This month’s trending social media challenge asks people to post five photographs where they think they look beautiful. I have only seen women participating, which is to be expected. There are also the ‘no-makeup selfies’ many celebrities are apparently sharing, with some Upworthy headline calling it brave. And there was the buzz surrounding an “article” about how women in their 40s have suddenly become sex goddesses in 2014. Before that they were resigned to a shackled, maternal, sexually dysfunctional existence out of the light of day as they awaited death. Thank God women finally got the hint and dug deep to find another decade of desirability. Not that I put much stock in the magazine that printed that tripe but I think the writer most likely lives on another planet.
In an ongoing discussion with a group of fellow female artists, we have expressed frustration over societal expectations put on the female, the artist in particular. As creative types, my friends and I have all struggled with how personally our work can be critiqued. The success of a piece of writing or a painting or a photograph is often mixed up with our body language, our lifestyle, our parenting decisions. Honest, intimate work is mistaken as an invitation to overstep boundaries.
I suspect a century ago that same extraterrestrial magazine writer would have spoken on behalf of another society. One that took to task any female who dared express confidence in her intellectuality, her sexuality or her chosen path, perhaps a path that substantially strayed from what was expected of her. We are damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Because women have always had to give an explanation for themselves. A man earns accolades for his body of work while a woman’s body of work is inseparable from her body. Whether she is a presidential candidate or a career mom, whatever the fruits of her labor, they are judged along with her wardrobe, her birth control, her marriage and motherhood and muscle tone and moods.
Our looks, private relationships and personal choices weigh heavy when determining our value to society. It is an entire realm of expectations unique to women. Men have the privilege of being opinionated or withdrawn; fit or fat; enjoying outlandish leisurely pursuits or being total bores. Even at their worst, all is forgivable. Women get away with nothing. The female is constantly being reevaluated from head to toe. Not only must we live through a lifetime of hormonal phases, ever shifting and transitioning, we must also endure public opinion about it all. Note that there is not a male equivalent for the descriptor resting bitch face.
I propose we start holding women to the same standard as men. This means conceding a woman knows for herself how to balance work and children, something we never call into question with men. This means keeping our eyes on a woman’s work product, whether it’s lawmaking or cheesemaking, and off of her fashion or figure. Never heard of any instances of men being warned about their skinny jeans being too tight for the workplace. This means respecting a woman’s right to take risks, to change her mind, to reveal as much or as little as she wants. This means that a woman gets to define beauty and bravery and sexiness for herself. This means shifting the conversation to accomplishments and contributions and interests, however that looks for a woman; personally, there’s nothing I could desire more.