Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More of Carol's Rantings

Whilst reading an article about exercise in Vogue on a five hour car trip this weekend, the second sentence caught my attention:

"Here we all are, trying to shape a body worthy of this season's long and lean dresses, maybe even a midsection viable in knit, while not letting vanity interfere too egregiously with our regularly scheduled responsibilities as lovers, mothers, workers, and friends."

There's a reason I don't typically read fashion magazines anymore: while Vogue portrays powerful, successful women in the fashion industry and elsewhere, its articles only give importance to the average woman in terms of her relationships with other people. We are lovers, mothers, workers, and friends, but never autonomous human beings with unique desires, individuals who love themselves for the way they are regardless of other people, or agents who accomplish things independently. Apparently, our biggest goals and joys in life are to serve the men, children, and friends in our lives. I'm not arguing purely against relationships here (I believe that relationships give life meaning and importance), but would you ever find this statement in a magazine for men? I think not. Why is women's value constantly depicted solely in terms of other people? Can't we ever be good enough on our own?

At the Steele family Thanksgiving this weekend, I encountered more of this offensive attitude towards women. I was having a conversation with a friend who came over for pumpkin pie and we were talking about school. Good ol' Grandpa Steele comes over and says, "Oh, probably talking about boys, are we?" And I responded, "No, neither of us need a man to complete us. We're perfectly fine without them and they are not the only subject of our conversations." So Grandpa Steele responded, "That sounds like a women's liberation movement kind of statement," with that sarcastic and judgmental tone typical of many men from his generation when discussing those dirty words, "feminism" and "women's liberation."

First of all, what the hell did his statement even mean? Seemingly sexist as he is, my grandfather has always told me that I can achieve anything I put my mind to, that I will go far in life because of my hard work, and that I can have any job I want if I try hard enough, regardless of my gender. So why is the idea of my being an autonomous, independent woman who is not dependent on men so revolutionary to him? Isn't my statement representative of essentially the same things he's been telling me my entire life? I guess it's okay to be successful as long as you still acknowledge men's prominent role in determining your happiness and recognizing that, contrary to what you may believe, you're still dependent on them underneath it all.


  1. Lately, I have been thinking about how in our society, we as individuals do not live enough for ourselves. We are taught that in order to be happy, safe, and successful, we must live and perform for someone else's benefit (i.e. the perceived goal of education being to get a job). But it's passions that should drive us!

    I don't think I would have picked up on this seriously significant and culturally revealing mindset if I had read the article myself. I probably would have concentrated on how annoying it is that the media tells us the importance of changing our bodies for the dress and not the other way around. Or, how the magazine lists "lovers" as a female's primary responsibility. But Carol, you make a fantastic and well-said point! Not only are women viewed only in terms of how they affect others, but they also, as the magazine says, should not let "vanity interfere" with their lives. Now, I am not promoting excessively self-obsessed behavior. I am commenting on the fact that women should be allowed to be vain.
    The media forces women to obsess over our looks and then tells us it is wrong to put ourselves before others. Male models are photographed in dominating, direct poses, whereas women are most often depicted as vulnerable and submissive. Men's vanity is applauded; where is the fairness in that?

    I feel that I'm rambling so I'll try to bring this full circle... maybe.
    Originally, I thought about how our entire society, all genders included, are too focused on living their lives in terms of other people, their jobs, or unattainable aspirations. If only people would focus more on what allows them to experience things fully, and continually explore topics that open up their minds in exciting ways, maybe we could be happier people. Now, however, thanks to C. Steele's (fiery) insight, I can see this problem as more of a feminist issue, and something to be looked at from a more historical viewpoint.

  2. Love the point about vanity. It's a classic example of the dualities constantly used to keep women down; we must be vain to be beautiful, which is apparently our primary goal in life so that we can find a man to complete us, but we can't be too vain or we'll be judged for being overly "girly," i.e. obsessed with our appearance. In terms of sexuality, we have to be sexy and attractive to men, but God forbid we have sex with too many because that makes us sluts, "damaged goods." Society wants us to have a career and a small amount of success, just not as much as our male counterparts, and if we don't want children there's something wrong with us.

    The upshot of all this is that it seems that it's okay for women to move forward a little in terms of equality, but these dualities that restrict and control us must stay in place so that we don't get too many revolutionary ideas.

  3. My Dears,

    Way back when I was an adorable, chubby little girl wearing blue cat-eye bifocals, corrective shoes and braces wih head gear, I remember Great Grandma Steele's male business associates asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up-- a nurse or a teacher? I scoffed--internally--at the idea. My genteel upbringing would not allow me to scoff aloud. My Heavens! I couldn't imagine having only two such (to me) traditional, unimaginative choices! I am so proud that your generation is reviving and redefining feminism. The women who entered the workforce in the '90s seemed to think that "feminist" was a naughty word. Keep it up, my lovelies! That glass ceiling has a lot of cracks in it.

    Love, Momma Steele