Posts Tagged ‘Terry O’Neill’

This week’s Newsweek poses the interesting question: Is your booty in your beauty? That is to say, do pretty people make more money (short answer: yes), and if so, should women, to quote Ru Paul, work it at work?

An interesting debate, to be sure. Not least given feminism’s real–and imagined–history of trashing (and burning–that’d be the imagined part) their high heels, girdles, and bras in the name of freedom from a sexist culture. In one of the articles, “She Stoops to Conquer,” Jessica Bennett wonders if “real feminists use their looks to get ahead,” and launches the piece with a reference to the so-called “Bo-Tax”–an addition to the health care bill which would have (if passed, which it wasn’t) levied a tax on “injectables” and other elective cosmetic procedures, and the counterintuitive resistance to the Bo-Tax from no less than Terry O’Neill, the president of NOW, who, by way of explanation for her position, said:

“[Women] have to find work… and the fact is, we live in a society that punishes women for getting older.”

You might expect the National Organization for Women to have better things to do. You might expect them to look down upon things like injecting one’s face with a known toxin. But no. And you know, she has a point. Here’s a bit from Bennett:

Women may have surpassed men as the majority of American workers, but they’re no less slaves to the beauty standards of the day than they were during the Mad Men era. So while feminists of the past may have blasted plastic surgery as shallow, today even Gloria Steinem has admitted to an eye lift. Of course, buying into the belief that we must keep up with the Joneses brings with it a double bind: at work, women can be too attractive, and whether it’s by natural or artificial means, studies show they are faced with resentment, envy, often viewed as less intelligent or vain. In a corporate hierarchy still largely dominated by men, this is all the more exaggerated: women who reject the idea that they must plump and pull to get ahead resent the women who accept it; those women then resent those who don’t need surgical enhancement. And many women who indeed benefit from looking good face their own cycle of self-doubt: Did I really deserve that raise/promotion/recognition, or did he just like the way my legs look in that skirt? Is that what the rest of the office assumes? It’s insecurity at its worst, but it’s surely not for nothing: as one male Newsweek reader told my female colleagues and me, after reading our story on sexism: “No matter how much I respect my female co-workers, I eventually think about putting my hands on their chest.”

It’s hard to eradicate sexism; but in the face of it, maybe there really is a case to be made for using what we’ve got. That’s not to say we should tear off our tops in the name of “empowerment,” or bat our eyelashes at every middle-aged male manager who hovers over our cubicle… But making an effort to look good, because we know it helps us out professionally, and, well, maintaining that look, shouldn’t necessarily be shunned, nor should we be plagued by personal guilt. This is a conscious decision–and in an age where looks matter more than ever, it can be an economic one. Look at it this way: if you’re doing your job, who cares if your boss wants to promote you because he thinks you’re pretty? So what if you invest in a round of Botox because you believe–like 13 percent of women, and 10 percent of men–that it will help you in the long run?

Well, sure, so what? If you got it, flaunt it (and if you don’t anymore, umm, fill it?)–we are, after all, still paid only 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and there’s fewer of us at the tops of the ranks, so we might as well. By any means necessary, right? After all, a pretty woman earns a reported 4% more–and gets more attention from her boss–than her Ugly Betty counterpart. And then, there’s this: I think it’s safe to say that many of us prefer to look well-rested and perky than like we’ve been run over by a truck, so while the numbers show that pretty people do get ahead, getting ahead is likely not our only motivation. If we’re honest, I’m sure we’d all confess that a certain measure of our desire to look our best has to do as much with turning heads–not least the one who’s looking back at us from the mirror. And hey, what’s the matter with a little vanity? More power to us! But the one thing I do wonder about is this: Do you think your male coworkers ever worry about this stuff?


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And now for the Friday funnies. Macleans just posted a piece on the feminism of botox, or some such, that deserves at least a minimal riff. To wit, it reports on the ruckus that ensued when Sen. Harry Reid suggested that the new health care plan include a “bo-tax” on cosmetic procedures. Opposition erupted all over the place, McClean’s reported, including from this unlikely corner — NOW:

Opposition to the Bo-tax from the American Medical Association further muddled the matter. As did its denunciation by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest feminist lobby in the U.S. NOW’s president Terry O’Neill argued the Bo-tax unfairly targeted women, who comprise 90 per cent of cosmetic surgery recipients —especially middle-aged women facing workplace discrimination who rely on sometimes risky cosmetic procedures to “freshen” their image.

NOW’s seemingly pro-Botox stance was greeted as a jolting about-face from its long-standing opposition to the pressure on women to conform to rigid beauty ideals. Back in 1968, two years after its founding, the group famously burned a trash can full of bras, girdles and cosmetics outside of the Miss America beauty pageant.

Now middle-aged itself, with founding member Gloria Steinem admitting to having had cosmetic eye surgery, NOW’s opposition to the Bo-tax suggested resignation with the ubiquity of cosmetic work and acceptance of its new artificial norms. Older women’s aged appearance was holding them back, O’Neill told the New York Times: “I know a lot of women whose earning power stalled out or kicked down as they entered into their 50s, unlike their male counterparts’, whose really went up.

Oh, I get it. You can fiddle with your looks if you insist you’re doing it to feed your family. (Notice I did not touch “aged appearance”.) Then you can say you’re oppressed and you’re off the hook. But if you choose to go under the knife or — to go broad with this issue, which is where I really want to go — put on lipstick or color your hair or wear a pair of drop-dead stilettos just to feed your ego, you’re clearly a victim of the patriarchy. A tool of the sexist society.

Why else would you want to look good? Because, the wisdom goes, you’re only doing this to pander to the mythical male who not only dictates the definitions of beauty, but likes ’em young, too. (It’s beyond me why any smart woman would even care about pleasing some weenie who is much more comfortable with a starry-eyed girl ten or fifteen years his junior than a woman who is more or less his equal. But that’s beside the point.)

Anyway, hello? I’ve always seen this as a stupid and sexist way of looking at the way we look at our looks. Because let’s face it, vanity begins at home. In the bedroom mirror. There’s one big reason most of us futz with our hair, play dress-ups before we leave the house, put on makeup: It’s to please ourselves — and secondarily, each other. Significant others — or potential significant others — of the male persuasion don’t know Jimmy Choo from Jimmy Kimmel, wouldn’t know a low-light from a headlight, would rather your lipstick is off than on, and aren’t likely to pay close attention to what you’re wearing — unless it’s an old pair of jeans (and then they’re tickled, especially if it means they can dress in kind) or perhaps something Brittany Spears might or might not have worn to get out of a limo.

So I guess I don’t understand why we have to make up these silly rationalizations or apologies if we care about the way we look. We’re not going to lose our feminist card if we like flipping through the pages of Vogue, if we’re a sucker for the cosmetic counter at Macy’s, if we color our hair, or if, you know, we’re considering an eye job. We’re doing it for us.

What can be more feminist than that?

photo credit: Discover.com: Marylin Monroe (1957) by Milton H. Greene
Image courtesy of Marquardt Beauty Analysis

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