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Posts Tagged ‘independence’

Isn’t it funny, at a time that’s been described as The End of Men And The Rise of Women, during an election season that’s been touted as hinging on the “female vote,” during an era in which young adult humans of the female persuasion have never known a world in which Gloria Steinem wasn’t an icon, how little things have changed?

I write (today) not about politics, though. Or at least not ostensibly. Today what has me fired up are a couple of “most-emailed” headlines that make me want to stage an Extraordinary Act/Everyday Rebellion in the form of hurling a (hardcover) copy of The Beauty Myth through the television.

Exhibit A: Journalist Katie Couric debuts her new eponymous daytime talk show with a big “get.” With an election right around the corner, who’d she score? Jessica Simpson, there for the much-anticipated debut of her post-baby body.

Exhibit B: Original Bachelorette Trista Sutter, taking to Good Morning America to discuss the plastic surgery procedures she treated herself to as a pre-40th birthday gift (and which she enlisted Entertainment Tonight to document). Procedures which left her with an allergic reaction, the treatment of which left her suffering from a severe depression. But, hey, she says, it was totally “worth it.”

Something is seriously wrong with this picture. And you know, I didn’t bring up The Beauty Myth for my health or because it earns me angry feminist points: the entire premise of the (excellent) book is that, as women have gained more power and independence, the pressure to adhere to certain standards of beauty has intensified. Sound familiar? You bet your Spanx it does. But here’s the thing: The Beauty Myth was published in 1991. That’s over twenty years ago. Before Bump Alerts and mommy jobs (aka the boob job/tummy tuck combo) and, yes, Spanx. And I’d argue that not only has that dynamic not changed, it’s continued to intensify.

Women are gaining ever more power and independence, and the pressure to look perfect (let alone to “be perfect“) is more intense than ever. And hey, when we’re all preoccupied with achieving the perfect beach body (or getting our body back) or waxing ourselves hairless or learning how to create this season’s smoky eye, who has the energy to deal with the stuff that matters? Who has the time to remember there is stuff that matters?

And I think there are parallels to be made to what’s happening in politics. (I know, I said I’d leave politics out of it for today. Sorry, I lied. So sue me.) With the legislative changes those on the far right are proposing (and making), namely: making it more difficult for a woman to get birth control by making it okay for a pharmacist to refuse to give her her prescription on the grounds of the pharmacist’s religious beliefs, or chipping away at abortion rights–by enforcing waiting periods and invasive ultrasounds–and continuing to base campaigns on the promise that they’ll overturn Roe V. Wade, when you hear women like Sandra Fluke say that we’re being forced to fight battles we won a long time ago, well, you have to agree that she’s on to something.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was all a part of some grand and evil conspiracy. Some plot by those fearing they’re losing their grip on power, clinging by their fingernails to a status quo that’s slipping away, fighting to keep that power structure in place with everything that they have.

But I do know better. And that’s not the whole story (though it’s certainly several lengthy chapters of it). The other part, the darker part, is this: when it comes to the ever-loving Beauty Myth, we buy into it. Boogeymen like the patriarchy and marketers and Republicans and Archie Bunker nostalgics all have a role to play, of course — and play it they will. But when we buy in, expecting perfection not just of our reality-TV-starring sisters but of ourselves as well, we all lose.

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Oy. You’ve surely seen the headlines by now: Women in charge have less sexToo bossy to make love: Women who make all the decisions at home pay the price in passion!

The message is clear: The stronger the lady, the less likely she is to get laid.

The thing is, though, that’s not exactly the case. The flurry of salacious news items all refer to a recent study out of John Hopkins University, which found that, of the women surveyed–women from six African countries–the more decisions they were responsible for, the less often they had sex. But the bit that gets left out of the headlines is, according to study co-author Carrie Muntifering, in places such as the countries where the study was conducted, this is likely a good thing, indicating more control over their sex lives.

What grates is the way such results are parlayed in our neck of the woods — where, in fact, more equality has been shown to be associated with more nookie, not less — as though women had better absolve themselves of any decision-making power, lest those decisions become the only form of action they can count on getting. And look at the judgment in some of that language: Bossy? Seriously? (And when you click on that one, the top of your browser will read: Desperate Housewives. Nope, not kidding.) Even leaving the (admittedly obnoxious) semantics aside, you gotta wonder: why is our first instinct to take a study like this–one that, for all intents and purposes, has precious little to do with us–and spin it in such a way as to strike the greatest amount of fear possible into our collective hearts? It’s all yet another way in which women are led to question the way we’re living, to worry over being too fill-in-the-blank and not fill-in-the-other-blank enough, and yet another way in which we’re faced with the false dichotomy that refuses to die: successful or sexy, ladies, not both.

Interestingly, the same day my inbox was assaulted with these headlines, I came across a couple more, about Iris Krasnow’s new book, “The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes To Stay Married.” For her book, Krasnow interviewed 200 women, and found that

The happiest wives have a sense of purpose and passion in work and causes outside of the home. Wives who counted on a spouse for fulfillment and sustenance were often angry and lonely.

Huh. What do you know? Independent women have happier relationships? There’s a headline I’d love to see.

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