Feminism’s War Against Beauty
Not everybody is beautiful. Politics can’t change that.
Megan Jayne Crabbe doesn’t hate all men, only those who express their opinions about her appearance. She ranted on Instagram last year:
Every now and then a man comments on one of these pictures telling me to stop trying to force people to be attracted to me. It’s almost as if he believes that a female body should only be seen or celebrated if it’s for someone else’s sexual pleasure. I spent a long time believing that my body’s purpose was making men attracted to me, seeing myself as an object for their consumption.
Well guess what? Now I celebrate my body for me. I celebrate my body for all the years I waged war against it. I celebrate my body for every person out there still doing the same and desperately looking for a way out of self hatred. I celebrate my body to show them that it’s possible to love their own bodies exactly as they are, belly rolls and all.
I know it’s shocking that a woman could show her body without it being for the approval of straight men, but trust me, I am not here for that. Seeing bodies in their most natural form shouldn’t instantly make us think of sex. Something can be beautiful without being sexual. And thinking that bodies are only useful, beautiful or valuable if they fulfill someone else’s needs is fucked up. So keep your attraction, I’m sure as hell not trying to force it out of you. Self love is so much better than anything you could give me.
Last year, Ms. Crabbe gained media attention when the London Daily Mail wrote about how the 23-year-old from Essex, England, nearly starved herself to death and was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa as a teenager. At one point, she weighed a mere 65 pounds and, as recently as 2014, was still dieting and exercising obsessively to stay skinny. But then, she says, she discovered “body positivity,” which she credits with saving her life.
In the do-it-yourself world of social media, everybody with a WiFi hookup can become a minor celebrity, and the quest to “be somebody” on the Internet is fiercely competitive. Ms. Crabbe has parlayed her personal problems into a career, with more than 800,000 followers on her Instagram account: “BODY POSITIVE BABE … ANOREXIA CONQUEROR … FEMINIST.” What does feminism have to do with anorexia or obesity? The idea that women are victims of male-imposed beauty standards has a long feminist history, a subject that I examined at length in March 2016:
Feminism’s attack on The Beauty Myth (Naomi Wolf, 1991) would have us believe that Hollywood producers, Paris fashion designers, Madison Avenue advertisers and other sinister forces of patriarchal capitalism have conspired to brainwash us into believing that some women are more beautiful than others. “All Bodies Are Beautiful” has become a popular feminist slogan, and skepticism is impermissible — a ThoughtCrime.
Any man who doubts this ideology — aesthetic egalitarianism, we might call it — will find himself denounced as a misogynist. Men are wrong to prefer Kate Upton to Lena Dunham, according to feminists who wish to silence male praise for beauty, because feminists believe that men’s enjoyment of beauty is harmful, oppressive, sexist. This anti-beauty message has been a core component of feminist rhetoric since 1968, when the Women’s Liberation movement emerged from the New Left and staged its first public protest against the Miss America pageant. Beauty pageants “epitomize the roles we are all forced to play as women,” the protesters declared, proclaiming that “women in our society [are] forced daily to compete for male approval, enslaved by ludicrous ‘beauty’ standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.”
Is it true — or was it true in 1968 — that women are “forced” to conform to an externally-imposed standard of beauty? The assertion that women are compelled against their will to “compete for male approval” was always something of a paranoid conspiracy theory, but a half-century of feminist rhetoric has been devoted to establishing this victimhood mentality as an unquestionable truth of the movement:
In 1996, a 23-year-old woman living in Portland, Oregon, decided to create a T-shirt with the slogan “F–k Your Fascist Beauty Standards.” Jill Portugal’s company, “One Angry Girl,” has sold many thousands of feminist T-shirts in the past 20 years, without explaining what the phrase “beauty standards” is supposed to mean, or why such standards are “fascist.” Instead, this kind of sloganeering functions as an anti-male insult, a way for the feminist to denounce heterosexual men for preferring beautiful women to ugly women.
This anti-beauty rhetoric is mindlessly parroted by young feminists nowadays. Jennifer Baquing wrote in a column last year at XOJane.com:
Intersectional feminism saved me.
Somewhere between a California high school and a Texas university, I found the powerful words that could name the oppressive systems I lived under: patriarchy and white supremacy. . . .
This is why I began designing dresses in addition to my photography. First, I felt it was imperative to push back against the fashion industry’s patriarchal beauty standards. Such standards were established by men, and created for male consumption. It’s beyond time to move on from them. Second, I needed to resist prevalent, distinctly Eurocentric standards of beauty — standards that not only prioritize, but often solely value the beauty of white people — thus perpetuating a culture of white supremacy. Finally, I wanted to begin work dismantling the oppressive fashion industry norms of excessive thinness and “ideal” body types.
Unfortunately, all women are socially conditioned by patriarchal, white supremacist values to measure themselves against a man-made point system of what it means to be beautiful, sexy, deserving, and worthy. That system is bullshit, and I’m here to point it out.
Ms. Baquing is a victim of “oppressive fashion industry norms,” and insists that every other woman on the planet is likewise oppressed, “socially conditioned by patriarchal, white supremacist values.” The possibility that a woman could escape fashion industry oppression — just stop buying Glamour and Vogue magazines, for example — is conveniently ignored by feminists who see “patriarchal beauty standards” as an omnipotent force of evil.
“Fat feminism or fat-positive feminism . . . specifically addresses how misogyny and sexism intersect with sizeism and anti-fat bias.” (Wikipedia)
By blaming men (especially white, heterosexual men) for women’s personal problems, feminism’s anti-beauty rhetoric functions to provide a scapegoat, an externalized enemy as the focus of their resentments.
Yes, I am well aware that I *GASP* post pictures of my body on the internet. And unfortunately I don’t have the power to fix a fucked up patriarchal society that would rather slut shame women for embracing their natural form, than educate people about consent and perpetuating rape culture. However, here are a few handy tips if you don’t want to be a disgusting human being:
1) I am not here to be sexually appealing to you. I’m here for the people who’ve struggled with self hatred and negative body image, it’s quite simple really.
2) I don’t want your ‘hey baby’s, your sexually fueled comments or your unsolicited direct messages.
3) Remember that women don’t exist to be visually or sexually pleasing to you, and if someone explicitly DISSENTS to you using their image for that purpose (like I’m doing now) and you continue to do so, you are quite literally a wank stain on the bed sheet of life. Go away, you creep. 😃
To all my fellow warrior babes who deal with this on a daily basis — you are magnificent, you have the right to display your body however you choose without being shamed or harassed, never let any misogynistic morons tell you otherwise.
Ms. Crabbe condemns a “fucked up patriarchal culture” for . . . what? Because males are making “sexually fueled comments” on the photos she posts publicly on Instagram? Men are wrong to make comments about women they find “sexually appealing,” Ms. Crabbe implies. Men who express their heterosexual preferences are “perpetuating rape culture.” Taken to its logical conclusion, feminism condemns heterosexuality, per se.
“Women’s heterosexual orientation perpetuates their social, economic, emotional, and sexual dependence on and accessibility by men. Heterosexuality is thus a system of male ownership of women . . .”
— Cheshire Calhoun, 1994
“[B]ecause sexism is the root of all oppression and heterosexuality upholds sexism, feminists must become lesbians and lesbians must become feminists if we are to effect a revolution. . . . I believe it can be shown that, historically, lesbianism and feminism have been coterminous if not identical social phenomena.”
— Bonnie Zimmerman, 1997
“The view that heterosexuality is a key site of male power is widely accepted within feminism.”
— Dianne Richardson, 2000
“According to feminism the role of heterosexuality is what structures the male-female relationship. Heterosexuality is the structure that keeps sexist oppression in place in the private realm; where sexism in general operates to also oppress in the public sphere. In other words heterosexuality reinforces the hierarchy established by sexism to keep women dominated in ‘sexual interaction, romantic love, marriage, and the family.’”
— “Heterosexuality: The Role it Plays in Feminism and Lesbianism,” 2007
“Heterosexuality and masculinity . . . are made manifest through patriarchy, which normalizes men as dominant over women. . . . This tenet of patriarchy is thus deeply connected to acts of sexual violence, which have been theorized as a physical reaffirmation of patriarchal power by men over women.”
— Sara Carrigan Wooten, 2015
Megan Jayne Crabbe is evidently heterosexual, frequently posting photos of herself with boyfriend Ben Johnston, who for some reason is exempt from her otherwise universal condemnation of male sexuality. And yet, feminist that she is, Ms. Crabbe seems far more enthusiastic for “queer culture.”
Ms. Crabbe is certainly not alone in struggling to comprehend the inherent conflict between feminist theory and her own heterosexuality. This conflict led pioneering feminist Charlotte Bunch to divorce her husband and form a lesbian separatist collective (“The Furies”) in 1972 with the avowed goal of “destroying our sexist, racist, capitalist, imperialist system.”
Megan Jayne Crabbe has probably never read Charlotte Bunch’s books such as Lesbianism and the Women’s Movement (1975) or Building Feminist Theory (1981), and probably doesn’t understand the relevance of this work to her own “body positive” feminism. Yet with her complaints about being viewed as an “object for [male] consumption” and her declaration that “women don’t exist to be visually or sexually pleasing to” males, Ms. Crabbe is merely echoing, in different words, Professor Bunch’s long-ago description of the lesbian as a woman who “defines herself in terms of women and rejects the male definitions of how she should feel, act, look and live.” That is to say, even though Ms. Crabbe apparently desires heterosexual relationships, she wishes to do so without being subjected to male preferences. She seeks “access to a sexuality autonomous from the male,” to quote lesbian feminist philosopher Teresa de Lauretis. The impossibility of this for heterosexual women is obvious because, proverbially, it takes two to tango.
Male sexual arousal is a physiological response which is beyond rational control, and this response — an instinctive urge — certainly cannot be altered to satisfy feminist demands. Civilized men learn to restrain their primal instincts, of course, but those instincts cannot be wished away. You cannot abolish human nature, and the history of feminism for the past 50 years has been a sad repetition of failed attempts to establish an “equality” that is ultimately incompatible with human nature. It took less than three years for the most intelligent (and most radical) of Second Wave feminists to recognize this problem. However much we might criticize lesbian separatists like Charlotte Bunch, we must at least give them credit for locating the fundamental obstacle to “equality” — normal human sexual behavior.
One of the main reasons Second Wave feminism collapsed in the mid-1970s (see Alice Echols, Daring To Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967–1975) was simply that the vast majority of women are heterosexual. Most women actually like men and want to have husbands and families. Such women recognized that feminism would destroy their hope of a normal family life. Feminism is an entirely destructive ideology, which seeks to bring about “equality” by degrading men. Deriving their theoretical analysis from an adaptation of Marxism, feminists depict male-female relations as a brutal “class struggle,” a zero-sum-game competition for power. The rhetoric that attacks “male supremacy” and “patriarchy” is, in reality, a condemnation of male success. Insofar as women admire successful men, and especially as a married woman hopes that she and her children will benefit from her husband’s success, feminism is contrary to her own interests, because feminism seeks to “empower” women by preventing male success. This was the emotional subtext of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Donald Trump’s 2016 victory was, ultimately, proof of feminism’s failure. Given the opportunity to elect the first female president in American history, voters instead elected the blustering New York businessman with the supermodel trophy wife. To make the disappointment even more painful, from the feminist perspective, exit polls showed that Trump had won a majority (53%) among white female voters. Jezebel writer Madeleine Davies, who celebrated “The Pride and Privilege of Symbolic Voting” in her Election Day column, was typical in her post-election reaction:
For about as long as I can remember, I have been embarrassed about being white. . . .
For me, being [at the Jan. 21 Women’s March in Washington] was a fortifying experience, one that made me feel stronger and more prepared for the struggles that lie ahead with the Trump administration. It saddens me that my experience wasn’t shared by all and, frankly, I’ve been resistant to the idea that fault lies with the march, my activism, or the activism of white liberal women like me. . . .
We, as white women, have historically and recently failed women of color. For the movement to be better, we must be better. And that starts by recognizing where we’ve fucked up.
Blaming herself for her whiteness is easier for Ms. Davies and other young feminists than the alternative of asking themselves whether “the movement” is ultimately doomed. Radical feminism’s War Against Human Nature, as I have called it, can only “succeed” by destroying everything that Charlotte Bunch described as “our sexist, racist, capitalist, imperialist system.” And nowhere is this destructive purpose more plainly evident than in the feminist movement’s war against beauty.
The so-called “body positivity” movement that Megan Jayne Crabbe credits with life-saving power is just another expression of the anti-male ideology that feminists have promoted for decades. Ranting against “a fucked up patriarchal society” and “misogynistic morons” because some men make unwelcome comments about her, Ms. Crabbe displaces onto her critics the blame for her own deliberately provocative behavior. To constantly post pictures online of yourself in your underwear — the essence of Ms. Crabbe’s “activism” — is abnormal behavior, symptomatic of narcissism. Anyone who does this is obviously seeking attention, in the form of comments, “likes,” DMs, etc. It is entirely predictable that many reactions to this type of social-media exhibitionism will be negative. Merely by declaring herself a feminist, however, Ms. Crabbe cloaks her selfish attention-seeking in the mantle of activism, a disguise achieved by blabbering a lot of rhetoric about “misogyny,” “patriarchy,” “rape culture,” blah blah blah.
When she posted an Instagram photo of herself with two obese women she praised as “goddesses . . . babes . . . heroes,” did Megan Jayne Crabbe expect that this “body positivity” gesture would escape criticism? If so, she was deluded. The comments quickly filled up with a raging debate about obesity and health, and many of the negative comments were from women who criticized Ms. Crabbe for glorifying obesity, and who reject her effort to justify this by a feminist rationalization. As early as 1978, however, Susie Orbach’s Fat Is a Feminist Issue became a bestseller, defending obesity as an expression of women’s “attempt to break free of society’s sex stereotypes . . . a response to the inequality of the sexes.” Even before Orbach’s book, however, a group of radical feminists in California had formed a collective called The Fat Underground which “asserted that American culture fears fat because it fears powerful women” and “employed slashing rhetoric: Doctors are the enemy. Weight loss is genocide.”
Feminism’s pro-fat arguments are also generally anti-male arguments, as feminists claim that it is the “patriarchal” and “misogynistic” influence of “the male gaze” which is to blame for the “oppression” of fat women. This in turn leads feminists to an anti-heterosexual rhetoric. Fat feminism seeks to “challenge and eradicate . . . heteronormative beauty culture,” Gender Studies lecturer Zora Simic argues in a chapter from the 2015 anthology Fat Sex: New Directions in Theory and Activism. Dr. Simic, who teaches at Australia’s University of New South Wales, points out the central role played by lesbians in fat activism. Vivian Mayer (a/k/a “ Aldebaran” a/k/a Sara Fishman), co-founder of The Fat Underground, wrote in a 1983 book that within the lesbian feminist community, fat women found “their ‘ugliness’ according to conventional standards could be overlooked” because “lesbian feminism offered a haven wherein a fat woman could affirm her beleaguered sense of womanhood and could almost forget she was fat.” (The other co-founder of The Fat Underground was “Judy Freespirit,” a/k/a Judy Berkowitz, a/k/a Judy Ackerman, who divorced her husband and became a lesbian after “she discovered the women’s movement in 1970.”)
This historical connection between fat activism and lesbian feminism is evident in the movement’s rhetoric. The “white supremacist, capitalist heteropatriarchy” it to blame for “fat oppression,” Gender Studies major Sarah Mae Richens argued from “an anarchist and queer theory perspective” in 2015. One popular Women’s Studies anthology, Feminist Frontiers, includes an article examining the Toronto lesbian group Pretty, Porky and Pissed Off (PPPO), whose “radical disruption of hegemonic beauty ideology worked to destabilize the heteronormative gaze.” Male prejudice against fat women is not the only target of feminist rage. Being praised by men for their “voluptuous” figures, Tasha Fierce argued in a 2011 Bitch Media article, means that larger women are “basically being rendered solely as an object of sexual desire and a source of pleasure for the male gaze.” So whether a man likes women skinny or curvy, his preferences are always condemned, according to feminists for whom “male” is a synonym for wrong.
“There’s no such thing as body positivity without feminism! Our body images issues are a direct product of patriarchal beauty standards and the idea that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks. We can’t dismantle our cultural body hatred without waving the flag for feminism loud and proud!”
— Megan Jayne Crabbe
From the 1968 protest against the Miss America pageant to the 21st-century online “selfie culture,” feminists have consistently attacked “beauty standards” as a way of insulting men. Their rhetoric may target the “media” or “society” or “heteropatriarchy,” but what actually enrages feminists is the simple fact that men’s preferences are a factor beyond their control. Women who envy beautiful women like Melania and Ivanka Trump do not wish to admit that their hatred is rooted in personal resentments and unresolved adolescent insecurities. Instead, feminists resort to social-justice rhetoric about “oppression,” expecting the rest of us to take these arguments seriously.
America is still a free country. Women who want to shave half their heads, dye the rest of their hair purple, and cover themselves with tattoos and facial piercings are free to do so, but the rest of us are also free to make fun of these weirdos. Likewise, if an obese woman wants to post pictures of herself in her underwear on Instagram, the First Amendment protects her right to self-expression, but the commenter who says rude things about her is equally protected in his right to self-expression. In the final analysis, feminism’s War Against Beauty is doomed to defeat, because politics cannot change human nature. Men will always prefer beauty to ugliness, and women — or at least, those who are not deluded by feminist ideology — will always strive to emulate ideals of beauty.
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Robert Stacy McCain is the author of Sex Trouble: Radical Feminism and the War Against Human Nature. A journalist for more than 30 years, he is a correspondent for The American Spectator and blogs regularly at The Other McCain. His ongoing research and reporting about feminism have been sponsored by blog readers’ contributions to the Shoe Leather Fund.