Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Men questioning women today is the norm. Why? Because less freedom means less opportunities to make the ‘wrong choice,’ I guess. The freedom we have today presses their buttons because they are losing power. There is no question there. In light of the Roe vs Wade verdict (when the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the right to abortion, upheld for decades), there is an obvious and cowardly attempt to wrest this power back.
How are they doing it?
By going backwards into the past.
Not only are old rules being brought back and new rules being written to restrict women, but the archaic argument of a “perfect summer body” is making its way to the forefront again. This ridiculous physical expectation is yet another way to control women.
Men put women under a microscope when they walk down the street. If it’s not a dress that is too short, it’s your cleavage that is too revealing. If you’re not too skinny, then you’re too fat. If you’re not an “easy woman”, then you’re a prude. So, there is no way to please them. Stop trying and meet your own expectations and your expectations only.
Take the 1920s, for instance, an era engulfed by the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce and the economy was failing, and yet men found time to implement body ideals for women. After the First World War, the population dropped significantly.
Imagine what it was like being a woman at that time.
Eating three meals a day would be the last thing on your mind. Let alone having the time to think what a healthy fulfilling diet was supposed to look like. So, being thin with no curves whatsoever was the norm.
But do we really have to imagine it?
Today, the National Eating Disorders Association in the United States attests to these harsh realities reporting an alarming surge of up to 80% in calls around anorexia and numerous binge-eating disorders, which they liken to another pandemic.
Young women today make themselves endure a strict routine to satisfy the standards seen in popular media or the “male gaze” — wake up early but get enough sleep, go to the gym, eat healthy, socialise, and so on. It’s easier said than done. Every time a woman walks by you, she’s probably wondering what you’re thinking. Do you think she’s too short? Has too much belly fat? Isn’t pretty enough?
Like all women today, I know what it’s like to walk down the street and hear random guys catcalling following me around. Even when they’re mere strangers, their expectations subconsciously influence my every decision. A constant fear when being alone is all-consuming. It’s no party for girls to be alone at night.
How did I teach myself to stay safe? I learned to dress in baggy clothing, walk fast, and talk to someone on the phone. It’s funny that guys don’t have a care in the world. They can fight back. They have no fear of what saying “No” could mean. And as much as we make ourselves believe that we can fight back, the greater likelihood of sexual harassment for women, compared to men, is appalling.
The NSVRC (a nonprofit offering information and tools to prevent and respond to sexual violence) turns these victims into a statistic on paper rather than just a another woman in the crowd: 81% of women and the drastically lower 43% of men face sexual harassment in their lifetime.
History paved the way for this objectification of the female body. But let’s not forget the progressive steps taken during the 1940s. A decade of celebration and cultural rebirth after the Second World War accelerated freedom for women. The perception of the ideal female physique shifted from a slender, childlike figure to a fuller, more rounded shape, during a time when women were proud to show off their curves. This ideal meant you were comfortable, wealthy, and relaxed, or at least, seemed relaxed. Men still wanted their wives to wear a knee-length skirt and a top showing some but not too much cleavage. Women were taught to strive for an elegant and classy appearance, not to be called sluts “asking for it” if too much skin is showing.
Consider the play written by Tennessee Williams in 1947, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Blanche was exiled from society simply for being too flirtatious and for “sleeping around” despite her unmarried status. Her exemplar sister — although praised for meeting social expectations — became miserable in a home that was the site of domestic abuse. The expectations stayed the same, restricting women to the household under their oh-so protective and loving husbands. The female body was merely a spectacle for the male viewer to approve of.
These male-made creations of the female identity make you wonder. One sister dimmed down her identity to a patriarchal norm that made her miserable; the other walked away from these restrictions; a free yet scapegoated woman.
Sounds familiar? It does to me. But which is the better option for women today? Either way we are bound to fall into a depressive spell from not being enough, not meeting the pattern and not ticking every box to become “the perfect woman”. As hard as it may be, find the courage to reject the pressure to fit into a mold. Be your own independent self.
Walking into school every morning, I still remember female teachers sending girls back home, asking them to change if their skirt was too short, if they wore makeup, or if their uniform was too tight. When asked for an explanation, we all simply got the typical “it’s too distracting for boys” repetitive broken record excuse. We are letting men decide what we can or cannot wear, just as banning abortions was a male-dominated decision in the end. What right does a man have to tell me, or any other woman, what we can or cannot do with our body and health?
At the end of the day, everyone has to realise that criminalising abortion does not put a stop to it, but rather it forces desperate women to find unsafe, unregulated places to terminate an unwanted pregnancy instead. Men can and will run away from such responsibilities. It is hypocritical to not give women an escape route from unwanted pregnancies, still today.
The 1950s and 1960s were a period of rebellion, where the Beatles took their rightful place with a new kind of music and reflected social liberation. Women embraced their sexuality as a form of newfound empowerment. The ‘60s also brought the Baby Boom generation and more attentiveness to the submissive housewife, but the Second Wave of Feminism was in full swing.
When it came to the female image, Western Culture represented it through polar opposites.
For one, there was Marilyn Monroe. Her body type would easily be considered “plus size” today yet she was, and still is, an icon. She took up space and kept it. Her hips were wide. She didn’t have a toned abdomen. She had larger boobs. She had the hourglass silhouette that women strive to achieve. Her modelling and acting career will forever paint Monroe as a blonde girl with bloodshot lipstick and a white dress on the red carpet.
At the other extreme, Twiggy. Her real name is Lesley Hornby, a British model, who was quickly reduced to a nickname to sum up her identity just based on the way she looked, or to be more exact, the way she was encouraged to look. Being thin came back into fashion, and men weren’t bothered that these expectations were unhealthy. The concept of “attractiveness” is quite funny when you think about it. People have different likes and dislikes, so you will inevitably be deemed attractive by some and ugly by others. The only opinion that matters is yours. So, screw them and their obsession with controlling the female body.
The 1990s and the 2000s are easier to recall. We live in a society influenced by the late ‘90s and its revered “‘thin body” image. It’s not as extreme as it used to be in the early 2000s, but social media has made it ten times harder for women to see themselves as beautiful when looking in the mirror. Having an Instagram page and feeling obligated to post bikini pictures or at least somewhat revealing photos online equals being watched and judged by girls who are just as insecure as you.
At least before the internet, escaping a patriarchal reality was somewhat achievable: stay inside and don’t be tempted to watch models on TV or in magazines. Now, experiencing a pandemic — so basically locking yourself indoors — was a girl’s worst nightmare.
The motivation to do anything active whatsoever was crushed. To cope with the isolation, many found comfort in binge-eating and watching Netflix in their bedrooms before going crazy.
They also found new physical goals to obsess over, can’t forget those. Women become controlled by the idea that not having a thigh gap is shameful. The “hip dips” are another phenomenon. Something that has to do with a human’s bone structure and genes is turned into a flaw, so unacceptable to show in public. But the blame should not be placed on women. In reality, we are embracing female independence but still live under a mantle of male control.
Look at the time frame of past and present expectations. Women have been bombarded with ideas of what the perfect body should look like and, ironically enough, all those absurd standards stem from a man’s archaic view. Don’t be either too thin or too fat. Or too feminine or too masculine either. Be independent, though we won’t let you be too independent.
Screw all of it! Don’t give a damn!
Just as women protested and won their independence in the past, women will have to protest once again. It is ridiculous that women are forced to take a step back in time in a so-called free land after the Roe vs Wade verdict. The female body and how it should look is entirely up to the woman herself. Don’t be fooled. A lioness attacks its prey in packs, increasing the chances of killing it. A lion is too proud to ask for help and so often fails. Like gaining the right to vote, being allowed to have an education and finding equality in pay, women will unite again to stop the Roe vs Wade ruling. Protests are happening every day, showcasing the drive women today have to fight back. As such, a fourth wave of feminism is necessary and undoubtedly happening.
Thank you to Teodora Chiujdea, Johana Htwe, Jullia Joson and Julianna Wages for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Lifestyle & Relationships team.
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