I was pleased to learn that the topic this week in my male-dominated political discussion group would be Ayn Rand. If you don’t know, Ayn Rand is a famed female philosopher and author of the novel, Atlas Shrugged. She was no feminist—some would say she was the opposite—but she was strong in her principles, a master of her craft, and admirable for those reasons.
Imagine my surprise when one discussion leader stated his opinion of her philosophies: “I tend to agree with her, but I don’t take her seriously.”
“Why?” we asked.
“I can’t get past her face.”
And so I was reminded of an age-old injustice: women who are not considered “pretty” cannot be admired as much as women who are.
I thought back to another recent minor scandal: President Obama jesting about California Attorney General Kamala Harris, calling her the “best looking attorney general in the country,” as if it set her apart.
This was not strictly sexist (though this CNN-contributor disagrees), but it touches on a preoccupation in our society with the way women appear outwardly, even when their (very important) jobs have nothing to do with looks.
Certainly, those women with appearance-centric jobs don’t escape the scrutiny.
In an interview on Today, Anne Hathaway refused to tell Matt Lauer how she lost 25 pounds for her role in Les Miserables, saying, “I didn’t do it to get hot, I did it to look like I was dying,” and (referring to a Les Mis premiere wardrobe malfunction), “I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants.”
Right on, Miss Hathaway.
More recently, sports blogger Claire Crawford has been widely noted for her tactless article questioning the physical worthiness of professional cheerleader, Kelsey Williams.
The blogger muses about “what men like in women” and wishes Williams had “a little more up-top.” (The original source has since been removed, but here is a screen shot of the CBS Houston article.)
Somehow, I find this mindset even more alarming coming from another woman. We should not all have the same opinions, but shouldn’t we all be cognizant of the daily struggle where we, as women, are made noteworthy for our breasts first and our talents second?
Williams is a dancer and athlete. Harris is a top lawyer. Hathaway is an actress, who puts a great deal of effort into portraying her characters authentically.
So, why are society and media (and the president!) eaten up with their looks?
Should I chalk it up to nouveau visual media and our penchant for all things sensational? In the case of my discussion leader, should I chalk it up to men being men? Or, in the case of Claire Crawford, women being I-can’t-even-say-the-word? I don’t think so.
It’s laziness—because it’s easy to look at a woman and pick her apart (or put her on a pedestal): Hooray for you, you’ve described what you see in front of your eyes.
But it takes someone who cares to look past a face to pay homage to what makes a woman truly worthy: her values, her talents, and, sometimes, the immense amount of confidence she has to have to wear an outfit this damn small.
Stephanie R. Lawson is a graduate of the Family and Consumer Sciences program at CSU Sacramento. She is interested in promoting healthy lifestyles and self-image to all people. She is passionate about all things literary, linguistic, and gastronomic.