It’s Different When We Do It


Garance Franke-Ruta at Slate:

It seems to me–and I touched on this a bit a 2009 Slate piece–that a simple distinction between the two worlds in which women today operate can help us think about this: They are the system of beauty, and the system of power.

The system of beauty is what preceded women’s entry into the paid workforce in a bid to achieve economic equality and professional fulfillment. It operates everywhere in the world, according to regionally variable standards, but goes a little something like this: Women are a natural resource, a form of wealth that men can acquire. Beauty and, to a lesser extent, fertility, are the coinage in this system of value. In contemporary America, women can choose the extent to which they wish to engage with this system of power, but there’s no question that it remains extant, and that in many ways the most economically successful women are those who use it best to their advantage–actresses, models, musicians, and the like. Beauty is a system of power, deeply rooted, preceding all others, richly rewarded. We pay homage to it, still, and young women as they face the world can make a choice to live a life–even a career–within it, just as they can choose to go to law or medical school or contend in any other way for standing and earning capacity in the world.

That is, they can enter the system of power. Power as the acquisition of status, capital, position, knowledge, property. And for a reason other than the exploitation of the resource of the physical self. The fight of feminism was the fight of women for entry into the system of power from the system of beauty. The fight in the workplace for women very often is to create a space for themselves within the system of power while continuing to operate within the system of beauty in their private lives. And the struggle of feminism has often been to acknowledge that the system of beauty is irrevocable and cannot be expunged by protest or discourse or time. To be an educated professional woman in contemporary America is to know that you operate–and often, must operate–within both systems. It’s why beautiful and extremely capable women are often valued above their less glamorous or less fit peers–they are triumphs in two systems of value, double-threats.

Harris, like Michelle Obama, is a triumph in the system of beauty as well as the system of power. But President Obama’s remark mistook the setting. Just as it’s perfectly appropriate to tell a colleague she looks gorgeous when she’s dressed to the nines for some black tie work event, it would be inappropriate to refer to her as “gorgeous over there” during a work meeting. Doing so takes her out of the system of power and puts her into the system of beauty in a setting in which power is the value that’s brought her to the table. And that, dear readers, is a gaffe.

A gaffe?

noun \ˈgaf\
Definition of GAFFE
1: a social or diplomatic blunder
2: a noticeable mistake

Actually, I’m surprised they even called it a gaffe. But inconsistency seems to be a hallmark of modern feminism. Maybe it always was.

The women in this country spend billions of dollars every year on clothes, shoes, make up hair and medical treatments designed to make them look good. But us men aren’t supposed to notice (let alone comment on) their appearance. Unless they want us to. But if we misread some signals it is OUR fault.

Kate Upton makes a lot of money posing in little bits of fabric. If men look at her pictures then they are pigs But God forbid we should express disapproval because that would be slut-shaming. But if some high school kid decides to invite her to his prom that is practically rape.

Apparently the only hard and fast rule of modern feminism is “Men are bad.” Unless that man is Obama.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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57 Responses to It’s Different When We Do It

  1. feminism is so screwed up, and it makes me sad that the continuing message to men is that they are bad. However, there are parts of being female in the U.S. that are still oppressive, and we haven’t figured this equality thing out yet——not by a long shot. But we need men in our corner, at the least the ones sympathetic to the cause of equality.

    In 1972 I was going to Columbia U in NYC and was enthralled by the continuing ascendance of the women’s movement. The message of female empowerment that we had been lacking was addictive. However, I had to stop attending the meetings of the feminist group at my school because I was dating and living with my future husband (we’ve been together 41 years!!), and the women who ran this group thought men were horrible and pressured me to give him up. That seriously tainted the whole thing for me. But I never stopped believing in the cause, just the “groupiness” of it.

    • myiq2xu says:

      I think that one of the reasons that feminism stalled was that it was perceived as an “anti-men” movement. To some extent it really is. As frequently happens in politics, the extremists discredit the rest of the group.

  2. elliesmom says:

    “And although we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they’re rather stupid.” – Mary Poppins

  3. It is maddening and frustrating for we females who are never, ever going to be part of that beauty crowd. Because it IS real. Even though some of us have the brains, we don’t have the looks – and not having the looks, we don’t get to demonstrate the brains.
    The same old cycle goes on and on and on.

    • myiq2xu says:

      What is the alternative? Burqas?

      • God Forbid!
        Hopefully someday brains will be tops and looks won’t matter so much.
        The whole beauty thing applies to men in some measure as well. Men who are perceived as handsome seem to do better in the power circles as well. Not to the extent it applies to women perhaps, but it is there.

      • elliesmom says:

        People who have advantages over other people – beauty, brains, money, personal connections, etc., are never going to be convinced they shouldn’t use them to get a leg up on people who don’t have them. We talk about “citizen legislators”, but no one without money and personal connections has a snowball’s chance in hell of beating someone who does. Unless we stop valuing the ability to raise a lot of money, they never will. Beautiful women have an advantage over women who are not. They always will as long as beauty is valued more than a woman’s other attributes. It’s ridiculous to believe beautiful women would voluntarily give up their advantage, but as a society we could grow up and recognize that unless being beautiful is a necessary personal attribute for the job, it doesn’t count. One of the problems women have is that in our current culture women who are beautiful are more likely to make it into positions of power, and they are aware their beauty helped them get there. If they promote highly competent ugly women into positions of power, and the ugly women succeed, then beauty becomes a less valuable commodity. So beautiful women are just as likely to choose other beautiful women as men are. The idea that beautiful women like to associate with women who aren’t as beautiful as they are is a myth largely propagated by men who make movies and TV shows.

        • votermom says:

          There is a strong biological instinct that makes us attracted to beauty – the symmetry, good skin, etc are all markers of good genes & good health.
          It’s crazy to think we can override some very basic stuff like this.

        • yttik says:

          It’s also not necessarily “beauty” that we’re talking about here. There are many women who are not really beautiful who still manage to put on all the trappings of what the culture expects. There are also many beautiful women who don’t.

          Marilyn Monroe is a good example, or rather Norma Jean. She created an illusion around herself that really had nothing to do with who she really was or her natural beauty. So this idea of “beauty” isn’t really about good genes or symmetry, it’s about conforming to an expectation and constantly pursuing your status as a commodity. Many of the cultural standards of “beauty” aren’t beautiful at all, foot binding, corsets, extreme thinness, rings in your nose, whatever the culture has determined they want to see.

        • VM- While I can agree that some of it is biological- I don’t have to like it lol. Cuz when brain power is equal- but the “prettier” face gets picked- it rather sucks to be the ugly duckling lol.

        • votermom says:

          Oh, I don’t necessarily like it either, and yttik is right that a lot of it is artifice rather than actual beauty.
          It’s just the way people are, and while there things we can do culturally to address it, there’s always the danger of falling into the trap of “something must be done” by govt.

  4. driguana says:

    Don’t forget that Obama is what feminism looks like! And that’s a scary thought…although true in some respects!
    I wonder what the response to a “masculinism” movement would be, advocating the positive qualities of men?
    Well, I know what it would be.

    • elliesmom says:

      I would actually like to see that happen. The positive qualities of men could use some reinforcing- especially for all of the boys who have been abandoned by their fathers. And it wouldn’t hurt for little girls to see they can set their expectations higher, too.

      • driguana says:

        Absolutely! But be the first man to try and go out and do it!! You’d get pulverized. Anyone that stands up to the specious ideology of the left gets excoriated….Dr. Ben Carson is a good example. While I don’t entirely agree with some of his comments, especially the ones that tend toward biblical theology, he is standing up….and that, more than anything in my mind, is what needs to happen right now. We need leaders, not politicians. I view Dr. Carson that way. But what does everyone want???? For him to become a politician! What’s wrong with him being a leader? Does he have children?

        Leaders, not politicians, have the unique opportunity right now to stand up and say, “look, I don’t believe what you do but I respect your beliefs and I am not going to try and make you believe mine….so, let’s work together to solve this problem (whatever it might be) together”.

  5. driguana says:

    Love the cartoon by the way. I occasionally threaten my partner with cross-dressing. Told her the only way I would ever dress up for a Halloween party would be to go as Marilyn Monroe…..but the cartoon pic has corrected my thinking!!!

  6. yttik says:

    This isn’t a man/woman thing, this is simply common sense and good manners, or rather President Obama’s lack of both. I would never say to a young guy, “look at him sitting there all gorgeous,” because it’s demeaning and rude, it implies he is simply eye candy, it singles him out.

  7. DeniseVB says:

    Remember when they treated Romney’s “binders full of women” as though he were some creepy sex-slave master? Of course, it was nothing of the sort, just his awkward way of promoting how many truly qualified women he could choose from to fill his staff positions. Smart feminists would have celebrated that, instead they piled on him with that insipid War on Women campaign tactic …. Romney likes to collect women and keeps them in binders!!!! He’s creepy!!!!1

    The Obamas’ “gaffes” are noteworthy because while BO’s oogling pretty ladies, MO’s subconsious is saying I’m a “single” mom. It just goes along with what many of us suspect, something’s not right in that relationship. Even when they vacation together, it’s always with other friends and family, never as a family alone.

    I see it in the body language too. They know where the cameras are, but I don’t see small gestures (a look, a touch?) that proves they’re for real. Despite the Clintons’ problems, I always saw affection between them. Hard to explain, just a gut feeling 😀

    • yttik says:

      It’s almost as if the President is a caricature of what he thinks a heterosexual man should be. He tries too hard, it’s forced. Even his demeaning comments about women seem awkward and rehearsed. His relationship with Michelle and their interactions together don’t seem real at all.

    • driguana says:

      Sorry but the Clintons to me are downright macbethian…dark and tragic and full of misused and misguided power.

      • bluestate says:

        damn those rotten clintons and the 8 years of peace and prosperity they inflicted on this country

    • Constance says:

      Feminists just want some bed time story to believe in and they are happy. Democrats give them that much. East coast feminists have the capacity to ignore the world and it’s sexist reality in their precious little ivory towers of privilege.

    • bluestate says:

      i never thought the binders thing was awkward. that was all hype. it was just a classic political pander that they all do.

  8. votermom says:

    OT LOL

  9. DeniseVB says:

    Speaking of Rocket School cadets …. Obama should have gone to one……true story !

    Sorta makes Newt’s moon colony idea not so dumb now, huh?

  10. swanspirit says:

    What? Obama committed a “gaffe” , someone called him on it, and he apologized?? What??
    He never apologized for Bros before Hoes t shirts ,” Sweetie ” ” Lipstick on a Pig ” ; for any of his blatantly misogynist remarks directed at Hillary during the campaign .

    Remember , “You challenge the status quo and suddenly the claws come out,” or “I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal,” ?
    He never has apologized for his sexist strategy during either campaign , and make no mistake , it was part of his strategy . Hillary was “just a wife” and he dismissed her efforts at getting health care done ; when no one else would take it on , with , “Hollering at Republicans and engaging in petty partisan politics didn’t help health care get done.”

    And he NEVER called anyone out anyone on his staff or in the media for the horrendous misogyny they used against Hillary and Sarah on either campaign . He and his staff knew it was helping him . and they looked on and laughed..
    Has world turned one too many times on Barack Hussein Obama as President ? Is he being called to account for some of his appalling behavior? I hope so . I can imagine if Romney had said anything remotely similar to a woman in the position of AG .

    The definition of “Beauty” is changing . We have expanded that definition in the past few decades to include women of all ethnicities,
    and many different shapes and sizes , and the definition also now includes women who are smart and successful outside the home . That was not always true , and I can remember reading and hearing at a young age I had to choose . I could either be pretty or smart , but that men didn’t marry smart women .
    It is nice to know that those definitions are changing and my daughter and granddaughters don’t have that awful choice imposed upon them , to constrain their lives in miserable ways.
    So, while women continue to make their way to equality , if men are confused , that is understandable , None of this progress means women or feminists hate men .
    I think what we want is to live in the world with them on equal footing. I do not understand why men think this will automatically result in some loss for men , when the progress so far demonstrates such obvious gains for both sexes .

  11. HELENK says:

    not behind – nor in fromt – but beside men

  12. HELENK says:

    what is it with progressives??

    If you start a business and it grows they say you did not build that
    If you have a kid , they say that kids is not yours

    so If I don’t own the business why am I the one paying the taxes and the salaries?
    so if the kids is not mine, why am I the one providing food and shelter, and love and education to that kid?

  13. Constance says:

    That article above was interesting. I agree with yttik ” it’s about conforming to an expectation and constantly pursuing your status as a commodity” So often the appeal for men is looking at a woman and seeing she is non threatening because she will go to extremes to conform. Sure people are going to admire a truly beautiful person male or female but there aren’t that many of them. Maybe this speaks to why media can’t sell media women to women consumers except in gossip magazines which mock female celebrities. The way women succeed in media is by extreme conformity to the beauty system, it is basically all they can do and the rest of us are supposed to be entertained by observing their extreme conformity, but we aren’t. Because it is really interesting to me that the so called “women’s content” channels have very few women viewers while the “men’s content” channels like ESPN have tons of male viewers. Basically the “women’s channels” are trying to sell women consumers their part in a male fantasy and women aren’t buying because they have their own fantasy.

    • myiq2xu says:

      So often the appeal for men is looking at a woman and seeing she is non threatening because she will go to extremes to conform.

      I have learned not to tell people “what women want” because I am male and I have absolutely no idea. At best I can repeat what some women have said.

      I do, however, know what some men want.

      • Constance says:

        You are right of course how do I know what men want. But all people like beauty and most people are average looking. I don’t see that the few beautiful people are running the world. In fact women who are considered beautiful often seem to be alone in their life. It does seem that many women who are described as beautiful actually just are displaying a willingness to conform and often the fashions they are wearing to conform are ridiculous or even ugly. In the case of Kate Upton I don;t see why men should feel any guilt associated with her. She is selling, she expects men to buy, But her MO in no way makes her a leader among women.

  14. It’s worth noting here that Obama’s apology is, as usual, a non-apology. He most certainly did not apologize for what he said; he apologized for “the distraction” his comments “created.” In other words, he apologized for his perception of the hyper-sensitivities of today’s [white] feminists.

    It’s also worth noting that many black women and men do not understand this broohaha at all. I watched a black friend of mine post an article about this on Facebook yesterday and watched as the space filled up with her black friends poo-poo the reaction as white feminists being “jealous” of Harris’ beauty or become severely defensive about Obama himself, like he could do no right, despite what they called his “solid feminist record.”

    I understand this reaction. Especially among black women who are convinced that their blackness prevents their entry into the system of beauty, it’s nice to hear someone comment on the beauty of a black woman. However, I also notice that while these same folks insist, often defiantly and aggressively, that the rest of the demographic groups take their concerns seriously, they’ve got no problem at all dismissing the concerns of other demographic groups as petty, racist, etc. The irony causes a bit of cognitive dissonance for me, and I do not feel comfortable articulating it to my black friends.

  15. Constance says:

    As far as Kate Upton goes, she hardly measures on my recognition scale and I wouldn’t recognize her, she is a male phenomenon which was clearly her goal. She is not a “leader among women” and yet she is likely viewed as one by men. I find her about as interesting and relevant as most men would find Robert Pattinson. Yet somehow those who run media know not to put Robert Pattinson on as a football commentator because he isn’t a leader among men but they will dump Upton in women’s venues and expect us to be interested and grateful. I guess women don’t get to vote on who are “leaders among women” men will poll themselves and inform us of our “chosen” leaders.

    • DeniseVB says:

      The same couple allowed access to all parts of the WH and Obamas decides to take a vacation to a communist country? Grabbing my tin foil hat …. damn spydar was set off. /sarc

    • bluestate says:

      they are truly some of the most ugly (on the inside) rich people in the world

  16. driguana says:

    It’s also now easy and fashionable to denigrate conservative women and conservative African-Americans in one fell swoop…

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