Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Why Be Beautiful? And How? Questions Which Feminists Can't Ignore

In the run up to the Iranian elections, Radio Canada this morning had a short item about a young woman who will vote for the first time. She’s 23, lives at home, and puts on make up in public washrooms with her friends when she goes out. Her parents wouldn’t approve, but the young women think it’s cool and are willing to risk being stopped by the morality police for unIslamic behavior.

The desire to appear beautiful in the eyes of males and one’s female friends is something that I understand on one level, having spent far too much time wearing high heeled shoes. (One of the pleasure of advancing age is not worrying about wearing low heels or even, gasp!, comfortable shoes.) Attractive women wore them, so I thought I should too. But what a strange business: why should tottering around attract?

There is a feminist discourse that says that high heels make women vulnerable and as such they are a sign of submission which appeals to males. Certainly in her most interesting novel La memoire de l'eau the Chinese-Canadian writer Ying Chen compares them to the bound feet of Chinese women for that reason.

Don’t know. But it is passing strange that women all over the world go to great lengths to conform to whatever standard of beauty is current, even risking considerable trouble with officials.

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