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Feminine Traditions

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Feminine Traditions Essay, Research Paper

In our society women are often pressured and conditioned to conform to

traditional feminine standards. In the past fifty or so years women have begun

to find modes of resistance against these cultural constraints. In this essay I

will cover Bartky?s essay ? Skin Deep?, she theorizes about the

?properly feminine subject?, the definition of the body, disciplinary

practices and how to resist. Bartky theorizes about the properly feminine

subject by stating that it is to embody the proper feminine qualities of

character and behaviors. According to Bartky the properly feminine woman must be

sure to never appear sloppy or loose. The properly feminine woman should also

allow 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. Bartky

talks about the properly feminine body and how every movement is to be done a

certain way in order to seem feminine. It is like when a mother tells her

daughter ?Don?t sit with your legs open, its not lady-like?. Bartky talks

about how the proper feminine body must display itself within the proper

parameters of femininity. A woman must wear clothing and make-up that display

her in a positive way. A woman should not wear clothing or make-up that would

make her look sloppy, unkept or masculine. This can be seen through out society

but especially in the sports world. Women who compete in sports are often seen

as unlady-like or non-feminine because they are active in a masculine dominated

realm of society. Most sports are traditionally seen as outside the parameters

of femininity. The idea of the properly feminine subject is an extreme example

of femininity, yet it is the example that we use most in our society. In order

to conform to these concepts a woman must train herself and her body. Bartky

talks about how the proper feminine body requires training and how our culture

implements certain disciplinary practices in order to do this training. She

talks about dieting, make up and fashions. American culture perpetuates these

practices through the mass media. One of the most powerful disciplinary

practices for women in the United States is that of dieting. ?Dieting

disciplines the body?s hungers: appetite must be monitored at all times and

governed by an iron will.? ( Bartky 18) By dieting women are disciplining

their bodies to only consume a certain amount of food. By doing this women feel

they 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 diet

are scorned by society. Mass media contributes to these ideas by using images of

predominantly thin unrealistic women. After saturating the women audience with

images of super-thin starlets , television networks then proceed to show hours

and hours of commercials and infomercials on weight-loss, dieting and fitness

programs. Another disciplinary practice that is perpetuated through the media is

that 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 be

found more in magazines than on T.V. This is because magazines can give you page

upon page of ?make-up tips? and ?skin care strategies? that women should

follow in order to conform to the properly feminine standard. The overwhelming

media showcase of properly feminine subjects and disciplinary practices leads to

women either conforming to these practices or resisting them. Bariky also talks

about how and why women can and should resist these practices and cultural

constructions of the female body. Bartky lists several reasons why women should

resist these practices: 1) it is very costly and time consuming, i.e women spend

hours and hours infatuated with their physical appearance instead of spending

time working on their mental appearance 2) women are persuaded that their bodies

are defective, i.e. images in mass media tend not to reflect the average woman

leading the average woman to feel something is wrong with her 3) they lead to

problems such as racism and class oppression, i.e most of the women in these

media images are white so any woman of color who sees this often feel inferior

and will try to conform 4) they lead to women feeling alienated, i.e. women who

don?t conform to these beauty norms often feel like outsiders or don?t fit

in with the rest 5) the construction of this body is for the appreciation of

male outsiders as well as the woman?s inner self, i.e. women do this to be

appreciated by men but often is more of a beauty contest 6) the proper feminine

bodies postures and movements are seen as subordinate to men, i.e. it leads to

women being seen as child-like to men, who are then seen as superior. Bartky

stresses that many women are becoming resisters to these practices of proper

femininity. Women body-builders and athletes are resisters, women who take

self-defense classes are resistors and lesbians are resisters. Any woman who

goes against the properly feminine subject and its disciplinary practices is a

resistor. Women athletes are definite resistors because sports especially

basketball have been anti-women for so long that women?s basketball at the pro

level is a slap in the face to masculinists. Anything having to do with heavy

athletic participation is seen as a resistance to traditional cultural norms.

Resistance eventually leads to cultural change. Bartky talks about her vision

for the future of the body and a new radical configuration of this body. She

talks about how the whole conventional idea of beauty will be thrown by the

waste side, people will be able to experiment with their appearance and pretty

much do whatever they want. She also says that the gender and class system will

also be thrown out and it will lead to a society in which one?s image is

freely chosen; true existentialism. In Bartky?s essay ?Skin Deep? she does

a very good job of analyzing the current situation of women in our society in

particular women as part of the American culture. She theorizes on ?the

properly feminine subject?, the definition of the body, disciplinary practices

and how to resist. She also talks about a new society in the future that would

be entirely free of class and gender systems and would have none of the previous

society?s beauty standards. This sound?s like a good idea but realistically

it would be almost impossible for our society not to be able to classify and

categorize people through gender, class, race etc.


?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.15-27.

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