Women are not “meant to dazzle”
It seems to me that many people today—men and women, in at least the Anglo-American context—are guilty of requiring, or reinforcing the perception of the requirement for, women to dazzle men—to prance, to encircle, to sparkle, to draw the gaze of, to arouse, to tease, to serve. Images of Playboy bunnies and game-show presenters come to mind. This is like a pet that holds a toy in its mouth, in front of its owner, hoping that the owner will notice it, so that the owner will donate some of his time to it.
How embarrassing, not just for the woman, but for the man. Does it make you feel better to know that women often act—as you think they should—according to your rules? Do you feel powerful in some way because you were able to convince your spouse, partner, or colleague that you knew what their role was, and what their behaviour, appearance, and mannerisms should be?
None of these gripes are new, of course. It’s just so frustrating to me and many people, that we as a society simply are still having trouble shaking this nonsense off. An obvious source of this frustration is university undergraduates, in their often futile attempts to reconcile their unsophisticated view of the world with their new-found freedoms. Think of the many millions of young women who, in many cases presumably obliviously, find themselves wasting countless hours in some sad drama. Where are you going? Why are you playing someone else’s game?
The socially progressive, on one side, will comment on the crude, binary heterosexuality of it all, derived from ‘classical’ and worn-out definitions of beauty and gender roles. The religious conservative, on the other side, who misses the boat entirely, will comment on the immodest dress and inappropriate, scandalous behaviour. The young people themselves may believe themselves to be ‘liberated’ or ‘naughty’: the enticing smell of risky excitement, despite it really being just the perception of sexual liberation almost fifty years later. Congratulations, you have boldly challenged the sanctity of marriage in 2013. Put a feather in your cap.
To me, though, this woman-as-spectacle behaviour is a vestige of traditional norms. It strikes me as socially conservative in the worst sense of ‘conservative’: blind traditionalism, where women should behave in this way, because they always have. Women are ‘meant’ to provide men with something to look at—they should relish their role as the male’s favourite source of entertainment. The successful male should be proud of the shiny new pet he has ‘bagged’. Two new objects make him happy: his new iPhone, and his hot new girlfriend. The female, though failing to see the bigger picture, should be proud of her own ability to seduce and secure a future breadwinner—with a little ‘edginess’ and “a pretty fun night” thrown in, too. How charming.
It is in this sense that feminism as a word should come to mean, not as a distinct position or platform (“the feminists”), but simply as ‘rational’. You wouldn’t tell your daughter that she needs to dazzle the men around her. You would tell her that she should be who she wants to be—to do things for her own well-developed reasons. Feminism as a word becomes the same as ‘social intelligence’.
Here’s the concise point in all of this. A man can dazzle, a woman can dazzle: where it goes wrong is where men and women think that someone ‘should’ dazzle. We are all required to look presentable in public and professional environments, and occasionally need to pragmatically adhere to unwritten, cultural norms to blend in and advance. But, we do not serve anyone or anything. And, we should reject entirely any claim about the necessity of the female entertainer, intolerant of any attempt at humour that might reinvigorate or reinforce this obstinate pestilence.