Some Social Conundra

October 14, 2009 § 6 Comments

Hi all!

I just took my sociology mid term which consisted of 3 essays. I obviously ended up writing all three on feminist issues despite the fact that probably 75% of our readings are about men. I thought one was particularly interesting, so I think I’ll try to recreate it for you all, though probably in a way more casual manner seeing as how this is a blog post and I’m tired of being overly articulate. Here ’tis:

The U.S. is full of very rigid behavioral norms, ideological beliefs and standards that dictate everything from sidewalk etiquette to how we perceive beauty. We, as a country, tend to hardcore judge people for failing to reach these standards, even though in so many cases people do not have the appropriate means to do so. The really fun thing is, however, that we also hardcore judge people when they attempt to meet our high standards by means of which we do not approve. I smell a conundrum.
It is far too common for young women (and old women, and men, but the article I read focused mainly on young women so I will too) to resort to deviant behavior in order to meet our traditional standards of beauty. I’m talking about eating disorders. We all know that in the U.S. we are all about being thin, fair, leggy, busty, etc. We also all know that these things are impossible for everyone to be, and not even particularly desirable. Uniqueness is super hot. So are curves in places that aren’t your boobs. So is every skin color. However, at times, we forget this, and that’s ok because we are human! What is not ok is that society puts SO MUCH pressure on us to change how we naturally are, in order to become the ideal woman.This is what causes eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. While many of us view the victims of eating disorders with pity or empathy, there are a great deal of us who for some reason look down on women with eating disorders. We want them to be skinny and beautiful, but only when they buy products to become that way. These beliefs are obviously linked to the influence of the media and our strong devotion to consumer culture, but we cannot let those things take full responsibility. We are of the mindset that to eat unhealthily small amounts and call it dieting is ok. To refuse to eat at all (or to develop eating habits that can be perceived as elements of an eating disorder), is not cool, and we marginalize the HELL out of those who do. (Hey run on, wassup?)

If I haven’t made it clear enough, our social conundrum is this:
We commend women for being thin and beautiful, but look down on those who strive to achieve this end. I am, of course, not endorsing Anorexia or Bulimia. But many women hardly have a choice given all the social pressures. these are, after all, diagnosed disorders! Psychological ones. We, as a society, must be more sympathetic to victims of eating disorders, considering that society set up such a hard position for any woman (exception: Malibu Barbie).

My second example is the social stigmatization of exotic dancers, or strippers. Most people are generally not fans of the idea of women exploiting their bodies for money. There are many terrible things about this industry, for sure. Working conditions are typically not great, many women do not enjoy dancing for the pleasure of random men, and I am sure a lot of violence can happen on the job. However, when society views these women as immoral sluts, I get pretty pissed off.

I get pissed off because, on their off days, most of these women do not want to be defined as exotic dancers. many are mothers. If they are not, they are trying to make a life for themselves. We, as a country, judge them especially harshly if they do not make enough money to provide for their children or themselves. A failed mother is probably considered a million times worse than a full time stripper. We ask, “how hard is it to find a decent job, one that does not use sex as a commodity? Why can’t these women be good role models for their children?” Guess what! It’s really fucking hard for quite a few people to find stable jobs. Furthermore, I’d rather feed my children than teach them ridiculously rigid standards for women. Yeah.

Basically, in our society we set up impossible standards to meet. We provide very few ways of meeting those standards that ARE socially acceptable. We show huge disdain for those who feel compelled to meet these standards through acts of social deviance. This is so problematic (I’ve been told this is a favorite vocab word for gender and women studies majors, probably because it can be applied to absolutely everything) I can’t even stand it.

I hope you enjoyed my feminist sociological rant. I wish I could properly cite the readings this was all based on… will try to do so in the future.


§ 6 Responses to Some Social Conundra

  • Anu says:

    You know, I agree with all your main points, but the examples you cite aren’t really “double standards” as such but examples of the damned if you do, damned if you don’t, lose-lose situations that society places women in. A double standard would be more along the lines of, society doesn’t judge fat men the same way they judge fat women, that is, different standards for men and women.
    Otherwise, good job!

    • ruthelizabeth says:

      haha you are totally right… I blame the fact that I just took a mid term and was really tired. I’ll go back and fix at some point, thank you!

    • ruthelizabeth says:

      alright, made the change (along with some much needed grammar and punctuation editing… oy). Thank you so much!

  • Lisa says:

    Hey there! I’ve been lurking around your blog for awhile now. I am a Sociology grad student and just wanted to give you a big thumbs up on this post/essay. I love the rest of them too, of course. Keep up the great work!

  • Andrea says:

    Ruth, I know you’re not studying art history, but you might be interested in Tamar Garb’s book Bodies of Modernity: Figure and Flesh in Fin-de-Siècle France. She examines the ways in which prostitution developed during the 19th century precisely as a double standard in which married women were expected to suppress their sexuality completely, thus opening a space for prostitution would would fulfill the socially indoctrinated need of men to satisfy their own sexuality. (did that make sense?) So actually, I think you were right to call all of this a double standard, both between men (sexual) and “moral” women (not sexual) and between “moral” women and “immoral” women.

  • Excellent essay, Ruth!

    I agree that eating disorders are diseases, but I cringe at the use of the word victim, especially for women. I feel like it perpetuates a helpless self-view. This is something I learned when I was studying to be a volunteer domestic violence counselor. The local YWCA had an excellent training program. If we are alive, we are survivors, not victims.

    I hope you don’t mind my pointing that out. It isn’t a criticism, just something I like to raise awareness about.

    Andrea, I LOVE art history, and your observations about women’s roles in the 19th century are spot on. I will be checking Garb’s book out.

    Thanks for letting me comment. Great blog. I’m glad I found you, I think through a comment on Womanists Musings blog.

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