In which my nagging voice is taught about science

Rose Eveleth

Oh hey, Psychology Today, this is a cool cover.  I mean, it’s not a big deal that the woman in a bikini next to the words “the battle over beauty” doesn’t even have a face.  That’s fine.

It’s also really not a big deal that this is the dek to your cover story:

“It would be so nice if inner beauty triumphed over outer appearance. But men are designed to care about packaging over content. The only way to get ahead in life and love is to accept the not-so-pretty facts about looks.”  Huh.  I had no idea I had to just accept misogyny.  Thanks Amy!  I’ll make that one of my New Years Resolutions!

What’s that you say, nagging voice in the back of my head?   Why is it that women just have to “accept the not-so-pretty facts about looks” while men get to play the “we’re designed that way” card?  Well, nagging voice, let me explain something to you.  It is silly to think that we might question the value society places on looks.  It would just simply be a waste of time to suggest that perhaps maybe instead of just “dealing with it,” women might actually want to question the idea that they are simply objects where men deposit sperm who are judged based on their physical appearance alone.  It would be ever sillier to suggest that maybe some men don’t want to think of themselves as simply sperm depositors who only consider sexy abs and a nice butt when picking a mate.  Gosh, nagging voice, don’t you know anything about science?

Go ahead and read the article.  No, I really want you to, go on now, read it, I’ll wait.

Ok, so you’ve read it now.  Let’s talk.  Amy Alkon is a smart lady.  She disagrees with Naomi Wolf, so she has decided to write an article that describes the exact opposite argument.  The problem is, they’re both wrong.

Wolf is an extremist on one side, arguing that western standards of beauty are a plot to subjugate women socially, politically and economically.  Alkon disagrees.  But instead of positing a rational middle ground, she careens the opposite direction into an argument that’s just as extreme: any woman who doesn’t abide by Western beauty standards is (unknowingly or not) shooting herself in the foot and destroying her chances at any kind of satisfaction in life.

Of course, they’re both wrong.  Feeling completely bound by beauty standards is bad.  Women who may look all dolled up on the outside, may in fact have hidden self esteem issues, eating disorders or inferiority complexes.  Women who reject makeup and the razor may wind up coming on too strong and alienating potential friends, bosses and partners.  Women who dress up can be confident.  Women who dress down can be confident too.

Sex positive is a powerful thing.  But not every woman should be forced to be sexy because it reinforces her power as a woman.  Nor should every woman be forced to put away the skirt because it reinforces beauty stereotypes.  The point is, that women are women.  Every woman is different.  Painting these gigantic pictures like Wolf and Alkon are doing is doing a disservice to everyone.

You would never read something like this about men. (“Attention men, ties are a feminist plot to make us spend extra time getting ready in the morning.  Men, all women care about are chiseled abs, so get some and show them off as much as you can.”)

Feminism should be about women being able to do whatever they want, just like men are able to do whatever they want.  The point of feminism is that women get to be women.  They can wear what they want, whether that’s a little black dress of a giant denim sheet without constantly worrying about finding a mate or getting a job.  That’s the truth about beauty, it’s all your own.

p.s. where the naked pictures of the size zero model really necessary?

p.p.s. from a science perspective, this is all very vague.  She continuously mentions “studies” but never really says what they are.  I’m not saying she’s making it up, I am genuinely interested to know what these studies are, who did them and where they were published so I can read them myself.


One response to “In which my nagging voice is taught about science

  1. Pingback: Psychology Today… again | Feminism and Science

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