Monday, October 31, 2005

What Happens When I get Up an Hour Early

I was lying around this morning listening to the radio and the reporting on Samuel A. Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Now, I don’t know a lot about Alito but the folks on the radio compared him strongly to Scalia and that seemed pretty scary to me. So I started thinking about Harriet Meier and wondering if it is pretty unfortunate that she has withdrawn. As in…sometimes it is better to go with the lesser of two evils.

And then I started thinking about what it shame it was that Bush has nominated two white men to the court and how much it would be nice to have more women on the court. And then I started thinking about affirmative action and how much I don’t like that either. I guess I don’t want Bush nominating someone just because she is a woman. I would hope that he would pick the person he thinks is best qualified no matter what their gender. I guess I just want that person to be a woman.

And then I started thinking about how much crap Meier got *because* she was a women even from people on the left who probably consider themselves feminists. Someone started a blog supposedly written by her and while it *was* very funny, I have to wonder if someone would have taken that same approach with a male. That no one did with John Roberts that I know of is pretty interesting.

So I started thinking about all the subtle ways we still treat women badly in our culture. Maureen Dowd wrote an interesting piece in Sunday’s NYT Magazine about feminism and the lack of it these days. That got me thinking a lot about a couple of ways women are regarded in our culture. Namely, that a woman is valued on her looks and on her ability to catch a man. Of course no one has ever said to me, “Gee Lynne, you would hold a higher position in our society if you werent fat or if you had a husband” but somehow I got that idea. I have spent the better part of the last decade fighting against that notion and trying really hard not to believe it and I think that for the most part I have been successful. I mean, I think I have a pretty good sense of self esteem considering all the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) messages about my worth as a woman being tied to my looks and my marital status.

One of the frustrating things about this is that I am not too sure what to do about it other than to talk about it. People seldom are willing to admit to their biases. I often wonder if I would have even bothered to examine them if I had not found myself to be a fat spinster but instead was a woman with a body universally worshiped by others who was married to someone very important. I mean, I *had* to examine those beliefs I grew up with as a matter of self preservation. It was either confront those biases or hate myself forever.

But really, consider this. Do we as a culture really want our daughters, sisters, cousins, nieces, etc growing up in a world where being called “fat” is considered a worse insult to a teenaged girl than being called “mean” or “dishonest” or “stupid”? Do we really want to raise girls to become women who cant value themselves for themselves and instead value themselves by who their husband happens to be? I know I wouldnt wish that on any girl I know even though, sadly, I think they will all probably find themselves in such a world.


Anonymous said...

great post. i think feminism is all about choice. most of my friends are progressive, liberal types, and when i decided to get married so young (24) i definately got looked down on by them. my husband and i are very liberal and progressive when it comes to our marriage and our roles, but they still make derrogatory comments about my marriage. i have actually lost some of my friends because of this. so i think people can make you feel bad no matter what.

E-Speed said...

wow that article was long! Very good find though.

I don't know how I feel about feminism.

I definitely don't think a girl should be valued for her looks or her marital status, that is for sure.

I would like to think, and am pretty confident, that my husband and friends in general appreciate me for my values, my intelligence, and my actions. Not by how I look or who I am connected to etc.

But I do think that there is this underlying presence of that everywhere.

Good Post Lynne

trace said...

Maureen Dowd is hot!

Okay, okay...for real. Well, okay, for real she really is hot, but I certainly do appreciate her for her sharp and thoughtful prose before her classic looks.

Truthfully, as a lesbian, I find myself a total and complete contradiction on this matter. I fight it, but it's really hard to trump the sex-drive....especially in a sexually repressed society like ours.

While I hold us (women) in the heighest regard and strive to judge us (including me) by those qualities that should really matter, I still can be pulled into the trap of putting looks on the same level as intelligence and morality. I never put it above those, but I admit to making looks just as important (Being married to a man, of course, is a negative in my eyes).

Strangely, I do this 'leveling' to myself more than others, but to tell you the truth: I found a whole new affection for Maureen Dowd when I, too, found this marvelous little article yesterday...and it wasn't because of her writing albeit spot-on; it was the picture.

Sometimes Ms. Dowd irks me and sometimes she thrills me her work (a sign of a truly talented writer), but before yesterday I'd never call myself a "fan"...merely a curious reader. Now, with that one picture, she has reeled me in as only a woman's beauty can do in my opinion.

Sometimes I hate being judged by my looks, but I also love beautiful women, so I can't really complain too much. It's confounding.

That's just how I feel.

Lynne said...

Dont get me wrong. I dont have a problem with people appreciating beauty. It is human to appreciate beauty in others. But what worries me with women is that it often becomes the most important measure of worth. And then one has to wonder, are looks more important than kindness? intellegence? a sense of humor? ETC.

Men are judged on their looks too but not to the same degree that women are. Men also seem to have a broader sprectrum of what is considered acceptable in the looks department. That is what I am talking about. Being a not especiallly good looking guy does not hurt one a whole lot in the dating department. (And btw, Trace, although you admittedly appreciate beauty, I know for a fact that you have a broader idea of what is beautiful than most people).

I have noticed in the blogosphere some pretty interesting reactions to Dowd's position on this. Most of them seem pretty snarky and kind of re-enforce my notion that people simply arent willing to look closely at their biases.

I dont think she is saying that love doesnt exist. Nor do I think she is denying that most people who get married find something of value in their spouses other than their looks. I think she is pointing out some ways our society treats women differently than men.

I have more to say about this but, alas, my break time is over so I will have to write more later. :)

Lynne said...

Ok, now I am up in the middle of the night thinking about this. FWIW, thinking about this didnt wake me up or anything, a dog did but ok...

I have noticed that most of the women who are being highly critical of Dowd's article seem to all feel compelled to note that they are happily married or "swatting away men like flies." I realize that this is because they consider themselves smart strong women and are trying to disprove the idea that strong independent women dont get men. But then they go on to say that Dowd is blaming the world for her own romantic failures. It makes me wonder. If she were married and had landed a man, would her words be taken more seriously? I think this is exactly where this feeling that worth is judged by one's ability to land a man come from.

I dont get a sense of blaming the world for personal failure from Dowd's article although admittedly, it is my own romantic failures that have helped me see things in a similar light. I dont know if I would ever have been as conscious of my own feelings of worth being tied to being in a romantic relationship if I were in one. I mean, if I were a Mrs Somebody and thus, never had to really examine why it bothered me that I wasnt, would I have ever even noticed that at least part of it is a feeling of being judged by people about it?

Lynne said...

Lisa, I think you bring up an interesting point. Feminism does not need to be anti-men or anti-marriage. A lot of people seem to think that it does although I am not sure why. I think that what can stand to be looked at are women and men's roles in marriages. But when doing this it is important not to look at particular marriages but rather societies expectations. I mean, an individual can make any choice they like and that choice is ok as long as they make it freely.

Lynne said...

Elizabeth, I am sure people do value you for your values, your personality, and your actions. You certainly are well endowed in all those areas. But you are also very beautiful physically and I think that enters into the equation too. Now, I dont know your husband but I do know that a lot of men do value other characteristics besides looks. I think Dowd has simplified a complex topic, fwiw.

And it is ok that beauty enters into people's decisions about whom to marry, btw. Women care about men's looks too. What I worry about is when it becomes the only or the primary consideration or source of self-esteem. It is even worse when it is linked to one's ability to land a man combined with an increasingly narrow standard of beauty.

E-Speed said...

Agreed. I am lucky in that my husband would actually prefer some less beautiful qualities in my looks (he prefers that I have "wobbly" bits! and short hair!)

But I totally think there is something to a woman being valued by her looks because why the heck else would all of us be fretting over every single pound etc. You don't see guys doing that (most of the time), at least not in the numbers that women are.

You are probably right though Lynne, I wonder how many of my friends would have ever talked to me in the first place if I didn't look the way I do.

Fascinating (and frustrating!) Stuff!

Sandy D. said...

I get annoyed when I hear women denounce feminism or say it isn't necessary anymore. I feel that they have no idea what feminism even is, if they think it has to be anti-male, anti-marriage, or anti-family.

I had a lot of problems with Dowd's article, and this response to it articulated most of them very well:

It's just a mishmash of so many things - a look at pop culture, a bit of sociobiology, some outdated sociology.

I don't think of myself as Mrs. Anybody, though I'm presently a SAH mother to two kids and have been married for almost 20 years. On the other hand, I'm one of "those women" that never changed their name when they got married. And I've thought of myself as a feminist for the last 25 years or so.

Sandy D. said...

And to continue, no, I don't want either of my children growing up in a world where fat is worse than mean, dishonest, etc. But I think that overall, women are less likely to be judged on appearance or by their husband's profession (or lack of a spouse) than they were 20 or 40 years ago, despite Dowd's nostalgia for the 70's.

Lynne said...

Sandy, thanks for your thoughtful post and that link.

I am actually glad to hear that Dowd might be mistaken in her assessment of feminism in this day and age. I agree that things probably arent as bad as she paints them nor are we anywhere near where things were in the 1950's. That point was actually brought home to me last night because of a movie I watched: How To Marry a Millionare Yeah, things are soooo not as bad as that...Thank Goodness!

And yet, Dowd seems to have stumbled on to something. It is unfortunate that she apparently has chosen some bad research to back up her points but I cant dismiss them totally because I have noticed them myself independent of her work. For instance, I disagree with her that men dont like smart women. I think that most men are quite able to handle being married to a smart women. I know a lot of really smart women and most of them are married or romantically attached. It clearly isnt the turn off Dowd seems to suggest that it is at least among the men in my peer group.

But, in my peer group, while being smart isnt a hinderance in the dating world, I have noticed that being not-so-smart isnt a hinderance either for women (I dont say "dumb" because my peer group is generally pretty smart and the people I consider "not-so smart" are still way above average in the brains dept). It simply seems like a characteristic that holds less importance than physical beauty.

And then there is the whole gaining self-esteem from being attatched to a man thing. This is something I picked up from somewhere. I barely even noticed it until I tried to examine why I often seemed to find myself involved with another women in weird dramas that always centered around some man. Why? Why did I even bother getting upset when these women pushed my buttons. What were my buttons?

I eventually decided that it all centered around some notion I had that my worth was somehow related to a man's attention. That's the button. And I dont think I could have been alone in that thought. Clearly the other women in these dramas where thinking the same thing, otherwise how could they possibly know so well the buttons to push?

Do all women feel this way? Probably not but I think a lot do and I think that is something worth looking at. I also think it is something people are afraid to look at.