I’ve just finished a book today that I’ve been meaning to read for a number of years: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
Esther Greenwood is at college and is fighting two battles, one against her own desire for perfection in all things – grades, boyfriend, looks, career – and the other against remorseless mental illness. As her depression deepens she finds herself encased in it, bell-jarred away from the rest of the world. This is the story of her journey back into reality. Highly readable, witty and disturbing, The Bell Jar is Sylvia Plath’s only novel and was originally published under a pseudonym in 1963. What it has to say about what women expect of themselves, and what society expects of women, is as sharply relevant today as it has always been.
I’m glad the book club I’ve just joined has chosen to read this book, since, like I said, I’ve been wanting to read it. I enjoyed the book, though I’m unsure whether it lives up to the hype that I held it to. There’s some good passages and it does explore societal expectations of women and Esther’s reaction to them, which of course is traumatic. I probably would have found this more poignant if I read this in my teens but now that I’m just (barely) out of them I didn’t always quite relate to the character.
I’m glad I read it though. I’m going to have to refer to some study questions to really have a think about it, but it was decent, easy to read, sometimes funny, oftentimes sad. I’d recommend it to those who are interested in depression.
It’s a question I think most young woman-identified feminists now deal with, but I’ve decided to have a serious thought process on it now because of an article I read in the New York Times1 about makeup, motherhood, and feminist guilt. It’s definitely worth a read, though with a critical eye.
Both men and women are participate in constant body work. However, I’d argue that for women, the work required in order to be an accepted member of society is a much more rigid, unyielding version. Michel Foucault once spoke of the process in which individuals become objects, or docile bodies, through processes of self-surveillance based on discourses of what is considered normal and abnormal2. Feminism critiques Foucault’s gender-neutral version of docile bodies, as women’s bodies are expected to be more docile.
Modern femininity is linked with three restrictions of the body which modern masculinity is not. First, femininity is characterised by smallness of body. Women are not meant to take up more space than required, therefore women who do not conform to this are chastised, if not by people around her then by the rest of society. Second, femininity entails a certain reluctance in gesture, movement, and posture. The final way, and the way I’ll actually be discussing, is by the necessity of ornamentation. This includes the pressure to wear makeup, have good skin care, have good hair care, and get rid of body hair3.
Makeup, therefore, is politicised by the feminist movement. The daily process of makeup is expensive, time consuming, and probably unhealthy. It perpetuates the idea that in order to be desired, a woman must be made up. Even now a lot of men say they prefer women without makeup, but I wonder how many of them are tricked into believing ‘no makeup-makeup’ is actually a clean face. Slightly deceitful, and raises the bar too high.
I wear makeup. And I love makeup. And sometimes that comes with a bit of guilt. Mostly it comes with an empty wallet. Yes, I have a problem, and I’m taking steps to fix it. However I don’t honestly think that wearing makeup makes a person any less feminist, even if the makeup process is oppressive. I’m not going to sit here and say I freely choose to wear makeup. I don’t think I do. But when reading on other people’s opinions about feminism and makeup I found this:
You can’t socialize someone into liking something and then ostracize them for liking it. 4
Obviously feminists understand that gender roles and the gender binary are socially constructed (Some people don’t like the idea that gender itself is socially constructed, though I would argue that it is. I think a lot of people who disagree probably haven’t studied too much sociology. Maybe I’ll write about it another time.). It is immensely important to understand the process by which this happens, and I believe many feminists take the work into trying to piece it together. It is also so important to challenge these norms and to create dialogue about why we do and think certain things. It’s SO important, as a feminist, to critically examine your reason for doing certain things. I wear makeup because I was socialised to. I was socialised to enjoy the ritual, and I do enjoy it. I haven’t gotten to the point of self-love where I’ve been able to fully forgo my foundation and mascara.
It is fundamentally and horribly wrong to criticise any woman for wearing makeup or for not wearing makeup. We need to criticise our own choices and be real with ourselves. I could sit here and say I choose makeup freely because I know the negatives and do it anyway, but by saying that I believe we’re trying to differentiate ourselves from non-feminist identifying women who wear makeup. By othering non-feminist women, we’re saying they’re under a false consciousness (which they may well be), when one never knows whether that person does think about the negatives but still chooses it. For all anyone knows, our thought processes are similar.
We need to teach radical self-love, and there is a conflict when the person teaching it has perfectly coifed hair and a beautifully made up face. But we shouldn’t blame women for wanting these things when we’ve been told to want them from the moment the doctor looked between our legs at birth. Feminism should not succumb to self-righteousness, but embrace sympathy and empathy and keep teaching informed analysis.
1 Makeup, and Feminist Guilt, at 13
2 Nash, K. (2010) Contemporary Political Sociology. p22-23.
3 Bartky, S.L. (1988) ‘Foucault, Femininity, and Patriarchal Power’ in Diamond, I. and Quinby, L. (eds) Feminism and Foucault. p.65-71.
4 Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing.
It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve finished a book. I’ve had a lot of deadlines for uni so haven’t had much motivation to read in the times that I could chill out. But I’ve finally finished The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.
Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….
Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.
Ahh I loved it! It is an extravagant extrapolation and I wouldn’t consider it something that could happen, but you can see small truths in it. I think it’s interesting how the Aunts emphasised being free from, rather than free to. Of course this is a feminist critique of religious ideology, but I think it also puts into perspective the fact that although what some conservative religious fanatics want for women is horrible, they themselves do see what they do as something for women. For example banning of pornography might help to de-objectify women and lead to less sexual violence. I’m not saying that’s true, but it’s the logic they might use.
Overall I enjoyed the book. It was an exaggeration, it was satire, and it was beautifully so.
Because I haven’t posted in a while and I love this woman so much.
I watch a lot of The Young Turks. I’m never sure if that’s a good thing or not. A few months ago they started a new channel called TYT University, which features stories and tips for students in university or high school students thinking about university. In general it’s a pretty good channel, but a week ago they posted up a 2-part series which made me quite upset.
TW for sexual assault/rape/misogyny for everything below:
They basically took chain mails I’ve been getting for years and posted them in video form. All of the shitty advice that tells women what to do not to get raped. I decided to post a comment on the second video, and thankfully others had posted similar comments:
Or how about, start teaching men that women are humans and that rape is wrong? How about working to get the conviction rate for rape up to the point that they’ll start believing it? How about we get police officers to start taking sexual assault charges seriously? This would do more to prevent sexual assault than telling women what to do/not to do.
Someone commented and criticised me for not saying men get raped and women can be perpetrators of sexual assault. I completely understand that and I apologised and still do apologise for that, and in general speaking in binary language. Any person of any gender can rape and be raped.
But then they kept going with the red herring. False rape allegations.
…putting laws in place that get women who have clearly made false rape allegation sentenced for the same amount of years as their wouldbe victims would have been given or how about considering the fact that is take an exceptional fucked-up person to forceably have sexual intercourse with another person against their will,something which they’d probably do despite being educated to respect others.
This is a red herring, because false rape allegations are no higher than false allegations for other violent crimes, commonly estimated at about 2%. So 98% of allegations are truth, and those are only those who report. If women who didn’t report started reporting, I’m sure the percentage of ‘false rape’ would drop under 1%.
Whether or not some women do make false rape allegations, this distracts us from the reality that only 6% of rape charges are convicted. That’s disgustingly low. A very low percentage of people report rape for fear of not being taken seriously, or because they don’t think there is enough evidence against the rapist. Or sincerely being scared. For many reasons other than that. It’s such a complicated issue.
I take offense to the word ‘rape’ not being used by the commenter. Instead they use ‘forceably have sexual intercourse with another person against their will’. It’s as if either this person is scared to say rape, or they don’t fully understand the meaning of this. Furthermore this person does not understand that this isn’t a ‘mad or bad’ argument. Either the rapist is crazy or the rapist is a horrible horrible person. Now, of course, the rapist IS a horrible horrible person, but we also have to understand the culture in which they live, and they are victims of that culture. Not at all should we show any sympathy towards them, but an understanding of how rape culture skews the minds of everyone around it would lead us to the conclusion that, under other contexts, these people might not be the people they are.
Which is why ‘teaching people not to rape’ is so important. Rape culture needs to be dismantled.
* Just found out this person is an MRA, or figuring they are because they linked me to an MRA video. Loser. I thought I was engaging with someone who could be debated, but I’d rather not be called a ‘bimbotic bitch’ like they did to another woman who disagreed with them.
- Mumsnet rape and sexual assault survey results, and a word on statistics (thefword.org.uk)
- RCASA’s Friday Facts: Sexual Assault of Men (rcasa.wordpress.com)
- Reaction: I never said yes-rape documentary on BCC3 (kismethypno.wordpress.com)
- 80% of women don’t report rape of sexual assault, survey claims (telegraph.co.uk)