It has been fifty years since the publishing of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The 1950s had fairly rigid gender roles only we called them sex roles in those days.
The latter half or the 1960s and the 1970s with the flowering of the hippie era,sexual liberation, the feminist movements and the gay/lesbian liberation movements brought less rigid sex roles. Some described it as androgyny.
The acceptance of androgyny as a personal statement in the late 1960s allowed me to have a very easy, soft edged transition. I added hormones and stopped wearing head bands, I already had long hair to below my shoulders.
Gay and lesbian liberation allowed greater freedom of gender expression which led to the armies of late 1970s mustachioed gay male clones and flannel shirted lesbian clones but I digress…
Something else was happening as well.
That boomer generation had grown up with rising expectations. After World War II the vets had the opportunity to go to college, suddenly working class people had college degrees.
While that immediate post war era that lasted through the mid-1960s produced what Betty Friedan described as a malaise with no name among women who had graduated college only to become house wives those women were only a minority of a certain class.
Other women were working, breaking free of that mold.
For all its flaws Playboy magazine taught a generation of men enjoyment of culture and how to be gentlemen, lessons mixed with nudes in what could have been a psy-op to educate those newly minted vet/college grads in the ways of a class they were just entering.
Fast forward to the 1970s. Women were shedding “traditional sex (gender) roles. Not just lesbian feminist women but women in general.
So were a lot of men. There was an element of role questioning to the anti-war movement, when young men questioned the whole warrior ethos and mythology linking manhood to a willingness to kill for your rulers.
Add in an element of questioning mindless consuming of products and services and you have a pattern that threatened not only the military industrial complex but the capitalist ideal of working not to live but to consume and generate profits for the rich.
Ironically we did consume. We just tended to consume less mass market items and instead consumed more individualistic items.
What are “Traditional Values”?
Those of us who rejected the idea of murdering strangers because our rulers wanted us to fight in Vietnam to stop communism were rejecting the mindless warrior doing the bidding of his master ethos.
Women who wanted to be defined by what they did rather than how they looked were rejecting the princess/object ethos.
Marlo Thomas and other lead a movement to permit children to be themselves without all the division of toys along boy/girl lines.
When I hear the term “traditional values”, I wonder WTF? I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, I’m a baby boomer and my parents grew up during the great depression. Our grandparents were alive when the first plane flew and yet the “traditional values” being pushed by the rabid right wingers and religious fanatics are alien and bizarre.
My mother worked outside the house as did my grandmother.
Growing up both boys and girls both rode bicycles, swam at the beach during the summer, formed gangs and played together.
There were unfair dress codes at school and by the 1960s girls/women were fighting for the freedom to wear pants to classes and men/boy were fighting to wear their hair long.
From usage of the term “traditional values” I’ve ascertained that that meme stands for racism, homophobia, misogyny and the oppression of working people.
Hippie Punching or The War Against the 1960s
Most kids in 1967 were not hippies. Those of us who were gathered in certain locations and created an impact on society far greater than anyone looking at our numbers would imagine.
The same was true of the campus radicals, of feminist and the gay liberation movement too.
The right wing and religious fanatics went to war against us. The war on drugs and prison industrial complex is but part of that war.
The women’s movement was revolutionary. Women demanded to be treated as equals and have control over their own bodies.
Immediately feminists were attacked using one of the biggest vulnerabilities women have, insecurity regarding their appearance. Feminists were told they weren’t feminine. Men who were gentle, intelligent and treated women as equals were branded as wimps.
What Was the Problem with Gentle Sensitive Men and Strong Secure Women?
I always saw positive traits as being positive for both men and women as well as negative traits being negative for both.
I don’t think men are from Mars and women are from Venus. We are both from earth and share more traits than we have different.
I think most gender differences are manufactured and the result of intensive programming.
I actually liked the way women were becoming strong and self confident during the 1970s, less concerned about how they looked and more concerned about what they could do. I like how some men were learning how to be less dickish and care about something other that trying to prove how macho they are.
This concept tied the panties of the religious fanatics and right wing fascist into painful knots. You see they hate the very idea of equality. Their whole world view revolves around their being superior to others. It doesn’t matter if those others are different due to skin color, sex or sexuality.
The first attacks were directed towards women. Feminists were all ugly. Never mind that Gloria Steinem was absolutely gorgeous in comparison to the harridan of the right, Phyllis Schlafly. Feminists were all man haters when some of the worst men haters seem to be women who make themselves into man pleasing sex objects in order to exploit the men attracted to them.
By the end of the 1970s we were told “Women like nasty brutish bad boys, not intelligent sensitive men.”
Perpetuating negative stereotypes of both sexes as part of the anti-feminist backlash.
I’m not even going to pretend to understand why the misogynistic religious right takes the positions they do. It is way beyond the scope of a blog post and would require unpacking the coded language they use to hide their racism and homophobia as well as their misogyny.
So for this blog post let’s just stipulate that the right wingers including the religious right find the entire concept of equality anathema.
They have a world view that equates differences of sex, race, sexuality as requiring a hierarchical classification that place white heterosexual right wing macho men above all others.
Sexism and Gender Stereotypes hurt everyone.
I don’t like Christina Hoff Sommers. I think she is part of the anti-woman right wing backlash, nonetheless she saw the problem of boys suddenly falling behind in achievement in schools. Her book, The War Against Boys outlined the problem but went on to some pretty strange conclusions.
One of the problems with Hoff Sommers that nags me is this: Were boys really only more successful because school favored them over girls and are they now lagging because schools favor girls over boys? Or could it be something else.
It has long struck me that boomer kids who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s were some of the best and brightest kids to come out of the educational system. Some good like the communications revolution. Some evil like the perverting of the economic system.
Christina Hoff Sommers had a recent piece in the New York Times: The Boys at the Back. She reiterated the premise of her book:
A few decades ago, when we realized that girls languished behind boys in math and science, we mounted a concerted effort to give them more support, with significant success. Shouldn’t we do the same for boys?
When I made this argument in my book “The War Against Boys,” almost no one was talking about boys’ academic, social and vocational problems. Now, 12 years later, the press, books and academic journals are teeming with such accounts. Witness the crop of books in recent years: Leonard Sax’s “Boys Adrift,” Liza Mundy’s “The Richer Sex,” Hanna Rosin’s “The End of Men.”
For a revised version of the book, due out this summer, I’ve changed the subtitle — to “How Misguided Policies Are Harming Our Young Men” from “How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men” — and moved away from criticizing feminism; instead I emphasized boy-averse trends like the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct and the turn away from single-sex schooling. As our schools have become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities. Concerns about boys arose during a time of tech bubble prosperity; now, more than a decade later, there are major policy reasons — besides the stale “culture wars” of the 1990s — to focus on boys’ schooling.
What happened was part of the anti-feminism backlash?
I hinted at it earlier. Boys and men were taught to think it was cool to be dumb, socially inept jerks. Or brutish thug warriors. Being interested in art, literature or any sort of movie that wasn’t either an action movie filled with violence or men acting stupid made one a “fag”. One book was actually titled Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche.
Being a nerd was considered unmanly, liking anything in the humanities section of academics was suspect. We were bombarded with things real men do. Few of which seemed to involve relationships with women but most of which involved proving oneself to be masculine and not homosexual.
I can’t help but wonder if the male masters of the universe live in a gated world with well rounded educations while the 99% get educations that turn men into immature boy-men or warriors to defend the oligarchies of the masters of the universe.
This sort of sexist indoctrination hurts men.
What about Girl-Women?
I remember when ordinary attractive women had curves and wore sizes like 9/10 or 11/12. I remember when women had pubic hair. The only women who removed their pubic hair tended to be sex workers.
Why has the infantile hairless pubes look become so popular? Is it porn chic or something more disturbing such as an unwillingness to accept adulthood?
About a week or so back Annika Penelope had an article on Huffington Post: 10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started My Transition:
1. Brace yourself for beauty culture.
This is especially true for my fellow femme girls, and there’s a reason it’s #1 on my list. Before I started presenting as female, I had no idea just how toxic beauty culture is in this country. Women are constantly inundated with airbrushed images and messages aiming to tear down our self-esteem and make us feel inadequate. Fashion magazines and the beauty industry make billions every year by exploiting these insecurities with the promise that if we only try harder to be prettier, we too can be happy.
As a trans girl, beauty culture can be especially difficult to navigate, because most of us have haven’t been exposed to it very long. Our cis partners and friends have been dealing with it since middle school (if not earlier), and many have had years to develop effective coping strategies, so we DMAB (“designated male at birth”) ladies have to make up for lost time, and on top of that, cissexist standards of beauty add another way for us to feel insecure.
It helps to maintain a sense of perspective. Many trans girls, including me, have a habit of romanticizing the cisgender experience. A month or two into my transition, I told my girlfriend that I couldn’t wait until I could look in the mirror and see a pretty girl staring back at me. “You realize that’s never going to happen, right?” was her response. “You’re going to look at your reflection and feel unsatisfied — just like every other woman.” And it’s true: Even the most gorgeous of my friends can list a dozen things she’d change about her appearance. So the next time you’re feeling unattractive, don’t blame yourself; blame capitalism and a beauty culture designed to make you feel that way.
This was followed a day later by an article by Tracy Moore on Jezebel: Why Don’t Women Say ‘I’m Pretty?’ Here Are Ten Reasons.:
If you are alive and female, you are all too aware of your own prettiness factor. And how could you not be? We spend our lives being told exactly where we rank by one person or another, not to mention offered an ideal example constantly, and sometimes (if you’ve ever walked through a shopping district) at literally every turn we take. But what are our alternatives? It’s all too easy to say that women’s obsession with prettiness is, ultimately, a fool’s errand, not to mention the small fortune we spend chasing an ideal unreachable for most. Fighting the beauty industrial complex and going rogue, while certainly admirable, is unrealistic (not to mention easier said than done). Women may never stop thinking about their prettiness on the Great Big Scale — duh, does a bear apply mascara in the woods? — but it may be far less emotionally driven (or depressing) than we might assume. In fact, many women approach their own looks with an economist’s appraisal more than a spiritual embrace. And in a world where our looks are used irrevocably for or against us either way, why not?
In response to a piece called “Why Can’t Women Think They Are Pretty?” — a thoughtful look at how rare it is for women to simply admit they are pretty, when instead they are armed with a laundry list of their flaws at the ready — I was all prepared to write at length about the fact that it would do us well to focus on anything but the pursuit of beauty, so tenuous and undependable it is.
But then I put the question to four of my twenty- and thirty-something friends instead, and discovered that rather than hand-wring about the issue, every one of them had a totally figured-out narrative about their own prettiness and prettiness in general, full of exceptions and asterisks and rules, honed over a lifetime. The idea that they would ever not think about it was ludicrous, nor were they about to go blabbing about it all that often. And more importantly, it wasn’t a cause for upset.
What’s going on?
Seriously when I was in my 20s and early 30s during that 1970s feminist decade I didn’t have all that much problem thinking I was pretty although I might have chosen the word cute as being a better fit. I didn’t consider myself all that narcissistic, didn’t even spend all that much time or energy on make up and clothes. Indeed most of the time I wore t-shirts and jeans with running shoes. Maybe I was getting a lot of feedback from people telling me I was cute and sexy but the reality was that I felt I was cute and sexy.
Maybe it helped that I mainly looked at Vogue for the photography and ignored the articles. I know I had girl friends who bought into the fashion/beauty culture and were a lot more obsessed with it than I was, but what we have today seems quantitatively as well as qualitatively different.
I didn’t look at fashion magazines for years, when I started looking at them they seemed different. Women didn’t look real in them. They looked like these Sci-Fi androids, almost human but the Photoshop version.
Then about two weeks ago I came across an article by Eric W. Dolan on Raw Story: Objectification suppresses women’s desire to engage in social activism, study finds.
“My research focused on self-objectification, which is a self-perspective that many women adopt as a primary consequence of regular encounters of sexual objectification,” the study’s author, Rachel M. Calogero of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, explained to Raw Story.
The study, published last month in Psychological Science, found that women who were primed to evaluate themselves based on their appearance and sexual desirability had a decreased motivation to challenge gender-based inequalities and injustices.
“Self-objectification has been causally linked to a number of negative physical, mental, and behavioral health outcomes in girls and women, and even some men,” Calogero added. “My research went further to test the theoretical notion that objectifying practices sustain inequality at a broader level. I demonstrated that self-objectification is connected to women’s motivation to challenge the status quo.”
The study contained two separate experiments to investigate the relationship between self-objectification and social activism.
The first experiment tested whether female college students who valued appearance-based attributes like “physical attractiveness” over competence-based attributes like “physical fitness” were more or less likely to accept the current state of gender relations.
See also: Rachel M. Calogero Psychological Sciences: Objects Don’t Object: Evidence That Self-Objectification Disrupts Women’s Social Activism.
See also: Anna Mikulak Association for Psychological Science: Self-Objectification May Inhibit Women’s Social Activism.
Keeping people insecure allows corporations to sell people products to ally their insecurities. One of the firearms corporations headlined an ad for an AR15 rifle variation with “Get Your Man Card Back.” Much of the advertising aimed at men is selling them on the idea that they have been unmanned and need to take back their brutish man card.
Christina Hoff Sommers and others of the right would have men think it was the evil feminists who took away men’s masculinity. Setting one oppressed group against another oppressed group is a game as old as empire.
Many years ago in The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir outlined how society keeps women off balance and denies them the autonomy of adulthood. One is the beauty obsession.
See Dodai Stewart: Jezebel: The Sephora Problem That Has No Name.
Fucking Sephora, man. There’s nothing like it. Part store, part museum, part laboratory, part psychologist. Densely packed with products, brightly lit as an operating room, gleaming like a jewelry counter, frenzied like a factory, Sephora is not just a cosmetics store. It’s a beacon, a flame to which women flit and flock like moths.
Sephora’s irresistible allure is global. Earlier this month, Sephora opened a flagship store in Shanghai, China. It has 7,000 products spread over five floors. FIVE FLOORS. Five floors of perfumes, eyeshadows, moisturizers, tweezers, serums, makeup brushes, lipglosses, teeth whiteners, eye creams, nail polishes, hair dryers and body glitter. My god.
The top four fascinating things about Sephora are:
Gender insecurity isn’t just something transsexual and transgender people experience. Corporations base whole advertising campaigns around gender insecurity. Obviously much of the population has anxiety about not being man enough or woman enough, not living up to some sort of fictional standard based on some pretty grotesque stereotypes.
I suspect that this gender anxiety suppresses men’s desire to engage in social activism as much as it does women’s.
After all we have been pushed practically to the breaking point by corporations that exploit all workers. If we were to stop focusing on our own imagined inadequacies we might just figure out who is responsible for the shitty state of our world.