As a young person I spent many years living and working among the poorest people in the world. In Haiti and rural India of the 1980s women rarely acted silly or frivolous, they were too busy giving birth, taking care of children, and mourning those that did not survive. Occasionally a women's magazine would arrive with some visitor from overseas. Village women would pour over these magazines in amazement. Many wondered how hard they would need to work to afford the dresses, thick make-up, jewelry, and shoes they saw in that copy of Ladies Home Journal, McCalls, or perhaps a Bollywood movie magazine.
Don't get me wrong, Indian women too wore charcoal beneath their eyes, their babies have make-up applied soon after birth. The poorest women still had a tiny diamond in their nose and henna on their hands and head. The sari is perhaps one of the most frivolous outfits, certainly not often practical yet women still wear them while working in the rice fields.
Poor Haitian women wear clothing in such poor condition people in the U.S. would not use them for rags.
I began to see many of the so-called women's traditions for what they really are. Men have known they can control women for millennia. Sometimes they use shiny trinkets, pretty colors, and pleasant scents to sell junk to the ladies. In many cases tradition is the enforcer, women do what they do because they always have done so. Everyone in society tells them must get married and have children to really be happy. Other traditions are enforced by brutal violence. Subservience to men is a prime example of that.
For hundreds of years young women have been taught to paint their faces, wear impractical clothing, and basically look pretty for men. For most of that time there seemed no need for women to attend school or vote, those things were reserved for men. One thing soon becomes as plain as any woman that flouts these maxims. Young men are also trained; trained to go after the women that paint their faces, wear sexy clothing and look pretty. Our society and culture accomplish this training relatively early in life. Parents, siblings, and friends simply carry the same, often silly, messages in their daily routines, the way they dress and act.
This silliness and obsession with superficial things is not only deeply ingrained in human behavior, it is an important part of the global economy. Major corporations reap huge profits from the steady stream of new clothing, women's media like television, books, and magazines, and of course make-up sales. Women that achieve wealth and status in society often prove their intelligence to loyal fans. They go out and spend millions more on breast implants, liposuction, lip implants, and botulism injections.
This whole pseudo-economy is worth far more than the global market for necessities like food. If women stopped buying makeup, excessive clothing, celebrity magazines, and anything Oprah recommends global markets would soon collapse. I am serious about this but not to worry, this will never, ever, happen.
Men are absolutely required by unwritten law to spend exorbitant sums on an overpriced piece of carbon. The marriage ceremony is worthless unless you spend a few months salary at the jewelry store. And at the wedding dress store. And the caterers. And the travel agent. You get the picture. Women's frivolous activities make the world go around, don't they?
Better buy all those Hallmark greeting cards too or she might leave you to go sleep with a man who is willing to buy those cards, diamonds, and new dresses.
I see women walking down the street wearing thousands of dollars all over their bodies, and sucking on a cigarette. A few men do spend extravagantly on clothing, but the markets for men's and women's clothing are two entirely different beasts. It is all about putting the most appealing feathers on the frock, isn't it? Would a man ever pay $2000 for a suit and refuse to wear it to more than one event?
I see so many women that spend hours on their appearance but rarely enrich their minds with a serious book. Women try so hard to look like the heroin addicts that model the latest fashions. Young women quickly learn that their bodies can get them almost everything they desire in life. Of course there are plenty of women attending college, running businesses, and using their smarts out in the world, but they almost all follow the same codes of conduct. If you don't color your lips and eyelids, show some boob, and some leg once every now and then people will think you are a prude.
Women who try to buck any of these standard practices risk ostracism from peers. Dress plainly, refuse to wear make-up or your twin shoulder holster and you madame will be labeled antisocial, perhaps even accused of being a dyke. If you study hard and become successful in your field, be prepared to be run out of town like Carly Fiorina.
Men enforce these rules as vigorously as women. If she refuses to look pretty then drop her, divorce her, or just spend more time with a woman who does conform.
Woe to the man that criticizes the status quo with regards to women. The marketing people will emasculate you, that is if the insecure women don't get you first.
Original Washington Post Article (3/2/08) Page B01
The Washington Post article that inspired this essay can be located using the following link: