Thanks to Rachel for this article by Susan J. Douglas, deliciously written and dazzlingly clear about a topic I’ve found to be, at best, operose to discuss unless you’re glad to sound like a shrew, a prude, or an irrelevancy.
Truly, it’s wonderful to read and I won’t be at all offended if you ignore my post and go read Douglas’s article instead.
Still here? Aw, that’s nice.
So. “Enlightened sexism” is a term I’ve been searching for all my life; now that I’ve found it, we’ll build a little nest, enlightened sexism and I, and we’ll settle down for a cozy life of cheery criticism.
Briefly, it refers to the cultural dynamic wherein women are pressured to conform to escalating extremes of gender presentation and to define their value as a human by their sexual desirability (desirable to men, of course). It’s why young women might think standard porn is empowering – they’ve bought the line that a woman’s sexuality (as opposed to her brain, her values, or her skills) is her way to be in control.
It’s an incredibly clever slight-of-hand on the part of the media and the other corporations that communicate through it, making women feel empowered when in actuality they are subservient. So clever I almost can’t bring myself to begrudge them the callousness and manipulation inherent in the trick. Almost. If it didn’t result in women dying of eating disorders, putting their lives at risk with unnecessary surgery and, oh yeah, distracting everyone from the REAL problems in the world (global hunger, HIV, small things like that) with obsessive worry about non-problems like if your teeth are white enough or your belly is flat enough, I might find it easier to brush it aside.
Profit motive, blah blah, I know. But I have a utopia, don’t forget, I have a utopia in my head. I can see what it could be like if we all valued our bodies and our sexualities and each other and… to a great extent I live it myself, because I can, because I know this stuff and believe it. I can see what it could be like.
What I can’t see is the path between the world we’ve got and the one we deserve.
I have this fantasy that if the US ever gets healthcare right and the government starts paying for it, then the government will realize they’ll save lots of money if they ban smoking and hydrogenated fat, tax sugar, and make fresh fruits and vegetables affordable, ubiquitous and attractive, among a great many other things. This is the insane way my brain works, see, which is why I have a sexual utopia in my head. What if the government set quotas, requiring that a range of body sizes, shapes, and colors be represented in all media, if they banned airbrushing altogether, and, just for kicks, prioritized creating economic opportunities for women and making businesses family-friendly? Why NOT demand a penalty fee when a corporation contributes to the mental and physical detriment of the people whom the government represents?
Couldn’t we get there?
I have seen the promised land. I know we’re a mess at the moment – enlightened sexism and I are snuggled on the sofa kvetching about it even now – but but but! Surely! Is it crazy to think the government might protect us, even if it does cost companies money? Or is it possibly, possibly completely brilliant and a vision of the future?