Last night I was somehow tricked into reading part of Slate’s women’s blog, the XX Factor, a decision I always come to regret. There, I came across this paragraph, written by one Nayeli Rodriguez, in the middle of a discussion of the evils of Victoria’s Secret’s advertising techniques:
I’m well aware that buying into the whole “I can’t live without this bra” line is completely offensive in a few very obvious ways. But honestly, I do enjoy spending money on and wearing underwear that I find appealing. And I don’t think I’m being duped by advertisers. I’m a smart, successful, and informed woman who has managed to secure a disposable income, which I’ll spend as I choose. I happen to enjoy knowing, privately, that beneath my day-old jeans and college sweatshirt are garments about which I’m more enthusiastic.
*Sigh* As a minor point, I love how she thinks that it’s accepting the logic of bad advertising that’s offensive and not the pornified, sexuality-defining, body-shaming advertising itself. Second, allow me to rephrase this paragraph slightly:
Although I’m doing exactly what advertisers want me to do, it’s not because of all the advertising pushing me to do it.
Seems a bit unlikely, no?
It’s not her choices that bother me, because whatever helps a person survive another day under the patriarchy is fine by me, it’s her excuses, because they’re so common. “Doing X patriarchy-approved thing makes me feel good about myself! I’m doing it for me, not some dude!” But have the women who say these things ever stopped to consider why they’re, in this example, enthusiastic about uncomfortable, unhealthy, shoddily made, overpriced lingerie but unenthusiastic about affordable, durable, comfortable clothes? I thought this was Feminism 101, but in case anyone was out sick that day, here it is: Women get thousands of messages every day, many of them in the form of ads, that say that they must be sexxxay at all times. Culturally-defined sexiness is all about making a pretty package, the more impractical the better, for men to appreciate. You do not become sexxxay by being an intelligent, well-adjusted person who is happy with your body. You become sexxxay by prostrating yourself before the altar of dudedom, as signaled by making as many choices as possible that are antithetical to your happiness. You spend your money on useless underthings rather than saving or getting yourself something you can enjoy. You wear ankle-destroying, mobility-hindering shoes. You waste your time and ruin your hair dying it and straightening it and curling it and blowing it out for body and slathering it in chemicals for smoothness and getting costly extensions for difficult-to-maintain length. You go perpetually hungry. You spend hours and hours at the gym rather than trying to get that promotion or relaxing to preserve your mental health. And if you’ve properly internalized all these messages, you may find that you, like Rodgriguez, actually enjoy doing these things. You too may get a little frisson of excitement from being able to say to yourself, “It may look like I’m not submitting to the patriarchy, but I totally am!“
Hearing things like this always makes me sad for the women saying them, but what scares me is the explanation Rodriguez and others give for why their submission to the intense pressure from society to properly perform their gender roles actually has nothing to do with the intense pressure from society to properly perform their gender roles. “I’m a smart, successful, and informed woman…”. How often have I heard that before? “I’m a smart, successful, and informed woman, and I’ll uphold and defend the woman-hating status quo if I want! It has nothing to do with the limited compensation I get for conforming as much as possible to the male fantasy of helpless womanhood or the severe penalties I’d be subject to if I refused to do so. I am independent! I am strong! All my choices are automatically feminist!” I have no idea how to approach women like this. Because many of them already suspect they’re on shaky ground, they tend to be quick to get defensive and can be very hard to reach. Maybe I’ll get some cards printed up that I can hand over and walk away, with my number at the bottom so they can call me if what I’m saying starts to make sense. My cards will say something like this: “It’s great that you’re a successful, confident woman, and I support any choices you made or make to help yourself get ahead in a world that does so much to hinder women’s advancement. However, assuming that all choices you make are optimally feminist because you are female or because you defy anti-woman stereotypes in other ways is naive. Although we must all make concessions to the patriarchy to survive in it, it is better to do so with a clear-eyed understanding of why we make certain choices and what costs they might have, both for us and for other women. You may not wish to change what you’re doing, but I would ask you to carefully evaluate whether your reasons for doing so are as irreproachable as you seem to believe, and whether your actions might have unintended consequences.”
It’s probably a great way to get crumpled-up cards thrown at my head.
*Term stolen shamelessly from the peerless Twisty Faster.
Filed under: Feminism | Tagged: Feminism, lingerie | 1 Comment »