January 5, 2005

Rituals of the beauty culture.

Laura Kipnis explains the "irreconcilable contradiction between feminism and femininity":
The reason they're incompatible is simple. Femininity is a system that tries to secure advantages for women, primarily by enhancing their sexual attractiveness to men. It also shores up masculinity through displays of feminine helplessness or deference. But femininity depends on a sense of female inadequacy to perpetuate itself. Completely successful femininity can never be entirely attained, which is precisely why women engage in so much laboring, agonizing, and self-loathing, because whatever you do, there's always that straggly inch-long chin hair or pot belly or just the inexorable march of time. (Even the dewiest ingénue is a Norma Desmond waiting to happen.)

Don't any dewy ingénues get to be Jeanne Moreau or Catherine Deneuve?
Feminism, on the other hand, is dedicated to abolishing the myth of female inadequacy. It strives to smash beauty norms, it demands female equality in all spheres, it rejects sexual market value as the measure of female worth.

That's awfully pre-Madonna.
[F]or all feminism's social achievements, what it never managed to accomplish was the eradication of the heterosexual beauty culture, meaning the time-consuming and expensive potions and procedures...

Note that Kipnis can't just say feminism failed to extinguish the human love of beauty. It's not beauty, it's a beauty culture that is the problem, and a heterosexual one at that. There's some sort of crushing patriarchy imposing something on women, something unnatural, involving "expensive potions and procedures." The assumption – actually quite incredible – is that empowered women would not care how things looked. I think it's more likely that empowered women would demand that males meet a higher standard of beauty.

What if women really didn't care about winning the sexual love of men? How would they look?
Women here may pant, "I'm doing it for myself" while strapped to their treadmills…

… but the fact is that the beauty culture is a heterosexual institution, and to the extent that women participate in its rituals, they, too, are propping up a heterosexual society and its norms.…

You can make a lot of thudding assertions like that, but it doesn't make them true. Don't homosexuals love beauty too? If you fix your hair and put on makeup and choose your clothes with some care, are you participating in a ritual? Is the heterosexuality that most of us feel a "society" that needs "propping up"? And really why must we say all these tedious things all over again?

Oh, I can answer that last question: Eve Ensler has a new play. I'd rather be strapped to a treadmill than sit through it.

UPDATE: Thanks to Instapundit for linking. And note that I have more to say on the subject in the next post.

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