Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Buddy Holly

I did intervals today. 10 x 1 minute jogging at 10 min/mile followed by 1 minute running like my life depended on it at 07:24 min/mile. By the 6 repetition it was kicking my arse, by the 10th it was handing it to me on a plate. I remembered why I hate interval training, but I've really struggled with my last few sessions so it was good to see that I could do this.

I finished The Beauty Myth last night and it was brilliant. By the end I'd grabbed a biro and was underlining bits and writing notes in the margins and I never do that.

I'm not going to go into much depth about the book because it's been reviewed by people more talented at getting to a book's essence and well-versed in feminism than I.

In the book which was originally published in 1991,Wolf asks the question why do women feel under greater and greater pressure to conform to certain physical standards while actually when it comes to political and personal rights we enjoy more freedoms than ever. She theorises that the monolith of 'them', 'the patriarchy', 'the establishment' feels threatened by the gains women made during the first wave of feminism and as such needs to create what Wolf calls an Iron Maiden. A metal sarcophagus in which victims are placed to either suffocate to death or be stabbed by the spikes inside and bleed to death. 

According to Wolf the Iron Maidan which can be found imprisoning and suffocating women in all aspects of their lives: work, culture, religion, sex, hunger, and violence. It is not enough to merely be, women are told in all domains of their lives, they must also live up to a rigid and perfectionist set of standards which they are simultaneously being told they will never be capable of doing.

What Wolf doesn't really examine is how the myth affects non-white, non-middle class, non-heterosexual, non-professional and non-college educated women. Ethnic minority women and working-class women get a look in occasionally, but only as bit players that support the perspective of middle-class women. I suspect the book would be a multi-volume affair if she had. Subsequent books on similar topics, such as Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, have made greater efforts to be more inclusive. 

I read this feeling more and more guilty about the makeup bag in my bedside cabinet. Was my mascara a political statement saying I have bought into the self-loathing and misogyny? Wolf points out that there's no shame in wearing makeup or dying your hair or wearing skyscraper high heels, (or, ahem, losing weight) as long as the place from which you approach them is positive and not negative. I run to be strong, not to fit some else's ideal.
Also my frown deepened and deepened as I read it, because I don't know any men that buy into the beauty myth. The men in my life - my partner, brother, father, male colleagues and friends and acquaintances - treat women with dignity and respect, or rather, as human beings. But Wolf acknowledges that patriarchical institutions and not men as individuals enforce the myth. 

Wolf is astoundingly perceptive - she notes that the beauty myth hurts men as much as women, and goes on to say that men will begin to be targeted by the rigid perfectionism of the Iron Maiden. She predicts a rise in male anorexia and other eating disorders. 20 years later men are being targeted by the beauty industry in similar ways, and eating disorders in men, which were once almost non-existant, have increased. 

However I think that progress for men and women has been made since The Beauty Myth was published. I think equality has risen. How can it not have now fairer paternity leave is being openly mooted? And yet female badminton players are finding out that being female badminton players is not enough, they must use their femininity to market themselves and attract male attention (Hat-tip to Inspiring Sports Women and Muslim Women in Sports )

To steal someone else's phrase, I believe in very gradual change.

And I wonder what Wolf would make of the internet if she were writing today. 

Congratulations if you made it this far. But what does this have to do with Weezer? When I was in the gym Buddy Holly came up on my iPod and there I was running along to a song which felt as fresh and relevant today as when I first heard it in 1994, much like The Beauty Myth, which was published a good two decades ago, does today.

Both of them made me feel a bit old as well. Seriously? The Little Mermaid's closer to the moon landing than today?  I remember getting a free Flounder and Ariel with a Happy Meal. Jesus...


  1. The Little Mermaid was the first film I saw at the cinema ... you've made me feel old! I love that Weezer song too - the video is awesome :-)

    Great review - it sounds like a book worth a read at some point. As you say, it's interesting to reflect on what's happened a decade on.

  2. Not only that, children who were born in the year the Little Mermaid came out are now at university...