Where to begin to respond to Rachel del Valle’s recent column in the DP entitled, “Oh, pretty woman”? How about saying that I really like how she opened the piece. Very nice.
Now, about this quote…
“Our country has a strange relationship with attractive women in spheres other than, say, pop music. The idea that certain industries, such as entertainment, are built upon the objectification of women seems to somehow make sense. We accept this ugly fact about beautiful people.”
… I agree — with the first sentence only. As a former DP columnist, I understand how limited a space we get to actually delve into issues, and I know that you know that this objectification doesn’t actually “make sense” in any kind of ethical context, so I’m gonna let that slide. But, “we accept this ugly fact about beautiful people”? No, no. We accept that fact about ourselves. We are the people feeding this industry, every single one of us. Even if we think we’re “above” pop music, we allow it to continue in its present sexist state. You can’t blame the people being objectified for this objectification.
And in the very next paragraph we have the example of Hillary Clinton. “Sure, should be admired for her diplomatic skills, not her haircut, but that doesn’t mean commenting on her updo trivializes her as a leader. Hillary, your femininity is showing.”
FIrst of all, Hillary Clinton is rarely singled out in the media for how she manages to do her job while presenting herself in a feminine manner. She is usually called out for not living up to our standards of what it means to be a professional woman, which implicitly includes an element of femininity. She should be competent and feminine.
But really, what’s the harm in complimenting an attractive woman in power for both her abilities and beauty? What could possibly be wrong with finding it necessary to slip in a comment on a person’s physical appearance while offering a stream of other wonderful compliments?
For one thing, it’s ridiculous to argue that men in power don’t care or think about their appearance. Sure, they might have less clothes options than women do, since the fashion and beauty industry haven’t decided to exploit male insecurity to the same scale they have with female insecurity, but professional men still have to pay attention to their hair, their suits, their shoes, their cufflinks, you name it. “The conventional idea of masculinity” can be just as “ostentatious” as femininity when you reflect upon it. Let’s think about the exorbitant amount that some men are willing to pay for designer cufflinks. The difference is that their “masculinity” in the workplace is not commented on. Plus, seriously, we can talk for hours about the expectations of masculinity which are also damaging to men in the workplace and elsewhere.
One line I really want to point out, for perhaps different reasons than they were written, is this: “Women shouldn’t have to downplay their looks in order to be taken seriously.”
Yes. YES. Exactly. Why do women have to be in the position where their looks are elevated to the same level as their talents? Why are we responsible, or made to feel responsible, for downplaying our looks as just another element of ourselves, so it doesn’t overshadow everything else?
So, seriously? We don’t think there’s anything wrong with commenting on a woman’s appearance like that’s actually relevant to her job? Like men face the same scrutiny? Like people feel as entitled to comment on men’s appearance, whether it be positively or negatively, as they seem to be about women?
Beyond all that, I’m getting seriously fed-up of people thinking that there is some attack on femininity in the workplace. I can understand arguments that point out that femininity is often degraded when matched against masculinity, as being inherently more vain, frivolous, or superficial. That’s a huge problem. And let’s make one thing clear, because this is something feminists get accused of a lot and I’m tired of hearing it. Feminists are against femininity. Feminine does not equal anti-feminist. Seriously, this shouldn’t even have to be emphasized but it is.
What many feminists are against is the idea that fundamentally female = feminine, that to be “real women,” we must embrace our femininity. Fuck that shit. Seriously. We aren’t allowed to tell another woman what she should embrace about her physical appearance like it’s a requirement for being a woman. Women are pushed to be feminine, when sometimes we just want to exist, in peace, without having to worry if we’ll be given the side-eye because we haven’t wore a skirt in weeks.
The pushing of femininity onto professional women is not a mute issue. It’s fine to want to look feminine and love that about your appearance. I just disagree with a system that causes participants on job search panels at this very school to recommend wearing a skirt suit to interviews because it gives a better impression. Especially when it was specifically mentioned that this was because the people doing the hiring are often older white (cisgendered) males, who tend to have a certain mental concept of what a professional woman should “look like.” Sure, the power suit of the 1980s is now criticized as an attempt to be “more like men” while rejecting femininity, but again this just begs the question, do I have to be feminine to be considered a “real woman?” And guess what, “femininity, in its many shades and expressions” is not “part of being a woman” for all women. I understand the attempt to broaden the concept of what being feminine means with the admission that it comes in different forms, but let’s be real, this is still what feminine means. This might be our current cultural default for women, but come on, this concept is constructed, and professional woman shouldn’t be made to feel that being feminine is necessary.
And another thing, almost nothing makes me more furious than someone saying “get over it.” Listen, just because you don’t care about something, doesn’t mean you get to dismiss the legitimacy of the issue, or its relevance to other people. If so many people are talking about it, maybe you should stop trying to shut them down and think about why you are so quick to dismiss them.
How about, we don’t call out a woman’s appearance when we’re in the context of anything work-related like it actually matters? How about we apply the same standard we do to man in the workplace? How about, sure, there are good looking women in politics and business and every other field and we acknowledge this by mentioning it as often as we do the good looking men in these same fields.