Two related stories today that have me shaking my head – let’s kick it off with Jennifer Aniston, famous for having bouncy hair and being thin, complaining that people only ever pay attention to her bouncy hair and her weight. She writes, at the Huffington Post:
If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues. The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing.
We as a society…. We put women through…. Which we would that be, Jennifer? Who, exactly, is subjecting women to the cruelly judgmental gazes designed to rip them apart psychologically, demoralize them, make them question their desirability and worth? Who does this to women?
It’s other women!
The very beautiful, very desirable, very physically fit Mathers went to her gym in Los Angeles and took a picture of a naked woman (without consent, obviously), cropped it into a photo with herself, her mouth covered in horror and captioned it ‘If I can’t unsee this then you can’t either’. That’s a lot of effort just to ridicule a woman who looks, if not Playboy model perfect, reasonably fit and athletic.
Why did Mathers do this?
Here’s the standard feminist explanation: patriarchal society only values women for their sexuality, so women compete with one another, often viciously, for male approval, because if they don’t, men will kill them, because misogyny.
Evolutionary psychologists have a slightly different explanation: women are engaged in sexual competition to secure the best possible mates, and they have two main strategies for achieving their goals: self-promotion and competitor derogation. A woman can draw specific attention to her femininity and promote her desirability as a partner, or she can rip apart the women around her. Mathers is clearly a fan of doing both. The best way to attack other women is to focus on their appearance, age and character – competitors are old, ugly and promiscuous. Indeed, if you get a whole lot of people, say on Twitter, insisting you are an ugly old whore, you can be quite certain that other women have marked you as a competitor and are feeling rather threatened.
Mathers may very well get arrested for posting that image on Snapchat. She has lost her radio job and is banned from all locations of her gym. She has deleted both her Instagram and her Twitter accounts, and by all appearances seems to be deeply contrite. Not for being a nasty, vicious pit viper, of course, but for getting caught. She only meant, you see, to send that picture to a friend, so they could snipe over the unsuspecting woman privately. As if that somehow makes it better or more acceptable.
Mathers is a nasty person, but I still feel a certain degree to sympathy for her, because in addition to be a nasty person, she’s just doing what women have been doing since the dawn of time! I’d be willing to bet that Mathers is in complete shock at the reaction. After all, 100% of women aggress against peers they perceive as ‘sexy’, so Mather is hardly alone in her nastiness.
Mather ran afoul of the girl code by targeting a non-sexy peer. The woman in the gym is not a competitor for Dani. Dani is simply engaging in sadism. We tend not to like sadism as a species. Competition we’re fine with, even very brutal competition. But not sadism. If Mathers had posted a naked image of, say a porn star, like Mercedez Carrera and invited us to react with horror, her motivations would have been pretty clear, and Carrerra would have then beaten Mathers down hard, while we all stood around and cheered.
Mathers went after a soft target.
And got slapped down hard.
Mostly by other women.
Aniston is way more strategic when it comes to playing this game, but she is still playing the same game. Carefully casting herself as a victim of the aggressive gaze of other women (do you seriously think men buy magazine covers speculating on Aniston’s pregnancy status???), but never identifying women as the aggressors, Aniston gets to assert her femininity without attracting the aggression of mean girls like Mathers. She engages in self-promotion, but not competitor denigration.
Clever, and highly disingenuous. Aniston’s article implicitly suggests that somehow men are to blame for the scrutiny women subject other women to, and of course, never mentions the extent to which Aniston has personally profited from that scrutiny. Without her hair and her 125lb frame and a whole lot of luck, Aniston would be a cashier at Walmart, buying magazines wondering which thin celebrity might have gained weight over the holidays.
Aniston and Mathers are flip sides of the same coin: Aniston plays nice, and Mathers plays mean, but neither one of them appear willing to call themselves out for what they are: petty little girls whose entire worth is wrapped up in their physical appearance. Henry Louis Mencken may have said it best: a misogynist is a man who hates women as much as women hate one another.
I’m heartily sick of feminist and mainstream media blaming men for women’s viciousness to each other. It’s not patriarchy or men on the street who care if Aniston is pregnant or Mathers is threatened by a middle aged woman at the gym – that’s on other women.
Until we are willing to see women as fully adult, fully human, fully capable of every great and every heinous thing that men are capable of, we will never achieve full gender equality. Then again, are women capable of every great thing that men are capable of? It’s not a flippant question – women haven’t created culture and civilization. That’s the work of men. It continues to be the work of men. Women have always been and continue to be mostly decorative, when they aren’t being vicious little gutter snipes.
It may be that equality is wrong metric by which human worth should be measured, particularly when it comes to gender. Perhaps an imperfect measure is the best we can hope for? The world is always going to produce nasty little witches like Mathers, and profiteering whiners like Aniston, and maybe we just need to accept that, and remember to bring a towel to the gym?
Maybe we all need to act like grown-ups?
Just a thought.
Lots of love,