Monday, March 31, 2008

What's the deal with femininity?

Twisty, who has resumed regular blogging of late, puts a new (to my brain) spin on the matter of femininity. Key excerpts:

The greater the sex-based dimorphism in commercial products, the easier it is to rationalize sex-based social discrimination. For it is upon the supposed enormous differences between men and women that our culture bases its wide approval of the concept that women’s essence justifies our ghettoization in the sex caste.

Picture disposable razors, molded from manly black or blue plastic or from feminine pink and lavender plastic. Clothes, wristwatches, rubber flipflops, deodorant, greeting cards—and now, Twisty reports, there's even a Russian vodka with an hourglass figure to its lavender bottle, wearing a Marilyn Monroe skirt. Can pastel girly beer be far behind?

Behold the neat trick. First, you make women act like simpletons, broodmares, janitors, mannequins, and sex slaves before you grant them social approval. You call this behavior “femininity” and explain that it is their essential nature, and that any deviation from the program will be punished. Then you infantilize and ridicule the ones who get it right, and vilify and abuse the ones who get it wrong (you can also vilify and abuse the ones who get it right, because, let’s be honest; the world is your oyster).

With so much riding on it, whether femininity is performed right or wrong is an issue of enormous concern to women. That’s where the Empowerful Pink Marketing Juggernaut comes it. They package femininity, changing it a bit every so often so that the old version eventually becomes obsolete, and sell it to women as insurance against getting it wrong. This pink capitalist enterprise has the dual effect of diverting women’s income back to the male-dominated megatheocorporatocracy, while simultaneously reinforcing women’s investment in the bogus feminine identity and marking (with pink, the color of female infancy) the objects tainted with girl-cooties. The woman festooned with pink accessories, therefore, may be easily identified from a distance as a friend to Dude Nation.

And the reverse is true—the woman who doesn't go in for traditionally feminine clothes, who doesn't have a high-maintenance hairstyle, who doesn't spend time and money on cosmetics, and who eschews high-heeled shoes is marked as a threat and often deemed to be in need of fixing. "With a perm, you could be really cute." "A little eyeliner would really bring your eyes out." "She needs to wax those caterpillars sprouting over her eyes." "She could stand to lose 10 pounds." "Wearing heels would visually lengthen your legs." "Man, she's ugly." "What a dog." You've probably said something like this at least once, and quite possibly been on the receiving end of this sort of judgment or "helpful" suggestion, aimed at wedging each of us into the femininity mold rather than helping us achieve our potential as humans.

Femininity, in fact, can’t even be practiced without stuff (which is one way of debunking the argument that it is an inherited sex trait). It is simply not possible for a woman without makeup and deodorant and lingerie and kitten heels and diet pills and clothes without pockets and anti-wrinkle cream that promises “glowing skin” and self-help books explaining the best ways to suck up to men and jewelry and razors and tweezers and lemon-scented cleaning products and boxes of Lean Cuisine in the freezer — all stuff that must be bought — to be fully feminine.

This is not to say that I will stop shaving my legs or getting highlights, or that I will reject any compliments about a new haircut or cute outfit. But I won't kid myself that I'm furthering the cause of feminism by playing along with femininity and reaping the benefits.


Cricket said...

There is a feminine beer. It is called Blue Moon and, of all things, they put an orange in it.

I began poking fun at bartenders who would automatically offer up this girlie beer to me, as found it rather offensive. Give me Sam Adams and manly color any day.

Orange said...

What?! Cricket, Blue Moon is not feminine! I just happen to love it with an orange slice (but hate wheat/white beers without fruit). Plus, the label is blue.

Feral Mom said...

Blue Moon is Coors, alas. It may or may not be feminine. I don't think girls are supposed to drink beer because they are full of sandwiches and sandwiches are food and food makes you fat. Ahem.

If I get called "sir" one more time while wearing a flowered shirt and/or skirt, I'll...just start trying to pass for real. Femininity is too much goddamn work.

The Absent Minded Housewife said...

I may shave my legs but I'm not buying that girly shaving gel, scented like watermelons. Gimme Barbasol or gimme death.

(I won't mention that I use my husband's razors, the one's with a zillion blades which he claims are dull after he's used them twice but are still perfectly good on my armpits.)

I am never getting a perm ever ever ever again. No. No no no. Perms are evil.

Mignon said...

So to put it simply certain types of corporate and sexualized femininity (ie Bratz "dolls," stilleto shoes, plastic surgery) feed into the oppressive patriarchy, but elective femininity for the purpose of feeling attractive (i.e. wearing a particular style or choosing a hair color that flatters me and makes me feel good) is okay, but only if it's not to please a man or because our friends told us to, or because we saw it in a magazine, or or or. This is too intricate of an argument for me, I think.

Personally, I don't think my pink razors make me beholden to anyone, and I worry that this type of argument is more pointed at the people that will never understand or realize what it is to be a feminist. The women that literally and figuratively buy the corporate image of femininity are the same ones that would wear rubber helmets and steel-toed flip-flops, if that's what was selling.

If I'm wearing pink, and therefore appear "a friend to Dude Nation," so what? So they immediately dumb me down and tart me up in their minds? I don't think so. I know many a member of Dude Nation - men who have no idea what feminism is (and isn't), and to wear pink (as opposed to blue) around them creates much less of a Bimbo first impression than how I speak, what I talk about, and how much skin is showing.

I don't like pink, but I won't join the Hate Pink Bandwagon. That's far far far from the problem, and it irks me when feminists write stuff like this from the comfort of their progressive education and peer group. Feminism in the trenches vs feminism in the classroom, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm in Mignon's troupe on this one. I don't think of myself as a girly girl at all, and I think Bratz are a sign of the apocalypse.

However, I work with a self-described feminist who constantly refers to the men on the floor as "those boys," and refuses to wear makeup, wear skirts or dresses for any occasion, and considers any type of primping to be a sign of feminine weakness. And her attitude about it drives me batty. I do admire the fact that she doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks about her appearance -- because all that should matter is whether you care about your own appearance -- but I won't deny that I do feel good when I wear a little bit of makeup and make a little effort with my appearance.

I do equate feeling attractive with my own confidence, which to me isn't so much a gender issue as my own kind of wacky self-image issues.

Anonymous said...

I really like your last line - "But I won't kid myself that I'm furthering the cause of feminism by playing along with femininity and reaping the benefits." - and agree with it entirely. We are all buying into this stuff a little ourselves and that's ok, I for one can live with that, but lets not kid ourselves that there is anything feminist about that "choice".