You know, I consider it a testament to feminism that misogyny is becoming so darn sneaky.
At first blush, this article actually seems to contain something which might resemble actual sympathy towards women and the complicated relationship we have with our bodies. It’s patronizing, granted (“All right, fellow dudes, time for me to do a little explainin’ about the ol’ ladybrain!”), but it seems almost sincere, really. Guys don’t get what it’s like to live in a female body, argues the author, one William Leith. They aren’t steeped in the same toxic brew of incessant marketing campaigns, impossible standards of thinness, and photo manipulation; they’re “not at the mercy of corporate manipulation on remotely this scale.” He even goes so far as to acknowledge the iconic significance of the female body and its function as an aesthetic object subject to the cultural gaze. The guy’s no Germaine Greer, but I’d call that Feminism 101.5, at least. And he isn’t wrong that women are simply held to a higher standard, and yeah, most guys don’t get it because they aren’t really required to.
So what should we do with this knowledge of the unique pressures to which women are subjected?
Uh, revert to gender essentialist crap about our caveman ancestors, I guess:
But why are women so much more vulnerable to pictures of perfect bodies than men?
In his book The Evolution of Desire, the American psychologist David Buss goes some way towards explaining why this should be so. Since the Stone Age, he explains…
Whew, I was starting to worry that all of this beauty stuff was cultural! Evolutionary psychology to the rescue! Why don’t I go ahead and sum up the rest for you, so you can spend that extra three minutes, I don’t know, eating a delicious cupcake, instead of having to ingest the regurgitated chunks of pseudo-science ejected by Mr. Leith.
It turns out that women are right to be insecure about their looks, because men value youth and beauty because FERTILITY, DUH, and guys just don’t understand that pressure because women are (of course) hard-wired to prefer older dudes. So if you’re a man, you don’t have to do anything other than, um, age? And possibly learn how to spear mastodons in a very manly way? Or something? It’s totally biological, is the thing, and wow, it kind of sucks to be female, doesn’t it? Let’s hear some sympathy! Let’s try to understand why the ladies have meltdowns by reading some Naomi Wolf and completely missing the point about how beauty is a fucking social construction, subjective and ever-shifting so as to more easily trap each woman in her own private purgatory of obsession, despair and, above all, consumption.
Pieces published in mainstream media outlets which purport to explore the destructive power of the beauty ideal always, always fall back on the Just-So School of Social Critique: yep, the status quo sure is unfortunate, but we’re just kinda hard-wired this way and there’s nothing to be done about it, so tough bananas. Because an acknowledgement of the fact that the ideal is culturally mandated would raise a whole host of scary questions about why it exists, and to what purpose, and for whose benefit.
What’s interesting to me—and this is why I decided to write about this here, because sexism in the Telegraph isn’t really a rare enough occurrence to warrant firing up the keyboard—is that feminist theory seems to have penetrated the mainstream enough that it’s considered wise to acknowledge the pressures women face to obtain physical perfection, but articles like this one make it clear that there’s a certain line that just can’t be crossed. Which, to me, throws the whole farce into even sharper relief than avoiding the subject altogether would. Drum up sympathy for the impossible position women are in, sure, but suggest that this position is anything but inevitable? Out of line. Thank god for evo psych! How would we walk that tightrope without it?
But, really, what the fuck do I know? I’m just a feminist, hard-wired to be grumpy and critical of all of the poor William Leiths out there, emissaries from the land of Female Neurosis sent to educate the benighted citizens of Dude Nation. Me? I’ll probably die alone. Trampled by a mastodon.