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the formality of being feminine

with respect to the beauty debt:


how does this sound?

- the female beauty debt exists because there is a formal definition of femininity. this formal femininity may be supplied by models or global mainstream media; or even peers, parents and diet charts. this formal definition of femininity is not subcultural.

- the male competition for status is not constrained by a male beauty debt because there is no formal definition of masculinity in global mainstream media. to wit, the last vestiges of formal masculinity as a global mainstream movement were embodied in the militarism leading up to ww1. instead, only hazily demarcated areas of unmanly or inauthentic masculinity exist, and these are largely reclaimed by active subcultures.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
(no subject) - shehasathree - Jun. 9th, 2009 08:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 9th, 2009 10:49 am (UTC)
Hi, could I please get a journal cite for the linked article on hegemonic masculinity? Blackwell is down atm, sorry. The formal requirements of hegemonic masculinity may well be the lost formal masculinity that almost destroyed the world before it was realized that it was a bad idea.

From my naive view, I think that formal masculinity in terms of the driven, aggressive, disciplined and dominant male reached its apogee in the era of total war, 1914-1945. In the ruins of Europe, nobody raised their sons to be the iron youth of the nation anymore. There was a backlash as men returned from war and attempted to displace women from industrial roles and return to hegemonic gender norms in the 1950s, but we also see the beginning of Ugly Guy Hot Wife becoming the media norm. Father no longer knows best. Dads can come in all shapes and sizes. Formal masculinity seems to be now on the wane as men are more liberated to follow a number of archetypes, which although they don't subordinate men to women, can opt to reject any or all parts of the formal male stereotype. Men can cry, be fat, be pacifistic, and still be accepted as male. Previously men would have to fulfill a certain role to be called men: The framers of the American constitution excluded african americans from the "men" who were born to the rights of life, liberty and happiness. Spartans didn't consider merchants men. Victorian england had a very specific image of masculinity, as does the modern day islamic street which encourages conformity down to the last facial hair and the last exclamation at a soccer game.

At the same time, the female ideal in behavior and form moved from being more diverse to being more restrictive. Even body sizes became more formalized as metrics were applied to them, as in this wired article about measurements of the male fantasy female form. Ideas about what a woman was supposed to be able to do became more and more demanding, juggling motherhood on top of stellar career and youthful beauty.

One idea about my use of the term formality is two ideas - one is that the formalism is socially constructed; the other is that the formalism is part of a social interaction. When in breach of this social interactions formal conventions, then the offender gets punished. The erosion of this masculine formality has allowed men to survive with much less shame than was present in previous generations.

My theory is that the "debt" in the beauty debt is the formal burden placed on women when they buy into the system of social interaction which observes this level of formality. It's the origin of the wardrobe crisis, of being unable to leave the house without putting ones' face on. It's tyrannical because there is only one global formal archetype for femininity which is thin, blonde, blue eyed, straight haired, rich and white. The majority of cosmetics aim to distract the eye from any deviations of formal pattern.

So I would I would say that formal masculinity with it's uniform masculine type and global reach is dying out today, along with the chivalry that was used to hold it in check. Indeed the chivalry died with Clausewitz's total war. Hegemonic masculinity today is a shadow of the total might of true formal masculinity, and so the male debt is so lightweight that he can hardly feel it.

The down side for men is that there is no longer an ideal man to be. Males no longer know what to do to be pleasing to females and society.
(no subject) - shehasathree - Jun. 10th, 2009 12:48 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 9th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
*unlocks post*

(no subject) - shehasathree - Jun. 10th, 2009 12:35 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 9th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)

Hm - it's a very good theory, but I'm not sure it corresponds exactly what I was trying to do with the idea of 'the beauty debt'. I was suggesting that the modern-day fixation on standards of appearance provides a 'channel', as it were, for left-over cultural misogyny - that as previous religious/cultural reasons for oppressing women (curse of Eve, submission to the husband, immoral/indecent to hold positions of authority/work outside the home, etc) decline, standards of beauty to some extent rush in to take their place (of course you can have a job, but they'll hire or fire you on the grounds of being 'immaculately presented'. You don't have to submit to your husband's authority, but you've only yourself to blame if he 'strays' 'cause you 'let yourself go'. Female judges can be appointed to the Supreme Court but only if they're suitably thin and quote-unquote 'healthy', etc). Basically, the idea that a woman is less than a full person because of her gender is replaced with the idea that a woman can achieve the status of a full person, if she does all the appearance-related stuff exactly right in a way that exactly pleases whoever happens to be looking her at that time - which is, in a way, even more crazifying than the original sexism, because it offers a cruelly thin ray of hope.

I don't think that necessarily maps perfectly onto the idea of male competition for status, although I agree with what you're saying about the collapse of masculinity post-WWII (although there were, of course, different subcultures relating to masculine behaviour within Western culture even before then).

Jun. 9th, 2009 11:33 am (UTC)
Ooh, also: the female beauty debt exists because there is a formal definition of femininity. this formal femininity may be supplied by models or global mainstream media; or even peers, parents and diet charts. this formal definition of femininity is not subcultural.

But subculture can allow one to negotiate it to a certain extent - for example, there is a definite standard of Goth beauty, and although it overlaps with mainstream beauty to some extent, the correspondence is not complete. If a woman starts out with, say, black hair and pale skin, her efforts will 'buy' her more closeness to the ideal if she attempts Goth beauty, rather than mainstream beauty.
Jun. 9th, 2009 11:48 am (UTC)
I'm playing with the following hypothesis: The liberalization of female gender roles can be achieved by the abandonment of a single global formal femininity.

Of course, it took ww2 and the near annihilation of the world to put an end to formal masculinity, especially in countries like japan (who traded their samurai for salary men until the late 90s).

Also it is further complicated by the global media being a male directed construct which influences femininity, while military masculinity was a male construct which influences masculinity.
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