SECTION THREE: WOMEN ARE ENSLAVED BY MEN
In a capitalist society, those who perform services for free are either martyrs, deceived , or fools. Marriage, the way it is idealized today, confounds all three. The woman is expected not only to perform her jobs of nurturance and support for the husband and family, but she is expected to provide that “little extra” in the way of income from a second job to make ends meet. Her normal “work load” is a full time housewife job and a job on the side to produce extra income. For the full time housewife job, she is paid nothing. The money she earns at the second job is appropriated by the family. Of course, everyone loves and appreciates her until the kids are grown and the husband decides that he wants to feel young again. He divorces her, marries his secretary who is 25 years younger, and leaves his wife to fetch for herself.
For contemporary feminists, then, marriage is an institution which enslaves women. Women are economic servants of men who dominate through an intricate system of religious, social and political mores. (The following arguments are quick summaries or paraphrased versions of Sandra Bartky (See “Psychological Oppression” in Philosophy and Women, edited by Sharon Bishop and Majorie Weinzweig (Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth Publishing Co., Inc. 1979) and Shulamith Firestone (See The Dialectic of Sex, William Morrow & Co., Inc. 1970). Their articles on this subject are highly recommended.
Let’s take a look at a few of their critiques of the sexual mores of our culture. Society condones or promotes the following conditions of behavior for women. Why? Because they are tactics used by men to enslave women. The tactics are so insidious that women are often not even aware of the manipulation. Bartky and Firestone critique those mores.
1. Women are naturally ugly. The fashion world of today is vigorous and amazing. There is glamour, romance, endeavor and big business imbedded in it. Everyone waits for a look at the latest (season’s) fashions. The models parade the new looks across the catwalks to the blaring music and the oohs and ahhs of the watching crowds. The astounding beauty of women is made clear to the world.
But, wait. Is it? What beauty are we talking about?
Women wear make-up and fashion clothes. Why? Because they think that they ought to. Why? Because they think that they are not beautiful without the fashion and make-up. What!?? The message of the fashion artists and make-up producers is clear; women in their natural state are not beautiful. That is, beautiful enough in the eyes of the beholder --who is a man. The models portrayed in the magazines are all creatures of impossible diets, physical attributes which photograph well but are out of the ordinary and photographic darkroom techniques. No woman can look like all the models parading down the causeway, yet they are encouraged to do just that by buying the different clothing and make-up and “refurbishing” themselves each day into a “new woman.” Again, why? To keep the continued interest of men, who always have a wandering eye for the “new look.”
There is a very subtle catch to the whole process. The photograph of the fashion model in a magazine is a fiction. No woman could ever look like her (not even the model herself), for the image is a creation of the technology of make-up and darkroom techniques. Yet, this image is set up as the ideal towards which women are encouraged to strive. The underlying suggestion is that the closer a woman comes to the look of the model, the more appealing she will be. This rule applies to all women. Which means that all women are encouraged to seek the same kinds (if not the one kind) of look. Each woman will think to herself, “If I get the new hairdo just like the one the model has, then I will be distinct from all the other women. My individual nature will stand out and I will be noticed. So, make me over now so that I may gain individuality and stand out from the herd.”
The catch is that all the other women are thinking the exact same thoughts. All of them rush to the stores, but the same outfits and make-up and wear them thinking that they are distinct. In reality, they are in fact becoming more alike --they all look like “wanna-bes” of that model look. As such, rather than becoming individually distinct, they look alike, even more of the herd. They realize this, and the rush is on to be the first with the “new look.” What madness.
The simple truth is that women are no more ugly or beautiful in their natural state than are men. To think that the only way that a woman can be beautiful is to look like a fashion model is ridiculous. To think that a woman’s individuality resides in her looks and apparel reminds us of the old silent movie called “The General.” A poor man buys the uniform of a general in a pawn shop. People react to him as if he were really a general. The comedy is outstanding, for, as only the movies could do, the people react only to the clothes and not to the man. In reality, there is much of that, but the effect on women is not a laughing matter. Women are psychologically coerced into trying to achieve the impossible beauty ideal.
The terrible thing is that the process starts at an early age. Take a look at the popular “Barbie” doll. What makes her attractive? Well, she has a long neck (which would break were it real), absurdly small feet and hands (she could not stand up with such small feet or hold much of anything with her hands), long legs, big blue eyes, blond hair, large bosoms, a tiny waist, a big flashy smile and relatively short arms. Put together, they portray an attractive picture. But, if the doll is the “ideal” of beauty for small girls, that ideal can never be achieved, for the proportions are impossible. Little girls cannot grow up to look just like Barbie because Barbie is an anatomical impossibility. So, the best they can do is try to look like Barbie, and that starts the whole conditioning process. With so much time in the process of growing up, no wonder women are so concerned with their looks. The conditioning process has had years to take effect.
2. Women are not happy unless they are married to a man who loves them. The idea of a single woman being self-sufficient and happy in today’s culture is anathema to contemporary society. The proper place for a woman is in the home raising and taking care of the children. These are the children of the man who worships her. Only through that worship and achievement of the goals of motherhood can a woman be happy.
Balloney. Of course, persons who are happily married are just that, happily married. However, it is not a necessary condition of being happy, either for a man or a woman, to be married. It is perfectly possible to be happy and single.
A response may be that, “Women, as a whole, are happier when married; that is a married woman is happier than an unmarried woman.” Well, not true. Surveys, which you will have to find on the WEB, indicate that of the possible combinations the married man is happiest, the single woman the next happiest, the married woman the third happiest, and the unmarried man the unhappiest. So, if those surveys are right, it is the man who needs the woman for happiness, not vice-versa.
3. Women prefer to be sexually objectified. Is it true that women like to be whistled at on the street? Well, maybe. It may be pleasant to have the acknowledgment that one looks good. Reciprocity is in order here, however. Men should be whistled at just as frequently as women. But, sexual objectification, where one is considered to be nothing more than one’s body, is something no one would want. To be identified as “a hunk of meat” is not the recognition of personhood. Not even male body builders want that designation; they are persons who have very well developed bodies.
Sexual objectification of women is prevalent in our society, especially in advertising. Most boat shows portray the attractive females leaning against the boat up for sale. Why? Because the target audience, males, will look at the female and then the boat. It’s good advertising; the skimpier the suit, the more the male eyes will target the ad. Unfortunately, the whole concept is to use the woman as “part of the boat.” Get the boat and the women, just like the one in the ad, will be attracted to you (the male fisherman). But, do women want to be identified as being wanted just because they have a good figure? No. Just ask, would the ad be successful if there were a woman with the equivalent features of the male client standing beside the boat in fishing garb? Probably not. The world of social custom and advertising tends to force women to be identified through their bodies rather than other more important characteristics.
4. Childbearing is a natural process. The world contains a simple biological fact; women can bear children, while men cannot. In conjunction with this fact, is the fact that pregnancy, though a natural occurrence for women, is not necessarily a desired or safe condition. Pregnancy can be dangerous to women for a number of reasons which I shall leave to you to find out from your physician. But, pregnancy involves serious changes in the physiology of a woman. Those changes can affect behavior.
The social assumption that pregnancy is a natural and thus normal state for a woman to be in carries with it consequences which are unfair to a woman. Though it is natural for women to get pregnant, it is not a regular state of being for a woman. To think that it is only requires men to think of themselves as gaining thirty-five pounds, being attached to a beach ball which covers their stomach, having the beach ball press against their bladders all the time, have their blood pressures go up, not being able to sleep on their stomachs, having stretch marks across their sides, and so on. Few men would undergo these changes without crying help. And that is what pregnant women should be given. Help in the form of consideration that their condition is out of the ordinary and needs special attention. It is unfair to them to demand the same duties given the debilitating factors of pregnancy. Unfortunately, society does not seem to want to relieve women of this unfairness.
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