I’m hitting middle age. Nono, not the period between the respective destructions of the Western and Eastern Roman empires, but the time we all get to at some point in our lives, where some things start to make a lot more sense, and others that you have taken more or less for granted your entire life start to get really, really annoying.
As Erica recently told me, I can be the most inflexible person in the world when I get up on my soapbox, and you know, I have to agree with her. I really do. At first she said I could be intolerant, but she changed that to super-inflexible, and we’ve been talking about that a lot recently. I really do think she is right, but I don’t necessarily see it as a problem.
It is as my father always said … “a good argument rarely changes anyone’s mind. A good example might”, and I can at least take pride in being able to accept the good example as a valid reason to change my stance on something.
Nonetheless, it is time for the soapbox again. Don’t say I didn’t warn ya …
This one is about the age old “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”-thing. But as I grow older, I have started noticing something that I never thought about before. It is not that I didn’t see it … it just didn’t make much of an impact with me up until this point. But it does now. It annoys me. It really, -really- annoys me.
I will use an example from a Danish newspaper from a few days ago. One that really drove home the point for me in an unwholesome manner.
The article I read was about how to rank 21 female members of parliament … based on their physical appearance.
It nearly made my eyeballs melt and my brain boil from shame. Parliament in Denmark consists of 179 members, including two from the Faroe Islands and two from Greenland. The most recent numbers I could find with an admittedly very quick search, said that in 2011, out of the 175 members of parliament elected in Denmark itself, 107 were men and 68 were women. There’s already a discrepancy there, since the female part of the population is slightly higher than the male part, but since politicians should specifically be elected based on merits and ability, and not based on gender, I digress.
What does annoy the living daylights out of me is that no one would even CONCEIVE of making a similar “top 20” rankings of the handsomest men in parliament. Instead, the article showed mugshots of the 21 most physically attractive (at least according to the person writing the article) female MPs, with explanations of why their facial features and hairstyles and manner of dress placed them above or below someone else on the list.
And it is easy to find similar articles not just about politicians but ANY women in the public sphere in any western culture. Open the nearest glitted magazine, and you will see oodles of pictures from this or that movie-premiere, where this, that or the other woman is photographed against some suitably neutral backdrop, where the length of her dress-hem and the shape of her body is being discussed as if she was a prizewinning horse, being appreciated by a potential buyer.
You know what? That’s not right!
It is not what womens lib was all about. Sure, it does signal that women are not hidden away and that they are sexually active creatures, but it also signals that a woman tends to now be seen PRIMARILY as a means for sexual arousal. Which is just as damning, really … going from one extreme to the other is still ending up with an extreme, after all.
Take a look at any marketing campaign involving both men and women. Men are shown as assertive, strong, powerful, confident …
“Lean forward and kiss the c amera. Nono, I can’t see your cleavage enough. God, who gave you that awful dress, I can’t see enough of your legs. Come on, show me those bedchamber eyes … be sultry …”
I’ll be blunt here. That can’t be a surprise to any of you anymore, but I’ll be damned blunt regardless.
Women are not walking vaginas!
The end-all-and-be-all purpose of women is not to be sexually arousing for men or physically pleasing to their sense of aesthetics.
There’s nothing wrong with looking good. Not for a second. I can admire a beautiful person, male or female, as much as anyone else. Yesterday I walked past a movie poster for the new film about Lady Di, with Naomi Watts playing the lead and I was frankly astonished at how well the costume and makeup people had managed to get the, admittedly already very attractive Miss Watts, to look like the perhaps the biggest, international style icon of the second half of the 20th century. It was quite astonishing and I stood there and looked at the poster for a while simply because I could appreciate that.
I’m not a prude. Not in any way. I am all in favor of someone being as gorgeous as they can possibly be. What I find objectionable is how this is turned into the only quality people seem to give a damned about when it comes to women. It is insidious and it is in ALL parts of society.
I dare each of you to look deeply within yourselves, and tell me you haven’t been passive participants in this as well.
It is not that long ago when some of the blokes at Comedy Central … Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and at least one more, possibly two … did a mock photoshoot where they used the poses that are commonly expected of women in advertising and in other public photoshoots. It looked utterly ridiculous, which of course was the whole point, but it also hammered home the point: “you would never … ever … expect this kind of ridiculousness out of men!”
It is difficult enough for women to be taken seriously. It is not helped by this insistence on making everything a woman does in public be about how sexually arousing she can be.
I have often heard people say something to the effect of “Oh, but women have so much greater choice when it comes to clothes than men”, and I have even heard this used as a defense of why it is acceptable to portray women in more “glamourous” ways than men in the media.
I want to dissect that sentiment for a second, and I ask you all to please read this carefully. While yes, I am up on the soapbox, I can promise you all I am writing this in a state of absolute emotional equilibrium. If anything, I am confused. I’m not angry, but I genuinely fail to understand how this is considered acceptable.
But back to the statement above: what is being said is “men are dull. They don’t look as good, and they wear boring clothes. We want something glamorous and women can provide it”.
Not only does that again place women in a set role as walking vaginas in and of itself (even when this reasoning is used by other women), but it is also patently false.
Men can be absolutely amazingly attractive. Just under fifty percent of the population of the planet is male. There are an incredible number of utterly breathtakingly handsome men out there, regardless of what your tastes might be (and remember, please, that I’m lesbian. I have no problem admitting that men can be incredibly handsome, I’m just not attracted to them). Some of them look fantastic in a tuxedo, some of them look great in a suit (more on that particular set of garments in a moment) and others are drop-dead gorgeous hunks in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Some look great in all of the above, or in something else entirely.
It is simply not true that men cannot dress to the nines. Of course they can. What IS true, however, is that there is a societal norm that says that men shouldn’t play on their sexuality, whereas women should. So therefore men are, by common consensus, dull and boring.
Did we not evolve past this yet? Really? Are we still at the point that we have to think that wearing pants=dull because it doesn’t, frankly, give direct access to genitalia underneath? Okay, call me crass for saying so but that is really what this boils down to, and you know it if you have to be honest with yourselves.
It isn’t true. Mens wear can be incredibly stylish and help make a guy look like a million bucks! Alright, okay, sure, I personally think that the common necktie should be outlawed (it is the single most superfluous garment in existence, serving utterly NO purpose whatsoever, and in my personal opinion, it makes 99% of all men wearing one look like they are close to strangulation, whether they think they look great in it or not). I also think that suits are dehumanizing and a way of turning a man into a faceless minion among the masses (I genuinely cannot think of a single suit I have ever seen where I went “Wow … that looks amazing on him” … not one single time). It is a uniform, saying “I am a guy, and therefore I don’t have to look good”, even for those who genuinely believe they look good in it, but of course, those are just my opinions, and others disagree vehemently.
GOOD! EXCELLENT! Disagree, and voice it if you do. Because at least that means we are discussing men’s appearance in a way similar to how we are used to discussing women’s.
It is no problem and no skin off my nose that people disagree. Just because I tend to think that guys look better when relaxed in a pair of jeans and a nice shirt with the top button kept open, doesn’t mean to say others have to agree with me. Far from it. These are, after all, simply personal reflections on male appearance.
I also tend to think that clean shaven guys are less attractive than those with either a neatly trimmed beard or a well-kept five o’clock shadow.
But the point is … men can do amazing things with their appearance. They can look every bit as attractive as women.
JUST IN DIFFERENT WAYS.
Therefore, the idea that “women can do so much more with clothes, accessories and makeup than guys can with what is available to them” is simply a perpetuation of the myth that women are beautiful and meant to be beautiful because that is their role in life.
“Shut up and be gorgeous” as an expression went at one point.
But women come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like myself, are happily 20 percent uglier than original sin, and no … this is not a matter of poorly veiled envy. I find beautiful women to be just that. Beautiful. And it can make me smile and feel good about the world, all the way into tomorrow when I come across a particularly lovely member of the species … I am who I am and that is good enough. I don’t have to be envious. I’m happy with who I am, trust me on this. I fought damned hard to be this person to begin with, after all. But I am concerned that women are portrayed in this way. And I am almost as concerned … that men are not.
Either we need to stop turning women into walking vaginas … a term I incidentally think I will need to start using more often for this sort of thing in the future … or we have to start turning men into walking penises as well.
If it is all about appearance, this skin-deep, inherently superfluous but aesthetically pleasing thing that it is, then it should be about appearance for both men and women.
Hel, there are probably some good looking guys in Parliament as well. Why NOT get a top 20 on the best looking ones in the morning newspapers?
And it could be damned funny to see a few major Hollywood A-listers of the male persuasion suddenly stick their butts out and blow kisses and make googoo eyes at the cameras the next time they are on the red carpet at a premiere …
I guess I am getting old, to start griping about things like this.
Well, not so much griping as being confused and concerned. But please, I ask only one thing of all of you. Take off the blinders for just a day or even a week, and pay actual attention to how men and women are portrayed differently in the media.
Then ask yourself what that says about us as a race and how we treat each other.
Perhaps men really are from Mars and women from Venus.
At least sometimes, it seems to me that we might as well be.