Two weeks ago, a reader left a comment on the blog in response to my “Pretty Pink Girl” post. His comment raised some questions that deserve a serious response, and so today I’m writing about choices, angry women, and the illusion of what’s “natural”. Today’s post is framed as a Q&A between me and the commenter, but I hope he understands that I’m not picking on him specifically; instead, I think his comments are a good way to continue a conversation about feminism. I’ve abbreviated his comments but not changed words within sentences. For the original comment, click here. And now, let’s talk.
Commenter [about Pink’s video “Stupid Girls”]: Stupid girls? I hardly think girls choosing to conform to society’s norms are stupid. It’s their choice whether they wish to lead or be led. That’s a point of character not everyone thinks like you. And I don’t see girls brooding over the fact that they have to wear tights as fashion dictates. They seem to actually like being part of the normal fashionable crowd. And from what I’ve heard from a teacher and girl, they wear it to attract boys.
Ying: The idea of freedom of choice is a tricky one. We consider ourselves to be independent, thinking individuals with a range of options. Yet we don’t choose in a vacuum; we’re influenced by thousands of factors in our environments, our histories, and our characters. People (not just girls) may choose whether “they wish to lead or be led”, but that apparently simple choice is deceptive. We choose (or are influenced) at every moment; not every choice is conscious; and although we can justify our “choices” as much as we please, it’s foolish to deny that we’re influenced by our surroundings. I think that’s what Pink is getting at, in a crude way. One can “choose” to act/dress like a so-called “stupid girl”, but whatever the decision, the “stupid girl” image exists and it is powerful.
And “they wear it to attract boys”? A lot of girls – “stupid” or not – would disagree with this. Many would say that they’re doing it for themselves, not others. We’re back to the problem of “choice”, all over again.
C: [about Katie Makkai’s poem, “Pretty”, included in the “Pretty Pink Girl” post] That Katie Makkai person seems to be going through PMS, because I don’t see why the faults of a single mother should indict our society and media as brainwashing the youth.
Y: Three points, here. First, Katie Makkai is a performance artist and in that video she’s performing anger, not going off on an uncontrolled rant. This is key. Second, the accusation of PMS is based on crude stereotypes and bad science. Not all women experience PMS; of those who do, it doesn’t necessarily manifest as emotional imbalance. Third, Makkai is making a point about physical perfection. Her poem is less about a specific mother and more about the pressure to be pretty – however one defines and tries to achieve it. The mother in the poem is a symbol.
C: Were educated enough to see through [media brainwashing], if anything my one blaring memory of high school was our teachers warning us about the evils of media. Were well informed to make our own choices, if some girl or guy decides to start obsessing about attaining some picture of perfection in her head then that’s her fault for not having the sense to see through it.
Y: Again, we consider ourselves sophisticated and media-savvy but studies continue to demonstrate that we fall for marketing guff all the time. It works. That’s why marketers spend so much money on it. When blaming individuals “for not having the sense to see through it”, we’re blaming the victim – a person who is clearly less savvy than we consider ourselves. Do we just leave the naïve to fend for themselves and congratulate ourselves on our superior intelligence? I hope not.
C: But I’m kind of envious of women, you certainly have more choices that us guys that’s for sure.
Y: That’s something that needs to change, too. I want to live in a world where men and women have equal numbers of genuine choices.
C: Men on the other hand well…you can say the days of male domination are at an end.
Y: The statistics – on salaries, on domestic violence, on gender imbalance in positions of power – say otherwise. Have you seen the Daniel Craig/Judi Dench short film commissioned for this year’s International Women’s Day?
C: Though I don’t mind homosexuals I’m just not comfortable with them, which I think is the norm among men. It’s just not natural (And hence why I’m a part of the bigger problem too, lol). I can see my ignorance but I can’t deal with it, its just the way things really are.
Y: It’s difficult grappling with prejudice, and acknowledging one’s ignorance is the first step in dealing with it. But the idea of something being “natural” is itself an illusion. There’s a long list of things that were formerly thought “natural” – from the sun orbiting the earth to white-skinned people being more intelligent than others – that we now know to be utter nonsense. What we consider “natural” is specific to our time, place, and culture.
Whew. And now back to you, readers. I look forward to your comments.