Infantilizing women’s bodies

“Your hands are so cute and little! I wish mine were like that. I have big old hands.”

I can’t count how many female friends and acquaintences have told me this over the years. What’s interesting is that having cute little small delicate hands is in my opinion closer to a problem than something to be prized.

  • Things meant to fit in your grip (soda cans, drinking glasses, etc.) require more stretching and caution for me than for larger-handed people, or else I drop them because it’s certainly not my grip they’re intended to fit.
  • It limits my handspan in piano playing.
  • I wanted to learn to play the bass, but that was right out since my finger reach made it impossible for me to apply any pressure to the strings once I’d managed to stretch my cute little delicate hands around the guitar neck.
  • Don’t get me started on what a handicap it is for working clay.
  • I’m pathetic at farm work – yes, I know from experience – because a lot of the tools and tasks require or greatly benefit from a better and bigger grip than I have.
  • It limits how many things I can carry, and sometimes forces me to make two trips.

None of these things are what I’d call “real problems” in the grand scope of things – no single human body is perfect for every activity, after all, and fortunately my living doesn’t rely on any of these tasks (in which case it would be a “real problem”). My point is that my hands are less functional than larger hands, and yet I’m apparently to be congratulated on this lack of functionality. Because it’s feminine to have tiny hands.

Or is it feminine to be underequipped for functionality? Is that where the appearance preference is really coming from?

Comments

  1. SunlessNick says

    I think you’ve hit the nail on its depressing head with that last part. I’m reminded of your forum thread about beauty standards centring on the appearance (or forced actuality of) weakness.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Of course since men are always expected to be useful while that’s been more of an incidental attribute for women over the years, it ends up amounting to the same thing…

    That’s kind of where I’m going. Is it a coincidence when female beauty standards jive with less functionality? Or is the appearance preference unconsciously backward engineered from the desire to see women as delicate?

    Which does not jive with the ability to pass a 9 pound human being out a small hole between your legs, but clearly some people are in complete denial about how tough and indifferent to gore one has to be to do that. :D

    Thing is, I can’t think of any male beauty standard that would make a man less functional.

  3. MaggieCat says

    Or is it feminine to be underequipped for functionality?

    Oh, that just makes me sad. But I’m not sure how universal that might be- it could well be that, but I rather suspect that a large part of it may be more focused on emphasizing the difference between the standards for male and female attractiveness. The further from the male ideal you can be, the better.

    Of course since men are always expected to be useful while that’s been more of an incidental attribute for women over the years, it ends up amounting to the same thing…

  4. SunlessNick says

    Or is the appearance preference unconsciously backward engineered from the desire to see women as delicate? - BetaCandy

    Or the undesire to see women as capable of action rather than being acted upon?

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Good points, Karmakaze. I guess there are tasks to which when my hands are better-suited than bigger ones. That’s just not the reason women tend to cite when they’re discussing how they wish they had hands like mine. They talk about how “feminine” my hands look, how “delicate”.

    “Feminine” is a baseless constructed concept that shouldn’t even exist, IMO, and “delicate” is what flowers are just before you mow over them.

    And frequently these remarks come from women who have medium-sized hands, like a 6-7 ring size (I’m a 5). I would guess that medium hands combine much of the functionality of both small and large hands, so what’s to envy? ;)

  6. karmakaze says

    I can’t count how many female friends and acquaintances have told me this over the years. What’s interesting is that having cute little small delicate hands is in my opinion closer to a problem than something to be prized.

    From a large-handed women, it goes both ways. I miss the tiny hands of my childhood for things like fixing paper jams. There are some fine-manipulation tasks that work better if your hands are small enough to fit into small spaces. On the whole though, I don’t want tiny hands – I just want to be able to buy gloves that fit without hunting like crazy and I want to be able to buy rings from street vendors.

    For most other purposes, I like my “great big peasant hands” – they’re my best asset for massage therapy. At some point I stopped thinking of them (or my general tendency towards sturdiness rather than svelteness) as unfeminine. I just pull my femininity from the mother bear mode rather than the delicate flower.

    Thing is, I can’t think of any male beauty standard that would make a man less functional.

    Well, muscular hypertrophy usually comes at the expense of dexterity. That’s where we get the term “musclebound”. That’s about the only thing I can think of on that front, though.

  7. MaggieCat says

    I would guess that medium hands combine much of the functionality of both small and large hands, so what’s to envy? ;)

    Not being average. I’ve noticed comments like this often come from the people in the middle, because the people on either extreme have been forced to make their peace with being a little different.

  8. sbg says

    Is anyone else flashing back to that Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates a woman with “man hands” and can’t accept it and disposes of her for this ridiulous reason? Man, Seinfeld and his dating habits (on the show) were whacked.

    And I have to admit I never really thought much about it, since I’ve got average-sized hands (apparently freakishly long fingers based on comments I’ve received, but I’ve never bought that, myself).

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve noticed comments like this often come from the people in the middle, because the people on either extreme have been forced to make their peace with being a little different.

    That’s a good insight.

    Is anyone else flashing back to that Seinfeld episode where Jerry dates a woman with “man hands” and can’t accept it and disposes of her for this ridiulous reason? Man, Seinfeld and his dating habits (on the show) were whacked.

    OMG, that’s like the only episode I ever saw. Like he’s anything to write home about.

  10. gategrrl says

    I’d like to point out the set on the other end of the body–feet.

    Small feet (just like small or delicate or white hands) on women has always been prized. I don’t have small feet. I have big, long feet that were always hard to fit into shoes when I was growing up. My cousin, however, always had the tiny size 4, 5 or 6 size shoe. I envied her her small feet. These days? More shoes for me at the discount shoe store!

  11. masha says

    That’s pretty interesting. When I was still a student at art school, a friend pointed out to me that when most people draw themselves, they draw their hands as much too small, quite out of proportion to the rest of their bodies. But when we were looking at our self portraits as first year art students, we all drew our hands as much too big.

    I wondered at the time if it had something to do with the pride we had in our hands and what we could do with them.

    About femininity and being delicate – these days I cannot look at a woman wearing high heels without thinking – “you are CRIPPLING yourself”. It seems so strange to me that anyone could volentarily wear such incredibly uncomfortable shoes. Why on earth?

  12. says

    I don’t think that size matters:-) It’s just the general misconception that a woman is supposed to look vulnerable. And, speaking of shoes, Manolo Blahnik (officially one of the two most uncomfortable brands) definitely makes you look vulnerable. I can’t help thinking such shoes are made for kept women.

  13. says

    I have small hands too. Can’t grip a volleball etc, but I never thought about all the stuff I drop all the time may be because of the size:) So it’s not my fault I’m not a klutz! Yay:)

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