Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The look of labour

I enjoy reading Lawyers, Guns and Money, but occasionally they post some utter shit and this, about Binsi clothes, reeks.

It is absolute fucking nonsense. Caring about how you look is not "sexualising" yourself necessarily, and I can't see that this product is about that in any case.

Jeezus, if a man said "women pretty themselves up because they want to be attractive to men", the same people would be yelling "sexist pig" because, as women often remind us, they pretty themselves up for their own sakes.

So we are having it both ways! As usual. So long as men are somehow the villains, who gives a fuck whether your critique is coherent? (As it happens, I believe the feminist critique is correct, and women do not pretty themselves up for their own sakes at all, but because they have been indoctrinated in a system of thought that has it that they are obliged to look good.)

But nearly all the testimonials, and the FAQ, stress comfort and practicality. There is very little about how you look. But how things actually are has never prevented a radical feminist from viewing them through a lens of manhate.

Anyway, my wife hated giving birth the first time round. She wore a hospital gown and it flopped open, and she was embarrassed to be naked in front of a small crowd of medical staff. I know they don't care, and of course she knows it too, but it's not about what they care about. It was uncomfortable and bothered her a lot. It added distress to what was already a distressing experience. (My wife found the beauty of childbirth a little sullied by its really hurting.) I think she would have preferred to wear something like this Binsi stuff, although she wouldn't pay a hundred bucks for it.

Poster bean writes this in the comments:

While these clothes are in large part concerned with comfort, they also seem to be connecting women's confidence to looks -- a connection I would like to undermine, and one which is, I think, inevitably gendered and sexualizing/ed.

Erm, why?

We are "gendered", sister. I'm a boy and you're a girl. I agree that we don't have to accept traditional definitions of what that means, and we do not need to create lopsided structures that reward one but not the other, but I do not see why our equality must imply our equivalence.

I don't think women's confidence should rely on their looks, but I also don't have any problem at all with our world being "sexualised". Sex is ultra important to us. It drives us, moulds us, informs our lives to a huge degree. This is not just because we have "gendered" our world. It is part of who and what we are.

And we do "objectify" one another. My kids think of me as "daddy". They don't care so much about my thoughts and feelings about the world. They don't relate to me intellectually. They care about who I am to them. Their dad.

I don't think it's even close to possible for human beings to stop doing that, to stop thinking of people as what they are to you, at least to some extent. Would it even be desirable? How would our world be?

This last is the question I always ask when confronted with a worldview, a way of thinking: how would our world be if you had your way? How would it be if we viewed each other entirely neutrally? If we didn't "sexualise" or "objectify" each other?

(Well, of course it's impossible. I don't believe there is a man alive -- I simply do not believe it -- who looks at whatever he fucks, men, women, children, animals, whatever -- without thinking "yes" or "no" at some level. I'm not saying it predominates in how men think about others -- far from it for most of us; I'm saying that it is part of the picture.

Maybe it's only me! I do accept the possibility that other men are not ravening, sexist beasts, and are quite capable of not thinking about fucking. I don't believe it, but I do believe it's possible. I've never met one, but I haven't met everybody yet. And I don't see what's wrong with it. It's not the basis for a judgement, any more than thinking "she's got brown hair" or even "she dyes her hair" is. The latter strikes me as a far more intrusive thought.

Is it a rupture of the person's privacy? Hm. See, I would have thought that the bare thought, I'd fuck her, is not, but fantasising about it may be. It's where you take the thought, not the thought, in my view. If you allowed it to influence how you treated a person, I think that is a problem. But I compare it with this: sometimes when I am on a bus or train, a couple of black men or women might get on. So I might see them and think, I wonder where they're from. I wonder whether they're from somewhere I've been, and I wonder what they think of Brisbane in comparison. I try to imagine the disjunction.

I can only do this because they look African. I have "objectified" them by making them part of a group. And I have speculated about their lives, intruding on their privacy in the same way as fantasising about fucking my nextdoor neighbour. But can you see harm in what I do to the "Africans" (they aren't necessarily African at all of course)? Even if I was interviewing them for a job, it wouldn't affect how I interviewed them, and wouldn't be a consideration in the hiring decision.)

I think I would hate it. We'd all have to wear boiler suits and have buzzcuts, so that our clothes and hair didn't create "sexualised" differences. There would be no flirting, no interplay. We would become attracted to each other purely as an intellectual thing, and would sign contracts of partnership -- if partnership survived this world, which I can't really see how it would -- before we could progress to sex. We would have to be careful not to think that sex was enjoyable as a consequence of liking the other's difference. (Bisexuality, it should be obvious, would be the norm, although it would no longer exist as a concept.)

I'm exaggerating, but I think that too often the beans of this world make critiques that suffer from incoherency simply because they strictly apply a framework that suffices for explaining what you do not like, and includes some of what you do, but is too crudely drawn for a messy world. For instance, Bean doesn't like that sexist bosses hire pretty girls before they hire ugly ones, and neither do I; so her framework requires that we do not objectify each other, because the wrong she sees is an outcome of that. But not all outcomes are equally bad, and a thing is not in itself bad just because some of its outcomes are bad. So I don't see a problem with our attracting each other, because the problem is not that, but where we take it.

More importantly, and this is why I mentioned Mrs Zen's experience, it is not that "a woman still has to worry about her appearance when pushing a bowling ball through her vagina", but that they do. No one forced Mrs Zen to be embarrassed about her gown flopping open. It's not an outcome of a "sexualised" society. I assure you, Mrs Zen was not thinking about how sexy she was or wasn't, or about sex at all. Bean only allows that our behaviour is an outcome of the conceptual frame we live in, not an outcome of that frame refracted by our own selves, so that she has us as helpless puppets of concepts that rule our lives, while I believe that the concepts she wishes destroyed exist but are not straightforwardly reflected in our behaviour or attitudes, and of course, I do not see them as black and white, all wrong or all right.

And when bean concludes
what hope is there for us to escape an appearance-focused sexualizing and objectifying society?

I say, none at all. Thank fuck.


At 11:59 am, Blogger Miz UV said...

I would have been bothered by that, same as Mrs Zen. I wasn't so worried about looking sexy at that point (gawd!), but just staying as covered up as possible. Maybe that's really the same thing.

Interesting post.

At 3:48 pm, Anonymous theminotaur said...

Of course, the most telling part of the post is, "I have never given birth so this is theoretical". There is nothing wrong with giving birth in a $100 tank top rather than a hospital gown, if the latter is uncomfortable. It's not like anyone will force you to wear it. These self-proclaimed feminists should concentrate more on the real issues connected with pregnancy and birth, for instance, in the US, campaign for a government-mandated paid maternity leave for every woman. Of course, that would require actual work, and not just spouting crap before even considering opinions of the women they are supposed to be speaking for.

At 4:02 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

I liked this comment: "i'm so tired of people over-reacting - you don't have to be frumpy and unattractive to be politically correct."

Secretly (well not so secretly because I'm about to write it), whenever I read some woman blasting off about this kind of thing, that's my first thought too: "you want a world in which attractiveness isn't valued because you're a dog". I realise that this is a "politics of envy" type thought (you know, socialists want a level playing field because they can't succeed in a dog eat dog world and so on) and it's not noble, and I do recognise and support the idea that women's confidence should not rest on their looks, but wanting to look nice is not actually a sin.

At 8:07 am, Blogger Anonymiss said...

Labour, if we're lucky, will be the single most degrading experience of a mother's life - and while my personal choice to ease that experience would be a bin liner full of hard core drugs, if a t-shirt bra and a skirt does it for some women, what the fuck?

they pretty themselves up for their own sakes

Do we? If men became extinct tomorrow I'd throw out my leg wax, my hair dye, my perfume... no, hang on. Not the perfume. I'd ditch that bloody uncomfortable push up bra (or are they called "prop up bras" at my age?)though... and I'd spend a fortune in M&S on comfortable pants. That said, the outer clothing layer is a bit different. For some it makes a statement and not just to men, for others it's about comfort... so if people are stupid enough to shell out that kinda dosh on something they can pick up in Primark for a fiver, the Binsi clothes get my vote.


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