Where the double beauty standard leads

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I frequently complain about the double beauty standard of film and TV: men are cast mainly for talent, while women are cast primarily for how close they come to looking like a supermodel. Even in a show about families who go to PTA meetings, Mom looks like Cindy Crawford after an expensive makeover and Dad looks like that guy at the end of your block who needs to wear a shirt when he hoses his porch off. Even creepier, the double standard follows us all the way down to the kids: even a four-year-old girl needs to look like Jean-Benet Ramsey dolled up for a beauty pageant (are we playing to the pedophilia market, here, or what?) but the boy can look like a dweeb.

This presentation reinforces certain bad ideas that are already too prevalent in our culture. That women are less talented and skilled than men (there are, in fact, a lot of highly talented and skilled actresses out there – they just don’t look like supermodels). That we women coast through life manipulating men with our looks, until our looks dry up, at which point it’s our just desserts to be discarded like a used tissue. That women trade sexual favors for great jobs and promotions (studies have proven that – surprise! – men don’t really give promotions to women who give blowjobs; seems to be a respect issue, imagine that). It’s a bit of a reach, but I can even argue that the beauty standard reinforces the idea that it’s okay to pay women 78 cents to a man’s dollar for the same work: I mean, we women have the wondrous option of marrying some poor scab and making him support us! Aren’t we lucky? How dare we complain about the status quo!

It’s interesting to note that unusually good-looking male actors and musicians tend to be ridiculed at least as harshly as women. In those cases, I suspect jealousy is involved, as there’s a very specific pattern involved: guy takes girl to movie, girl drools at actor, suddenly guy “realizes” actor is stupid, lacking in talent, and homosexual. Of course, I always point out that if the girlfriend likes stupid, untalented, gay men, what does that say about the boyfriend?

Also interesting to note: hot guys do not run the US, and I suspect they don’t run other countries either, but I’ll stick to what I know. Look at Congress. Look at the White House. This is because if wives drooled at the president’s hotness, voting hubbies everywhere would suddenly “realize” the president is stupid, lacking in talent, and homosexual.

And that brings us to where things really get ugly. According to the status quo, beautiful is the best thing a woman can aspire to be. If the best thing she can be is something that renders even men dismissable, it’s pretty obvious the “keep women in their place” glass ceiling is still alive and well. And now we have a whole generation of young women buying into it, heart and soul: they’re so desperate for entitlement, a sense of not being dismissable, that they’ve embraced their patriarchy-granted “entitlement” to get their breasts enlarged and give blow jobs to strangers as feminist progress.

Which reinforces the idea that there’s no reason for a female character to grace the screen, except to turn on men.

Comments

  1. Mecha says

    I want to explore this mentally for a moment, so please pardon if this gets rambly or off.

    First thought: Beauty is a qualifying factor for everyone, and in a world where merit is properly valued, looks will still be valued for purposes of TV and movies because people value looks (male and female.) However, it is a _dis_qualifying factor for some actresses and some hiring agents/directors/assholes. ‘Dance: 10, Looks: 3′ has been long-standing, but strongly affects women the most. There is, however, a difference between completely ignoring looks with men and more a comparative look.

    Second thought: If a large enough subset of people buy into this mindset, then the mindset is sustained, either on the ‘power’ side or the ‘ruled’ side. The mindset can only be broken if a large critical mass of people on either side break it (larger on the ruled side, almost to the point of making it impossible to get actors/actresses), loud and consistently, by using actors and actresses who look almost normal, and similarly for job hiring and other tasks.

    Thought 2.5: A specific show cannot often break the mold, because they can only work with the talent they have, and the talent they have is often pretty. Some times a woman or man will be chosen for skill and happen to be pretty, thereby perpetuating the perception no matter what is done except to treat pretty men and women like acting trash. This is societally related in some sense to other assumptions about beauty.

    Third thought: Actual power structure does not reward beauty or sexuality. Sex doesn’t get you promotions, beauty doesn’t get you political positions. Power is a privilege, and as such tends to the privileged. (Look at me, reading the invisible privilege lists. Woo woo.)

    Fourth thought: Women who are not traditionally beautiful become beautiful in media and discussions, hence being appropriated for the dominating/social normative purpose/appropriateness. Even a strong woman becomes ‘beautiful’ by default, due to popular society’s limited capability for describing positive qualities like ‘confidence’ and ‘strength’ as sexually desirable in women (or perhaps desirable in women at all.) I’m sure you could think of better examples than I for this. This is linked to the concept of describing 90-99% of female heroes as ‘beautiful/sexy’, often added to ‘deadly’.

    Take ‘em or leave ‘em, I guess. ^^;

    -Mecha

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Some times a woman or man will be chosen for skill and happen to be pretty

    But – and this is my point – beauty is the most important quality an actress brings to the table, while it’s a secondary requirement for males. There are male characters specifically written to be less than great-looking – comedy dweebs, sidekicks, etc. For women, you’re either eye candy, Mom, or out the door. Is this really what people wants to see, or what the industry wants us to think we want to see?

    Even a strong woman becomes ‘beautiful’ by default, due to popular society’s limited capability for describing positive qualities like ‘confidence’ and ’strength’ as sexually desirable in women (or perhaps desirable in women at all.)

    There again is the problem. Beauty is the only consistently valued trait in women, and I don’t think that’s just on screen.

  3. baskerville says

    beautiful is the best thing a woman can aspire to be

    Because I have bouts of watching way too much day-time TV, I have noticed this on Dr. Phil: He tells all these women and girls that looks are only no2 on the list of important things, if that. He says this to anorexic girls, women who want frightening amounts of plastic surgery, and just about anyone who comes on his show with attractiveness related problems.

    And yet, jsut about the first compliment he pays to any female: “You’re pretty.”

    He makes a big deal of how ‘lovely’ women look, from guests to his own wife, and how does one tell people looks aren’t important when its the first thing one brings up?

  4. scarlett says

    I came home early this morning from a night clubbing and two things happened that made this article really resonate with me:

    1) There was a single girl dancing near my single male friend and I. I’d say she was about a 7/10 and looked like she was having a blast. I pointed her out, and he said she wasn’t pretty enough. Then we saw two girls dancing together, again, a 7 or 8, and same thing – not pretty enough. In the end they hooked up with less discernible guys, but it struck me that in the reverse situation, if I saw a 7 guy dancing and having a blast, I’d go for it, and so would most women. Yes, my mate was probably being even picky then the typical male standards, but it annoyed me, and I told him so.

    2)I was in the toilet chatting to a woman who was 28, slim and blond, not a stunner, but still quite attractive. She was trying to make her phone work because she wanted to call the guy she’d gone on a date with last week for some kind of comfirmation he was into her. Now, if it had been one of those ‘I’m out having fun and was thinking of you, wanna join me?’ things, I would have said kudos for making the first move. But it was a ‘please call me’ in a whiny voice thing. Another girl and I were councelling her on the ideals of femininsm, that if he won’t call her, if he won’t meet up with her unless he’s got nothing better to do, then he’s not worth it. She said ‘I used to feel that way when I was younger and prettier, but now I take what I can get’.
    I lay away for hours thinking about it. 28 and attractive and considered ‘too old’. And this place had a fairly old demographic, too. What the hell do men want? Sixteen-year-old virgins who look like Gemma Ward? I don’t know of a single woman who would have such high expectations of men’s physical looks, but plenty of men who have sigh high expectations of women’s.

    OK, rant over.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    Oh, good catch. People who want to bolster a girl or woman’s confidence usually start with a compliment on her looks. Most of them mean well, but it’s so strongly ingrained in our thinking that it’s hard to approach her in any other way.

    I think this is why I just can’t relate to people in general: all through my childhood, I got the “You can do anything you set your mind to” conditioning instead of the “pretty” thing. It’s not that I wasn’t pretty – it’s just that my mother and several teachers focused on my talents and intelligence. Which is, I think, what they would have told a boy version of me.

    I actually think most people are more than ready and willing to rate women on traits other than beauty. But it’s like switching over to the metric system – it’s a total revamp.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    You know, I think your friend was making excuses. I can think of three possible reasons:

    (1) He’s too insecure to hit on anyone.
    (2) He’s actually deep enough not to be turned on by looks alone (I think this one qualifies as wishful thinking, but there it is)
    (3) He’s gay.

    Here in L.A., where there’s a surplus of truly stunning-looking women, I see a lot of pretty or average looking women having no trouble finding dates, boyfriends, and even husbands. Conversely, I’ve known some gorgeous women who can’t get dates. It’s probably because the men are intimidated by the beauty. But I like to think some men around here have noticed that beauty is a crass commodity rather than a pleasant natural phenomenon.

  7. scarlett says

    Well, as great a guy as my friend is in other ways, I’ve noticed he has a bit of a madonna/whore complex, so I’d go with the fact he just has exceptionally high physical standards for women. He may have been to scared to go up to her, though.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Which begs the question: what causes people to have a madonna/whore complex? By setting impossible standards for women, a man drastically reduces the pool of women he can choose from. Why would he limit himself that way?

  9. scarlett says

    The thing was, one of the women he turned his nose up at got two or three other offers, just in the hour we were there. Can’t blame the guys, she looked like she was having a blast. But yeah, madonna/whore complexes don’t make sense because they limit your pool. His loss, I guess.

  10. sbg says

    It’s interesting to note that unusually good-looking male actors and musicians tend to be ridiculed at least as harshly as women. In those cases, I suspect jealousy is involved, as there’s a very specific pattern involved: guy takes girl to movie, girl drools at actor, suddenly guy “realizes” actor is stupid, lacking in talent, and homosexual. Of course, I always point out that if the girlfriend likes stupid, untalented, gay men, what does that say about the boyfriend?

    This annoys the crap out of me. I remember watching What Not To Wear of all things with a boyfriend at the time and I offhandedly mentioned that I really liked Clinton. Cue the mocking every single time Clinton said a word. Over the top criticizing to the point I believe I jabbed my elbow in the doofus’s abdomen to get him to shut up.

    I have no problem if a guy I’m with acknowledges he finds someone attractive. It’s just the drooling and mental undressing that I find annoying.

    Interesting how a woman can merely comment she finds another guy attractive in any regard (sans licking the TV screen or moaning in appreciation) and it really bothers a guy. Fragile ego much?

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    Incredibly insecure. They make fun of us because many women are stupid enough to starve themselves and go to drastic amounts of trouble trying to get just the “right” look… but their equal insecurity is more than apparent.

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