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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Link between lack of women's rights and feminine grooming?

64 replies

ComradeJing · 18/05/2012 06:44

I'm in Dubai at the moment. We're staying in a hugely expensive resort thanks to a work conference DH is attending. I've been shopping in the big malls (boots! Clark's for Dd! Waitrose!) and been in the restaurants and beach and pool of the resort and have noticed that the levels of feminine grooming are far, far higher than anything I have seen before.

10cm louboutins at breakfast, evening wear as day wear, full faces of perfect make up all the time, shoes are always proper sandals, heals or pumps... No trainers, no plastic flip flops...

Anyway, I was wondering if a lack of women's rights correlated to more feminine grooming?

Men were much more casually dressed - as you would find in any hot country, shorts, t-shirts/shirts, casual shoes.

I think women in the UK and Australia (the two countries I have real experience of where women have theoretical equal rights) are much more casually dressed. Here I would have felt uncomfortable in Havianas, shorts and a t-shirt that no one would look at me twice for wearing in Aus.

I'm happy to be told I'm over thinking this or that I'm just going to the wrong parts of Dubai but I'd love to know what other people think or their experiences.

OP posts:
EatsBrainsAndLeaves · 18/05/2012 07:06

I don't know. Perhaps for wealthier countries, but surely wealth and the influence of materialism must have an impact? After all in places like Afghanistan I can't imagine the women are particularly well groomed?

thechairmanmeow · 18/05/2012 08:47

i would hazard a guess that dubai having relitively 'new money' it's all about showing off your wealth, being well groomed is part of that, shows you have the time for such things for a start.

women do tend to take more care over their appearence/wardrobe than men.

messyisthenewtidy · 18/05/2012 08:57

"women do tend to take more care over their appearence/wardrobe than men."

The question is why?

Compared to women's attire, men's attire stays relatively the same throughout most of the world. A man in t shirt and casual trousers is pretty universal and carries no particular message, whilst women's clothing varies more according to the local culture and is loaded with more meaning.

Why is that?

PlentyOfPubeGardens · 18/05/2012 09:12

I see 10cm Louboutins and Burkhas as flip sides of the same coin - they are both performing femininity. I think there's a link between a lack of women's rights and the pressure on women away from clothes that are practical and comfortable.

kim147 · 18/05/2012 09:27

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ComradeJing · 18/05/2012 09:32

Yes Messy and Plenty, that's my point I suppose.

It made me also think of how women dressed in the 50s and 60s when we had less rights and how generally western women don't have to perform femininity now if they don't want to.

OP posts:
kim147 · 18/05/2012 09:58

This reply has been deleted

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EatsBrainsAndLeaves · 18/05/2012 10:07

Comrade - While I think you are right, just wanted to say that there were women, including poor women, in the 50's and 60's who refused to perform femininity. Often at the cost of great derision and sometimes violence or the threat of it. I don't think we should forget these women who were brave enough to challenge things

slug · 18/05/2012 10:25

All that grooming takes time. All that time is only really available to either those wealthy enough to employ others to care for children and houses, or those for whom full employment is denied. Once you are denied the right to function in society as a full human, you really are forced to perform femininity as that is really your only way to survive.

EatsBrainsAndLeaves · 18/05/2012 10:28

It is easier to get the time if you are not working. But I do know, an admittedly very few women, who appear to be constantly dolled up, in spite of working full time and having older children

Lovecat · 18/05/2012 21:00

I'd say that East End (and Essex) women are as groomed (over-groomed) if not more as those in Harvey Nicks, just in a different way.

Having recently played a TOWIE type onstage I was astonished at how time consuming (and how tedious it was!) to get ready - fake tan, full deforestation of legs, 'tache and pits, full face of slap (following the TOWIE make up artist's vid on Youtube) including 2 kinds of lipstick, liner, lipgloss, 2 shades of blusher, matt foundation, powder, highlighter, concealer, bronzer, false eyelashes, eyelash curler, mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow x 4, eyebrow pencil, THEN the hair extensions, straighteners, hair serum, curling wand, half a can of hairspray THEN the false nails, ridiculously high heels, short tight dress...

I felt like a drag queen. That was performing 'femininity' (or a version of it)!

And even though that was for the theatre, I live in Essex and see my teenage nieces and their friends all undergoing this utterly mental level of grooming on a daily basis. The grown women I know who have this look every day are all either childless or married to very wealthy men so they don't have to work. So what slug said, basically!

LRDtheFeministDragon · 18/05/2012 22:33

I think the positive correlation is easier to see, because 'feminine grooming' is valorized by patriarchial society. If you recognize the patriarchy is a force at work, it's that much easier to recognize the issues to do with performing femininity.

But I wonder as well if there's a tipping point - if hyper-performance of gender creates conditions in which it's that much more obvious what is going on? Like with the Victorians, with tight-lacing and bustles and so on, and then the suffragettes emerging?

thechairmanmeow · 19/05/2012 15:29

i've been putting off trying to answer that because what i think will probobly be rather controversial for these feminist threads, and i have learned the hard way, this is a hostile enviroment for a man.

to SOME extent this isnt a feminist issue, and it it's core i belive it's more anthropological , to do with human beings as a species.
if a zoooligist came here from mars and studied the various species he/she would notice that in some species the males compete for the females. in some cases with bright coulors flash grooming and dazzeling displays. but when he looks at the humans he/she will conclude that allthough the males do compete for the females the way the females chose ( and it is the females that do the choseing) it isnt in there interest to groom that much, there are, of course other ways, being strong or having a healthy bank balance, being educated etc.
the females on the other hand do groom much more , to increase the scope of choice they might have.

if peacocks were the dominant species on our planet it would be the males who would be doing the grooming.

hope some of that made sense.

disclaimer.....none of the above means that it doesnt matter that the female image banged out by the media is acceptable, size zero models held up as feminine perfection is very damaging to teenage girls and i think most men would tell you they dont find those models very sexy anyway, major hulahan was my teenage crush not twiggy.

where we stand on this as a species and where the media took over turning real women into unreal airbrushed make-up pancaked aspirations i dont know.

messyisthenewtidy · 19/05/2012 18:30

But chairman, your anthropological arguments don't really work here because human females don't naturally have the equivalent of a peacock's tail do they? Clothes are a cultural construct not an evolutionary adaptation. If nature intended for women to evolve wearing high heels we would have little spikey bits on our heels no? It's entirely cultural because in their natural state women are not particularly flamboyantly equipped compared to the male.

Also, in the peacock world, it is the drab peahen that does the choosing so by your analogy the human male is the chooser, not the female. In one of his many books, can't remember which one, Richard Dawkins muses over what changed in human history to make women the so called peacocks when for most other species is the other way round. My guess is that money or realization of paternity or both had something to do with shifting that balance of power to males, but then of course that doesn't take into account that during the C18th men's costumes were far more elaborate (also pointing to culture being the culprit).

The idea that society has of women being the choosers is nonsense. This media exaggerated image of a beautiful woman strutting down the street whilst men fall on the pavement drooling after her and the idea that all a woman has to do to have sex is decide to have it, is BS. It applies to a small subset of goregous women, the subset that men no doubt spend a lot of time thinking about, and completely ignores the fact that the average woman doesn't have a queue of suitors and that, because of the constraints placed on her by the boy-chases-girl model, means that she can only chose between the men who have first chosen her.

There is another type of sexual selection that exists in the animal kingdom though - and that is that males compete among themselves for access to the female harem. The current winning alpha male gets access (not much choice for the females but then they tend to have a lot of "affairs" to maximize conception chances) and sometimes kill off the offspring of former alpha males. This model happens a lot during primates.

But anthropological arguing aside, I totally agree with you that no evolutionary reasoning justifies the kind of garbage thrown out by our media.

Sorry for the long post, but I do love a bit of anthropological chit chat!! Smile

catgirl1976 · 19/05/2012 19:53

Have to agree with posters who have said this is likely due in some significant part to the "new money" flashiness of Dubai. More to do with that than the rights afforded to women in that country I think

thechairmanmeow · 19/05/2012 20:01

hello again messy
well, no women dont have an equivalent of a peacocks tail but if a woman undresses that will have a big impression on most men, such as impression that the very sight may introduce chemicals into his bloodstream. where as women are possibly more likely to say "seen one penis, seen 'em all". yes, the youthfull bronzed adonis male may be nice to look at but i doubt it has the same effect of women as a female nude does on a man, thats just evolotionary hardwireing.
but i take your point, my peacock analogy is floord in this way.

flamboyant males in the 1700's are certianly down to culture i agree with you, just like cravated blue velet trouserd dogey hippies and new romantics, there a cyclical thing going on there, but i dont dismiss culture , it's also clearly evedent with womens fashions , it's whats left of us as a species when all that is stripped away thats interesting.

where i fully disagree with you is the element of who choses.

the very fact that men are physicaly bigger than women, usually, is down to sexual selection, women chosing stronger men, able to hunt , fight for their property and any possible offspring. in ape species where the males dont compete for the females, bonobos for example the sexes are the same size.
it seems to appear that men do the chasing, but if you take a closer look, they only chase when women are encourageing them to, well some men chase when they are not receiving the right signals but that is more like sexual harrassment than flirting.
no, in huiman society women are the chosers, they may not be able to chose whoever they want, the more attractive they look of course the more males they can chose from. this may have contributed to women taking better care over their appearence. but they chose anyway.

one other thing worth mentioning is that when in the savanna and men hunted and women were either gathering or rearing offspring, personal grooming became more inportant for those who were at home, with an end to nomadic lifestyles and a home base being established there was suddenly more risk of bugs, fleas, allsorts .
it's noticable how much easier it is to get a little girl to wash her hands than it is a boy. i know, this is a huge assumption on my part, but no smoke without fire maybe? this may have contributed to the fact that women are more concernd about their appearence.

glad you also like anthropology!

LRDtheFeministDragon · 19/05/2012 20:38


Really, really, trust me, women do not think 'seen one penis, seen them all'.


Heterosexual women react to naked men just like heterosexual men react to naked women.

It still doesn't explain anything at all about grooming!

QueenEdith · 19/05/2012 20:49

Can I blame Queen Victoria?

There really was a tipping point in men's fashions in Britain on the death of Prince Albert and the prolonged period of mourning which followed. Look at male fashions earlier - say restoration to very early Victorian: colourful, impractical, uncomfortable (with heels, hose, corsets and padding). Then that long period of mourning took out all colour and most embellishment, and men's fashion never really recovered its former verve.

messyisthenewtidy · 19/05/2012 20:52

Well I guess we'll just have to disagree nicely chairman Smile cos the problem with trying to look for reasons in evolutionary history is that no one will ever properly know, unless of course we find some cyrogenically frozen caveperson who can settle the dispute!!

I guess both sides will always think the other has more power because everyone is aware of their own lack of choice and the images each sex portray to each other is not always honest.

Anyhoo, I will always believe that women's attention to their appearance is down to culture because using myself as my own anthropological evidence I know that I didn't give a crap about what I looked like unlike I was told I should!

I still find it hard to get worked up about fashion even though I constantly feel rubbish about myself when I watch TV and adverts, and think I should "sort myself out". But I like food and Wine too much so I guess that's wishful thinking!

messyisthenewtidy · 19/05/2012 20:55

sorry unlike = until Blush

mapleleef · 19/05/2012 21:32

I too think that heterosexual women react to naked men just like heterosexual men react to naked women. However, some don't want to objectify the male body like that, also it could be considered rather tacky to comment on men's physical appearance in an overtly sexual way. You don't tend to get females commenting on the size of mens' genitals like some (most) men feel free and unashamed to comment on the size or shape of womens' breasts. Have women been socially discouraged to hide their sexual desire or is it that sex comes with much more baggage for females (risk of rape, assault, pregnancy, left with bringing up babies etc. or even just risk of not physically enjoying the sex?)

As to grooming, there is natural selection but there is also sexual selection when by and large people choose mates who are healthy and likely to procreate, or is that all popular science rubbish and not based on facts?

LRDtheFeministDragon · 19/05/2012 21:55

I agree, maple. I remember those Cosmo centrefolds of naked blokes and the way a lot of women I knew reacted was that it would be lovely in reality, but in a magazine it was a bit unpleasant because of knowing how creepy it can feel when men leer over page 3 or whatever.


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messyisthenewtidy · 19/05/2012 21:56

"Have women been socially discouraged to hide their sexual desire or is it that sex comes with much more baggage for females"

Maple, I'd say it's probably both. I know I would be way too embarrassed to make remarks to a man on the street about his appearance. I just don't feel entitled to do so.

But you only have to look at boy bands and their screaming fans to know that girls have sexual desire for boys.

messyisthenewtidy · 19/05/2012 22:07

LRD, I think girls are also brought up to be more romantic (all those soppy movies probably). I was always Confused when I heard my BF (a boy) talking to his friend about what they would like to do a certain girl, whom they actually hated. The dawning realization that men wanting to shag you didn't actually mean they liked you as a person was a huge letdown.

LRDtheFeministDragon · 19/05/2012 22:11

Forgive me - this is a bit digressive but I have to post it because I love it so much.

There's a bit in the West Wing where Donna's been reading about nineteenth-century attitudes to seamstresses, and how men thought the motion of the peddles might arouse them, so they recommended that these women sip bromide because it would diminish their sexual desire. And Josh replies, 'why would anyone want to diminish a woman's sexual desire?!'

It is one of the reasons have a teeny crush on Josh. But I assume it's factual about the seamstresses and the bromide, so I think people really did want to control women's sexual desire.

I also suspect that all this guff about fashionable clothes forcing women's bodies into the same physical postures that we (supposedly) adopt when we're aroused - like high heels being meant to push women's feet into the shape we curl them into during orgasm Hmm - is conveying a message that, for women, sexual desire is mostly a matter of external appearance rather than what we feel. Which is fairly creepy.

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