Drawing from “The Beauty Myth” (Wolf, 1990) and “The Meat Market” (Penny, 2010), this week’s post will look briefly at how female bodies have been controlled under capitalism. From this, I question how this conditioning can be reversed by exploring some of the pleasures that have arisen as a result of femininity.
“The Beauty Myth” (1990) posits beauty as a belief system that exists through the political economics of “men’s institutions and institutional power” (p.7) or, from my interpretation, The Beauty Myth is an idea that stems from capitalism because it profits from a fictitious beauty that is consistently sold to women as something they need. This is confirmed by women’s cosmetic consumption and how their adherence to femininity allows them to create superior versions of themselves. The level of grooming one must maintain in order to meet an expectation of a superior woman requires much attention and is thus, as Wolf states, not dissimilar to Iron Maiden, whereby a body is trapped or self-trapping to their subjectivity. Penny (2010) marks this disassociation women are experiencing in relation to their bodies by exposing feminine gender as a brand that is purchasable and how it is an inauthentic attribute to femininity. This saleable gender, although being marketed as something that can contribute to women’s freedom and power, is actually taking the opposite effect and is reaffirming female subordination, forcing women to a meet a set criteria and standard of woman. Like Wolf (1990), Penny (2010) also questions how much time and effort women are obliviously putting into their own self-objectification. What items, with the hopes of increasing femininity, are these sexed women purchasing? High heels, pole dancing classes, make up, clothing, perfume… to name a few. Funnily enough, I wear all of those things myself and pole dance most days.
If purchasing items that enhance femininity causes so much repression, then why are women, myself included, still buying into it? What pleasures are involved, other than those stated by Stephney (2015), such as fulfilling the need to be desired and to be approved sexually? If pleasure is truly present and we are not responding to power structures, what are the lasting effects of the “femininity” we purchase and how can we work to remove any type of obvious suffocation; such as physical pain or the feeling of inadequacy or invisibility on days where we don’t conform. To clarify what I mean by this, I will offer a simple example. Some women can wear a pair of stiletto shoes with no pain, and other women will be in agony after the first five minutes of wearing them. Their reasons for putting them back on, again and again, even though they are aware of the incapacitating side effects, is that they have been conditioned to think that this is what women are supposed to do. All three authors mentioned within this post suggest that this conditioning can be reversed if women refuse to remain instruments and if they truly acknowledge their own pleasures and desires. Whilst I agree that resistance and increasing an understanding of one’s own pleasures are key, I think it is worth considering why we go through such pain to find this pleasure? What discourse in studies surrounding sadomasochism could illuminate some new ideas relative the pleasure / pain dualism? And how can some of these Ideas be explored through a very physical dance, whereby pain is often a by-product of the movement?
I’ll be back next week with more to share, but in the meantime, you can see my daily updates by following me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook
Wolf, N. (1990) The Beauty Myth. Vintage Classics: London
Penny, L. (2010) Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism. Zero Books: Hants, UK.
Stepney, M. (2015) The Challenge of Hypersexual Femininity and Binge Drinking. A Feminist Psychoanalytic Response. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. Subjectivity. (8) 1, pp. 57-73