Mixed Salad of Thoughts

Friday, May 05, 2006

Gender, Beauty and Self-Worth

Today Stephanie said something that touched a few ideas that have been aggressively tangoing about in my head. While knitting baby sweaters she wondered about whether to use a particular pattern on an infant boy's sweater:
I keep thinking about that study a few years ago where the researchers took a bunch of babies and dressed them all like girls. Then they asked strangers to interact with them. The adults assumed (because of the clothes) that the babies were all girls. When the handled them they did so gently, and used words like "pretty" and "fragile". Then the researchers took the same babies, dressed them as boys and repeated the experiment. This time, the adults played rougher games with the babies and called them things like "strong" and "smart". Overall, the adults assessed the "boy" babies (who were really boys and girls) as healthy and competent, and the "girl" babies as "tiny" (even though they were the same babies) and "beautiful". It made me wonder how many assessments I make about babies based on their gender, and how I treat them without even thinking about it.
I have been thinking a lot lately about gender roles, sexism, and our percieved sense of value/self-worth in regards to gender lately.

It started in a variety of ways, but I think I voiced it (which somehow is how I come to more concrete thoughts) when I read a post of Lacey's where she was complaining about being whistled at while walking down the street. A guy had responded that we are all narcissistic to some degree and that we enjoy feeling attractive. I replied (basically, but I've added stuff later):
I think the men who believe or say that they are complimenting women by accepting or participating in these behaviors also have to have the underlying idea that a woman's self-worth is based (only?) on her attractiveness to men. That somehow, her person is made to feel more worthy by having outside attention placed upon its beauty. Not only is this a misguided sense of worth, but is very one-sided, as the same cannot be said about men. Men are rarely given this type of attention for their physical bodies, and we don't see a beautiful man and believe him to be a success and an ugly man and assume he is a failure, as is often the case when people judge women. We have words like "gold-digger" and "cougar" as derogatory terms for women who place a man's worth according to his pocketbook or his youth, but there are no words for men like this...we seem to just accept that the universal judging of women according to looks alone is okay.

I'd prefer someone to compliment me on my style, my attitude, my intelligence, my choices, my accomplishments,or my hard work over my body or looks ANY day!
Lacey responded to the thread of comments by saying:
What I'm learning is if I want to "blend" and just become part of the woodwork (which is GENUINELY what I want when walking to get coffee), I have to purposely make myself look less attractive.

I wish I could say that I was unaffected by what people around me do, but it gets to me. There are some things that I couldn't care less what someone thought of me, but when it comes to me physically, it bugs me. They point out the good as well as the bad. I don't want to hear either.
And I agree, I don't want to hear it either. Whether I feel good about myself should have little to nothing to do with what my physical body looks like. If I'm bathed and dressed in clean clothes that should be sufficient physically. It should be about the life I choose to live and how I've lived it that determines my self-confidence & pride.

I've just become really sick of our society and media telling us/showing us that women have to be beautiful to be successful and confident and to realize our full potential. I feel like I'm unable to fully voice all the ways this is done, and how different this is than the way men are treated. My brain swims with examples, but finds very few that I can hammer down and say "here, look, this is IT"... especially since women seem so willing to accept it and buy into it, and participate and further its cause. How can I say that we should not be subjected to it, and then turn around, put on make-up, wear a form-fitting outfit and help my friends pick out outfits to "better flatter" their figures? Is this the Overeaters Anonymous paradox? The paradox wherein one must break the addiction and yet cannot completely give up the errant/addictive/unwanted activity? How we say that beauty is unimportant and somehow NOT base our worth upon it, but still take part in things meant to achieve it?

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Blogger stella said...

The world's concept of womanhood is really thwarted. I recommend the book "Captivating" by Eldredge.

10:12 PM  

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