendships are the lifeblood of women’s liberation as far as I’m concerned. Yet most women I know plan their lives around men. They plan their careers around the idea that one day they will marry or find a partner and have kids; they prioritise dates with boyfriends over everything else; they sit around waiting for men to call; they move to other cities or countries to follow their man’s career; or they stay put because their man won’t follow them.

It’s easy to understand I guess. Women who don’t plan their lives around men remain single, even when they don’t want to. Because rare is the man who loves a woman who won’t follow him and adjust her life to suit his. And once a woman marries or partners off she disappears into the world of ‘domestic bliss’, which everyone, even the women engaged in such bliss knows is anything but bliss. Family and partner become top priority and the strong relationships once enjoyed with female friends too often fall by the wayside.

I really really wish this wasn’t the case. I remember becoming aware of this when my friends and I started dating boys. I have always seen my friendships with women as more important than my relationships with men, even back then. But my friends would often disappear when they found a new boyfriend and only re-emerge when they broke up, rushing back to their female friends for consolation. This confused me and saddened me. At the time that was all it was. Now that I’m older I see it for what it is. It’s women’s inability to be fully independent and autonomous human beings. It’s women’s liberation unfinished. It still saddens me, but now it saddens me not just because my feelings are hurt as a friend, but because of what it means for women as a group.

I want women to re (?) establish bonds with women. Bonds that don’t die when a man comes along. I want women to be feel free to not plan their lives around men, to stop needing and seeking the affection of men and instead appreciate the magnificent depth and love to be found in friendships with other women.

changing surnames

Every time one of my facebook friends acquires a different surname upon marriage a little piece of me dies. Yes, it’s a ‘choice’, but it’s the wrong choice. It has to be one the most explicitly sexist customs remaining in Australia. It makes me so sad that women do it.

My sister is getting married next year and a couple of months ago I nervously asked her if she was going to keep her surname. Thankfully, she said she probably would. Her reasoning was a combination of not really understanding the point of it (yay for logic!) and not liking her fiancé’s surname.

I like the first reason, but I think the second one is irrelevant. Not liking your partner’s surname is often referred to by women who choose to retain their surname after marriage. Perhaps it’s one way that women can placate people who show concern over them not taking their husband’s name. Saying ‘oh, I don’t really like the sound of it’ is far less provocative than ‘I don’t want to’ or ‘I don’t understand the point of it’, or ‘It’s a sexist tradition’. To many, flouting that tradition is ‘radical’ and obviously has feminist undertones. Some women may want to avoid getting into a feminist debate, and explain their choice to retain their name in terms less provocative. This is understandable, but I wish it wasn’t so! I say, bring it on. If retaining your name is provocative to some, then bring on the feminist debate.

Another common reason women give is for ‘professional purposes’. A friend asked me once if that was why I kept my name. I said no, I kept my name because I believe a woman changing her name upon marriage is an appalling and outdate sexist tradition. I wish women didn’t need to ‘explain’ their choice to retain their surname. When I got married, my mum said ‘good on you’ with a wistful glint in her eye; my dad said, ‘oh, you’re one of these new age women’ and laughed.

I’m a joyless feminist – Toy Story 3

Two nights ago I emerged from Toy Story 3 feeling inexplicably depressed. Actually, it wasn’t really inexplicable—I  just didn’t want to admit the source of my feelings: I have become the joyless feminist who can’t even enjoy Toy Story. I am that person.

I’m sick of apologising for it though. I don’t want to apologise anymore. 

I found Toy Story 3 depressing because of the lack of female characters. This was compounded by the advertisements that preceded the feature which were all for children’s movies—all of which had male central characters.  I don’t have kids so I’m not concerned for my kid. I’m concerned for girls and women. I’m concerned that, by omitting females or including them as mere tokens, popular culture tells girls and women over and over again that they aren’t as important and boys and men. I’m concerned that the representation of girls and women by the media is too narrow, and more often than not, negative.  I’m concerned that I’m writing this in 2010, when we’re supposed to ‘have equality’ by now. I’m really concerned by the negative comments posted in response to the Ms magazine review . The review is a good feminist analysis of what is wrong with Toy Story 3.

If I’m a joyless feminist, then so be it. If joyless feminists are the only ones pointing out that ‘blockbusters’ like Toy Story 3 are bad for girls, then the world needs more joyless feminists.

making people question their assumptions

A few weeks ago I went to a friend’s 40th birthday celebration. After an afternoon on the beach a big group of us went out to dinner. I was at a table of about 6 – me, my husband, 2 other heterosexual couples in their 30s-40s and a late 30-ish male. The conversation turned to the game of tug-of-war we had witnessed on the beach earlier that day. Shelly’s beach at Manly is really popular with backpackers and there were hordes on them there that lovely afternoon. They were engaged in a tug-of-war competition and they were taking turns.  Girl on girl, boy on boy sort of thing. It was amusing to watch. One of the girls taking part was wearing - I don’t know what they’re called – a bikini that didn’t really cover her bum properly. That’s how it was designed – you know the ones I’m talking about. It was green and she was not thin. When women wear bikinis like this they draw attention to themselves because we live in a society obsessed with women’s bodies. Yet the attention a not-thin woman draws to herself I think is quite different to the attention a woman with the culturally cherished body type draws. This woman in the green bikini was not fat. She was just an average sized woman, but she was exposing her body in a way that only women WHO ARE DEEMED BEAUTIFUL OR SEXY are allowed to.

Back at dinner, my ears pricked up when I heard someone say something and laugh about the ‘girl in the green bikini’. Everyone else laughed apart from me and my husband. I thought, “I don’t know these people very well….how am I going to say something ‘tactfully’. Maybe I should just remain silent”.

But I couldn’t. I said something along the lines of “Well good on her for wearing a bikini if she wants – why should she be ashamed?” The table went silent and people looked at me. I continued in that vein trying to explain that women are under way too much pressure to look a certain way and maybe we should consider why; hell, maybe we should question the unfair pressure placed on women to look a certain way THAT CONVERSATIONS LIKE THESE perpetuate (!) The woman next to me was intrigued and said “Keep talking, I like this. I love debates’. So the conversation went on for a bit longer but two of the guys began looking at me like they hated me (no surprises there, really) and the conversation kind of petered out when one of them said completely irrelevantly “I can be controversial – What about when someone says a scantily-clad woman is asking to be raped?” I thought, but didn’t say because I was tired, the food was terrible and I wanted to go home: “That’s not controversial you idiot…it’s just stupid and actually pretty mainstream”. I have no idea where that particular comment came from, but I suspect it was based on a a general fear that I was commandeering the conversation into feminist territory that would make the menz feel bad.

Anyway, I came away NOT feeling terrible like I usually come away from social gatherings with people I don’t know very well who, typically quite early in the night, reveal themselves to be misogynists. I felt good that I was able to MAYBE get them to question their assumptions about what women should and shouldn’t wear and why. At least maybe for the women at dinner who were more open to the idea of thinking about it.

man has sex with what??

Ok, I shouldn’t be reading trashy shit like this, but the headline alone was appaling enough to make me curious.

Servo sex man avoids jail – Yahoo!7 News.

He had a sex with ‘a woman’. Why is she not in the news? The police asked him to stop, but he continued. Did the police ask her to stop? Did she continue? I don’t understand this!!!!! How is the woman completely absent in this story??? This story presents sex as something that men do and something that women have done to them. Ok, nothing new there – sadly, I think most people still think like this. But the complete absence of the woman in this story is too horrific.

And is the last nugget of information about him having assaulted his previous partner supposed to make us suspect this time was rape? If it was rape (and that’s why the woman’s actions aren’t mentioned at all?), then the story should be reported as rape, and not merely as ‘sex in public’.

patriarchy at the Australian Open

I am appalled at both channel 7 and the Australian Open tournament organisers, and what the hell, the bulk of Australian society. I am so sick and tired of the second-rate treatment sportswomen get in this country. I was not entirely surprised when channel 7 abandoned Sam Stosur and Serena Williams to go to the news, but I was very disappointed. I bet a million dollars they wouldn’t have done that if it was Lleyton Hewitt and Roger Federer playing. Stosur is Australia’s top ranked player. Lleyton used to be, but now it’s Stosur. You wouldn’t know it though, given the media hype that followed Lleyton until he lost to Federer.

Anyway if I was disappointed then I was absolutely astonished when that same evening after the men’s 4th round match which ended around 10pm, instead of showing the next match – the 4th round match between Azarenka and Zvonereva, who are both in the top 10 – they showed a REPLAY of an earlier match between Tsonga and someone else. Absolutely unbelievable. And what shits me even more is that there has been not a whisper of outrage over this. How is this ok??? How is it ok to show a replay of a men’s match instead of a live women’s one?? Who is in charge and what are they thinking? And where is the outrage? I wrote a letter the editor at the SMH. I often send letters in but they probably hate feminists, and I have never been published. I’ll post it here too.

In response to and support of letter to the editor by Cassandra Miller (27.01.10):

The message that channel 7 sends to young sportswomen by failing to air the match between Stosur and Williams and placing more emphasis on men’s matches in general is that women’s sport is not as important as men’s. Not only did we miss the Stosur-Williams match, later that evening, channel 7 decided to show a replay of an earlier men’s match instead of the live women’s 4th round match between 2 top ten players. Unfortunately, Australian society still applauds the achievements of men over those of women. As Eva Cox (SMH, 26,01,10 ‘Society to blame’ for inequality in awards) noted with regards to the shortage of women receiving Order of Australia awards “we still think the things women do are natural and ordinary and that what men do is extraordinary”. Sadly this is the case for sport as well. It is not just channel 7. The tournament organisers have scheduled the men’s matches for the night-time prime television slot. Obviously they think the public are more interested in watching men play than women. I, for one, am not. I like both, and would like to see both women’s and men’s tennis given equal value by the media and the tournament organisers.