Thursday, March 11, 2010

Another Bite of the Poisoned Apple

There seems to be - coincidental to my last post, which was largely based on an article in last Saturday's Guardian newspaper - a whole rash of items on 'feminism'.
The series Women, aired on BBC4 during the week, rounded up all the old-school (70's) womens' libbers and grilled them about what the feminist movement had ultimately achieved. I think that to a man (so to speak) that they were underwhelmed, to say the least. It was a bit of a shock to see them looking rather elderly, particularly as they are only slightly older than myself (Germaine Greer was sporting a shawl arrangement similar to the one that I myself don if a little chilly) and I remember their firmer - and, I have to say, somewhat more optimistic - features smiling out from the books that I once devoured so eagerly.

In the same vein, a riffle through the online TLS also revealed a review of a book by Natasha Walker entitled Living Dolls which explores the emerging New Sexism that purveys pink fluffiness to young girls and encourages them to base their sense of self-worth on their looks and, rather more sinisterly, makes sexual allure a necessary component. This Lolita complex is the 'poisoned apple' that is being handed to young girls today as an acceptable image of self.

Walker quite correctly identifies the virulent poison of advertising that promotes a feeling of permanent dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that, of course, can only be corrected by the purchase of the advertiser's product. This sense of looks-based anxiety and lowered self-esteem impacts not only on their mental well-being but also their intellectual life. A girl who is constantly checking out her looks and her notional rivals in the 'hotness' stakes is doomed to do poorly, not least because she is not giving her studies full attention! Added to this is the annoying tendency manifest amongst many teenage students to regard enthusiasm for learning as 'uncool' (this drives a couple of my colleagues to distraction: bright and promising girls shooting themselves academically in the foot for want of application) and you have a recipe for a generation of female under-achievers.

I think that this is now apparent enough that there are vestigial stirrings of discomfort amongst women who formerly considered that a fondness for glittery nail-varnish and killer heels would not have a negative impact on how they were perceived. Definitely time for a rethink.

Whilst girls are given the message that looks trump brains, or that looks (largely a matter of luck) equal achievement we are doing them no favours whatsoever.
It's not the message that I give my daughters, either explicitly by encouraging clothes-shopping or crass magazines, or implicitly by fretting over my appearance or wardrobe.

I hope I encourage them (and the Bright-Eyed Boy too, of course) to develop as people, citizens of the world, and to critically engage with those around them, judging each on their merits - not the way they look.

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