This morning, I read this article. I knew the second I clicked on it that I was going to be writing today. It got my wife and me talking about the societal standards (double and otherwise) placed on gender and relationships in general. While she agrees with a lot of the author’s points, namely the want for personal value to be derived from within, rather than the confirmation of others, she was bothered by the broad generalizations made. The point about the monthly menstrual cycle earned an eye roll almost obscured by a cup of coffee. To be honest, we agree on the general thesis, but we take different paths getting there. On the whole, the point is conceded.
Before I begin, I’d like to say right off the bat that I am not being combative or purposely argumentative. This article represents the totality of my experience. In short, “your mileage may vary.”
One thing that really irritates me about the human species is our penchant to be overly generalistic about, well everything, especially when it comes to the double-standards between genders. The false syllogisms we float around all damned day and night to seem semi-intelligent really just muddy the waters of an already beleaguered and morally calcified argument.
The main issue (I hesitate to use the tumblrism “trigger”) about the article was that two publications were compared, namely Girl’s Life, which is essentially Cosmopolitan-writ-teenybopper, and Boy’s Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. Before, I ignore the glaring and obvious incongruence in comparing these two publications (one is essentially a cosmetics/fashion sales rag, the other is an applicable extension of BSOA’s ethos), I get what’s she’s trying to say.
There is a reason that this double-standard is still prevalent. The entire argument revolves our inability to shake off an evolutionary mechanism designed to produce the most successful offspring. If your hips weren’t bigger, your breasts larger, your figure more inviting, you would attract less mates and therefore your genes had a lesser opportunity to be passed to the newer generation. Some cultures still prefer this model of larger framed figures. (Goodness knows I do…)
Thus, publications like Girl’s Life and Cosmopolitan are making money exploiting a very evolutionarily-ingrained desire to look a certain way. (Any look at Men’s Health and Fitness magazines will tell you that women aren’t alone in this hunter-gatherer type mentality.) Comparing the two however, is like comparing the Utne Reader and US Weekly.
The second issue (and this is probably what is going to get me the majority of angry email), is this;
“Because when a woman falls in love with a man there is a period of time when her existence IS about how desirable he finds her. Anyone who denies this has never truly fallen in love.”
Applying silly blanket statements like this to matters of subjective reality, especially the concept of falling in love seems to be quite simply slavish and unreflective, at least to me. It’s this totality of view that is causing a majority of the problems within this issue to begin with. The experience of falling in love is different for everyone and is as varied as our behaviors and responses to it. To suggest a compulsory behavior in an experience so incredibly subjective is completely missing the point of the experience in the first place.
Getting back to the double-standard, believe me, I understand why this is a thing. But, for many people what’s appealing to the sight and appealing to the touch are often two different things. That being the case, where what is pleasing revolves around our own interpretations, I don’t know if there is a way to get rid of this stereotype without compromising the principle of being nice to each other. The biggest issue we have right now is that people are completely blowing EVERYTHING out of perspective instead of trying to just be civil to each other.
Having said that, I compliment women. I do this on a daily basis, whenever I see something pleasing to my senses. If a woman is wearing something that looks good on her, I will say so. “That dress is absolutely stunning.” I do the same with men as well. “That button down is styling as hell sir…” I was raised with the maxim, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” Naturally, the corollary is “If you have something nice to say, say it.”
More often than not, when I compliment a female, I’ll get a “thank you” and a smile. That’s what I want. I couldn’t care less about sleeping with someone, and I couldn’t care whether or not they actually enjoyed the fact they were complimented. I do it because it makes me happy to acknowledge the beauty around me. There is no ulterior motive. Then again, I’m an unabashed flirt. I enjoy making people feel good. Handing out genuine compliments is one way I do this.
The other day, I complimented a woman who rocked a Ramone’s t-shirt that hugged her body and really looked amazing on her. I said something to the effect of “That shirt looks amazing on you.” I was rewarded with “F**k you patriarch.”
I realize that her self-worth isn’t derived from my approval of her shirt, nor did I even imply that ANYONE’S choices should be subject to my approval. In this instance, I complimented her shirt because The Ramones was literally the first band I ever saw live. The fact that it looked amazing on her was secondary, though despite her shitty attitude, I still maintain my compliment.
The fact that your self-worth isn’t derived from my approval shouldn’t prevent you from accepting a genuinely benign compliment. Granted, I’m fine with taking whatever heat I’ll get from acknowledging the beauty around me. I’ll continue to make and share my observations. But, if a compliment is so damaging that you have to respond in aggressive fashion, then you should probably work on your own sense of self-worth before taking it out on someone else. If we are going to be serious about this double-standard, fine. Let’s get serious about it. But, if you make an effort to look nice, regardless of the motivation, expect to get complimented. Period.
The anger towards people who compliment you is just as bad as the double-standard itself, because it is a demonstration that the standard still exists and that you, yourself are subject to it as well. Beauty exists regardless of size and regardless of whether or not you adhere to some standard within the pages of a sales magazine. Beauty exists for its own merit. As far as the female ideal, no one should be shamed for wanting to look this way, and no one should be shamed for not looking this way. Neither should anyone be shamed for acknowledging what their perception of beauty is.
You may not be happy with what you look like, but that doesn’t mean that the way you are isn’t beautiful.
Photo: Getty Images