Saturday, March 25, 2006

The irrelevancy of women

It has been well established that women's clothing tends to be oppressive, what with the foot-binding, corseted, burka-wearing, high-heeled women of the world. I believe the body type valued by a society is equally oppressive. Contrary to the common assumption that certain body features, such as the lauded hourglass figure, are always and forever valued, the ideal feminine figure has changed dramatically through time: from the obese depictions of ancient fertility goddesses, to the ghostly pale women of Easter Island, to the curveless flapper of the 1920's, to Marilyn Monroe, to the modern athletic physique valued today.

I argue that the physique which is most valued in a society is that which is least relevant to the activities in which the women will engage. To use my examples above, in ancient times, an obese woman, though she would be more likely to survive during a period of famine, would be less able to perform the highly physical functions of daily life (perhaps even making famine more likely). By contrast, in a day when one can find a good many jobs which involve sitting on one's buttocks, the ideal physical type is athletic. The flapper, at a time before baby formula became common, was significantly short of those attributes which make baby formula unnecessary. When baby formula became common, the world was blessed with Marilyn Monroe as the ideal type. On Easter Island the naturally dark-skinned women were cloistered in caves to let their skin lighten, thereby making them useless for any purpose.

One could argue that the ideal is caused by scarcity--those attributes which are rare at the time will be valued. At a time when everyone is a stick figure, an amply endowed woman would attract attention. This cannot be the whole explanation, since one can attract attention by being hideous. There must, therefore, be some reason why these attributes were valued, rather than shunned.

Trophy wife. Women confer status on men. Those men who are with women are of higher status in society than those who are not. In the game of sexual selection there are winners and losers, but some winners win more than others. By having a women who is irrelevant to the needs of the day, a man is reflecting his own status in his partner. In two words, he's saying "I'm rich." Women's bodies are valued when they are irrelevant (high cost in maintenance, low return in usefulness), because only the upper classes can afford such frivolities.

I think I just deconstructed some patriarchal oppression, using Marxist metaphors. Ye gods.


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