march/12 Feminist non-fiction: Sheila Jeffrey's Beauty & Misogyny

(74 Posts)
StewieGriffinsMom Sun 11-Mar-12 22:04:44

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KalSkirata Wed 28-Mar-12 11:04:12

reading it but cant be online at that time. tis children bedtime

SmellsLikeTeenStrop Wed 28-Mar-12 18:51:15

I'll be late to the party but I'm definitely going to be there! I just finished reading it yesterday.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 19:56:08

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FromGirders Wed 28-Mar-12 20:06:26

I've not read it, but going to read the thread to see if I can cope with reading it. I feel like it would be interesting, and I ought to read it, but not sure if i want to . . .

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 20:10:47

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TunipTheVegemal Wed 28-Mar-12 20:10:52

oh is that tonight? I read it a year or so ago so will attend based on what I can remember.
Fab book <strokes hairy legs happily>

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 20:13:07

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 20:50:25

I'm here, not quite half way through yet though! I put off starting it a bit blush as it seemed slightly dry at the start, but now I'm finding it really interesting.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 20:59:14

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:04:24

It was probably fine, maybe I was just not in the mood that day! weill re-read the beginning once I've finished!

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:04:55

weill = I will

TunipTheVegemal Wed 28-Mar-12 21:05:53

I found it a life-changing book, in that it changed the way I see beauty, and that is something that (like it or not) we have all been conditioned into thinking is important.

Her phrase 'different and deferent' stuck with me. When I see a woman in high heels and very groomed I don't think 'How empowered!' so much as 'Yes, she's fulfilling patriarchal beauty standards very effectively!'

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:09:04

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TunipTheVegemal Wed 28-Mar-12 21:11:16

yeah I literally chucked out my old high heels after reading it.

I think a lot of people have a 'don't be so ridiculous!' response to the idea that there are similarities between footbinding and high heels but she is very good on what the similarities are.

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:13:32

I am up to the part where she mentions women's clothes not having functional pockets. I remember being very annoyed by this in my late teens (as I was railing against 'the handbag', which seemed so crucial to my mother's life) and took to wearing an old suit jacket of my dad's - it was so practical and easy for e.g. cycling!

But I do remember male friends asking why I didn't just buy clothes with pockets then - they did not seem to get that it wasn't a choice open to me, none were available.

I now carry a handbag but have been inspired by this to see if there are any alternatives out there. I do feel that handbags are another part of 'vulnerability' - lose them , have them snatched, have them 'pickpocketed' etc that is much reduced for men who have inner pockets etc - still vulnerable to the professional thief, I suppose, but less to the opportunist.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:13:50

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FromGirders Wed 28-Mar-12 21:14:08

Ok, so can you suggest to me reasons why should I read this book, please?
My make-up etc is my armour against the world - I'd like to be a strong enough confident enough person to go without, but I'm not yet (and I'm in the happiest place in my life so far) so it's likely I won't ever be. Sad as it is, I quite like conforming to patriarchal standards, and it's not that I'm particularly proud of that.
I'm worried that reading this book will make me feel bad for doing so. Can I read it without guilt do you think?

FromGirders Wed 28-Mar-12 21:16:23

Eek, you chucked out heels?!
I can't quite contemplate that.
And this is from someone who quite literally tortured herself with the damn things ten days ago. It hurt. Really quite a lot. (But I hadn't taken enough sensible alternatives on holiday with me).

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:16:33

My 'instinctive' (patriarchal?) response to her describing lipstick wearing and FGM as both harmful to women was "That doesn't seem reasonable" but when she drew in the other steps on the scale e.g. high heels, breast reduction and labiaplasty, it did seem a fair to see it as a spectrum of practices.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:17:26

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:19:40

Hi FromGirders

I don't think it is a particularly 'comfortable' read. I don't wear make up much but do undertake other beauty practices that are described. I think it's useful to prompt thinking about these things but the author doesn't (at least so far) exhort everyone to give them up - just to be aware of the cultural context.

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:20:14

x-posted with SGM!

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:20:28

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:24:06

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TunipTheVegemal Wed 28-Mar-12 21:24:57

FromGirders - I chucked out heels that I never wore anyway. And I don't wear them because they are silly. I'm sure if they were doing anything for me I would have been wearing them.

I definitely didn't get GUILT out of reading the book, in fact if anything it was a release of guilt because I realised how much guilt I had been carrying around about Not Making The Best Of Myself.
It didn't leave me thinking 'oh I would love to wear x but Sheila Jeffreys says it's wrong!' so much as 'Why would I want to do that silly thing anyway when what it expresses is stuff I don't want to express?'
I know feminism is often presented as this dreadful thing that tells women not to wear high heels when really they want to, but my experience was more of patriarchy telling me to wear the heels and I was damn glad to have someone telling me I didn't have to. (Not that I was obeying the injunction to wear them, but I had an underlying nagging feeling that maybe I should have been.)
It didn't stop me wearing dresses (I sit here in a flowery tea dress from Cath Kidston no less) because I like wearing dresses. I'm sure if you genuinely like wearing heels it won't get in the way of you carrying on wearing them.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:25:02

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FromGirders Wed 28-Mar-12 21:26:58

OK, that's all reassuring. I might brave up at some point and actually read it.
I just don't want to spend my entire reading justifying myself (to myself :-s) or making excuses (again to myself).
But maybe it's time to come out of my comfort zone.

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:30:47

She had found some shocking quotes though, the one from 1909 about women being "pure sex from knees to neck", a "sexual surface or target whilst men have a sexual arrow" was quite nauseating! And the one from 1950 about the psychology of clothes saying men wouldn't want to change the system of recognising the sex of an "approaching fellow being" in order to "lose no opportunity to experience the incipient sexual response." Yuck!

And it's not gone away, as she also mentions a 2004 study of female MPs being under pressure to emphasise feminine appearance. I did wonder why so many female politicians seemed to favour brightly colured skirt suits - maybe this helps explain it.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:31:24

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:34:35

I agree with Tunip, it's more liberating than guilt-making!

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:39:55

I really liked her comment that the burkha-style cover-up AND beauty practices were two sides of the same coin - women fulfilling men's needs in public places (to precent sexual excitement or to cause sexual excitement) whilst there are no such requirements on men either way.

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:40:11

precent=prevent, d'oh!

TunipTheVegemal Wed 28-Mar-12 21:42:22

I'm just pondering how it's different from Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth - I suppose because Wolf thinks in terms of the individual whereas Jeffreys goes for the large scale theoretical analysis. (Liberal versus radical feminism?)

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:43:50

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:47:01

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:49:43

I haven't read "The Beauty Myth", but SJ mentions it early on, saying that NW observed that beauty practices were driven esp. in the 1970s by making women newly enter the workplace seem 'unthreatening' but that NW concluded by saying practices were only damaging if not freely chosen. According to SJ, NW didn't suggest there was a problem with it being only women who undertook such practices, only whether it was a free choice. It seems like that chimes with your view, Tunip, on NW being individual and SJ being large-scale - ?

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:54:15

SJ, whilst clearly disagreeing with NW's actions, was I thought pretty sympathetic as to why NW changed course (as SGM says, because The Patriarchy was angry, defensive and confrontational with her, which caused NW "clear distress")

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 21:57:12

I found the section about the wives of TVs quite unsettling. The quotes (AKA threats) about wives should get involved or their husbands will do "something silly" like embarassing the family, bringing home an STD or starting a new relationship were just so...entitled!

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 21:58:43

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TunipTheVegemal Wed 28-Mar-12 22:02:23

That section annoyed me actually Sweet. She'd picked TVs who were clearly arseholes and while it did show up how in those particular cases, it could be a means through which entitled men could treat their wives like shit, there seemed to be an implication there that this was a feature of trans rather than these particular men (who were of a generation where wives were expected to put up and shut up with whatever). Younger trans people I know do not live in such unequal relationships and it seemed to be a rhetorical device to bring extra negativity; she didn't need to do that, the theoretical arguments could have stood up on their own.

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:02:59

I know. I mean, it's one thing to say 'this is what I want to do, I know it's a big shock but I want to work it out if we can' but it did just seem that it was somehow expected to be irrelevant to a woman's sexual/romantic/loving response (probably because those thinking that way don't believe in the importance or power of any such things!)

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:04:06

Tunip yes I agree, I hope that those were extreme examples.

Nyac Wed 28-Mar-12 22:04:48

This was the book that made me chuck away my make up. I've said that a few times on Mumsnet but I always like to repeat the story. So thanks Sheila. It's exactly the effect a feminist book should have, offering women a new way of looking at the world and providing more freedom.

Her analysis of the feminine corvee is spot on - the continuous work (it is hard work) that women have to undertake to provide sexual appeal to men, and to differentiate ourselves from men sexually. Once you see it in those terms it's very hard to want to keep doing it. Analysing practices like high heels and plastic surgery as harmful cultural practices is also very important.

I can't remember if she says it in the book, but Andrea Dworkin's Woman Hating was one of her inspirations for writing this.

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:06:16

Hi InAnyOtherSoil, will there be a public consultation about that?

FromGirders Wed 28-Mar-12 22:06:26

CEDAW?
MAAB?

sorry.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:06:54

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:12:10

Thanks, I will google!

FromGirders Wed 28-Mar-12 22:13:27

Good god, I've never even heard of that!
I'm actually quite shocked.

SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:15:47

Umm, could anyone help me understand what she meant by porn magazines in Australia being able to avoid plastic wrapping by digitally altering pictures of women's genitals so that they are not 'realistic'? I mean, surely, if they are still recognisbly genitals, it's still porn and should be plastic wrapped? Unless they are Barbie-smoothed out altogether? I didn't get this.

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:17:14

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:18:37

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:20:55

Oh, wow, that explains it, thanks.

Agree, what a bizarre censorship.

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Nyac Wed 28-Mar-12 22:21:56

Yes the self mutilation point is a good one. Although with some cosmetic surgeons they are straight mutilators. Women can be horribly disfigured. Liposuction is the one that gets me - because it's such a good idea to have your fat cells sucked out with a hoover attachment.

I think she and other feminists have also used the self-mutilation by proxy analsyis for trans - when people are having their genitals diced and sliced. That's not about loving and accepting yourself or your body.

Nyac Wed 28-Mar-12 22:23:30

It's been used for BDSM come to think about it, or at least that's self harm by proxy. All connected.

StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:25:05

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:27:02

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:37:08

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StewieGriffinsMom Wed 28-Mar-12 22:46:04

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SweetTheSting Wed 28-Mar-12 22:47:33

TIme for me to go to bed, I've enjoyed the discussion, thanks everyone!

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SmellsLikeTeenStrop Thu 29-Mar-12 21:38:15

Ooops, I'm very late.

Still, I'll put my 2p in. Yesterday I bumped in to one of the other mums with a DC in DDs school. She was telling me that she'd been back to work for the first time since going on maternity leave and she said her feet were killing her because she'd worn heels for the first time in nearly a year. She said they were so unbearably uncomfortable that eventually she had to change them and go around in a big pair of clumpy boots. I asked her why she didn't just get a nice pair of flats and she looked at me is if I'd suggested she go to work naked.

I had a good long look at my feet after reading the chapter on shoes, I've never paid them much attention before but looking at them, they're a good strong pair of feet. The toes are straight, not a bunion in site, or a blister. Did anyone else do that? blush

This book really made me see how sick our society is that there is this expectation on women do undergo beauty practices which cause discomfort, pain and possible life long damage - and all for the sake of looking sexually attractive for men. Why is the natural female form despised so much?

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SmellsLikeTeenStrop Thu 29-Mar-12 23:03:14

No, you don't. It's been years since I've worn heels but iirc, if you try to run you just sort of clip clop, you're putting the force of the impact as your foot hits the ground on the ball of your foot rather than the heel. It's no wonder women who wear heels all the time end up with micro-fractures in their toes.

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