Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was talking with my brother, and we were bemoaning something I’ve bemoaned with other men on many occasions: the bloody impossibility of convincing the women we love that they’re beautiful.
Those with a woman that they love know how it is: she’ll get it into her head that her weight or her hair or her skin or something is flawed and unacceptable, and she’ll be down on herself, unhappy and self-hating and trying one regimen or another to fix herself. And meanwhile we just stand there, startled and embarrassed, loving her no less than we did before she seized on this flaw, no less attracted to her, and unable to persuade her of that. You can say that you don’t see a difference, that it wouldn’t matter even if you could, even if she were disfigured, that what you love about her isn’t what’s on the surface anyway, and nothing you say will matter. The Beauty Myth she was programmed with as a girl has its teeth in her, and she’s convinced that if she’s not pretty enough, she’s worthless as a human being.
Right now, a lot of the guys and a certain percentage of the women reading this are nodding their heads ruefully. Y’all know what I’m talking about.
The even more fucked-up part is the converse: the Success Myth that men only have value insofar as we are successful in terms of money and power and competition. And guys, I don’t know about y’all, but that bullshit has its teeth in me DEEP. Over and over the women I love tell me that they don’t really give a damn how much I make, that what matters is who I am as a person, and all my other less tangible qualities. And what do I do? I do the same damn thing: I ignore them, I make up reasons why they’re just being polite or don’t really mean it, and I go on beating myself up for being worthless.
Right now, most of the women who weren’t nodding ruefully two paragraphs ago are nodding ruefully.
Ozy’s Law acknowledges that not all cases of linked misandry and misogyny will be perfectly symmetrical, but damn, in this case misandry and misogyny are doing this shit. (I think Groucho is the Success Myth and Harpo is the Beauty Myth, but read it how you like.)
Now, those who get off on defending the status quo or blaming women for things will leap to point out various examples of women expressing a preference for successful guys, and sure, that’s fine. It is also only useful or interesting if you can prove two other things: 1. There are no equivalent pop-cultural examples of men only being into women fitting a conventional “pretty” model, and finding anyone outside that model disgusting. (Hint: You will lose.) 2. Plain women and poor men don’t find love despite being proverbially unlovable. (Good fucking luck proving that one.)
I think there is another evil factor at work here, though: our old friend the subject/object distinction. Men are supposed to love, not to be objects of love. This is a deeply-encoded assumption, one that’s almost never spoken out loud. It’s just built into every goddamn love story we tell. Stack up how many narratives you’ve heard in your life wherein a man must prove that he really loves a woman vs. how many where a woman must prove that she really loves a man. Coming into focus now, isn’t it?
A woman’s job, we all vaguely assume, is to be loved, to attract and receive love. A man’s job is to do the loving, to be the actor, the one who gives love TO the woman. I think when this myth was being made up, someone misspelled “penis” as “love”, don’t you?
Thing is, once again it just ain’t so. Straight and bi women, by and large, love men. They fall in love and go all goofy and blather to their friends about how great he is, and even after years together and fights and troubles, they look over at him and think Well, damn. At least I got that going for me.
Then, of course, they think If only I wasn’t so fat and gross-looking and we start back at the top.