The Obligation to be Pretty

The Dove Real Beauty Sketches video‘s been popular in the past couple weeks.  There’s a great critique of the video here that I highly recommend, but I kind of want to use the video as a jumping-off point to talk about how society considers women obligated to be “pretty”, and specifically how it’s affected me during my lifetime.  If you’d like to read someone much better than me talking about this topic much more eloquently, I suggest checking out this Captain Awkward post written by Cliff Pervocracy, and then reading all of both of their blogs because they’re collectively the best.

Okay, confession time: I haven’t always been a feminist.  I actually got into this whole thing pretty late in the game.  I’m currently a senior in college, and I had negative associations with the word “feminism” until about a year and a half ago.  It’s embarrassing.  Once, when I was in high school, I wrote an editorial for the school newspaper about how repulsive I found the trend of leggings as pants.  It was hilarious and widely-discussed throughout the student body, which felt awesome at the time.  People who knew me in high school still send me articles about leggings as pants.  And I’ll admit, I still don’t get the trend.  I don’t like it.  But the editorial I wrote in high school (and most of my views at the time) was completely judgmental and based off the assumption that every girl my age who I came into contact with was interested in being attractive.

This same type of logic is why people think they can yell, “Smile for me, lady!” at women who pass them on the street.  As far as I can figure, the caller’s logic must be something along the lines of, “Gosh darn it, I think women are just so much more attractive when they smile.  If only they had some way of knowing what a turn-off it is to me when they express any emotion other than mindless joy!  I bet they’d smile if they just knew!”  Believe it or not, that woman probably did not take into account how her emotions would affect her fuckability to random men on the street before she decided to feel them.

This strain of thought is present everywhere.  We give fake makeup to girl toddlers, and fake laptops to boy toddlers.  We get grossed out at women who won’t shave their legs or armpits, or we assume they must not be interested in having sex with men.  We discuss hypothetical makeovers behind each other’s backs (“Oh, she could be so pretty if she’d just…).  We judge female politicians based on their looks and fashion choices instead of their policies.  And we watch videos like those Dove videos.

Look, I buy Dove products.  I know that their marketing is just as manipulative as any other marketing, but I want to reward advertising policies that reject objectification as much as I want to boycott advertising policies that glorify it.  Also, I like the way they make my hair feel.  And I’m not trying to say that this video is wrong or doesn’t point out something that’s worth pointing out.  But let’s face it: some women aren’t prettier than they think.  Some women flat-out aren’t conventionally pretty.  This video is saying, “Don’t be so hard on yourself,” when what I’d like for it to say, for every ad ever to say, is, “STOP JUDGING WOMEN BY THEIR LOOKS BECAUSE THOSE DON’T REALLY MATTER AND WE MADE UP THE STANDARDS WE HOLD PEOPLE TO”.

I like feeling sexy and feminine.  I like makeup and low-cut tops.  Some people like none of those things.  THIS IS ALL FINE.  None of these choices are better than others.  Somebody’s desire or lack thereof to hold themselves to an arbitrary standard of “beauty” is not an okay reason to dislike or criticize them.  It’s exhausting being told you have to look fuckable all the time starting at age 12.  It’s exhausting because it’s completely unnecessary and we have to move past it.

Vagina Monologues

So, V-Day is coming up.  For those of you who don’t know, V-Day is a day recognizing violence against women and girls, which started with Eve Ensler’s play The Vagina Monologues, which is now performed at colleges across the country every year.  It’s a great thing with a great message that I performed in last year and plan on supporting this year.  But here are my problems with it:

1) The use of the word “vagina” to refer to the entirety of female genitalia.  More thoughts on that here.

2) The glorification of female-female relationships over female-male relationships.  I understand that most violence on women is enacted by men, but the introduction to one of the monologues contains the line (or at least, contained it last year; the script can change from year to year), “This monologue was based on an interview with a woman who had a good experience with a man,” followed by the note: “(This statement is not meant to be sarcastic as much as it is matter-of fact.  The laugh will actually be stronger the more straight forward the delivery.)”  Many female-female relationships are shown, and none of them are shown to be negative, including the one controversial monologue about a teenage girl who sleeps with an adult woman; the age of the girl has actually been changed to make the story more acceptable over the years.

3) The one “good experience with a man” that is shown is HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC.  The monologue is called “Because He Liked to Look at It,” and is about a woman who meets a man who insists on staring at her vagina (or, more accurately, her vulva) despite her repeated requests that he not.  I understand that this monologue is about body acceptance and things like that, but it’s always disturbed me.  The woman in question has a very pleasant experience as a result of this man’s assistance, which is great for her, but sends the message of: stepping outside of your comfort zone when you have no other choice is good.  That man should’ve stopped doing what he was doing when the woman asked him to.  There is no question about it.  He ignores her requests about her own body, and this is turned into a “good experience with a man” and not addressed at all.

I think that maybe a lot of these problems stem from the fact that the monologues, since they are based on a series of interviews, are presented as real stories rather than as stories of characters.  Because of the nature of the play, and the way it straight-out tells its audience the objective of the play and relevant statistics, it feels like the play owes its audience stories from women whom we couldn’t possibly disagree with.  Having problems with this play feels bad.

But, again, on the whole, it’s a play that’s trying to do a very important thing, and I recommend it to anyone who has an opportunity to see it.