Undead sexist cliches about women’s looks

As the WaPo’s Monica Hesse put it after Kamala Harris became Biden’s VP pick, “I keep thinking about how, at some point in Kamala Harris’s life, she has painstakingly reviewed her office wardrobe with the understanding that the difference between “slut” and “feminazi” is a few inches of worsted-wool hemline.”

Or as Deborah Tannen put it, there is no neutral feminine appearance. A man can put on a suit that says nothing but “I’m wearing a suit” or “I’m going to my job.” A woman’s appearance is taken to mean something: if she’s businesslike and non-sexy the meaning is not “I’m going to work” but that she’s a frigid bitch, asex, or a frump who doesn’t know how to dress. As I discussed in a previous post, women have been fired for not looking good but  they’ve also been fired for looking too sexy.

Women are judged by their looks in a way men never are. It’s fine for men such as Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich to have opinions without being even marginally attractive, but women?  If they aren’t pretty their opinions don’t count. Thus a longstanding attack on feminists going back to the days of the suffragettes is that all feminists are ugly. This is bad in itself but it’s also bad because it implies they don’t care about men’s opinions.  For example, UK businessman Demetri Marchessini declared in 2005 that women who wear trousers must be hostile to men because “they are deliberately dressing in a way that is opposite to what men would like. It is behaviour that flies against common sense, and also flies against the normal human desire to please.” Yes, god forbid women dress in a way total strangers don’t approve of. But that’s a common assumption.

Trying to live up to the standards of guys like Marchessini is a rigged game. Look too pleasing and that’s grounds for not taking a woman seriously or blaming her for her rapist’s actions. As noted at the link, it doesn’t matter what her reasons were: she looked good for work, for a date, for a date with her husband, because she wanted a one-night stand (going out looking for sex does not mean she has no right of refusal — it’s still rape). All that matters is what the rapist, the cops, the judge and the jury think of the way she dressed.

If the woman isn’t naturally attractive and she’s making an effort to look good, that’s a black mark against her too. Women are supposed to be natural beauties, like the songs that celebrate how the singer’s girlfriend doesn’t wear lipstick or makeup. Sure, a little effort might be acceptable — they’re supposed to look good for guys, after all — but trying too hard? Using botox or plastic surgery to look better than she really is? ROFL, how pathetic she is! It’s the “few inches of hemline” rule again.

Case in point, I remember an article about the foot damage caused by high heels and the doctor kind of rolled his eyes about how yeah, it’s bad, but you just can’t stop those crazy women from being fashionable. No concession that pop culture mocks women wearing “sensible shoes” as either frumpy, lesbian or both.

I think this partly ties into the ideal of the “low maintenance” woman. If she’s just a naturally good-looking woman who’s not making any real effort — she’s nice, easy-going, not worrying about her diet, and not going to make any demands of him. As one writer put it (Foz Meadows I think, but I can’t find a link to confirm it), if the guy accepts the woman’s appearance is natural, he doesn’t have to think about what’s behind the pleasing surface It’s easier for him, just as it’s easier if a woman comes from PIV sex without any added effort on the guy’s part (as discussed in The Technology of Orgasm).

Women can be judgmental about men’s looks but society doesn’t approve of them looking at men purely as eye candy and not considering their feelings.

For more on misogyny, check out my Undead Sexist Cliches, available as a Amazon paperback, an ebook and from several other retailers. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holders.

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

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