Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Can an Empowered Woman Want to Be Beautiful?

Luddites and other opponents of the blogosphere often point to the availability of vast quantities of misinformation and garbage as representing a 'danger' to informed discourse. I find the opposite to be the case - so much good stuff is out there than even the most dedicated blogger can only hope to scratch the surface. A perfect example of a post I might have missed, but I'm glad I didn't, is Ann Althouse's post on femininity vs. feminism, in response to a simply horrendously argued piece in Slate (a website that is now drowning in mediocrity, with the exception of Mickey Kaus and Christopher Hitchens, thanks to its almost total leftward slant these days).

In the Slate piece, Laura Kipnis asks "Can you be a fat female and also an object of desire?" You, of course, know the answer, but to Kipnis, the answer is apparently no (of course, one could just as easily ask the same question of a fat man, but Kipnis can't seem to see a man as anything but exploitive). Kipnis's piece is crawling with tired, cliched arguments not worthy of a college freshman, in which the world is made of people who can't control their fate because of their race, class, and gender. A prime example is her definition, first, of femininity, and then of feminism:
Femininity is a system that tries to secure advantages for women, primarily by enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men. It also shores up masculinity through displays of feminine helplessness or deference. But femininity depends on a sense of female inadequacy to perpetuate itself.
Feminism, on the other hand, is dedicated to abolishing the myth of female inadequacy. It strives to smash beauty norms, it demands female equality in all spheres, it rejects sexual market value as the measure of female worth.
Truly laughable is this assertion:
...for all feminism's social achievements, what it never managed to accomplish was the eradication of the heterosexual beauty culture, meaning the time-consuming and expensive potions and procedures...the beauty culture is a heterosexual institution, and to the extent that women participate in its rituals, they, too, are propping up a heterosexual society and its norms.�
I sure hope this heterosexuality doesn't get out of hand - before you know it, people might be growing up in traditional families...the horror!

I'll step aside and let Althouse take over:
Note that Kipnis can't just say feminism failed to extinguish the human love of beauty. It's not beauty, it's a beauty culture that is the problem, and a heterosexual one at that. There's some sort of crushing patriarchy imposing something on women, something unnatural, involving "expensive potions and procedures." The assumption � actually quite incredible � is that empowered women would not care how things looked.

Don't homosexuals love beauty too? If you fix your hair and put on makeup and choose your clothes with some care, are you participating in a ritual? Is the heterosexuality that most of us feel a "society" that needs "propping up"?
Althouse has it right. It's the human love of beauty that Kipnis has a problem with. It's an admirable thing to look beyond the surface and discover the inner beauty that resides in us all; it's disingenuous to deny that we all love that surface beauty, too; but it's the height of folly to suggest it's all a problem with heterosexual culture...

UPDATE 8:13 pm central: bebere has some excellent thoughts on the post and the subject from a self-described 'former radical feminist' and now just all-around great person...

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