Rivers, C. (1998, August 21). "It is not ok to ridicule these women’s looks." The Boston Globe, p. A23.
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Referring to the crisis of former president Bill Clinton’s presidency as Zippergate, this author complains that "the faces and bodies of the women involved in the scandal are regarded as fair game for public comment, while the physical attributes of the men remain largely out of bounds for public discussion."
In cartoons, printed columns, and especially in radio and television broadcasts the appearance of these women have been ridiculed:
Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno, for instance, are guilty of describing Monica Lewinsky as fat and less than attractive; Linda Tripp as an elephant, and Paula Jones as ugly with an oversized nose (which led her to plastic surgery). Intrusive photos of the Clinton’s on a private beach stirred great discussion about the size of Hillary Clinton’s thighs.
Actually, photos of Lewinsky in Vanity Fair and most pictures of the stylish Hillary Clinton reveal very attractive women closer to the average 1950s size 12 model (Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) than 1990s size 4.
In contrast to the media’s treatment of these women, there is little notice of the size of Bill Clinton’s nose, Webster Hubbell’s weight, or Ken Starr’s out-of-shape form.
Susan Sontag has reflected on this double standard regarding men’s and women’s looks. Males live up to one set of physical criteria for boys and another for men of age. According to Rivers:
The boy has a slim waist, smooth skin, and thick hair. The man can be considered handsome with a thick waist, wrinkles, and a receding hairline. Sean Connery, looking every one of his 60 years, was declared to be the ‘sexiest man alive.’
There is only one standard of beauty for women, however—the girl. Look at most of the TV anchor pairs around the country: they look like some guy and his second wife. Watch the talking head shows on cable. It looks like guys and their granddaughters talking politics...And in films, 60ish male stars play romantic heroes to girls young enough to be their daughters and granddaughters while Meryl Streep can’t get cast.
This whole sordid story reveals that there remains a double standard for men and women. Men are given more latitude in appearance and natural aging, while women are judged by much harsher standards...This double standard has the effect of silencing women. How many men would put themselves forward in the public arena if they knew their body parts were going to be under constant (scrutiny and) discussion?
The unreachable perfection for young women, combined with the double standard of aging, has the effect of making women less powerful...With aging comes wisdom, and often, power. But if middle-aged women are mocked in the media unless they’ve had face-lifts and liposuction.
This author concludes that such "deligitimizing" of women as they age deprives young and old women from offering their wisdom and gifts for the common good. Given such a situation, whether younger or older, they lose. This loss, we might add, is not only for women; it is a critical loss to our society and to the world.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- How were girls teased in your school or neighborhood experience? How are they referred to in your more recent experience?
- Why do guys find it so easy to joke about women’s looks? (We think this is a complex question demanding some real thought and attention.)
- What did you feel reading this article? How might your feelings and response be different from others, especially of the opposite gender?
- In what ways does the world need wisdom and gifts that women may uniquely provide?
- There is no question about the fact that women are routinely degraded, often on the basis of their appearance. This ridicule seems to be a consequence of the objectifying of women in the minds of men. The reasons for such objectification of women seems to arise from the "nature of guys" and the media’s exploitation of women.
- Such a deep-rooted problem cannot be easily eradicated. If we cannot succeed in turning this trend around, we can at least become a vocal minority that resists its power over us.
- Public opinion and values begin in the home and are developed in schools and places of religious faith. Teachers and youth leaders must deal with our attitudes and the media’s treatment of women as both a personal and social issue.
Dean Borgman cCYS