Sunday, August 5, 2007

Armed Neutrality

Last night I took a cold shower before I went to sleep, because it was hot in my apartment. This morning, an arduous day of coffee-drinking and driving-range-going awaits me. I live in a drought-stricken area. Nevertheless, I will take another shower, because over the course of a lifetime it has been drilled in to me that a person showers every day. Unless camping or engaging in some equivalent "free-wheeling" activity.

I have no particular problem with showering every day. Showers are painless, and the standard is, in general, gender-neutral, although my impression is that in this, as in many other things, it's considered a bigger deal for a girl to be grubby than for a guy.

But showering is just one of the many things that goes into the minimum standards of female hygiene. You are expected to shave your legs every day. You are expected to keep your eyebrows under control. Facial hair is frowned upon. And, to my mind, all the sitcoms that joke about girls and all the products they bring with them everywhere, simply reinforce the idea that girls are expected to have particular, complicated, fussy beauty regimes.

I would like to make a couple of things clear: I am not opposed to complicated or fussy beauty regimes, and I know no quicker way to lift my mood than to spend a couple of hours in a Rite Aid examining every one of their moisturizing products. Also: I am not saying this is something men do to women. I have heard my female friends call out a girl for not waxing her mustache at least as often as I have heard guys do so.

But. It troubles me that these things are not optional. A girl who doesn't shave her legs is not just lazy, or irritated by stubble, she is saying something. It's not exactly unfair: after all, we're trying to make decisions about each other quickly, and because the norm of women shaving their legs is so strong, the odds are that she is, in fact, making some kind of statement.

It's just that, as I said in my comment to this post there seems to be such a wide range of neutral appearances for men, and such a limited range for women. I hate that. If you doubt me, consider how little age variation there is in men's clothing. What a man wears at 20 he can usually wear at 60. This is not the case for women.

I don't know. Every now and then some guy I know will say something that suggests that maybe what I see as a wide zone of freedom is actually much more heavily scrutinized than I know. I have heard some strongly worded comments about hair product on men, for example. And I enjoy the elaboration of style that women's fashion allows. I also feel that (for possibly related reasons) dressing like an out-and-out lunatic, when young, which I did (bright orange hair, super pale foundation, pink lipstick), is actually more acceptable for women than men.

Still. I would like to dress neutrally. I try, generally, to dress neutrally, but I wind up feeling like that carries with it content of its own.


Charlie said...

Perhaps this blog should be renamed "Feminism & Feminism"...which would, of course, be a great title.

Anyway, it's without question true that women are judged more on their appearance, and have to make a lot more efforts in that area to remain socially acceptable, than men are.

But what is your proposed New World Order? Likely that women be judged on the same standards as men, right? Since I assume you wouldn't be satisfied with a world where men AND women had to endure waxing, etc. So we'll work off that premise.

Here's the problem. Don't you think there are a lot of women who *like* being judged on their physical appearance? And who are willing to endure various pains and tortures to maintain said appearance?

Maybe you think these women are dingbats, but they no doubt exist in large numbers.

And if lots of women have poor intellects/characters/talents, but good looks, they would suffer in the C.C. New World Order. Their asset would be less valued, and their liabilities more exposed. (Incidentally, the same issue exists for men, where plenty of beautiful but dim-witted men now suffer in comparison with their ugly but smart/rich/talented brethren.)

Plenty of men and women probably also find thinking/learning/developing skills just as painful as a wax is to you. For those kinds of women, the status quo is preferable. For men like this, (if they're also good looking) they might prefer to be judged on feminine standards.

Since we all (notionally) believe in democracy, you have to take that into account.

The Secretary said...

Actually, feeling like it's expected that I dress and groom like a white person pisses me off.

Captain Colossal said...

Charlie: I kind of like the idea of both men and women being able to choose whether to be judged on their appearance or other, less visible attributes. But that seems difficult to achieve.

The reason that this issue is a live one for women everywhere, of whatever level of attractiveness, is that being judged on appearance only helps you to the extent you're willing to make yourself dependent on other people. I mean, I suppose intelligence is only an asset when appreciated as such by others, but I'm pretty sure it has a wider currency and application than hairlessness, as far as earning a good living is concerned.

This is leaving aside the (pretty firm) expiration date on personal attractiveness (firmer for women than men). (I should note that I don't mean that women actually become unattractive after a certain point, just that whatever social approval comes from being an attractive woman tends to be withdrawn once the woman in question passes a certain age.)

I'd also like to note that I don't think people who will go to great lengths to enhance their physical appearance are dingbats; I think it's awesome to see people like that on the streets. As I think I made clear in the original post.

Secretary: How are white people expected to dress and groom?

Everybody: This is the worst day of not-smoking yet -- while my points are sound I am also in the grip of a universal rage.

The Secretary said...

Well, I thought we all knew. But I can list some of the items: suits, ties, rollneck sweaters, polo shirts, pocket t-shirts, jeans, shoes, boat shoes, double-breasted suits, pants with belts, etc.

Actually, dressing like a white person doesn't really piss me off -- I am from Connecticut -- but I thought I would helpfully play the race card while cards of various suits were being dealt. [As a sidenote: I can't decide what UNO card the race card would be equivalent to. "Draw Four'? "Reverse"? I am seeing the Feminism card as a "Skip" or "Draw Two".]

Charlie said...

When you see Nation of Islam members wearing suits and (bow) ties, is the image which comes to mind "dressing like white men"?

Captain Colossal said...

The last comment here points out that there are certainly still markets for feminine (or otherwise) attractiveness to be converted into cash. But also suggests that those markets are used because women don't have many other opportunities for making a living in a patriarchal country.

And I do wonder about the extent to which women's concern over their own attractiveness is a hangover from an era in which it was the central means a woman had for making a life for herself.