I was on Radio NZ Nights yesterday evening, talking about women and beauty and age and double standards. You can listen to the discussion here.
I started with Mary Wollstonecraft, and her deep concerns about how the quest for beauty and beauty alone distorted women’s behaviour.
And, why do they not discover, when ‘in the noon of beauty’s power,’c that they are treated like queens only to be deluded by hollow respect, till they are led to resign, or not assume, their natural prerogatives? Confined then in cages like the feathered race, they have nothing to do but to plume themselves, and stalk with mock majesty from perch to perch.
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1792
The conversation segued from there, as it always does, here, there and everywhere. Bryan Crump, the Nights host, always (always!) asks me something unexpected.
As I was preparing for the discussion, I came across Susan Sontag’s 1972 article, “The Double Standard of Aging” (PDF available here).
A man doesn’t need to tamper with his face. A woman’s face is the canvas on which she paints a revised portrait of herself.
It’s very much second wave feminism, but there are some hints here and there of seeing beyond the concerns of white middle class educated women.
Oppressors, as a rule, deny oppressed people their own “native” standards of beauty. And the oppressed end up being convinced that they are ugly.
There’s a post on Sociological Images, referencing Sontag, and looking at the differences between the images that come up if you google, “woman face”, and “man face”. It makes Sontag’s point, that women are supposed to be young, with symmetrical, unlined, hairless faces. And evidently, as Sociological Images says, they should also be white.
As ever, when I’m talking to a generalist audience on Radio NZ, I tend towards a more mainstream feminism. I’ll be talking again in a few weeks, sometime in June, and I’m contemplating pushing into somewhat more complicated territory, perhaps into a discussion of intersectionality and privilege. We shall see….