Friday, April 24, 2009

Myths and Marks

Yesterday, I touched some on the whole societal expectations of women's beauty thing. And... then I kept thinking about it.

My first true exposure to ideas like The Beauty Myth and the male gaze of advertising were during my freshman year of college. We were all required to take a basic English class, because it was presumed that as a bunch of science nerds we'd be terrible at basic English skills. All of the classes had "fun" themes, and I ended up in the pop-culture based class. In some ways it was terrible-- I was a huge nerd, and didn't KNOW pop culture-- every celebrity, music, and tv reference went over my head. In other ways, it was awesome-- my research paper for the course was on the history of Barbie dolls and the suble image changes the company tried to project as America changed.

But in this class, we talked about things written by Naomi Wolf and her contemporaries. I'll admit, I'm still woefully uneducated in feminist literature, and the way it was presented by the grad student teaching the class pissed me off, but years later the idea that there is no unmarked woman sticks out-- though i'd say most men are marked too, even if it takes less to mark a woman. Marking is an outward showing of who you are-- the argument is that, in the business setting, men aren't marked because they have a standard "uniform" of suit, conservative shirt, conservative tie. The options for women are larger-- even a woman who wishes to be conservative sends a message. Skirt or trousers, color of stockings, any accessories, makeup, and haircuts. There is no "standard" hair cut or style for a proffesional woman. But there are standards. And men today seem to have more opportunities to show their personality through their clothing than they used to.
The beauty myth, too, has troubling aspects. The basic premise is that ideas of female beauty exist to further control of the patriarchy. I see where its coming from, but at the same time, a lot of the ridiculous things women wear are for other women-- there's a certain amount that's done for men, sure, and a certain amount that appeals to them, but some of the more aggressive forms of beauty, like extreme dieting, overly dramatic makeup, and certain types of jewelry are generally way more attractive to girls than they are to guys. And that's accepted as a given by most people in my age bracket that I've discussed this with. Do we compromise our self expression for beauty ideals? Yes-- both women and men. I feel like a failing of these theories is focussing on repression of women by men-- but ignoring that women help with the oppression, and men are subject to their own branches of it.
I'm still warring over how much I buy into the oppressiveness of the beauty myth, and of the marked nature of women vs the ability of men to go unmarked. I do think both theories have merit-- but I also think they go a little further than they really should. I also know that I need to read a lot more on this subject to be able to fully evaluate it-- but for now, this is where I stand.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I agree! I'm in the military, and I notice the marking thing quite a bit because the few areas of uniform where women are given a choice (like hair) end up being a huge pain - at least for me. I've been thinking about a lot of the things you posted here lately. And yes, a lot of these things get taken to extremes, too, which I think hurts the original point.

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