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I have a question

(11 Posts)
MonanaGellar Fri 31-Oct-14 20:12:47

Please be gentle with me! I'm watching snog marry avoid and a woman has just been talking about how she loves her boobs pushed up and wearing little clothes so people look at her.

It got me wondering, is the way we feel about the way we dressed influenced by men or are women who like wearing revealing clothes sort of brainwashed into it by the media etc? Or do some women just feel as comfortable in smaller outfits as another woman may in baggy clothes?

I don't think I'm wording this well. Maybe I mean to ask, how much of how we feel about clothes and how we present ourselves is down the influence of men? Is there anything I could read about this?

BellaSolanum Fri 31-Oct-14 21:01:50

It's not an easy one to answer, I think probably a large part of it is that women tend to be valued by their looks whereas men tend not to.

Just look at areas like music, film, TV etc. You are more likely to see "ugly" men than "ugly" women getting praised, because the men can be judged on their skill and personality alone.

Then of course you are more likely to get stuff in the media about women "improving" their looks.

So you learn that as a woman your value is in your appearance, which you can gauge by how many people want to look at you, and normally a narrow ideal of beauty that your immediate culture puts forwards.

For westerners this is mostly going to be skimpy clothes. As they fit the "ideal" and get the most attention.

It definitely benefits more men than women this way.

From a more personal view, I find that self loathing is very much an acceptable thing in women (how often do you hear men racing to prove who is the ugliest/unworthiest?), so I find that as I am so lacking in confidence in myself putting on something which means people look at the clothes - or lack of - means they aren't looking at me as a person, more a character. So it is almost a protective shell, in a really odd and unexpected way.

As you asked for something to read, I really recommend 'Beauty and Misogyny' by Sheila Jeffreys. There's a review of it here -
Mary Daly also looked at this sort of thing in Gyn/ecology

When you look at something outside your own culture like, for example, footbinding, it's obvious that it's not something you just spontaneously wake up and decide to do to yourself. It's obviously a huge cultural pressure because it's a far worse thing to be without a husband and extended family than it is to be more or less crippled.
But within our own culture it's often harder to see what we're doing as influenced by external forces.
The thing that did it for me was a thread on here ages ago about beauty practices. I decided to stop shaving my legs and I just can't imagine doing it now. But for about 6 months it was quite challenging.

It's hard to separate 'what one man likes' from 'culture' because men's tastes in women are driven by fashions (plump women during war-time etc) and because so much of it is enforced by women in the role of 'token torturer' but they effectively represent men's interests.

So your female friend might encourage you to lose weight, but ultimately that's driven by an anxiety about you being single, or perceived as unattractive in a culture that idealises thin women.

scallopsrgreat Sun 02-Nov-14 00:19:29

Have a read around the 'male gaze' and objectification theory, Mona. I think that's what you are describing.

Also most women's clothing is designed by men too. So their influence is pretty large on female fashion front.

Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth and Natasha Walters Living Dolls may also be useful.

maddy68 Mon 03-Nov-14 22:36:10

Hmmm that's an interesting question. I would say that I like clothes that make me look feminine heels, dresses rather than casual jeans, trainers etc. but the people that complement me are my friends, I wouldn't say I dress to attract men?
However, there is the expectation of 'the look' which is probably embedded within the friends that pay the complements.

Amethyst24 Tue 04-Nov-14 00:17:01

Foot binding is a great analogy. So too is FGM. Obviously both of those things are far more physically damaging in the long term than wearing revealing clothes/waxing/high heels etc, but it comes down to the same thing: perceived beauty/conformity is the currency by which women are valued, and if you don't do it and others do, your value is set lower than theirs. So a woman in high heels/without a clitoris/whatever will feel "good" about herself because she is worth more to the patriarchal gaze.

OliviaBlue Tue 04-Nov-14 00:43:30

I think it works both ways.

I suppose it's true that men in some way define what we perceive to be attractive, but I also reject this idea because it's been shown many times that women's magazines and the fashion industry promote skinny, thin androgynous women as the goal of most women. However, many heterosexual men will admit to preferring curvy or more natural looking women. So I wonder if originally, yes, women's idea of being attractive was a male costruct, but now as we have more freedom and power, if we are also to blame for our own self image.

Class issues also have a lot to contribute to ideas of beauty. In Elizabethan Europe (and in other areas) it was considered beautiful to be very pale because the working class had to work on the land and were therefore more likely to be tanned and/or weather-beaten, whereas aristocratic woman (and men) were pale because they did not need to go outside to work.

Similarly, in the Renaissance period, women were generally deemed attractive when they were full-bodied and fertile-looking. This again could be attributed to class as only the rich or aristocracy had the ability to feed themselves to such an extent.

Nowadays, we've done a reversal, where poor people can fill themselves up on fatty food with little nutrition, but rich people can afford personal trainers and dietitians and personal chefs. Or on a less extreme level, wealthier people (with usually, but not always, better access to education) tend to be able to choose healthier options more easily than poorer people.

People also tend to travel more (not the norm in Elizabethan - Victorian times) making tanned skin more popular, especially as rich people can afford to travel more in general. It's commonly held that Coco Chanel was one of the first major "celebrities" to promote tanned skin as a positive. Previous to the 20th century, tanning was considered lower class which is in correlation with the fact that people traveled less.

As for high heels it all depends on your outlook. High heeled shoes have been regularly called as a form of bondage, keeping women helpless, but then on the other end, you might say they make women taller than most men and I'd assume that if it came down to it, most people would rather be kicked by a flat shoe than a spiky stiletto heel.

I think that there are some women, yes, who become defined by their sexual attractiveness to men, but I also think that some women, like myself, choose to wear relatively revealing clothing without assuming we're screaming rape me to every man passing by. Surely the whole point of being a feminist is that you should feel comfortable with what you wear regardless of the male perspective?

rayriceisbasedgod69 Tue 04-Nov-14 13:07:58

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

PenguinsandtheTantrumofDoom Tue 04-Nov-14 13:24:10

Ah, Rayrice, you're so subtle aren't you? Reported.

AMumInScotland Tue 04-Nov-14 13:33:15

I think one aspect of the way women look, and are expected to look, is the fact that it requires a lot of extra effort over and above "something appropriate for the weather and what you're doing".

Visibly proving that you are making an effort to look 'good' is as important as the end result. So hairless legs are not fundamentally better than hairy ones, but the fact that you spend time and effort on performing a task which serves no practical purpose gives it 'value'.

That follows on from things like what weight and body shape is valued - it is the one that takes an extra effort, not the one that is healthiest - and things like a tan - when getting one was easy if you worked in the fields, the 'value' in your appearance was in having the skin colour that was difficult to obtain. And then reversed when rich people had foreign holidays instead of Skegness.

I'm not sure that anyone can unpick what influences affect each other - certainly many women dress to impress other women rather than men directly.

And then you have the fact that (traditionally at least, is it still the same?) many male clothes designers are gay - their interpretation of what makes a woman look attractive may well not be the same as what a straight man actually wants. so you have a whole industry and media built around something that only theoretically is attractive to men.

Dervel Tue 04-Nov-14 13:34:05

I suspect it's an inredibly complex area even though we are talking about a superficial thing. I think you quite rightly point out the disparity between men's tastes and fashion/magazines aimed at women.

I have often wondered as in extremely patriarchal societies like a lot of Middle Eastern States with their complete covering of women, Victorian Britain where the sight of an ankle was scandalous and way back to Ancient Greece.

I think the situation is two fold: there is often a deep seated fear of women, their sexuality and power (obviously women can and are powerful in all areas). Yet there is also the desire men have which leads to this male gaze thing.

Looking at the way we idealise male attractiveness holds the key in my opinion, a man can be attractive and still be taken seriously, or not attractive and still be successful. I think we need parity.

Furthermore there is going to always be a drive for attractiveness, if we should hold up anything as an ideal it should be a healthy one that results from an active lifestyle, and that goes equally for men as well as women.

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