Laurie Penny, Unspeakable Things. Sex, Lies and Revolution. London 2014.
„Gender determines the shape of our fantasies. Good little boys are supposed to dream about changing the world, but good little girls are supposed to dream about changing ourselves. […] There comes a time when you have to decide whether to change yourself to fit the story, or to change the story itself. The decision gets a little easier if you understand that refusing to shape your life and personality to the contours of an unjust world is the best way to start creating a new one.“ (p. 21 & p. 38)
Laurie Penny was born in London in 1986 and grew up on the Internet. She studied English Literature at Wadham College, Oxford. In 2010 her blog Penny Red was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for political writing. She is the Contributing Editor at New Statesman magazine and is konwn for reporting on protest and social movements. She currently has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.
1.) Beauty Work
Men experience body policing too, of course. [But] Men’s physicality is not assumed to be everything they have to contribute. „Beauty“ for men, despite the best efforts of the cosmetics industry to persuade them otherwise, still involves little more than a shave, a slick of hair-gel and a clean T-shirt.
A recent survey by shopping channel QVC claimed that the average British woman spends £ 2,055 per year, or 11 per cent of the median full-time female salary, on maintaining and updating the way she looks. Men, by contrast, spend just 4 per cent of their salary on their appearance, most of which goes on shaving and the gym. („Beauty Bill of a Lifetime“, Daily Mail, 21 February 2011)
Maintaining order on the surface is important [for women]. We are supposed to be objects of desire, not desiring beings. […] Looking „good“, for a woman, involves sacrifice, hard work, illness, even death [in the case of eating disorders]. „Beauty“ for women involves hours of pain and expenses. Our bodies are the most important things about us, and left to themselves, they will betray us, become fat and unmanageable: they must be controlled.
Where once feminists complained of women’s „second shift“ of housework and childcare outside the workplace, the obligation to be highly achieving now infects every part of life: we must be academically successful, socially graceful, physically attractive, sexually alluring but not too „slutty“.
Feminist writer Naomi Wolf refers to „Beauty Work“ – the time, money and effort women have to put into „maintaining“ their appearance and cramming their physical selves into the narrow stereotype of conventional beauty standards – as a new third shift of labour, alongside women’s traditional „second shift“ of domestic and caring work [with the „first shift“ being working on their jobs earning money]
Glossy women’s magazines are manuals of self-transformation: change your body for summer, change your wardrobe for winter […]
Women’s fear of not being considered beautiful is well founded. Recent studies have proven what most of us have grown up knowing on a deep and painful level: that there is a cost, for every woman and girl, to departing from the norm of what society considers „beautiful“. (p. 34) Women and girls who deviate from current beauty norms in physical appearance, weight, style, race or gender presentation face discrimination at work and quantifiable obstacles in terms of pay and promotion.
Femininity, docility and prettiness, by which we mean the lifelong effort to look as much like an even-featured, underweight Caucasian girl in her early twenties as possible, are the entry tickets to a wider variety of jobs in which a few will make it big and most won’t make it out.
A report published in a recent issue of the „Journal of Applied Psychology“ revealed that the pay and influence of test groups of women in America and Germany consistently rose as their weight dropped below the healthy average, even when controlling factors that affect both weight and pay. By contrast, weight gain was an indicator of financial success for males up to the point of extreme obesity, when men too begin to pay a professional penalty.
(T.A. Judge and D.M. Cable, “ When it comes to pay, do the thin win? The effect of weight on pay for men and women.“ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20853946)
2.) „Ugly feminists“
A great deal of what used to call itself „new feminism“ used to devote itself to reassuring women and girls that they could be empowered, independent political women and still be beautiful… Can I be a feminist if I love to wear lipstick and twirly dresses? Is it all right for empowered women to shave their legs? Feminism is not about telling women what (not) to wear or whether to shave their legs or not. The fall of patriarchy is unlike ly to begin or end with one woman’s decision to wear fishnets or grow out her armpit.
A lot of this nonsense is a response to the tired old stereotype of feminism as unbeautiful, and being unbeautiful – being ugly – is the worst thing a woman can ever be. That stereotype is harking back to the „Second-Wave feminists“ of the [1960s], 1970s and 1980s, some of whom did wear trousers and go unshaved. [But there also] was Gloria Steinem, whose classic bombshell looks allowed her to go undercover as a Playboy Bunny in Hugh Hefner’s original club to write an excoriating exposé of how women were treated in that weird world.What the stereotype of the bra-burning, hairy-legged feminist is really supposed to suggest is that feminism, that politics itself, makes a woman ugly. That women’s liberation is a threat to traditional ideas of femininity, of a woman’s social role. Which of course, it is, and always has been.
It’s interesting that „ugly“ is still the insult most commonly thrown at women to dismiss their power, to get them to shut up. Female politicians are called ugly by men who can’t quite bring themselves to say directly that they don’t deserve their power, that their primary purpose as women should be to please and arouse the opposite sex. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been told, on the Internet or in person, to „shut up, ugly bitch“, when men – or, occasionally women – were uncomfortable with something I was saying. At first I started turning up to talks and debates in my best clothes, in leather, in lipstick – but no amount of lipstick is ever going to make patriarchy comfortable with the words coming out of your mouth, if you have an ounce of ambition or anger.
„Fat“ is even more obvious. You’re gross, you take up too much space, get out of my sight. Men who occupy positions of power, of course, are allowed to run fat, lose interest in their appearance […]: their places at the top table will still be reserved.
3.) Women at work
Perhaps the cruelest trick played on my mother’s generation was the way they were duped into believing that the right to work in every low-paid, back-breaking job men do was the only and ultimate achievement of the women’s movement. Yes, in most Western countries, women now have the legal right to be paid equally for any job a man can do, although they have to get the job first. In practice, women are not working at the top of the pay and employment scale in large numbers. We are instead over-represented in low-paid, underpaid and unpaid work, just as we always have been, in domestic and care-sector work and other professions that remain at the bottom of the social heap in terms of pay and social status precisely because that work is traditionally done by women.