Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Mirror, mirror

Having read The Beauty Myth, I'm rather proud that I came up with most of the main ideas after reading The Feminine Mystique last summer. The theory is that after women's worth no longer depended on their housekeeping abilities, society made appearance more important to continue keeping them down. I don't buy the conspiracy theory thing, but I think the net result is the same. On the one hand, I'm convinced it's natural to want to decorate yourself - every little kid is proud of their hairbow or Spiderman underpants or whatever. On the other, when it becomes mandatory and expensive/painful/dangerous, that's bad. I think the other teacher in my preschool class was a little weirded out a few weeks ago when she put out a box of dressups that included those little purple plastic high heels for little girls to prance around in. When three-year-old Ainslie learned the hard way that they have no tread by crashing to the floor in midstride, the other teacher must have found it strange to see me hugging the sobbing Ainslie with one arm and chucking the shoe back into the box with the other, yelling at nobody in particular, "Isn't it enough that they have to have foot surgery from these things when they're older? Can't we at least give her a decade? Do we have to start on the high heels at age three?"

A few weeks ago I made the happy discovery of a Peggy Seeger tape in the library. The most thought-provoking lines to me in the whole thing came in "Little Girl Child," a song for her daughter: "Your mammy wants you dressed up fine / Not cause you're mine - cause you're yours. / Nothing wrong with looking good / Care for yourself and you'll care for others." It seemed strange on such a feminist album to totally ignore that the girl probably won't dress up for herself at all, but because she wants to be someone else's (and that someone certainly isn't her mother.) The very good logic behind the advice is a few lines later - "Nobody lives alone." I really think the primary motivator behind a decent amount of the effort people put into their appearance is fear that they won't be able to compete and will die alone with cats.

I'm probably not the only girl out there who's learned to associate a certain lack of attention to appearance in guys with geekiness and thus intelligence, although this formula obviously isn't always applicable. But I don't really see the same thing working for girls. A boy could probably rest assured that there will always be girls like me out there who find a degree of social ineptitude attractive, but I'd probably be sorely out of luck if I relied on the same thing.

Simon and I have debates on the topic fairly often, and although after two years I finally believe I really could look like a sack of potatoes without any negative reaction from him, we still don't fully agree on some points. For one thing, I think he doesn't quite realize how super he is (in general, but specifically regarding appearance.) If I could trust that everyone had their priorities in the right place as much as he does, I'd stop worrying about this whole thing. But given lovely statements like this, that won't happen anytime soon. I realize that's an extreme example, but when there's exactly one male in the world telling me it doesn't matter what I look like, I can't really believe him even though at present he's the only one who matters.

No comments: