It’s so tempting isn’t it! You see a woman in all her make-up and fancy clothes, her hair a mass of mega-chemical orange, her nylon-encased legs sticking out of whatever it is she’s almost wearing, and you think – well – why would she do that?
Because she wants to look that way! Say the 20th century feminists. She’s being shiny and sexy and powerful to suit herself!
And it’s true, in a way. Those harlequin women have imbibed the male notion of the feminine so very deeply that it has become what they want to be – more than that, what they need to be. They are ensnared. They are every bit as bad as those women who appear to be at the other end of the scale, who wrap up and hide, clothed up to the chin and down to the ankle, or encased in the sternest of tweed, in the name of decency. Those shrouded, buttressed women have imbibed the male notion of the masculine so very deeply that it has become their job – they have taken it on themselves to protect men from transgression by avoiding any appearance of available femininity.
Is it ‘feminist’ to disapprove of either of those styles of dress and behaviour? No, it is not. It is feminism to recognise them for what they are, and work on liberation for all, work on the understanding that ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ are both nonsense, but not accidental. They are the tools of sexism, and the attack starts with the very youngest of children. The media, the chit-chat and the jokes, the behaviour surrounding them, teaches children to view the appearance of women in the light of male approval or disapproval, male desire or revulsion, in the light of imagined ‘come ons’ and ‘turn offs’.
It goes hard for a women when she’s the victim of sexist behaviour because even her sisters will be looking on through the filter of sexist judgement. Even if they try not to. Avoiding it entirely would be like trying to live next door to a factory and not breathe its fumes.
Don’t try to change those women, help us read and learn and talk and listen until every woman and man understands what sexism is when they see it, and helps us to dismantle it *before* it gets as far as revolting behaviour in the Houses of Parliament, or assault or rape or murder, or any of the other horrible things it leads to.
Don’t try to deny you feel it, either. I remember being quite seriously distracted by large breasts straining against a tightly laced cotton dress, and legs that went on for miles, when a certain orange-haired MP came to do a consultation in my town. I noted it. I thought, she thinks she’s power-dressing, poor woman – like all those ghastly pink jackets women MPs wore a few years back – and there I go, judging people again. I noted that I was far from being the only one who noted it. I hope I wasn’t the only one who placed the blame where it belongs.
When I was a kid, the woman next door was… I have absolutely no idea what she looked like. The woman next door was a hair-do, a facial ‘look’ and a fiendish manicure on legs. I hadn’t really thought too much about it until the day I heard her making arrangements to do something with my mum, and she happened to mention that it took her two hours minimum to get ready to leave the house in the morning.
It simply and absolutely was not a tolerable idea to her that she might be seen – even just in front of her own house – without the hair do, the ‘look’ and the manicure in place. I never found out what she looked like, but from time to time I remember her, and think how awful it must be to believe your own, clean, basic self so utterly unacceptable it’s not fit to be seen.
It did start getting better in my young days. It’s getting worse again, now. We have a growing tide of kids who don’t just want the hair-do and the look and the manicure – they want bits chopped off themselves so they fit a template that’s been sold to them as their ‘authentic selves’. God, how miserable, to be convinced that you’re deprived somehow of ‘your authentic self’, that your ‘identity’ is something you have to buy from professionals. (Hey kids, if you need a surgeon to build it, it’s not ‘authentic’.)
Please help – please join in the learning process that will undo sexism. You’ll find it in the search engines or in the bookshop under ‘4th wave feminism’ or, if you want the classics, under ‘2nd wave feminism’. Probably best to avoid the 3rd wave. They completely didn’t see the capitalist capture of feminism coming at them.
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