Feminine Traditions Essay

Feminine Traditions Term paper

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In our society women are often pressured and conditioned to conform to traditional feminine standards. In the past fifty or so years women have begun to find modes of resistance against these cultural constraints. In this essay I will cover Bartky’s essay “ Skin Deep”, she theorizes about the “properly feminine subject”, the definition of the body, disciplinary practices and how to resist. Bartky theorizes about the properly feminine subject by stating that it is to embody the proper feminine qualities of character and behaviors. According to Bartky the properly feminine woman must be sure to never appear sloppy or loose. The properly feminine woman should also allow herself to physically controlled by male companions to a certain extent. She must allow the man to lead her around almost like a dog on a leash. Bartky talks about the properly feminine body and how every movement is to be done a certain way in order to seem feminine. It is like when a mother tells her daughter “Don’t sit with your legs open, its not lady-like”. Bartky talks about how the proper feminine body must display itself within the proper parameters of femininity. A woman must wear clothing and make-up that display her in a positive way. A woman should not wear clothing or make-up that would make her look sloppy, unkept or masculine. This can be seen through out society but especially in the sports world. Women who compete in sports are often seen as unlady-like or non-feminine because they are active in a masculine dominated realm of society. Most sports are traditionally seen as outside the parameters of femininity. The idea of the properly feminine subject is an extreme example of femininity, yet it is the example that we use most in our society. In order to conform to these concepts a woman must train herself and her body. Bartky talks about how the proper feminine body requires training and how our culture implements certain disciplinary practices in order to do this training. She talks about dieting, make up and fashions. American culture perpetuates these practices through the mass media. One of the most powerful disciplinary practices for women in the United States is that of dieting. “Dieting disciplines the body’s hungers: appetite must be monitored at all times and governed by an iron will.” ( Bartky 18) By dieting women are disciplining their bodies to only consume a certain amount of food. By doing this women feel they are becoming more like the image of the perfect (properly feminine) woman. Many women tend to over diet which leads to anorexia and women who don’t diet are scorned by society. Mass media contributes to these ideas by using images of predominantly thin unrealistic women. After saturating the women audience with images of super-thin starlets , television networks then proceed to show hours and hours of commercials and infomercials on weight-loss, dieting and fitness programs. Another disciplinary practice that is perpetuated through the media is that of skin care and make-up. “ A woman’s skin must be soft, supple, hairless, and smooth: ideally, it should betray no sign of wear, experience, age, or deep thought.” ( pg 19 ) Images of proper skin care and make up can be found more in magazines than on T.V. This is because magazines can give you page upon page of “make-up tips” and “skin care strategies” that women should follow in order to conform to the properly feminine standard. The overwhelming media showcase of properly feminine subjects and disciplinary practices leads to women either conforming to these practices or resisting them. Bariky also talks about how and why women can and should resist these practices and cultural constructions of the female body. Bartky lists several reasons why women should resist these practices: 1) it is very costly and time consuming, i.e women spend hours and hours infatuated with their physical appearance instead of spending time working on their mental appearance 2) women are persuaded that their bodies are defective, i.e. images in mass media tend not to reflect the average woman leading the average woman to feel something is wrong with her 3) they lead to problems such as racism and class oppression, i.e most of the women in these media images are white so any woman of color who sees this often feel inferior and will try to conform 4) they lead to women feeling alienated, i.e. women who don’t conform to these beauty norms often feel like outsiders or don’t fit in with the rest 5) the construction of this body is for the appreciation of male outsiders as well as the woman’s inner self, i.e. women do this to be appreciated by men but often is more of a beauty contest 6) the proper feminine bodies postures and movements are seen as subordinate to men, i.e. it leads to women being seen as child-like to men, who are then seen as superior. Bartky stresses that many women are becoming resisters to these practices of proper femininity. Women body-builders and athletes are resisters, women who take self-defense classes are resistors and lesbians are resisters. Any woman who goes against the properly feminine subject and its disciplinary practices is a resistor. Women athletes are definite resistors because sports especially basketball have been anti-women for so long that women’s basketball at the pro level is a slap in the face to masculinists. Anything having to do with heavy athletic participation is seen as a resistance to traditional cultural norms. Resistance eventually leads to cultural change. Bartky talks about her vision for the future of the body and a new radical configuration of this body. She talks about how the whole conventional idea of beauty will be thrown by the waste side, people will be able to experiment with their appearance and pretty much do whatever they want. She also says that the gender and class system will also be thrown out and it will lead to a society in which one’s image is freely chosen ;true existentialism. In Bartky’s essay “Skin Deep” she does a very good job of analyzing the current situation of women in our society in particular women as part of the American culture. She theorizes on “the properly feminine subject”, the definition of the body, disciplinary practices and how to resist. She also talks about a new society in the future that would be entirely free of class and gender systems and would have none of the previous society’s beauty standards. This sound’s like a good idea but realistically it would be almost impossible for our society not to be able to classify and categorize people through gender, class, race etc.

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