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

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

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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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InAnyOtherSoil Wed 28-Mar-12 22:01:57

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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.

InAnyOtherSoil Wed 28-Mar-12 22:06:03

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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



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

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