Book recs/opinions: society telling women that the way they look should relate to them being believed?

(92 Posts)
LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:18:17

I'm just trying to work through this idea I have. At a conference a couple of years ago, Gail Dines did a talk about how all sorts of media send messages to women (and men) telling us that the way a woman looks is a good indicator of whether or not we should trust her.

Obviously we all know the rape-myth stuff: oh, that woman is wearing a short skirt, she must be up for it, etc. But there are also stereotypes like that blonde women are less credible as serious people, and so on.

Do you think these stereotypes still have a big effect on how people see women? And how do you think these stereotypes get communicated to us?

The reason I'm interested is that I was thinking about films like 'Legally Blonde', which seem to me to be pretending they're undermining the whole 'blonde and ditzy woman' stereotype - but they actually annoy the fuck out of me because they push a whole load of antifeminist stereotypes at the same time.

I don't know what feminist scholarship I could read on this issue (I've read Beauty and Misogyny but it doesn't quite cover it). You see, I was trying to think about how we all learn to interpret these cultural messages and how it affects our attitudes to our own looks, when often those looks are going to be used to measure how credible we are in different ways.

What do you think?

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 14:45:55

With regard to Tabard's point about blondes, there is definitely a particular issue with blondeness. I have heard blonde men say that they are taken less seriously, and I have had discussions with both straight women and gay men who who would never date a blonde man. It is definitely an asset for men to have dark hair.

I think I have most of the physical attributes that are markers of seriousness and credibility, but having those markers also puts me under suspicion of not being a good mother, caring or nurturing. So I would not be credible in any situation involving children.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 14:48:54

Really?! That is fascinating. I have not come across this about blond men, but interesting to know.

Isn't not being maternal also seen as something that's distrusted in women? So we walk a really fine line.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 15:08:46

I've also seen some comments by the extreme end of MRA/ Red Pill thinking of men who will only commit to women if they are blonde with either blue or green eyes, with various political/social/pseudo scientific reasons as to why. If you really needed to look into it more deeply, there is plenty of stuff out there in the murkier corners of the Internet.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 15:18:27

Eww. Lovely.

(Not heard of 'red pill' before, btw.)

I think I'll survive without looking into it more deeply. What I think is tricky is that it is so hard not to internalize these messages about how we shold look, and not to make assumptions about people's behaviour based on them. And I don't know at what stage we learn that, or how we learn to stop people picking those messages up.

I know there's stuff like studies with children who're in the ethnic minority in their class who pick white faces as the 'pretty' ones, and this seems to go away if you expose them to enough images of non-white people (obvious, I guess). But it seems harder to do with women because all kinds of women's appearance are associated with something negative, often all at the same time by the same people.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 15:34:40

Yes, physical attributes are like clothing for women. No matter which physical attributes you have, all of them have negative misogynistic stereotypes associated with them. There is just a variation in which stereotype will be applied depending on your hair colour, breast size, height etc.

I fist heard about red pill when I saw the 'feminazis stole my ice cream' video. The creator of the video has been harassed by MRAs and red pill men ever since (no surprises there). It is only 40 seconds long, if you want to watch it (sorry for derailing).

http://vimeo.com/64941331

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 15:35:06
LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 15:36:48

grin

That is completely bonkers and brilliant.

what I find out will say useful things about how these messages get constructed in modern culture as well as in history

Yes! Do that! It would be fascinating to trace stereotypes of female aesthetic characteristics being linked to trustworthiness, status in society (which links to power etc) through history and then attempt to relate them to issues like female freedom, age of marriage, laws about women and their status, that sort of thing. What does a "respectable lady" look like, what power, status and freedoms does she have, and how does that relate to now. I think we'd probably be surprised (and saddened) by the results.

Good luck with it! I'm sure you have real colleagues to help, but if you want an internet random to give you a second opinion I'd be happy to help.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 16:30:45

Yeah, but you missed out the 'hopefully'! blush

I don't know if I can do this, but I think it would be useful. You see, part of what I was thinking was, when we try and explain these messages to lots of people, they feel attacked. It is hard to say 'well, this film you love is actually really shitty because it sends out messages x, y and z about women' or 'this advert you saw was actually telling you a, b and c about women, even though you didn't notice'.

So I thought maybe it would almost be easier to understand these things by looking at a culture that's a bit more distant from ours, and the fact that this culture actually developed into and influenced ours makes it a bonus.

(And internet randoms' opinions were exactly what I was going for! grin)

The thing about distant culture, though, is that it's distant, so people can still ignore what light it might shed on our culture by just repeating to others and themselves that things are different now. What I think is interesting is trying to draw parallels between the past (when most people can agree that women weren't treated equally) and now (when lots of people will argue until they're blue in the face that all the problems were solved in the 70s and everything's fine now).

Personally, what I think would be fascinating is the shock value of how much things haven't really changed a great deal in terms of our cultural perception of women. Despite equality legislation.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:02:06

Oh, sure, I think that is the risk with it being distant. But what I am hoping to do is to trace the emergence of some of these stereotypes in these stories, and to say, look, they're still here and some of them have even become sort of fossilised into our ideas, even though the social and cultural situation they were rooted in has changed hugely.

So yes, very much as you say, I want that shock value.

I don't know how much I will manage it. I had a vague idea that if I could get this project up and running, it would be a good one to do both some academic work on, and some public engagement stuff.

I won't and can't do it purely as feminist polemic (though I wish I could), I need it to be valid research in my subject as well.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:04:55

I also very much want to take a crack at that ever-repeated idea that things are sooo much better for woman nowadays, and what are you complaining about, cos it was horrible in The Past (with 'The Past' being some vague imagined time a bit like the 1950s and a bit like Game of Thrones).

Because it seems to me that young women and girls have fewer strategies for processing what messages they're getting from culture about how to look and how to be believed, not more. And it seems to be tied to saying, well, it's the internet age, you must expect to control your image. I find that very sad and a bit shit.

It sounds a tiny bit similar (in aim, not anything else) to a project that I am attempting with some colleagues from other disciplines trying to make a direct social and scientific (like proper, hard science grin) comparison with people who live in very deprived circumstances now and people who lived in poverty in the past.

I know that research councils are dead keen on multi-disciplinary collaborations at the moment, so you could consider collaboration with a like-minded colleague who has a similar interest but expertise in, I dunno, media or psychology? Unless you're looking specifically for individual funding of course...

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:17:19

I am a bit hesitant about collaborating, because it's rare in my discipline and because at the moment, what I primarily need is a postdoc and an institution to attach myself to, so for now, it needs to be an individual proposal, I think. I might rethink that later.

Your project sounds very cool, btw.

I don't know how practical this is, but I kind of wanted to get engaged with people who weren't academics, anyway. Because part of the point of focusing on the texts I'm looking at is that people both then and now used to put them down because they were popular, and because they were popular with women, and so sort of 'trash lit'. And I was thinking how women tend to get pushed into doing our thinking in the context of trash lit (or romcoms, or whatever you like), don't we? I mean, I know there's academic study of romcoms and so on - and I know someone who did a whole Phd comparing Middle English romance to Mills and Boon. But it would be kind of cool, methodologically, not to going all academic but to be getting a certain amount of 'general public' imput.

I don't know if that's even vaguely likely to work.

I do think this thread shows it is something we're all aware of, though, everyone has 'got' it as soon as I posted and has experiences of it, with things like being expected to smile or getting treated differently for blonde hair.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:19:54

(Sorry, that sounded really negative, it wasn't meant to!)

It's just, I've been so fascinated by this for ages, why we do get sucked into accepting 'oh yes, blonde is pretty' even when we know we have the cognitive dissonance going on. I think fiction is a big part of it and I am trying to put the pieces together on that, I guess, without wanting to change disciplines totally and look at modern film or modern books.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:27:55

Reading this back I feel really rude.

I didn't mean to get into 'blah blah blah me me me' and I have, and I meant to ask for book recs and opinions only.

I can get this deleted if people like.

FreyaSnow Wed 11-Sep-13 17:43:54

I think that The book 'Femininity' might be useful, if you haven't already read it. I read it about twenty years, but I do remember it related aspects of physical appearance to examples contemporary media and historical examples too. It definitely includes a discussion of the story (possibly Victorian?) about the woman who sold her hair to buy her husband a Christmas present, only to find that at Christmas he had bought her hair clasps, and the significance of long hair and the meaning of having to sell hair and be seem with short hair. Presumably there are other examples in there. Sorry for rambling.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:49:44

Thank you! That is really helpful.

I didn't know the story (that's sad).

You don't sound in the least rude, as far as I can see smile

I know less than nothing about methodology in medieval history, but if you wanted to engage people in your work as part of your proposal, you could consider finding a way to reframe the historical texts so that they are relevant to now. You could do this through workshops or other events (even online?) working with non academics.

Sorry, I will butt out now! You can tell that my interest is primarily methodological, can you blush

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 17:58:32

Oh, good! Thanks.

I'm not wanting you to butt out at all, btw, this is really helpful. I am trying to reframe, as best I can, I'm just new to it all.

I only started thinking about all this a few weeks ago (the academic bit I mean), because I was thinking how there's all this feminism that I am really, genuinely so interested in, and I would love to work on it more. So I am just trying to find a way to do that.

I had thought that there might be a feminist conference that would be interested in a workshop, maybe. I don't know. But people on here seem to like women's history, which it would be, and to be interested in talking about stereotypes like these ones, so it might work.

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 20:55:37

Have you seen this www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1250520/Blondes-really-fun-Men-claim-brunettes-make-best-wives-fair-haired-women-better-bed.html

Sorry its the Daily Fail, so I'll paste it in, might be useful smile

Blondes may have more fun - but it comes at a price. Men don't trust them. A study found that while fair-haired women are considered to be the most adventurous in bed, brunettes are seen as more reliable in a relationship ... and more sexy.In a poll of 1,500 men, more than 60 per cent thought dark-haired girls were the most trustworthy and loyal,compared with just 14 per cent of blondes. The result is men feel brunettes make the best wives

Some 61 per cent said they would prefer to marry a brunette over women with any other hair colour.Brunettes were also the most popular choice to have a deep and meaningful conversation with (63 per cent).While 34 per cent of men like the blonde-haired glamour model look, 42 per cent said they actually found brunettes sexier.More than half (51 per cent) also think women with dark hair are better kissers, while 47 per cent think they are the most sensual.Nevertheless, blondes take the prize in the bedroom stakes - 36 per cent of men considered those with light hair to be the most wild, while just 31 per cent think of brunettes in the same way

Commenting on the study for Philips Sensual Massagers, spokesman Karen Moore said: 'Blondes have always had a reputation for being fun, carefree and adventurous and it seems that can also be applied to relationships, as men think they have the best skills when it comes to the bedroom.'But brunettes seem to have every other aspect of a relationship sewn up, right down to the kissing.'However, it's interesting that despite thinking blondes are better in bed, men actually see brunettes as being the more passionate.'This research stands those with dark hair in good stead for a long-term relationship as they look likely to be the best at keeping their other half entertained and happy as well as managing a home and looking after children.'The study also found men see women with dark hair as more maternal, best at looking after family finances and the best cooks

Regards the blonde hair/dark hair I read years ago that it was to do with Blonde hair being synonymous with age, innocence, trust and generosity, dark hair being synonymous with witch craft, the dark arts and seriousness. I suppose in myth and legend witches were always portrayed as being dark haired.

NiceTabard Thu 12-Sep-13 21:13:33

Well fuck me.

What a bizarre survey to carry out. Men!!!! Who do you want to fuck / marry / have cook for you, and why????

I mean, WHAT?

Also the surveyors and the surveyed men appear to be working on the assumption that hair colour is like clothing - it can be changed at will.

If they carried out such a shit ridiculous survey in an area with lots of natural fair blonde people, would they get the same result? What about in an area where everyone pretty much had very dark hair? Doubt it.

And even the opener "Blondes may have more fun" - WHY? People who are born with blonde hair will have a range of personality types. Maybe they are not "fun types" and others try to have fun, kind of at them when they are young. WTF? That's not fun for the young person on the receiving end, it's shit. Then again, lots of not blondes dye their hair that colour - why? And what sort of effect does it have on the ones of us who just look like that? A fucking bad one is what.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

<rants>

MiniTheMinx Thu 12-Sep-13 21:23:19

I know, lots of assumptions. Its absurd.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 21:25:05

I was reading something about Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII and how they were popular with the people because they were young and attractive (when they first married). Maybe attractiveness = perceived health = perceived fertility (which was important at the time) in a time when most people would have lived very hard lives, died young etc.

Portofino Thu 12-Sep-13 21:28:00

I never get the slating of VB either. She has never done anything to hurt anyone as far as I can see. Much misogyny and envy IMHO.

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