Monthly Archives: December 2012

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.

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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.