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    Feminine Traditions Essay (1057 words)

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    In our society women are often pressured and conditioned to conform totraditional feminine standards. In the past fifty or so years women have begunto find modes of resistance against these cultural constraints. In this essay Iwill cover Bartky’s essay ” Skin Deep”, she theorizes about the”properly feminine subject”, the definition of the body, disciplinarypractices and how to resist.

    Bartky theorizes about the properly femininesubject by stating that it is to embody the proper feminine qualities ofcharacter and behaviors. According to Bartky the properly feminine woman must besure to never appear sloppy or loose. The properly feminine woman should alsoallow 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. Bartkytalks about the properly feminine body and how every movement is to be done acertain way in order to seem feminine. It is like when a mother tells herdaughter “Don’t sit with your legs open, its not lady-like”.

    Bartky talksabout how the proper feminine body must display itself within the properparameters of femininity. A woman must wear clothing and make-up that displayher in a positive way. A woman should not wear clothing or make-up that wouldmake her look sloppy, unkept or masculine. This can be seen through out societybut especially in the sports world. Women who compete in sports are often seenas unlady-like or non-feminine because they are active in a masculine dominatedrealm of society. Most sports are traditionally seen as outside the parametersof femininity.

    The idea of the properly feminine subject is an extreme exampleof femininity, yet it is the example that we use most in our society. In orderto conform to these concepts a woman must train herself and her body. Bartkytalks about how the proper feminine body requires training and how our cultureimplements certain disciplinary practices in order to do this training. Shetalks about dieting, make up and fashions.

    American culture perpetuates thesepractices through the mass media. One of the most powerful disciplinarypractices for women in the United States is that of dieting. “Dietingdisciplines the body’s hungers: appetite must be monitored at all times andgoverned by an iron will. ” ( Bartky 18) By dieting women are discipliningtheir bodies to only consume a certain amount of food.

    By doing this women feelthey 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 dietare scorned by society. Mass media contributes to these ideas by using images ofpredominantly thin unrealistic women. After saturating the women audience withimages of super-thin starlets , television networks then proceed to show hoursand hours of commercials and infomercials on weight-loss, dieting and fitnessprograms. Another disciplinary practice that is perpetuated through the media isthat 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 befound more in magazines than on T. V. This is because magazines can give you pageupon page of “make-up tips” and “skin care strategies” that women shouldfollow in order to conform to the properly feminine standard. The overwhelmingmedia showcase of properly feminine subjects and disciplinary practices leads towomen either conforming to these practices or resisting them. Bariky also talksabout how and why women can and should resist these practices and culturalconstructions of the female body.

    Bartky lists several reasons why women shouldresist these practices: 1) it is very costly and time consuming, i. e women spendhours and hours infatuated with their physical appearance instead of spendingtime working on their mental appearance 2) women are persuaded that their bodiesare defective, i. e. images in mass media tend not to reflect the average womanleading the average woman to feel something is wrong with her 3) they lead toproblems such as racism and class oppression, i. e most of the women in thesemedia images are white so any woman of color who sees this often feel inferiorand will try to conform 4) they lead to women feeling alienated, i.

    e. women whodon’t conform to these beauty norms often feel like outsiders or don’t fitin with the rest 5) the construction of this body is for the appreciation ofmale outsiders as well as the woman’s inner self, i. e. women do this to beappreciated by men but often is more of a beauty contest 6) the proper femininebodies postures and movements are seen as subordinate to men, i.

    e. it leads towomen being seen as child-like to men, who are then seen as superior. Bartkystresses that many women are becoming resisters to these practices of properfemininity. Women body-builders and athletes are resisters, women who takeself-defense classes are resistors and lesbians are resisters. Any woman whogoes against the properly feminine subject and its disciplinary practices is aresistor.

    Women athletes are definite resistors because sports especiallybasketball have been anti-women for so long that women’s basketball at the prolevel is a slap in the face to masculinists. Anything having to do with heavyathletic participation is seen as a resistance to traditional cultural norms. Resistance eventually leads to cultural change. Bartky talks about her visionfor the future of the body and a new radical configuration of this body.

    Shetalks about how the whole conventional idea of beauty will be thrown by thewaste side, people will be able to experiment with their appearance and prettymuch do whatever they want. She also says that the gender and class system willalso be thrown out and it will lead to a society in which one’s image isfreely chosen; true existentialism. In Bartky’s essay “Skin Deep” she doesa very good job of analyzing the current situation of women in our society inparticular women as part of the American culture. She theorizes on “theproperly feminine subject”, the definition of the body, disciplinary practicesand how to resist. She also talks about a new society in the future that wouldbe entirely free of class and gender systems and would have none of the previoussociety’s beauty standards.

    This sound’s like a good idea but realisticallyit would be almost impossible for our society not to be able to classify andcategorize people through gender, class, race etc. Bibliography”Skin Deep : Feminity as a Disciplinary Regime”. Daring to Be Good:Essays in Feminist Ethico-Politics. Edited by Bat-Ami Bar On and Ann Ferguson. New York,NY : Routledge, 1998. pp.


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