Sheila Jeffreys argues in Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West (Routledge 2005) that Western beauty practices fulfill the United Nation’s concept of “harmful traditional cultural practices.” According to Jeffreys, these practices are 1) damaging to the health of women and girls, 2) performed for men’s benefit, 3) responsible for the creation of stereotyped roles for the sexes, and 4) justified by tradition (Jeffreys 3).
Choose ONE culturally accepted Western beauty practice (i.e. dieting, wearing high-heeled shoes or make-up, etc.), and make a case for the ways it violates (or does not violate) a broad-based definition of women’s health. Make sure you use at least three of our readings to support your argument.
As defined by the United Nations World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being” (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 215). Therefore, when determining if plastic surgery violates this definition of health, a holistic approach needs to be taken. Unfortunately, on the macro level, plastic surgery focuses solely on women as objects who need to be visually appealing to a male audience. At this institutional level, women’s health is violated most often through the advertising industry. By classifying the ideal woman in advertising as someone who meets impossible beauty standards, young girls and older women alike are programmed to feel that if they do not compare, they will not be enough for their male counterparts. Jean Kilbourne writes, “the cumulative effect of these images and words urging girls to express themselves only through their bodies … is serious and harmful” (137). An obviously large effect of these dehumanizing images is the steep rise in plastic surgery, and more specifically, breast augmentation. Women are hospitalizing themselves, and allowing doctors to cut open their skin and insert foreign objects into their bodies in order to achieve the male standard of beauty . Not only is this a serious physical health risk and violation, but also stresses Jeffreys’ argument that a woman’s health is violated when she acts for the benefit of a man (Jeffreys 3). If the macro-level advertising industry is not continually questioned, challenged, and “girl”-cotted by the feminist movement, it will continue to remain a serious health violation to all women.
At the meso level, many factors remain in place which serve to violate women’s health in two ways described by Jeffreys – factors which are responsible for the creation of stereotyped roles for the sexes, and justified by tradition (Jeffreys 3). Many of these factors can be found in the workplace, where, unfortunately, conditions are constantly in violation of women’s health. For example, Kilbourne writes “there is…pressure on young women today to be thin, to shrink … not to take up too much space, literally or figuratively” (136). This workplace tradition of women as small, quiet, and almost invisible is justified by the lifelong tradition of the separation of work into “men’s work” and “women’s work.” While women have obviously made much gain since newspapers’ jobs sections were separated by gender, the strong meso-level reinforcement to stay “small” mentally carries over into the physical side as well. Combining the pressure to remain small with the macro-level advertising industry, it is no wonder that liposuction was the number 1 performed cosmetic surgery in 2005 (cosmeticplasticsurgerystatistics.com). When women feel as if they have to be both physically and mentally “small” in order to survive in the workplace, their health has obviously been violated.
Unfortunately, females are not often able to escape from the pressures of “beauty” at the micro level either. Although written as a poem, Lani Ka’ahumanu’s work describes the way many young females often feel - “I would avoid looking at myself, I mean really looking beyond the self-hate … I was constantly comparing myself with others” (154). Even in individual lives, the pressure to be perfect is overwhelming. This mental agony and worry can begin to take control, thus harming an individual’s health both mentally and spiritually. Low self-esteem can lead to drastic acts, such as spending thousands on plastic surgery, and a majority of people surveyed who underwent plastic surgery were those who spent an hour or more a day thinking about their appearance (MedicineNet.com).
Although women’s health is often violated at the macro, meso, and micro levels, this news should not serve to dishearten women. It is a difficult journey, but by reclaiming actions for ourselves instead of for men, by challenging definitive gender stereotypes and discriminatory traditions, and focusing on health and holistic, positive living, a feminist-positive health system is absolutely obtainable.
Life on planet earth has ended and you are being beamed up to Planet X, where you will begin a new society with several other survivors. It’s a long trip to Planet X, and so you have time to plan. What absolutely vital feminist idea should serve as a foundation of life on Planet X? Define this feminist idea and provide at least three supporting reasons, from a feminist perspective, for its necessity on Planet X. Make sure you use at least three of our readings to support your argument.
In order to form a feminist foundation on Planet X, there are three vital factors that must be in place so that the main feminist idea of equality can be implemented. At all levels of life, there must be no gender roles enforced, a universal health care system designed around choice, and the acceptance of love based on individual desire and agency.
In a world without feminism, only two strictly defined gender roles exist, male and female. From the moment a baby’s sex is determined, immediate stereotypes are formed, and from the moment the child is born, all of those around him/her treat the child the way they believe the child “should” behave based on his/her gender. The trouble with this socialization, however, is that it takes away an individual’s agency and opportunities in life. As Leslie Feinberg writes, the ideals of a “real” man and woman that we are inundated with since birth “straightjacket the freedom of individual self-expression” (194), and hinder everything from the jobs we take to the clothes we wear, and the way we are socialized to behave. Not only are gender roles demeaning for those who identify as male or female; they are extremely harmful to those who don’t feel as if they fit into an either/or category, such as transgenders. As Feinberg writes, “for many of us [transgenders], the words woman or man … do not total up the sum of our identities” (195). Therefore, in the feminist society of Planet X, we will begin fresh with no pre-determined notions of how a gender “should” behave. Instead, free will and agency will be promoted, and individuals’ dreams and goals will be encouraged regardless of what biological sex they are born into.
Once the population begins to grow on Planet X, a universal health care system will need to be implemented. Because good health is the foundation of life, it must be preserved and protected, and most importantly, individualized. While the idea of individualizing a universal health system may seem contradictory, it boils down to the idea that while everyone must have equal access to the health care of professionals, the care must be in synch with the individual’s personal decisions. If, for instance, a woman believes that she is not yet ready to care for a child or does not desire to have one, the option to receive a safe abortion must be readily available to her. This idea of a health-care system based around choice will be centered on Judith Arcana’s belief in the importance of respecting and trusting the natural instincts of women. “All the Great Mothers were respected in their choices, decisions made for the good of the child, the mother, the clan, the tribe, the nation” (Arcana 227). Arcana also argues that we must discuss our personal choices “in open recognition of our joy or sadness, our regret or relief – in conscious acceptance of the responsibility of our choice” (227). Although Arcana is referring to abortion, her ideas speak to the entire medical field as well. Neither women nor men should ever be forced to feel shame about their bodies. Instead, on Planet X, open discussion and honesty will be encouraged, and by talking about our personal health concerns, much more will be gained and learned.
Finally, the most important factor which will be enacted on Planet X will be the idea of free love based on an individual’s agency. While “love in patriarchal culture was linked to notions of possession, to paradigms of domination and submission,” love on Planet X will be based around egalitarian relationships rooted in the feminist foundation of equality (bell hooks). As there will be no defined gender roles on the planet, there will also be no boundaries between males/females, and homosexual relationships will be just as valued as heterosexual ones. Love will be, as bell hooks so beautifully describes it, “the will to extend oneself to nurture ones’ own or another’s spiritual growth because it affirms that love is an action” (236).
On a Planet ruled by love of oneself and equal love and respect of others, there a world of hate and black/white gender stereotypes will not be possible. There will be no denial of a human’s right to choose and have control over his/her own body, and the health industry will be based around care and humanity, not monetary gain. With these three factors in place, Planet X will be a feminist society built on the foundation of equality.