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Essay/Term paper: Feminism

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Gender

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Both Virginia Woolf, in a speech addressing a graduating all women class,
and Naomi Wolf, in her text The Beauty Myth, contemplate feminism from an
economic viewpoint. While Woolf believes women need money and a room of their
own to have economic independence, Wolf gives credence to the fact that the
beauty industry is hindering the independence of women. Through male
pomposity, the conventional lives of women, obsession with physical
appearance, and the reality that beauty is diverse, both Woolf and Wolf
explain the significance of our world's economy.
Women have always been economically dependent on men. Any land or money
that was in a woman's possession was given to her father or husband. Women
have stayed at home working as housewives, cleaning house, and taking care of
children. Of course, there have been women who have worked outside of the
house, but Woolf sees that kind of work as enslavement. Not much money was
made, and not many occupations were open to women. ". what still remains with
me. was the poison of fear and bitterness which those days bred in me. To
begin with, always to be doing work that one did not wish to do, and to do it
like a slave," (Woolf 348). Therefore Woolf concludes that women need to be
independent from men, and in order to do so women need to have money of their
own. This statement is without a doubt biased, as Woolf is limiting her
thesis to those women who have an income without working. Consequently,
working women can never really be liberated.
One may ask why women have been the poor ones. Why have women been
dependent on men, and not men on women? Why haven't women been able to thrive
and prosper like men have? The answer lies in the fact that men blow
themselves out of proportion. Woolf's theory is that women have been seen as
mirrors. "Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing
the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its
natural size," (Woolf 346). Because men see women as inferior, men feel
superior. If a woman were to stand up for herself and lessen the power of the
looking glass, men wouldn't have the feeling of predominance that they occupy
now. "The looking-glass vision is of supreme importance because it charges
the vitality; it stimulates the nervous system. Take it away and man may
die," (Woolf 347). Without the mirrors to boost a man's self-assurance, he
won't have anything to compare himself to, and his blossoming ego will
In her speech, Woolf was asked to talk about women and fiction. She
resolved that without money nor education, women would not be able to create
fiction. Which is why, in the Elizabethan era, women did not generate any
sort of poetry. Woolf pondered over this for a while, and hypothesized that
Shakespeare had an ingenious sister, Judith. Judith had the imagination and
ability to produce creative works just like her brother. However, Judith
never had any education so she wasn't able to thrive. In short, the story
goes like this: Judith's father arranges a marriage for her, Judith runs away
from home and goes to the city, she tries to live out her dream and act, she
gets laughed at, she has an affair, and then Judith kills herself at the
crossroads. The fact that Judith kills herself at the crossroads has great
symbolism. The crossroads represents choice. The choice is that one can go
along with her potential and be who she wants to be, or she can go along with
the flow.
Even though this choice is existent, it is extremely improbable. As Woolf
states, "it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare's day had had
Shakespeare's genius. For genius like Shakespeare's is not born among
labouring, uneducated, servile people," (Woolf 353). Women have never had the
opportunity to produce poetry because they have never been given the freedom
they need to do so. Because women have always been poor and reliant on men
they are lacking the two things needed to bring about such creative writing.
"Women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves.
Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of writing poetry. That is why I
have laid so much stress on money and a room of one's own," (Woolf 354).
Shakespeare's sister is still alive in all women. We all have the chance to
make that choice that Judith left us at the crossroads. All we need to do is
have money and a room of our own, or in other words, economic independence
and freedom. We need to break away from the traditional lives woman lead and
set Shakespeare's sister free.
While Virginia Woolf placed her emphasis on the truism that women need to
be given economic independence, Naomi Wolf looked at the certitude that any
feministic advances women have made have been hindered by the beauty market.
"[Women] who can enjoy freedoms unavailable to any women ever before, do not
feel as free as they want to," (Wolf 9). The diet, makeup, and hair care
industries are prospering more than ever. Women are so obsessed with their
physical appearance that they would spend any amount of money necessary to
"fix" themselves up. "More women have more money and power and scope and
legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel
about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated
grandmothers," (Wolf 10). Women have always had a beauty image to follow. It
has changed over the years, but it has always been apparent in our society.
The image has grown from the voluptuous woman, to the happy housewife, to the
youthful, emaciated model.
Wolf describes the beauty myth as "a violent backlash against feminism
that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women's
advancement," (Wolf 10). The beauty myth is controlling women. We have
finally broken away from being a mirror to men, but haven't been able to
reach full independence because we are heeding to the demands of the beauty
industry. Wolf believes the beauty myth comes from politics and economy. She
labels beauty as a "currency" as it is always changing. The beauty myth is
causing society to act in a certain way. As Wolf states, "The beauty myth is
always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance," (Wolf 14). Beauty
causes women to compete with one another, causing the self-esteem of women to
decline dramatically. We are defenseless to the outside world, cautious of
the opinions of other people. How can women be free, if deep inside their
dignity is being hacked away by the growing industry that is constantly
telling us we are fat and ugly? Is this freedom? Are women really free? No,
the stereotypes of women are obstructing our capacity to be free.
According to Wolf, the beauty myth flourished after the Industrial
Revolution. "The rise of the beauty myth was just one of several emerging
social fictions that masqueraded as natural components of the feminine
sphere, the better to enclose those women inside it," (Wolf 15). Before the
Industrial Revolution women were valued for their skills and fertility.
Because of the Industrial revolution, images of beauty were able to circulate
and women saw what they were supposed to look like. Another major event that
occurred was the fact that men went out to work and women stayed at home.
Women were allowed to consider different issues with the time they were given
to stay at home. Women realized that they wanted to have the same rights as
men. They didn't want to stay at home any longer. Thus, men became extremely
alarmed. Women were challenging the mirror that men used for self-confidence.
The men's power structure was in danger. They had to think of something to
occupy women, and they had to do it quick. "By using ideas about "beauty," it
reconstructed an alternative female world with its own laws, economy,
religion, sexuality, education, and culture, each element as repressive as
any that had gone before," (Wolf 16).
Because possibilities for women have skyrocketed, men are more panicky than
ever before. Women feel guilty for taking the jobs away from the men. This
gives way for the beauty myth to trap women into its appalling pitfall. In
order to stop this developing terror, society needs to stop and look around
for a moment. Real beauty is not what society says it is. Women around us do
not look like the anorexic models on television. In order to put a stop to
the beauty myth we need to look for real beauty in real people. Beauty is
diverse; there isn't one universal conception of beauty. We need to develop
many images of beauty; we can't just have one. As Wolf says, "It is the
readers themselves who sill write the final chapter of The Beauty Myth,"
(Wolf 6).
Being a teenager in today's society, I have seen the way women are
dependent on men, and I have been a victim of the beauty myth. Of course, in
today's society, women are starting to branch out and be independent, but the
beauty myth is still going strong. I have gone through periods of depression
feeling heavy and ill looking. I have seen the way my friends rush to the
store and buy diet pills. Most of my class wastes half an hour in the morning
delicately applying makeup, trying to hide any imperfections. We try to
appear like the people we witness on television. As I was writing this paper,
an ad for a "Jenny Jones Weight Loss" program came on. Lose nineteen pounds
for nineteen dollars, Jenny Jones promises. And a couple days ago heavier
people were protesting an ad 24-hour Fitness had exhibited, "When the aliens
come, they will eat the fat ones first." Even my nine-year-old sister wonder
why her stomach sticks out, she wonders what she can do to be thinner. It's
affecting the younger generation. On the other hand, I look at my mother who
is successful. She is a single mother who works in a predominantly male
occupation, raising three children on her own.
In some ways women have progressed, in some ways women have digressed. As
women, we need to crack the mirror Virginia Woolf indicated as apparent in
our domain. We need to set Shakespeare's sister free, and make the choice to
have money and a room of our own. And as Naomi Wolf presented, we need to
look for diversity in beauty. We need to become aware of the decrease in
self-confidence that is happening in women, and do something about it. While
it certainly is not going to happen today, or even tomorrow, on behalf of all
women, I hope it happens soon.

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