Monday, October 26, 2015

Beauty & empowerment

Amy Molloy is 31 and is about to be married. In her youth she dressed in a sexually provocative way:
In the past I have followed a 'less is more' rule when it comes to dressing. Like most teenage girls I went out in as little as my parents would allow and, for a while during my early twenties, my favourite clubbing outfit was a lace leotard with nothing underneath it.

But now she is trying to justify to herself dressing a bit more conservatively. She has told the Daily Mail a somewhat unlikely story about how she was at a farmers market in North Sydney and was warned by a man that her revealing gym clothes were putting her in danger and that she should clear out. She thanked the man and left.

One thing that stood out to me is that Amy Molloy sees only the options of dressing prudishly or sexually provocatively. She leaves out the option of dressing in a beautiful/sexually appealing way. And the question is why?

One possible answer is that she belongs to a generation of women who have been encouraged to reject modesty. By modesty I mean a sense of reserve that aims for love, for family and for one man rather than an indiscriminate, public display of sexuality. Modesty stands in the way of the modern girl ethos which is not oriented to family commitments or even to a stable commitment to a man, but instead to autonomy, independence, career and self-actualisation (understood as the assertion of the solo ego in the world). It is these qualities which are thought to make a young woman empowered, and so young feminist women naturally assume that it is empowering to be immodest and to assert themselves in an overtly sexual way, i.e. sluttily. Young feminists associate the slutwalks with power.

But is sluttiness empowering? Consider what Amy Molloy was doing just before the incident in North Sydney:
For the past 30 minutes, I had been talking loudly on the phone to a girlfriend about why a guy she'd met on Tinder hadn't stayed the night after having sex with her.

Who is the empowered one in this exchange? The man who gets the easy one night stand or the woman who wonders why he doesn't hang around after?

And there's another sense in which women are disempowered through immodesty. When women are dressed for beauty, they have the power to deeply impress and therefore positively influence men. This is a higher power because it is something that affects the inner spirit of men - it doesn't have to be dragged out of men through the force of law or the threat of punishment or through indoctrination. It is sincere and voluntary.

There is a second reason why Anne Molloy might have disregarded the appeal of beauty as an option for women. Beauty is something that we all know and experience in our lives. Nonetheless, moderns find it difficult to acknowledge the reality of a good like beauty. Moderns are inclined to think in terms of an immediate physical reality with nothing embedded in it, which means that beauty doesn't register as a higher truth for them the way that it did in more traditional cultures.

That's one reason why writers like Anne Molloy discuss the issue of feminine attire either in terms of gender politics or health and safety. These are considered "real" in a way that beauty isn't. Anne Molloy is about to marry; she clearly feels that she should tone down her public display of sexuality; but to justify this she turns to the idea that there is a personal health and safety benefit in doing so - hence the story of the man who warned her that the drug dealers at a North Sydney farmers market might rob or attack her because of her lycra gym pants.

I find it interesting that postmoderns do like to experience beauty (the clothes shops in trendy Fitzroy are full of classic 50s dresses), but only allow themselves to do so "ironically". They want us to know that they don't really believe in the particular good whilst still wanting to enjoy it.

3 comments:

  1. I find it interesting that postmoderns do like to experience beauty (the clothes shops in trendy Fitzroy are full of classic 50s dresses), but only allow themselves to do so "ironically". They want us to know that they don't really believe in the particular good whilst still wanting to enjoy it.

    I've grown to detest the very concept of irony. It always seems to be accompanied by cynicism and nihilism.

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  2. This story is wholly unbelievable. The area is not known for "drug dealers" at all. Nor is it likely that any man would behave like the man in the "story" allegedly did: North Sydney is what an American might call an urban SWPL area; the Federal Member was Joe Hockey and he will likely be replaced by Trent Zimmerman; Hockey was once known as the Godfather of the federal "Group" within the Liberal Party (the far left faction) and Zimmerman only follows in his footsteps; indeed Zimmerman's reputation is of a hard line progressive: pro sodomarriage, pro feminist, pro multiculti, pro republic etc. That's about as conservative as one can be in North Sydney. This is a solidly PC area, saturated from top to bottom with hipster liberal ideology. The story's narrative is obviously manufactured around the message that the writer wants to deliver her audience.

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