“Sane people did what their neighbors did, so that if any lunatics were at large, one might know and avoid them.” – Middlemarch by George Eliot
Today, Eliza Berman posted about a LIFE photo essay from 1969 concerning how lady authors should market themselves. The natural reaction is one of outrage, but is this really so different from how women in today’s marketplace are taught to portray themselves? Actresses, performance artists, and all types of celebrities who just happen to be women are jettisoned off to a place of Otherness where they can become famous through showing more skin.
Recently, actress Rose McGowan called out a Hollywood casting notice for its description of what to wear to the audition. There is a certain expectation that our society holds for women. While great advances have been made in just the last century, we still live in a world where young girls are sold things that are pink and glittery and socially constructed as girlish, while boy sections have trucks and cars and action figures. Boys are taught to be tough and to do things. Girls are taught to take care of dolls with unrealistic figures and to make them, and the world around them, prettier.
You can argue about whether we are naturally born to gravitate towards one or the other, but there is no question that the programming starts early, from the first few years of life, and continues throughout adolescence. Advertising, movies, TV shows all perpetuate the stereotypes of what is appropriate for each gender.
While it is disgusting, it is the framework of the society in which we live. How far we are willing to beautify ourselves in our quest for success affects all aspects of our lives: careers, what partners we can attract, whether others will be willing to listen to our messages.
When things like this get me down, I remember the women throughout history who have smashed expectations to make life their own. For example, George Eliot. There is still, even today, a fascination over what she looked like. Mary Ann (or Marian as she later spelled it) Evans was a Victorian woman who lived an unconventional life. By contemporary accounts, she was not attractive. But she was a woman who made her voice heard through her intelligence, hard work, and persistence. She grew from a prickly, defensive, cutting young woman into one of the most generous and empathetic authors since the invention of the novel. Middlemarch is a masterpiece which puts the marriage plot on its head by marrying off the heroine in the first part and showing the disastrous results of her marriage throughout the rest.
This is a post about setting goals, but not in the conventional way. There will always be the list that has been created for us that we can follow tick by tick, collecting checkmarks in place of happiness. I can’t tell you what goals to have, only that they should be your own, and that no one else should dictate to you what composes success or what you should look like, act like, or sound like on the basis of gender or race or any other identifying characteristic.
Goals are a tricky thing, hard to identify for the lost, hard to wade through when considering the expectations of others. However, I think that, together, we can change societal expectations and create a more accepting world. Change takes time and patience, but it is a good goal to have.