Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

Via @AmandaMarcotte, Pat Archibald in the National Catholic Register enters a plea for a return to "pretty" in women, defined "as a mutually enriching balanced combination of beauty and projected innocence." This stands in contrast to "hot", which is not clearly defined but which he indicates is some sort of raw, sexualized energy. Back in the good old days (the 50s, natch. It's always the 50s), even our stars were more "pretty" than "hot" -- or at least many of them were. They might have still "sinned", but at least they projected "innocence".

But today, alas, women aspire to be "hot". The difference is in how men treat the two sorts of women:
[P]retty inspires men's nobler instincts to protect and defend. Pretty is cherished. Hotness, on the other hand, is a commodity. Its value is temporary and must be used. It is a consumable.


We might first note that it is hardly universally accepted that the desire for projected innocence is tied into a desire to "protect". Alexander King certainly had a different spin on things -- he wrote "That gentlemen prefer blondes is due to the fact that, apparently, pale hair, delicate skin and an infantile expression represent the very apex of frailty which every man longs to violate." And alas, King wrote in the first half of the 20th century, well before women's liberation ruined everything. Archibald concedes that the prettiness of yore was often a facade, not a true "innocence"; so long as we're explicitly valuing the hypocrisy of it all, we might as well remind ourselves it extends in both directions.

But more to the point, let's talk about commoditization, shall we? If it rings odd to hear it said that the former half of the 20th century was more respectful of women's agency, autonomy, and human dignity, well, it should. Archibald says hotness is a commodity, but what he doesn't say is that prettiness (as he defines it) is too. Being hot makes men want to consume you. Being pretty makes men want to protect you. What makes men want to treat you like an independent agent with her own talents, ambitions, and desires? Apparently nothing: The choice before women is to be the cake that one has versus the cake that one eats. Regardless of whether one prefers the former or the latter, we can hardly say that either option transcends the status of a commodity.

Now, as a man I sort of resent that -- to borrow from the immortal post by Belle Waring -- I am viewed as so much like a retarded kitten in my ability to appraise people that my capacity to determine how to treat women is exhausted by their physical appearance. I have aesthetic preferences in women, same as any heterosexual guy, but I maintain enough of a trickle of blood-flow to my brain to recognize that these preferences do not, in fact, translate onto character traits, much less into "women to consume" versus "women to stockpile" (and what a choice that is!). So in this sense Archibald's prejudice extends to men nearly as much as women.

Ultimately, though, it is bad to commoditize women. It's bad to view them as perishable goods to be gobbled up, and it's bad to view them as precious gemstones to be hoarded away -- put on a pedestal that doubles as a cage. Women are humans -- they have an infinite variety of desires, talents, and ambitions that they should feel to pursue. That includes pursuit of sexual pleasure, and it includes the decision to stay "innocent" of it. It's their call, not yours. That's the difference between a person, and a cake.

1 comment:

troll_dc2 said...

As a gay man, I have always been fascinated by the sad situations in which a man refuses to take "no" for an answer and kills the woman because if he cannot have her, then nobody can. Care to comment on that?