Monday, March 30, 2009

The Daily Misogyny

The Daily Mail is not well known for it's positive attitude towards women and feminism. They really seem to have outdone themselves today though with this "advice" column from Rowan Pelling (pictured).

The problem being dealt with is a woman who feels uncomfortable undressing in front of her boyfriend because she is self-conscious about her body. Her boyfriend is threatening to leave her over this.

So here's what you should really do in that circumstance: Tell your boyfriend to go fuck himself. Firstly if you feel self-conscious around him naked or otherwise, it sounds like he's not necessarily being the most supportive boyfriend. But more importantly if he's trying to use threats like leaving you to get you to do something sexual that you're not ready or willing to do he's an asshole and you should leave. Why does he want you to do something that makes you uncomfortable anyway? Doesn't sound like a very nice guy.

Not in Daily Mail land though... Pelling genuinely starts with this opening line:

"The biggest failing of modern feminism must be the fact women are so hard on themselves about their bodies."

Yeah exactly - see elsewhere on Cru-blog for my classic posts entitled "Your body - not good enough" and "Bigger than a size 6? Why not puke it up?". Feminists have been fighting against the way women are constantly judged on their appearances forever. We've written shelves full of books about it actually, things like The Beauty Myth and Fat is a Feminist Issue. Feminists are out there protesting beauty pagents and complaining about the unreasonable images of women shown in magazines and on TV. I don't remember seeing Ms Pelling on the front line!

So the alternative solution? Strip off and put up with it. She even suggests going to stripping classes to boost your body-confidence? Really.

Lets just hope it's not a real letter and a real person sat at home reading Pelling's noxious advice and taking it on board. You deserve better from both your boyfriend and your media.



Rowan Pelling needs to read or watch Jean Kilbourne because Ms. Kilbourne shows how the mass media attempts to fool women into believing their bodies are 'not good enough for the male gaze/female bodies need fixing etc. etc.' But then Rowan Pelling would not be working for the Daily Male if they had read Jean Kilbourne.

Patriarchy and the mass media is responsible for perpetuating female negative stereotypes - not feminism.

Dominic said...

Rowan Pelling makes a pretty good living out of this shit. It's hard to argue with a pretty good living. I know just what she'd say to Jean Kilbourne: what's the harm in glamour, in fantasy, in pleasing images of (admittedly unattainable) beauty? Since for her, personally, the profits are splendid and the harms invisible (or, at least, deniable), there's little hope that rational persuasion will move her very much from her privileged position. The way to such a person's heart is through her bank balance.

Cruella said...

Ha ha ha. Very funny Dominic. The it-makes-money-so-it-must-be-ok argument. Remind me to go selling crack to chidren and when you tell me I'm a bad person I'll trot that argument out and see who agrees with me.

Fact: being an asshole pays. If it didn't very few people would bother. But being well paid doesn't excuse being an asshole.

I strongly doubt you would say the same to some corporate fat-cat who had just paid himself a fat bonus and pissed your savings up the wall.

And there's nothing wrong with beautiful images. But there's something wrong with continually selling women the idea that they are inadequate as a way to grow your own profits which, as Jean Kilbourne points out, is what advertisers quite cynically do.

Dominic said...

Um, no. My point is that things that make lots of money generally feel pretty OK to the person making the money, and that they tend to rationalise what they're doing on that basis (see financial crisis, passim); therefore, rational argumentation is generally less effective with those people than taking their money away (or not giving them any more).

I'm not excusing Pelling's venality and collusion, just pointing out that she is likely to be very adept at excusing herself, and not particularly susceptible to the good sense of Jean Kilbourne, with whom I entirely agree. As I said, the harms are largely invisible to Pelling, or if not invisible then certainly deniable.

Besides, in terms of the visual grading system such representations set up, Pelling's doing OK - for the time being. Perhaps her perspective will change as she ages. But for the time being, it's not really surprising that her advice to those whose self-image is damaged by the imposition of bizarre norms of feminine beauty is essentially "be more like me!". Egotism like that is hard to scratch.

Compare the way someone like Nina Hartley rationalises the grotesque misogyny of the porn industry, and defends her (lucrative, privileged) position within it as somehow demonstrating that it's not all bad, that it can be reformed from within, and so on...

Cruella said...

That's just weird Dom. You seem to be implying that I shouldn't waste my time writing an article about Pelling unless I really believe she herself is going to read it and change jobs as a result.

Firstly I have to say that writing an article is more likely to affect Pelling than not doing so.

But secondly - did you really think my article was aimed at her? It was for the benefit of all my readers. I think you understand journalism well enough to know that when a review comes out of Elton John in concert, the author is not necessarily writing that article for Elton's benefit - but for the benefit of all readers: those who already went to see him and want to share another person's view, those considering buying tickets and looking for advice on the show and those who will never go who want to know something about the state of modern music.

(So it is with me...!)

Dominic said...

I'm replying to your first commentor ("Rowan Pelling needs to read..."). Well, maybe she should. But there are some fairly concrete reasons why it's unlikely to do much good.

Of course it's worthwhile you writing for your readers!

Dominic said...

There is a slight problem that people who have tried to get a rational grasp on a situation often overestimate the power of rational persuasion in changing that situation - after all, the rational argument persuaded them. But it usually did so because it explained something that was already a problem for them; for those for whom the problem is not a problem, but rather a source of gratification, profit, social status or whatever, the argument needs to be backed up with something that challenges their privilege and shakes their personal sense that all's right with the world. But you don't need me to tell you this...

Cruella said...

Yes this is a known really Dom. In fact the evidence I've seen suggests in most cases people decide and act first and construct a rational later. The exception of course is me. I am the one and only person capable of true objectivity... Well that's how I see it anyway!