The Sexist

Breast Implants for Jesus vs. Breast Implants for Feminism

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is on a How To Please Your Man kick this week. Yesterday, Schlessinger admonished wives who aren't interested in sex and deny their husbands "the normal, expected 'reward' of love and passion:

Most of the time, too many wives just get lazy and self-centered about taking care of their romantic and sexual lives . . . Women’s sexuality requires “priming,” while guys are just about always “ready to roll.” A lot of that priming has to happen in her head:  thinking affectionately about sensual things, bathing, primping and flirting—the kinds of things wives tend to leave at the altar or in the birthing room.

To Dr. Laura, a woman's work includes bathing, primping, flirting, buying pretty outfits, doing her hair, and painting her nails. But it also requires a woman to devote some of her brain space to "thinking affectionately about sensual things," just in case her husband is horny when he gets home from work. Interestingly, Dr. Laura doesn't admonish women as "lazy and self-centered" for literally refusing sex to their husbands—she calls them selfish for failing to perform the inner work of actually feeling sexy when they do have sex.

Laura's sex advice reminded me of Amanda Marcotte's observations on the conflicting theories of traditional gender roles in the conservative movement. Social conservatives, Marcotte notes, alternately argue that gender roles are innate, and that they are learned. To these folks, acting "like a man" or "like a woman" is the "natural" thing to do, but it also takes a whole lot of work to achieve proper masculine or feminine performance. As more social spaces open up for people to be freely gay, bisexual, butch, unmarried, gender non-conforming, or anything else that defies the idea that traditional gender roles are in fact "natural," I'd argue that the performance model becomes more crucial to maintaining the conservative social order. So instead of working to dismiss gender non-conformists as "unnatural" freaks of nature, conservatives have just decided to paint them as lazy, bad people who aren't working hard enough to fulfill their constructed roles.

Now that conservatives have openly acknowledged that masculinity, femininity, and heterosexuality actually take a lot of work to maintain, they have to work doubly hard to attempt to normalize this performance. So, good people work hard to fulfill their gender roles, but better people don't whine about having to perform that work. And the best people really, truly, actually love to perform their roles—or at least appear to love it. Hence Dr. Laura's insistence that women not only perform sex for their husbands, but also internalize that performance in their own minds—a feat that is so unnatural that women may even need to buy Dr. Laura's book, "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands," in order to do it right.

Under this model, it doesn't really matter if gender performance is "natural," as long as it's sufficiently difficult. Take the openly gay social conservative who argues that sex between two men can still satisfy the requirement of fulfilling proper gender roles as long as one of the men agrees to wear a dress and properly submit. Or the ex-gay activists who argue that same-sex sexual attraction is naturally occurring, but that the Christian thing to do is to resist it through intensive (and sometimes expensive) "therapy". Or the deeply religious woman who received breast augmentation surgery before her fiancee (or any man, for that matter) had ever seen her naked, because unnaturally augmenting the body that God gave you is actually a sign of ultimate love and devotion, as long as you hand that body directly over to your husband.

The "unnatural" aspect of Breast Implants for Jesus doesn't concern me—it's the completely bizarre attempt to justify plastic surgery through scripture that sets my bullshit meter off. Not because I'm interested in upholding the sanctity of the Christian church, but because Breast Implants for Jesus reminds me a whole lot of a bullshit justification closer to my heart—Breast Implants for Feminism. While social conservatives are latching onto the performance model of gender, post-feminists (some of whom just call themselves "feminists") are taking the opposite tactic—arguing that our performances of masculinity and femininity are a matter of individual choices and preferences. So whenever a woman "chooses her choice" that happens to fulfill these gender roles—even if it involves painful and invasive surgery of the boob—her choice is necessarily an empowering move that can't possibly inspire a larger feminist critique of the culture that informs that choice. I Blame the Patriarchy calls this justification-happy post-feminist the "empowerful woman":

Today’s woman isn’t a feminist. She doesn’t need to be, because she’s empowered. She may only earn 3/4 of what a man earns, but she damn well has the empower to look sexy doing it in her cheapcrap push-up bra from Victoria’s Secret. She has the empower to demand pink products from manufacturers. She has the empower to cry out ‘I did it for me!’ when she gets her boob job; maybe she even has the empower to believe it. The empowerful woman is saucy, yet feminine. Clever, yet feminine. In her early thirties, yet feminine. Heterosexual, yet feminine. Stays in shape eating Lean Cuisine and sweating blue Gatorade while kickboxing in slow motion, yet feminine. Yes, the empowerful woman is many things. Too bad powerful isn’t one of them. That’s because feminine is all of them.

The way I see it, the difference between Dr. Laura's traditional wife and post-feminism's "empowerful woman" is that the empowerful woman doesn't admit that her performance of femininity is in the service of pleasing a specific man. The empowerful woman doesn't perform femininity to please her man—she performs femininity "for herself." And so while Dr. Laura openly admonishes women for not feeling feminine for themselves for their husbands, the empowerful woman conveniently fends off any arguments that feeling feminine "for herself" actually has a lot to do with how our larger social structure feels about women. I'm afraid that the real difference emerging between Breast Implants for Jesus and Breast Implants for Feminism is that the latter is just less honest than the former. The cult of Dr. Laura at least recognizes that a woman's work often really sucks.

That's not to say that feminism should shame the woman who is traditionally feminine, or who gets breast implants, or who spends her days thinking sexual thoughts in order to steel herself for her husband's penis. Feminism should, though, work to encourage that woman to:

(a) stop feeling that her gender and sexuality requires a lot of unnecessary work in order to please people like Dr. Laura;

(b) realize that gender performance is highly valued in our culture, and to stop feeling like she has to justify her gender performance as a completely independent choice;

(c) understand that living in the patriarchy while refusing to justify it is going to require a whole lot of cognitive dissonance, but hey, it's better than lying to yourself;

and (d) just consider the possibility that you're really getting Breast Implants for the Patriarchy.

  • http://twitter.com/NomChomspky Nom Chompsky

    It's kind of silly that in no part of her response to wives who don't want sex does she suggest:

    -That husbands do anything to arouse their wives.
    -That they actually talk about things like, you know, married adults.
    -Trying sex any differently

    What she does suggest, however, is "bathing."

    Thanks for the helpful tips, Dr.

  • mdesus

    Men do this too, but no one ever talks about the pressures of being masculine enough.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    mdesus, I think you need to write an essay entitled "Calf Implants for Jesus vs. Calf Implants for Men's Rights"

  • A small squirrel in a cardboard tube

    "and (d) just consider the possibility that you’re really getting Breast Implants for the Patriarchy."

    Only if (e) you consider the possibility that the person you're talking to did NOT get breast implants for the patriarchy but for a wide variety of complex, networked reasons that are as much about immersion in a wide array of social forces since birth as about one's own internally considered reasons.

    I mean, come on, the disclaimers you've tossed in are nice, but at the end of the day, you're still turning a certain kind of judging Gaze on non-natural boobs.

    How would you write about breast augmentation if a trans woman got that kind of work done?

  • sharpie

    I'm no Dr. Laura fan, but I've heard or read her words here and there, and as with most folks out there, there's truth mixed in with some real wackery.

    There's a simple truth here in her first paragraph: "I hear from (and about) a lot of women who say they’re not interested in sex, and they are married to men who vowed fidelity, and so those men are now literally out in the cold."

    While I wouldn't characterize myself as a "men's rights" guy, I think there's a simple lesson mixed up in there. Bait-and-switch isn't okay.

    I think there's a lesson there that can be extracted without having to reduce women to indentured sex workers for their husbands.

  • TJ

    I normally agree with you on the majority of the articles on your blog, but this one has a hole in it.

    Amanda, the group that you didn't think about are lesbians who get augmentation done. They do exist, and I can guarantee you that they aren't doing it for the men or "patriarchal society." I also don't think that the lesbians who do get work done are doing it for feminism, either. There are some women (not just the lesbians, but I can talk about them because I am one) out there who actually do it because they like how they look.

    So what is your reasoning for women, specifically lesbians, who get breast augmentation done? Would you just lump them into the made up "empowerful women" category? Or is there another less-than-feminism category where you would place them?

  • https://scatteredfemthoughts.blogspot.com Ami

    Thank you for addressing the breast implants for feminism thing...I have often thought in great detail about this post-feminist type of thinking that calls itself feminism. It assumes that everyone woman is making every decision in a vacuum and therefore her decision must be empowering.

    I don't want to shame anyone for their personal choices, especially concerning their bodies...but I do want to challenging such women to really think about why they are making the choices they are making. I often hear about getting breast implants because it will make the person "feel better about themselves." And that's often taken as reason enough. But I want to know WHY it would make the person feel better. You really have to drill down to it and in 99 out of 100 cases some level of patriarchy will be involved. I'm not going to judge the person for the choice, but I do want to acknowledge what's really going on.

  • https://scatteredfemthoughts.blogspot.com Ami

    TJ: I can't answer for Amanda, but here's my take on it...You cannot truly separate anyone from the patriarchal society we operate in. Even women in female relationships who only interact with women in their daily lives exist in our society, which has been saturated by patriarchy. Patriarchy is part of the reason that larger breasts are seen as better...whether the person getting the augmentation realizes that patriarchy set the precedent or not.

    For example, you could be in a lesbian relationship and love women but still make the comment to a friend that you hate dating women because of how "catty they are." That's a sexist statement that can be linked to patriarchy. Just because no man was present in the scenario doesn't mean that the patriarchy of society hasn't seeped its way into the equation.

    I would wager that many women (lesbian or not) who get augmentations don't say they are doing them for a man or patriarchal society. Often they say they like how it looks, it makes them feel better about their bodies, etc...these comments alone, however, do not erase the fact that the business of augmentation, how popular it has become, and the cultural preference for larger breasts are tied to the sexual objectification of women and patriarchy.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    TJ,

    Yeah, outside of the specific context of Dr. Laura telling women to specifically perform femininity for their husbands (as a side-note, I believe Dr. Laura is actually an opponent of plastic surgery), I don't think that most women perform femininity in order to please specific men, or even men in general. They do it to live up to the beauty standards set by the patriarchal culture, which men and especially women are raised to support and value. I'm sure some male partners have preferences for the way women look and act that they enforce on their partners, but I don't think that the patriarchy functions exclusively in interpersonal relationships. Far from it. Actually, I think lesbians in particular have to endure a great deal of societal pressure to perform femininity in the traditional way. Our culture scrutinizes the appearance and behavior of lesbians and gay men intensely; lesbians are often either dismissed as butch or see their sexuality subsumed into male fantasy (girl on girl!).

    I don't think that women who perform femininity (and the specific example of breast augmentation aside, everyone performs gender to some extent) need to wake up and realize that they're performing it for men. But I think it would help if we didn't have to justify our gender performance as necessary to being "good" women. And I think it would help if we didn't have to justify our gender performance as a series of individual choices that are decided upon by ourselves alone and that we make regardless of any cultural influence.

    Of course women get breast augmentation surgery because they like the way they look. Is that the end of the discussion? I don't think it should be. Why are women willing to receive invasive and expensive surgery in order to achieve that look? How does our culture set these standards and priorities for women? Because women have less real power in society, they stand to gain more from the cultural validation of really successfully performing femininity. And I think that's doubly true of women who are marginalized for other reasons, like race or sexual orientation. This isn't about being "less than" feminist, it's about being honest about what informs our performances.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    A small squirrel in a cardboard tube:

    Awesome handle, BTW. So, I can't speak for transgender women. But I have spoken with several trans women about the plastic surgery issue, and I have yet to meet a trans woman who has not considered the great cultural pressure on women to perform femininity through their bodies. Last year, I wrote a story about Suzanne Clayton, a D.C. local who had to travel across the country ten times to undergo surgery and other medical procedures related to her transition. Clayton and I got to talking about the pressure on trans women to appear sufficiently feminine in order to be "accepted" as female, and how this pressure to be perceived as "more female" affects all women. After undergoing some initial surgical procedures, Clayton was still weighing whether to receive additional plastic surgery to further feminize her face. “I don’t want it to be the case where I’m always looking for the next procedure to feel more complete---to be the person I should be. I want to get to the point where I’m happy with myself,” she said. “This is not a phenomenon that’s just isolated to transgender women---it’s all women.” I agree with her, and I'd add that the idea of women being "happy with ourselves" and the way we look is, unfortunately, significantly culturally informed.

  • Sarah

    @ Ami: "Thank you for addressing the breast implants for feminism thing…I have often thought in great detail about this post-feminist type of thinking that calls itself feminism. It assumes that everyone woman is making every decision in a vacuum and therefore her decision must be empowering.

    I don’t want to shame anyone for their personal choices, especially concerning their bodies…but I do want to challenging such women to really think about why they are making the choices they are making."

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES! THIS. This has always been my argument about the relatively new fad of crawtch-shaving.

    On a note related to this article, I was flipping through the radio stations Sunday night and paused on a sex-advice program with Dr. Drew (?), where a nineteen-year-old woman called in to express frustration that she had never masturbated before. The immediate reason was that she had shared a bedroom with her sister for her entire life and didn't feel comfortable getting down to business in that room, even when her sister was away.

    Instead of giving such sound advice as "buy a vibrator" or "find your own apartment" or "visit The-Clitoris.com," this Dr. Drew character had the nerve to dismissively suggest that masturbation and orgasm would happen in due time and that the caller just needed to wait things out. He didn't exactly say how this how or when or why this masturbation would occur; he just said that the caller needed to stop worrying about it in order for it to happen. He also had the audacity to say that men were always on the ready to masturbate, that their innate sex drive made masturbation on a regular basis necessary, but that women didn't possess a strong sex drive and had to build up their desire artificially via Dr.-Laura-type rituals. I think the implication was that this difference between the genders was the reason that the caller had difficulty with masturbation . . .?

    I was so. Fucking. Offended.

    I am in a heterosexual relationship--have been in several heterosexual relationships--and I often feel a strong sex drive out of nowhere, which I don't have to build up to with baths, flowers, or essential oils. Sometimes that strong sex drive makes me want to bed down with a man. But sometimes--and I know Dr. Drew and Dr. Laura will find this hard to believe--I want to masturbate alone. I want to get down with my bad self.

    In fact, I've had a sex drive since childhood, but since I didn't know anything about my vulvular anatomy, I didn't achieve orgasm until age fourteen. My savior came in an unlikely form. I was reading YM Magazine and came across a spread about women's anatomy, masturbation, and how to achieve orgasm. I immediately sat down in front of a mirror and discovered parts I didn't know I had. Shortly after, I figured out how to use those parts to accomplish orgasm. The rest is history.

    I wonder if you would be able to dig this radio interview up, Amanda? It was shocking and deeply sexist, and I'm sorry that that unfortunate woman had to settle for such shitty advice.

  • mdesus

    I mean I guess I saw the breast implants as being a relatively minor thing. I mean the bigger issue is the need to meet the absurd normative standards of our gender no? Yes women have more plastic surgery than men, but it doesn't mean that there aren't other things men are forced into doing to meet these normative standards.

  • TJ

    Of course, after typing up my devil's advocate piece, I instantly realized that her choice for the augmentation did have a little to do with patriarchal dominance. One of the main reasons why she got the work done was because her girlfriend wanted her to do it at the time, and Lord knows that woman (her ex) was stuck in some warped role-playing world. Her ex also wanted her to dye her hair blond... go figure.

    Once she got the work done (and maybe I'm a part of that stereotypical patriarchal societal group thinking... she has a GREAT rack), she had the idea of modeling, and the motivation was the work that she got done. Who would this modeling potentially be for? Playboy.

    So here is my follow-up question, and anyone can respond (thanks again, Ami and Amanda!): how can we, as women, figure out how to do things for ourselves (and potentially do stereotypical things like hair and nails and other girly stuff) without thinking that there is an underlying patriarchal motivation? I mean, I actually like being a pretty girl, and heaven knows that I'm only interested in (and motivated by) attracting other folks with ladyparts...

  • Emily H.

    "While social conservatives are latching onto the performance model of gender, post-feminists... are taking the opposite tactic—arguing that our performances of masculinity and femininity are a matter of individual choices and preferences."

    I'm not sure why these things would be opposed. I mean sure, performance implies that there's an audience of some sort being taken into account, but that doesn't mean there can't be an element to the performance that's deeply individual. If someone chooses to perform a role in a play (or a dance, or whatever), then (1) her performance will be indelibly stamped with her unique personality, her ways of speaking, moving, maybe even her way of seeing the world; (2) she may get a deep personal satisfaction out of the role that isn't wholly tied to the size of her paycheck or standing ovation. Surely when we say gender roles are a performance, we're comparing them to these more obviously performance-y types of performance, so the analogy is relevant. Performing gender isn't effortless, but that doesn't mean it's inherently oppressive; the things we put the most effort into are often those we mind the most rewarding.

    "So whenever a woman 'chooses her choice' that happens to fulfill these gender roles—even if it involves painful and invasive surgery of the boob—her choice is necessarily an empowering move that can’t possibly inspire a larger feminist critique of the culture that informs that choice."

    Okay I suspect I'm the style of feminist people are bitching about when they make this "empowerfulmentness" argument, so I'd just like to state that it's a total straw-man, & I don't actually think that. What I do think is that if a woman does something that appears gullible, conformist or self-destructive to me, that doesn't render her powerless or contemptible in all aspects of life. If a woman gets a boob job & then goes on to get a Ph.D./put her kids through college/start a successful dog-grooming business/whatever, I'm still going to admire and respect her for the latter. I'm not going to go "ah-HA, I see that the broader culture has shaped your choices -- too bad you're not as powerful as you think you are, SUCKER!" Seeing women as defined by their femininity or their sexuality is itself an old trick of the patriarchy, e.g. "that woman's fake boobs look so slutty, I can't possibly take her seriously!" I think it's important not to fall for that.

  • Kat

    Sarah, I hate those sexist sex advice shows. It's so stupid, I really don't think men and women's sexual urges are that different. It probably changes throughout a lifetime (for both sexes.) I have heard of many people of both sexes that have a spouse that lost interest.

    The whole idea that women need to work up to it with scented oils or some such is bullshit. Perhaps some women do, but probably some men do too. In fact, I'd say most ppl tend to have the urge as often as their libido demands it, and in situations that arose them personally. I really doubt any of these things can be generalized across genders.

    I have also had a sex drive since childhood. Since before I knew what sex was. I accidentally discovered orgasm in first grade and after that thought masturbation was the best thing in the world. Everyone should know themselves.

  • https://scatteredfemthoughts.blogspot.com Ami

    Sarah: I'm totally with you on the crotch thing too!

    TJ: "How can we, as women, figure out how to do things for ourselves (and potentially do stereotypical things like hair and nails and other girly stuff) without thinking that there is an underlying patriarchal motivation?"

    Great question...and one that I can't say I can answer. Interestingly, while I say one must look at the real motivation for getting an augmentation done or totally shaving one's crotch...I have my own vice, and..it...is acrylic nails.

    I'm often getting crap from fellow feminist friends about them, and I can't help but feel like it's deserved. I definitely fall into Amanda's categories of "understand[ing] that living in the patriarchy while refusing to justify it is going to require a whole lot of cognitive dissonance, but hey, it’s better than lying to yourself; and just consider[ing] the possibility that you’re really getting [acrylic nails] for the Patriarchy."

    In other words: I know that my nails are related to patriarchy. In fact, in my day to day life, the time I have the least in common w/ the people I interact with is when I'm at the nail salon. I've heard my fellow patrons talking about how it's so nice to show your man you take care of yourself. I've heard the shop owner talk about how her favorite customer is the man who sets up the appointment for his wife, drops her off, and pays when he gets back..."Buying her anything she wants. Don't we all want that man!?"

    But yet, I can't help but enjoy the relaxation of a mani/pedi and indulge in it frequently. Sigh.

    I don't know...I just keep remembering the context of my decisions within our society. I'm not claiming that my decision to get my nails done is empowering, simply because it is a decision I have made.

  • A small squirrel in a cardboard tube

    Ah, I see we don't actually disagree here then.

    I definitely think the discourse needs to provide a space for a discussion of subjectivity and agency outside of the "X is empowering!" approach.

  • Em

    I think the biggest thing is separating "power" from the consumerism that our society markets as "feminist power". The underlying theme is that we NEED these things to feel prettier and better and empower ourselves, when really all we need is our own resilience and minds. The companies only tell us we need these things because that's how they're going to make a profit.

    I would be the last person to suggest that we all have to subscribe to a bra-burning, no-shaving philosophy, because it would be hypocritical. I like nail polish and make-up and pretty sundresses, and I'm pretty persnickety about my personal grooming. But I would never turn it around and pretend like those things are feminist--they're not. Even though I never do those things for my partner (honestly, he thinks I'm sexiest on the days when I do nothing and veg around in sweats, so there's no pressure there), I still do them because it's something that's been beaten into my mind by society since I was a child. There's nothing wrong with doing these things to elevate my mood or make me feel more confident, I just wish we all knew WHY--and knew when consumerist "feminism" is actually harmful.

    In my opinion, when it's at the point where you feel like you have to starve yourself or have someone carve you up and change your phsysicality, well, that's time to ask yourself the question, "Why do I need this? Why do I need to put myself into physical danger?" Obviously, it's a layered issue that changes when someone is transsexual, or has some physical need. But I seriously doubt that's the majority of cases, and I feel justified in voicing that the institution of frivolous, unnecessary cosmetic surgery has become a pretty creepy pandora's box. I mean, first it was just lipsuction and boob jobs (which decrease sensitivity and thus desexualize the breast for most women anyway), but now women are having their cooches chopped up and sewn back together so they're more aesthetically pleasing! When are we going to say, "Enough, this is unhealthy"?

  • Emily H.

    "The idea of women being 'happy with ourselves' and the way we look is, unfortunately, significantly culturally informed." Yeah but like, is the mere fact of something being "culturally informed" automatically a bad thing? A person's perceptions and expectations about life are ALL gonna be culturally informed, unless you grow up alone on a desert island, which would be much more unfortunate. My enjoyment of novels, rock music and the like is quite obviously influenced by culture, since those things are a product of culture. That doesn't mean I don't really like them, or that interrogating the reasons I like them will make that liking go away.

    If I get genuine enjoyment out of painting my nails or wearing high heels or whatever, I don't really care whether it's culturally influenced or not. The problem is that female-bodied people who DON'T like those things, or who get pleasure from performing gender in a way that doesn't read as "feminine," don't have the same privilege as I do. Their preferred way of dressing and acting will not appear professional/attractive/normal to many people, & they will feel immense pressure to conform. That's what needs to change.

    I also have to object to Jill from IBlamethePatriarchy being invoked as an authority on what women think. Her claim that "today's woman isn't a feminist" is insulting to those of us who DO identify as feminists. And the woman has, for God's sake, mocked DOUBLE MASTECTOMY PATIENTS for getting breast reconstructive surgery; she is hardly a beacon of common sense and compassion when it comes to this topic.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Emily H:

    Your likes and dislikes being culturally informed is not automatically a bad thing, but I'm arguing that it can be a really bad thing depending on what that culture is. I don't believe that thinking critically about why we like things is going to make us stop liking these things---that's where the cognitive dissonance comes in. But think of the fetuses, Emily! There are plenty of potential humans out there who don't like a goddamn thing yet, and there are arguments to be made for shifting (or preserving) the cultural values and expectations we hold for these people. We'll disagree on what those values and expectations ought to be, of course, but I don't think that everything will be peachy as long as we can find some way for our kids to take some sort of enjoyment in the more damaging cultural expectations we pass along.

    I agree with you that the main problem here is that a lot of people DON'T enjoy these aspects of feminine performance, and so valuing them over other options can lead to pressure, shame, and misery for these people. But I think that the cultural pressure to conform to this stuff goes far beyond attempting to "correct" those people who aren't into acting feminine---it also encourages women to genuinely enjoy conforming to femininity. Is that always bad? Nope, but here are some current expectations that I do think are damaging: A beauty standard that values a very particular image of white female beauty, even if a woman who lives under these expectations starves herself because she "likes" to be skinny, or goes under the knife because she "likes" to have large breasts, or otherwise adheres to the sometimes painful, often expensive, and necessarily time-consuming standards set by white femininity because she just "likes" to look more like a white woman. See also: A sexual standard that values heterosexual male pleasure, even if a woman "likes" sex that never produces an orgasm for her because she prefers pleasing her man to getting any pleasure herself. Because that's just what she likes, even if it causes Betty Draper level dissociation.

    I don't doubt the authenticity of your interest in feminine stuff---humans are a diverse bunch, and if we somehow rid our culture of the more rigid expectations of femininity, there would still be women and men who gravitated toward that sort of stuff anyway.

    For the record, I very much disagree with shaming cancer victims.

  • rebekah

    I would like to point out that for some of us acting our gender is actually beneficial. For example, a lot of women cannot find pants that fit them because the fashion industry completely ignores women with small waists and large hips. Women who fall into this category often find it easier to just buy skirts, which fit as long as one has the right size. There is a lot of benefit to doing that to these particular women. Less time in the store finding clothes, less money spent on clothes, etc. Those are definitely not something that women do for the patriarchy, but I would say are a direct contrast to it

  • Queer Femme

    I am SO glad to read yet another piece on gender performance written by a heterosexual woman that completely ignores queer femmes, queer femininity, and models of feminine gender performance that exist outside the heterosexual paradigm. The added dismissal in the comments really helps!

  • piny

    You quote Dr. Laura the marital-rape apologist and all-round misogynist horror. You engage with what she's actually saying.

    You don't quote these "empowerful feminists," only another blogger who sets herself up in opposition to them. (In fact, she doesn't quote them either! She quotes a shoe company! So you're two steps removed from the non-words of hypothetical empowerful feminists!)

    I don't believe that breast implants are feminist, but this is lazy writing. If these arguments are so flawed and irresponsible, and so popular, it shouldn't take you any time at all to find them, quote them, and destroy them.

    Otherwise, all you do is force a bunch of real feminists to engage with arguments that are and yet are not against them or about them. It's a chump game, and thankless, and extremely frustrating.

  • Emily H.

    Amanda -- I agree with what you say here, & I probably don't disagree with you on much here. By contrast I know there are some feminists out there who *really do* think femininity itself is the problem, with whom I feel the need to disagree vociferously. Making the argument in this way fits in very nicely with traditional misogyny, which sees women's perceived artificiality as evidence that they are vain, unserious, perhaps fundamentally less human. It also sets up a very naive, simplistic version of what it means to be "authentic" -- "You are wearing makeup and uncomfortable shoes, and I am not, therefore I am less corrupted by culture & closer to my natural state." When really, the (hypothetical) person making this statement has just found a mode of cultural expression that is less mainstream & feels more comfortable to her, not escaped culture altogether.

    "But think of the fetuses, Emily!" Thinking, thinking... thinking of the fetuses... eww, yuck.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    @Queer Femme, or anyone else with knowledge of the subject, could you point me to some interesting writing on that stuff?

  • TJ

    @Queer Femme, I understand your frustration, as I am a gay woman. However, you cannot deny the gender-specific roles that many lesbians take on. Yes, there was a bit of dismissal in Amanda's response, but at the same time, can you say why queer feminine women have taken on that role of being feminine? Because you realize that it is a role. I would be considered femme, and I couldn't tell you outside of "I look great in a skirt and make-up" as to why I feel most comfortable this way.

    So instead of getting defensive about what the straights are ignoring, we should try to figure out why many lesbians (not all, but many) submit to the same gender roles as straight folks.

  • Peter Piper

    I guess as a man, who prefers things like large breasts, round bottoms, painted nails, 4 inch heels and well coifed hair, I have to ask a few questions...

    Why would the patriarchy prefer this? I was always told that my preference (and most guys I know) was a biological one... IE, large breasts and round bottoms indicated fertility and that was the innate appeal. The other things? Well they are a sign that a woman is of a higher station than a lower one and all things equal, this is better for my offspring.

    So, have I as a man been duped by the patriarchy? No sarcasm, I had just never considered that before.

  • Sarah

    @ Peter Piper: Evolutionary biologists theorize that large breasts are appealing to men because they indicate that a woman will be better able to nurse children, but there's no proof that all men of all ages and races all across the world--all across history--prefer large breasts to small ones. It's an educated guess at best. Also, smaller-breasted women have no more difficulty nursing children than larger-breasted women.

    As for the painted nails, four-inch heels, and well-coiffed hair, one would hardly find those "feminine" features in nature. They're all cultural preferences for SOME men. I could dig up dozens of men who couldn't give a rat's arse about painted nails, high heels, and bouffant hair.

    Also, your argument doesn't make a lick of sense. Can you explain it better?

  • JenniferRuth

    @ Emily H

    Just to inform you, Jill from IBlamethePatriarchy has HERSELF had a double mastectomy and has written about her experience with breast cancer many times. You can totally disagree with her mocking of breast reconstruction surgery but I would pose that it is not aimed at the women themselves but at a world that makes them feel "less of a woman" without breasts. I just think it is a bit unfair to make out like Jill doesn't have any compassion or common sense on this subject.

  • Peter Piper

    @Sarah: My arguement makes no sense because I am not arguing anything! :) I have never read this blog before but this post engaged me and I had a few questions is all.

    I have never looked into my tastes with any great depth. The cursory information I gathered years ago was what I presented. I am no anthropologist or biologist, and am not trying to present myself as one.

    In the past I had always assumed that my preference for women with large breasts was not so different from the majority of women I know prefering men with nice cars, or high paying jobs, or in uniform. On the surface it makes sense for the well being of the offspring to have more resources than less, so all things being equal, both genders would prefer more (whether that be fertility, economic resources, social resources, etc) for thier children than less.

    That said, I am still not sure that you heard my questions... And I would love to hear your opinion...

    Why would the patriarchy prefer the above "feminine" traits over others? I am not arguing, I am asking.

    I am also curious, if my taste has been influenced by the patriarchy. It is something I have never considered before.

    I have to say that I think what Emily H says makes alot of sense "That doesn’t mean I don’t really like them, or that interrogating the reasons I like them will make that liking go away." This ressonates with me.

    Thanks for your response!

  • Palaverer

    I disagree with your take on Dr. Laura's advice. I think the reason that she recommends "feeling sexy" is for the woman's own enjoyment. Sex should be pleasurable for both parties. When we marry, we create an expectation for regular sexual activity with our partner. Some women begin to think of this as a chore. Dr. Laura is reminding women that if we do it with that attitude, it is a chore. It's all about the outlook we choose to have.

...