Thursday, November 15, 2007

The F Word is engaging in a debate about the positive and negative aspects of Trinny and Susannah (there are three posts, I have linked to the last one). There seems to be a real drive to identify whether their behaviour is actually beneficial to women or whether it propagates an unhealthy image of womanhood but the debate begins from a point of naivete. Firstly the initial criticism of Trinny and Susannah polarises people into gender categories, although the word "woman" is constantly reiterated it's used in the cultural sense rather than in the sense of sex and sexuality. Thus the proposition is that culture greatly effects the way that people are culturally constructed by culture. The notion that women not acceptable in their natural state is absurd but not quite as absurd as the idea that women have a natural state that is practical in the British climate. Our clothes perfectly represent our culture and in November we have no alternative but to wear them. Regardless of what you wear you make a statement about the way that you interact, if you wore a hemp jumpsuit it would be read by those around you because people read symbolic cultural signifiers. Since women and men cannot live in their natural naked states, the only possible natural state, they have to engage with culture on this level. From there it's a very short step to adapting your body, adjusting the amount of hair visible to the outside world and changing the shape and visual impact of your body. This is not a new thing and every human community has developed cultural significance around the adornment of the body. The F Word bloggers are polarising genders because they are focusing so strongly on the idea that this practice is negative for females but rules of dress apply to all people, men cannot wear skirts, if they're not suitably masculine they cannot wear tank tops in the same way that women cannot display a certain level of hair. This is unfortunate and something that society needs to tackle because the symbolic significance is a little too focused on these instances but it's not a femininst battle in and of itself, it's also not that broad-ranging. Despite a love of clothes and style I wear make up about once a month, the emphasis on feeling vulnerable without make up is not about women or females, it's about individual dependence on culture to make yourself feel okay and that trend is present in all types of people, to focus on such a trend on a feminism blog and to apply that label to women is to generalise them. It is not a feminist action.

Trinny and Susannah are two women on a television show. Primarily they're part of the culture that we see around us everyday but more importantly they advise people about clothes. They're not a problem, they're not a solution, they're TV presenters and they're neither trailblazers for feminism nor anti-feminist. They probably target women because their viewer demographic is made up of women. At no point do they give us their opinions on what makes real women, they focus on femininity because they are feminine and they like it. There is absolutely no way that we can escape the wider culture that we live in, even if we departed from the UK and started a new society a visual language would likely grow and evolve and it would probably differentiate women and men because our bodies look more different than similar. That doesn't matter and the sought after femininity and masculinity of our community doesn't specifically matter either, it does matter that people don't feel pressured into the parts that they don't want to accept but usually there's something that you do, so the confidence to know you can choose is fundamental. If you shave your legs you don't have to pluck your eyebrows, if you wear skirts you don't have to wear heels, you can opt for what you want and it makes you no less a woman or a man and it certainly makes no difference to your sex.

Fundamentally what I want to say here is this: feminist literature often emphasises a cultural neurosis about womanhood rather than revealing it in a startling new fashion. It also sometimes appears to polarise rather than work towards the equality of treatment and opportunity that is desirable. This especially comes across when reading a criticism of fashion or high heels or make up, things that people opt into rather than things that they're forced into (like a lower pay scale). The argument that women are forced into looking a certain way is inaccurate, I'm 26, I wear flats 90% of the time, I rarely wear make up, my eyebrows are fully intact, I barely practice hair removal, I watch my weight and food intake because it makes me feel healthier and happier. Women are not forced into responding to cultural demands about appearance, performing these actions means that quite a lot of them feel more comfortable in the state that society prefers but that is a choice, it's a choice open to everyone in our society and while we can support women's choices to live outside that cultural dictat we cannot make value judgments about people who "prop up the system". They are not doing anything particularly because they like removing all that hair and being incredibly feminine or masculine, that's the rub when you want the choice and not to have a society that leaves some people behind.

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