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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?

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 11:35:08

I think women are expected to smile a lot (more than men). People notice much more when women don't smile hence the "Smile, love, it may never happen" comments <rage>. A woman who doesn't smile is a 'wrong' thing. Most people won't notice men who don't smile but they'll notice them if they do smile a lot. Not sure if it is linked to credibility as such. There may be an element of distrust there for non-smiling women or women whose mouths just naturally point down. Certainly getting labelled as unapproachable.

Women who are overweight get noticed more as well. And their credibility is definitely affected. After all women aren't supposed to be overweight (if indeed they are overweight and just not a size 0). There have been many surveys with overweight people and getting jobs for example. I don't know the sex-bias on that but given that a lot of people think being overweight and obesity is a woman's problem (when in fact there is a higher percentage of obese men), I think there would be a sex-bias.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:38:11

That's so true about smiling. I hadn't thought about unsmiley women not being trusted but now you mention it, I do notice that people constantly go on about Victoria Beckham not smiling (even though she's made it known she feels insecure about her face and that's why she doesn't). And it does seem to be linked to the perception she's somehow faked her way to the top, doesn't it?

Interesting about weight, too. I didn't know that there as a higher percentage of obese men.

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 11:41:49

I think that I read on here that there is. I'll see if I can find it. (Worried now I might be spreading untruths!)

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:50:21

Certain characteristics on females seem to be considered as an invitation to certain types of attention.

eg I am blonde, I have a friend with very big breasts. These things have been pointed out to us by random people all of our lives. Why?

I suppose she could pay for a breast reduction so as not to be seen as inviting a certain type of attention, ditto I could have had my hair dyed from birth. But that seems the wrong way around.

Why are blondes thought of as thick / open to all sorts of male attention?
Why is it seen as reasonable to point out to a girl or woman with big breasts that yes, she has big breasts?
Do these things affect more than just communication with randoms? Certainly people are always very surprised by what I like doing / what I've studied etc, presumably on the basis that I'm small and blonde? Women who like this stuff are supposed to look more masculine or something?

Does my head in.
Men don't get this anywhere near the same - with them assumptions would likely be made on attire / presentation, which are easily changed, and if they are "making a statement" then that is conscious - it's not just down to their foot size or nose shape or something.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 11:54:21

YY about VB

I have never understood why people go on about her not smiling
I've never understood why she gets slagged off so much at all TBF

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:55:54

Oh, I wasn't doubting you, scallops, just didn't know.

nice - yes, it's horrible, isn't it? sad I have heard the theory that blonde hair is stigmatized because more children than adults are blonde, and therefore it is subconsciously associated with childishness. Which leads us to the rather obvious question of why blond men aren't regularly seen as idiots. hmm

I wonder at what age we start getting these messages? Because I was blonde when I was little (I'm dark brunette now, you'd never know), and I can remember being about 5 and insisting my hair wasn't turning brown - because already I knew that brown was less good.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 11:56:26

I think VB gets it in the neck to a ridiculous degree and it really pisses me off.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:08:32

I have been wanting to talk about blondeness for a while actually grin

As I have noticed something odd lately.

When I was young, men looked. Male gaze was obvious, always there. Being heavily pregnant, and having a day at FIL was a revelation, as it wasn't there, and it was lovely.

Anyway here's the thing. When I was young, and slim and small and not bad looking, I thought, well that's how it is.

Now I just got a job up in town where generally people seem to be quite slim and attractive (money). I am no longer slim grin nor young. I am just over 40, and a size 16. But what I have noticed is that men still look. They look because of the colour of my hair, I'm sure of it. There is nothing else to see grin

So WTAF is that all about? Is having blonde hair like a beacon to say "ogle me"???? When I was younger, was that why I had it so bad in terms of unwanted attention?

It's all very strange.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:10:51

And yes obviously men will find something to harrass women about if they want to - too short, too tall, breasts too big or too small, hair to short or too long, and so on ad infinitum.

But this blondeness thing. Is weird.

And yes no-one assumes that blonde men are stupid, or up for it, or want to have random stuff shouted at them on the street confused

grimbletart Wed 11-Sep-13 12:21:46

I think the blonde thing is age related. Health warning: this is pure anecdote from personal experience.

I was blonde as a child but like many people turned brown as I grew up and was a definite brunette by my mid teens. In my 50s I started to go grey but not a nice grey - patchy at the front, for example, not that wonderful steely grey that is so attractive. I didn't like it so I gradually dyed my hair lighter until I "turned" into a blonde. But I didn't find it affected how I was treated either in business or socially.

Maybe by the time you reach the age of invisibility i.e. post menopausal, it makes no difference, or perhaps the personal confidence one gains by that age, means you give off a different aura. I don't know. But I suspect the effect of blonde being seen as ditzy or not bright probably applies only to younger women.

Any thoughts?

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 12:23:01

That's so odd. And quite dehumanizing, isn't it, as if you're a composite of body parts, one of which is somehow 'worth' looking at?

I do think this is really interesting. And blondness or fairness (of skin) is a really huge transhistorical symbol of female beauty, isn't it? I mean, it's not absolutely everywhere but it does seem to crop up again and again.

I don't know if it's related, but my DH has long blond hair. He is also six foot tall, sixteen stone, and bearded. But he still gets people using the wrong-gendered pronoun if they come up behind him. How odd is that?! As if somehow long blond hair is such a female thing, they just shortcut to 'her' in their minds, and don't compute the rest?

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:27:43

It is hard to separate out whether people are surprised when you can do certain stuff or have certain interests is because you are female, or blonde, or a sort of catastrophic combination of the two grin

The age of invisibility sounds like a nice place to be. Just another thing though - women are either ogled or ignored. Men can just be.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 12:31:25

Yes, and the other thing that annoys me (massive generalization, but) is that when men discuss aesthetics, it's all arty, whereas when women discuss it, it's us bitching about other women, or us being shallow and vapid about appearance.

scallopsrgreat Wed 11-Sep-13 12:32:30

LRD - I've very quickly found some stats from the US where a greater % of men are overweight or obese. Obesity levels are similar between men and women. You wouldn't think it looking at diet adverts hmm

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:38:55

YY reporting is terribly biased.

There was something about schoolchildren recently which was odd. I'll try and remember.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:42:14

Well there's loads of examples.

It's like it's the job of females in society to bear the brunt / represent whatever it is that's going wrong.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 12:45:58

Thanks scallops. And no, you wouldn't.

nice - I'd like to know.

I am trying to get my mind around where I stand on aesthetic theory, I guess, because I feel really uncomfortable with a lot of it and historically there seems to be such a shedload of misogyny around appearances. Is there any positive way to approach all of this?

I'd like us all to be happy with how we look, and I don't know how we're going to get there.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 12:57:43

What is aesthetic theory? [thick emoticon]

If men stand around talking about the aesthetic appeal of other men, people would think they were gay, surely? I can't imagine a conversation like that in my workplace! Patriarchy condoned homophobia in action.

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 13:03:25

Sorry. blush

I may as well put my cards on the table and admit this thread is me trying to get my ideas in order for an academic project proposal, so I've got jargon in my brain.

Aesthetic theory is just theories about why something is beautiful (or ugly) and what it means to judge things as beautiful or ugly. A lot of it is really nasty judgements of women's bodies. And it gets all tied up with morality because historically there's this very old idea that if something is beautiful, that tells you about how good or bad it is.

What I'm interested in is stuff like, you know how when you start watching a film, you can usually tell who the 'good' woman is because of how she looks, and there are cues from appearance that tell you such-and-such a woman is probably going to come a cropper because of how she looks? It's really unpleasant.

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

I think the sexuality point is important, btw.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:05:30

TBF hollywood is not exactly subtle and you can usually tell who the "baddies" and "goodies" are on the male side as well.

The baddies are english
and/or have a scar on their face.

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:07:23

On telly if it's a US crime show, the best looking woman is the one who will be horribly slaughtered.

Like the modern version of the red-shirts on star trek grin

You could have a field day with the messages from mainstream US TV / film. Very clear and very obvious and often really bizarre values on display.

Are you going to do that or stick with the UK?

NiceTabard Wed 11-Sep-13 13:09:49

You can see the difference in aesthetic standards by looking at photos / art over the years and the way women look changes just vastly including fundamental body shape (ribs out, corsets) etc and so on.

Meanwhile men stay looking pretty much the same. Sometimes they may have larger sideburns. Or a bit of a heel. And that's kind of that.

I expect you have thought of that stuff though as it's what you're studying and I'm just noodling away on my sofa!!!

LRDMaguliYaPomochTebeSRaboti Wed 11-Sep-13 13:26:24

grin Yeah. I take your point about Hollywood.

It's interesting about men staying more or less the same, and women's body shapes. I can't think of anything Western men have deliberately done to their bodies that would actually change them forever - like footbinding or corsets did. I'd be interested to know if such things ever happened, or if I'm missing obvious ones?

I'm actually using the films stuff as a gateway to look at medieval romances, but I want to keep in mind that it's basically not dissimilar to modern pop culture, and hopefully what I find out will say useful things about how these messages get constructed in modern culture as well as in history. I dunno.

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