Sexist Things that Women Say about Women

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“Any woman who thinks [opinion] is brainwashed.”

I realize that this blog post is going to get political, so I figured it would be best to start with something non-partisan. This statement is made all too frequently by women all across the political spectrum. The fact of the matter is that, according to any relatively objective definition of brainwashing, a person can be brainwashed into either side of a controversy. To characterize an entire group as being brainwashed is silly unless you are going to continue by saying that this brainwashing has all come from the same source and that this source is a ubiquitous presence among the demographic in question. I do realize that this generally is the implication of this statement, but when the assertion is made in isolation, it’s an ad hominem attack against certain women. (Yes, I know what “ad hominem” literally means, but it’s also the widely accepted name of a logical fallacy, so it is gender neutral in English usage.)

If one is genuinely expressing concern that females are systematically being coerced into certain beliefs and values, then this is hardly the language that one ought to use to make such an assertion, at least not without thoroughly explaining what they mean. Otherwise, one is simply being dismissive and telling a group of people that their thoughts and opinions are totally invalid. Considering that this statement specifically refers to women, it is also indicating that, because of her gender, a woman is permitted to think some things and not others. That’s pretty much the definition of sexism; it doesn’t make it any better if it’s a woman who is saying it.

“I don’t like [name of character or name of book/movie/TV show] because [name of character] isn’t a strong female character.”

Hopefully, many of you reading this are familiar with Doctor Who and will recognize the names of the main characters, because I’m about to use them as a fairly lengthy example. The Doctor is a man from the planet Gallifrey, who travels through space and time in a blue box called the TARDIS. At any given time (with the exception of a couple episodes here and there) he has one female companion who travels everywhere with him and is a co-main-character in the show. (He also usually has a few other companions who are reoccurring characters even though they don’t appear in every episode. And then there’s Rory, who is Amy’s fiancé and then husband, and he travels with the Doctor and Amy for most of Amy’s stint as the Doctor’s companion. But that’s beside the point.)

Most Doctor Who fans have pretty strong opinions about which companions they like better than others. I personally don’t like Donna because she’s just plain obnoxious, and because she frequently forgets that the Doctor is a timelord and really does know a lot more than she does. I’m also not overly fond of Rose, although I liked her when those episodes were new. She’s a bit too much of a flirt and is pretty easily distracted. Actually, most of the Doctor’s companions get quite flirtatious sometimes, but most of them seem to take the whole saving-the-world thing a bit more seriously than Rose does when she’s busy flirting with someone. So I personally like Martha and Amy and Clara better than Rose and Donna. But it seems like the general consensus among the Doctor Who fandom is that Martha is the least remarkable of the Doctor’s companions.

Doctor WhoI can see why some people would say that; Martha is only there for one season, and she’s the most soft-spoken of the Doctor’s companions, and she doesn’t have a complicated and intriguing backstory that involves cool sci-fi concepts that become major long-term themes of the show. But what I’ve heard people say is that she just isn’t a strong female character. That is, she rarely argues with the Doctor or yells at him, and she doesn’t flirt very often, and she doesn’t insist upon doing impulsive things that alter the Doctor’s plans. Basically, she accepts his authority and follows his instructions and helps him save the Earth time and time again.

I think it says a lot about the mindset of the fan base that “strong female characters” are bossy and argumentative and unwilling to acknowledge the Doctor’s authority as a timelord, while someone who respects the Doctor, knows when to keep her mouth shut, and doesn’t get distracted by her own whims is considered a weak female character. But in a sense, Martha is actually the strongest and most capable of the Doctor’s companions from Earth. She rarely does stupid things that require the Doctor to come rescue her, as Rose and Amy constantly do. In fact, she single-handedly saves the Doctor sometimes, and in the season finale, she saves the entire world while the Doctor is trapped. Besides that, most of the Doctor’s companions are dissatisfied and bored with their lives before the Doctor shows up, and we’re given the impression that the Doctor essentially rescued them from the mundane-ness of their own existence, but Martha was an intelligent medical student with a bright future even before she ever met the Doctor. She wasn’t reliant on him to give her life meaning, the way the others were. It’s pretty silly to view her as a weak character just because she’s soft-spoken and polite rather than loud and pushy.

Yes, I know that Doctor Who is just a TV show and that you can only go so far in making comments on our culture based upon the opinions of the Doctor Who fandom. But at the same time, people apply this same logic to so many female fictional characters, and I think it shows a lack of understanding of what strength of character really is. Regardless of gender, being obnoxious is not indicative of strength. Just because Martha treats the Doctor with respect does not mean that she is weaker than the characters that backtalk him and argue with him all the time. In fact, I think that her willingness to trust someone with more intelligence and expertise demonstrates that Martha has a sense of perspective that certain other characters lack. And it serves her well, because when everything depends on her, she doesn’t fail. Both in fiction and in real life, we ought to measure strength of character by the ability to overcome adversity, rather than the inclination to push other people around.

“I don’t understand why any woman would vote for [politician]”

Here’s where it gets specifically political. Okay, I get it, many people vote according to the ideology that gender issues are the most important political issues and that the primary factor to take into consideration is which candidate is the most favorable towards women. I already disagree with that ideology to some extent, but I’m not going to try to argue with it in this blog post. It’s impossible to affect anyone’s ideology via blog post because that’s not the way ideologies work and it’s not the way the internet works. And besides, as ideologies go, this one isn’t so bad. Pretty much all of us, regardless of what we think of the feminist movement as a whole, can agree that sexism is bad and that we wouldn’t want our government to do anything that would be bad for a demographic that makes up approximately half of the population. Of course, the real disagreement here is what can or cannot be called “sexism” and what is or is not “bad for women”. Although that’s a relevant point here, it’s more relevant in the next section of this blog post, so I won’t belabor the point here.

facebookWhen it comes to this particular statement, my complaint isn’t really against the ideology or the specific political issues that are implicitly mentioned. The problem is the statement itself. Let’s imagine two hypothetical female voters. For the sake of discussion, we shall call the first one “you”, and the second one, we shall call either “me” or “I” depending upon grammatical context. Now let us imagine that you post a Facebook status that says, “I don’t understand why any woman would vote for [politician].” And let us further imagine that I had voted for (or am about to vote for) [politician]. Your Facebook status isn’t merely disagreeing with my opinion that [politician] is a better candidate than the alternative(s). It also tells me that you don’t value my opinion and that you think that it’s wrong for a woman to hold such an opinion. Granted, it’s technically possible that you actually didn’t mean that status the way it sounded and that you are simply expressing your puzzlement as an invitation for discussion. But even if that is the case, it’s understandable why I might not realize that, especially once other women who dislike [politician] start chiming in with their opinions that [politician] is a misogynist.

And now, in an admittedly predictable turn of events, I will reveal the fact that this hypothetical situation is in fact not hypothetical, and that I saw an awful lot of Facebook statuses and heard an awful lot of remarks like this back during the presidential campaign. In this particular case, it does seem to be the feminists who say these kinds of things. I point that out not for the sake of finger-pointing, but because, unless I am completely incorrect about what “feminism” even means, feminists should be the last ones to tell women who they should or shouldn’t vote for. I am given to understand that, at its most basic level, feminism is defined as the belief that women are human beings who are not inherently inferior to men and whose rights and opinions are meaningful and should be respected. As far as that goes, I agree, and if that was really what I heard the feminist movement saying, I probably would consider myself a feminist. But what I actually hear from feminists is remarks like this one, which tell me that my opinions are actually not meaningful and deserve no respect. This kind of statement is essentially the same as the first one on this list, just restated in a way that’s a little less dismissive and a little more antagonistic.

Anything that equates “women’s rights” with only issues pertaining to reproduction

The issue of abortion has been a matter of much heated debate for a long time, a lot longer than I’ve been alive. A more recent issue is whether or not it is right for government money to be used to supply birth control to women, even though that money comes from taxpayers, many of whom disapprove of the lifestyles that require the use of birth control. Both of these debates involve factors other than the value of women as human beings. (In the case of abortion, it’s largely an ethical matter that involves the questions of when life begins and whether the right to life applies to the unborn. In the case of birth control, it’s largely an economic matter that involves the question of how much control the government should have over the ways that people’s money is used.) Both issues are actually much more complicated than the way I am presenting them here. I don’t mean to oversimplify them or to ignore all of the what-ifs that would need to be addressed if this blog post was intended to be a political statement or a detailed explanation of my own views. My point is that neither position is specifically misogynist, even though one position is frequently labelled as such. I might as well take this moment to acknowledge that, particularly in respect to abortion, I agree with the position that tends to be characterized as anti-women, and that I am therefore a little personally insulted when that characterization is made. It is my views that are often labeled as being hateful or cruel when in fact they only seem that way if the underlying values are being utterly ignored or dismissed. Particularly in the case of abortion, it’s a little narrow-minded to see it as being a women’s rights issue.

But since that often is the way that these debates are framed, I want to additionally point out that it’s demeaning to women when the term “women’s rights” is used to describe only these kinds of issues. Just a few generations ago, American women couldn’t vote. There have been many societies throughout history where women had absolutely no legal standing and were literally considered to be the property of their fathers and husbands. In many parts of the world even now, it is acceptable and even normal for a man to physically abuse his wife. Even in our own culture, some women are victims of violent crimes or harassment that occur specifically because they’re female. Unfortunately, misogynist abuse cannot be completely eradicated any more than any other kind of wrongdoing can. No matter how strict the laws are, there will always be people who are rebellious enough to break the law. And it’s also sadly true that it simply isn’t possible for every individual to be an advocate for every group that needs an advocate. But if our feminist-influenced culture is truly dedicated to the rights of women, shouldn’t we be more concerned with helping to decrease anti-woman violence and oppression than with getting our government to pay for birth control? Isn’t there more to a woman’s value as a member of society than what she wants to do in order to keep from becoming pregnant? Isn’t it a little self-centered for women in a free country and a relatively safe society to use the term “women’s rights” to refer only to what they choose to do to prevent bearing children (without taking into consideration the obvious and most effective method of not having kids) when there are so many women out there who are being denied so many basic rights?

Anything that denies that there is a distinction between male and female

I am aware of two different views that belong to extreme feminism, and they are very different. One is that women are better than men, and that the world would be a better place if women were totally in charge of absolutely everything. The other is that there is essentially no difference between men and women and that it’s sexist to even imply any such thing. Granted, those are both extreme statements, and there aren’t many people who go quite that far in either case. The first one is a little odd when it’s taken to the extreme, and it’s certainly sexist against men, but it doesn’t really need to go on this list because it isn’t sexist against women. But the second one is quite demeaning to both genders.

legosYes, there’s obviously a problem with placing socially constructed limitations on a person because of their gender. I remember as a kid being annoyed that Legos aren’t supposed to be a girl toy, and now I find it absurd that Lego makes products specifically for girls, because I still think that “boy” Legos are completely gender neutral and totally awesome. In terms of academic interests, there’s a tendency to label math and science as male fields, while literature and writing are female fields. I think that most of us can agree that we have to be careful with those kinds of distinctions, because we don’t want to discourage females who have mathematic and scientific talent, and we don’t want to discourage males who have literary talent. But that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s statistically true that men are, on average, more intelligent when intelligence is measured in terms of mathematical skills, and that women are, on average, more intelligent when intelligence is measured in terms of verbal skills. The same thing applies to personality traits that are specifically associated with one gender. Not every woman is stereotypically feminine, and not every man is stereotypically masculine, but trends do exist.

Both biologically and psychologically, there is a difference between men and women. There are obvious anatomical differences and there is a difference in the proportion of hormones, which has some impact on the way a person’s mind works. Of course we shouldn’t insult any individual just because they don’t entirely correspond to the standard description of their gender. But at the same time, if we deny that there is any difference at all, we’re ignoring and even devaluing a lot of traits that are sometimes treated as being gender-specific. This is especially a problem when there’s an implication that a particularly feminine female is doing something wrong by failing to challenge the status quo. I’m going to stop there because this leads directly into the next point.

Anything that shames women who don’t reject “traditional gender roles”

It’s a great and wonderful thing that, in our culture, girls are generally given equal education opportunities, women have the option of dedicating their lives to their careers if that’s what they want, and there’s nothing shameful about a woman who works a full-time job, (even if she has kids) whether out of necessity or by choice. For most of the history of Western culture, a woman’s job has been to get married, have kids, and run her home, and if she didn’t do all of those things and do them without attracting any attention to herself, she was unfeminine and immoral. It’s nice that in our society, women aren’t required to live a completely domestic lifestyle if that’s not what they want and if they have something to offer society in another vocation. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for some women to choose a more traditional domestic role. It’s not wrong for a woman to give up other long-term opportunities to get married and start a family. It’s not wrong for an educated woman to choose to be a stay-at-home mother if she and her husband agree that it’s what’s best for their family and that they can afford to live on a single income. And it’s not wrong for a woman who is trying to balance a career and a family to allow the career to become the lower priority. In fact, it’s necessary for the continuation of the human race and beneficial to our society that many women become mothers, even intelligent and educated women who could have (and in most cases, still do) contribute to society in other ways as well.

I acknowledge that there are plenty of feminists who don’t verbally attack housewives, and that there are even some self-described feminists who actually do fulfill a traditionally female role within their own families. But there are also many feminists who make remarks, whether in real life or in political debates online, that label such women as traitors. In an earlier draft of this blog post, I had mentioned a few specific examples, some of which went so far as to insult specific women simply for having children. (Did you know that J.K. Rowling is a drain on society because she’s a mother? It’s true; I saw it online.)

And it’s not just motherhood that is under attack. For example, teenage girls and adult women alike get criticized for conforming to societal norms concerning female fashion. Anyone who has seen much internet feminism knows exactly what I’m talking about; there are some people who evidently think that it’s wrong for a girl to wear makeup, shave, or wear specifically feminine clothing. That is obviously an extreme position, but it’s not very rare. It’s quite ironic that this form of feminism operates mainly by attacking females. How is it not misogynistic to bully girls for being (or wanting to be) feminine?

I don't even know what show this is from, but it's basically the most popular thing on tumblr that isn't about Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Supernatural

I don’t even know what show this is from, but it’s basically the most popular thing on tumblr that isn’t about Doctor Who, Sherlock, or Supernatural

We hear so much about the evils of the patriarchy and how terrible it is that our culture is so male-dominated. While it’s obviously true that the government, much of the corporate world, and many sectors of the media are mainly run by men, it’s not necessarily true that this means that women are subjugated. And it’s definitely true that women are objectified far too much and that this is a problem, but men are not solely to blame. Advertisements for women’s clothes and makeup feature unrealistic physical beauty not because men want to look at those ads, but because women buy products that they expect to make them look beautiful. And gender-based stereotypes come from the mouths and keyboards of men and women alike. There certainly are some misogynistic men out there, but men as a group are not evil sexists who are running the world according to a no-girls-allowed agenda. If the “war on women” is a real thing, it isn’t a war waged by male politicians against women, or by Christianity against women, it’s a war fought between women and other women.

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Coffee and Our Culture

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coffeeThe other day, I happened to notice a book on a library shelf that was about Starbucks and what it says about our culture. I didn’t have time to look at the book much, but I got the impression that the book was mostly concerned with the topics of economics and business. It looked like it discussed aspects of consumerism and marketing from the perspective of one ubiquitous company and then explained that the experiences of that business are representative of the way our economy works, on the level of individual consumers and individual products. If my impression of the book’s subject matter and tone was correct, it probably discussed the value of coffee only in terms of supply and demand, and not in terms of what coffee means to people in a more abstract and personal way. It got me thinking about what the coffee industry says about our culture if you leave the economic and commercial details out of the equation.

When I was little, I mostly associated coffee with my father, because he was the only one in the household who drank it. I remember a few occasions when he let me take a sip, and I thought it tasted pretty disgusting. My mother drank a hot beverage made from a mix that was something like hot chocolate and something like instant coffee. She called it coffee, but it was clearly a very different type of concoction from the bitter-smelling black coffee that my father made in his coffeepot. Although I don’t specifically remember it, I’m sure I also saw people drinking coffee before church on Sundays and at other church events. I do remember one time when I had a rather disturbing dream in which a member of the congregation randomly turned into a giant mug of coffee.

Before I drank coffee myself, my connotations were very different from prevalent cultural images of coffee. My father would drink coffee while sitting at the dining room table, or he would have it in his hand as he left the house in the morning. I’m not sure if I was aware that there were such things as coffee shops, that some people liked to go drink coffee from paper cups in public places that had a specific ambiance revolving around the personality and attributes of coffee. That idea would have puzzled me. I also don’t think I knew when I was little that coffee is characteristically high in caffeine and that the acquisition of the caffeine is the primary reason for drinking coffee. All of the things that people say half-jokingly about the necessity of coffee were lost on me when I was little.

Remember that time when a flying squirrel got in my dorm room and I got a picture of it on the coffee machine? Ah, good times.

Remember that time when a flying squirrel got in my dorm room and I got a picture of it on the coffee machine? Ah, good times.

I myself started drinking coffee in my sophomore of college. At first, it was a strategy for coping with a busy schedule on Wednesdays, but as it turned out, I really loved coffee. Back when I only drank one cup of coffee a week, that was one of the highlights of my week, and it didn’t take long before I increased my coffee consumption, first to twice a week, then to three times, and then to every day. Now, I drink a cup of coffee every morning and often will have a second cup later in the day, especially on evenings when I have class. I’m actually starting to get to the point where I don’t like it anymore; I just keep on drinking it for the caffeine. My brain runs on caffeine. You could say that I’m addicted to coffee, but you could say that about a significant portion of the population of this culture. Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on coffee.

As far as I can tell, there are three prevalent reputations that coffee has. One is that it is helpful in getting people going, especially in the morning, and that it is therefore an essential element of the lifestyle and daily routine of busy people, lazy people, and people who are really not morning people. A second reputation associates coffee with relaxation, peacefulness, and intellectualism, as can be seen in the coffee shop trend associated with people who are both nerds and hipsters. Thirdly, coffee has a reputation as being a dangerous habit; it’s just one more unhealthy chemical that we dumb stereotypical Americans put in our bodies without putting any thought into the impact it can have on us. (Alternatively, many studies, including some reliable ones, show that coffee does in fact have significant health benefits, which can be used to back up both of the first two reputations.)

The first of those three reputations is the one that I relate to most, and the one that I hear people talk about most. Very few people drink coffee because of the flavor; we drink it because it makes us alert. Twenty-first century Americans need help being alert because we live an exhausting lifestyle. For one thing, hardly anyone actually gets eight hours of sleep every night. Why go to bed when we can just turn on the conveniently electrical light, and there are so many things that we can do with that extra time? But besides that, we spend a lot of time staring at computer screens, which actually tires people out just as quickly (although for the opposite reason) as physical labor. Our not-so-distant ancestors who worked in the fields or built railroads had a better excuse to be tired than we do, but we are subject to fatigue anyway. Our culture also has an obsession with speed and instant gratification, which means that most jobs (as well as non-job-related tasks) are fast-paced, and that makes us collectively stressed. I think that some people exaggerate the effects of this, but it’s definitely true to some extent. (Just don’t go complaining to those aforementioned ancestors, because we sure have things easier than they did in most respects.) Even without taking into consideration the fact that caffeine is addictive, we need caffeine in order to live our exhausting lifestyle.

It's like yoga except without the part about getting out of your chair

It’s like yoga except without the part about getting out of your chair

Among people of my age and somewhat younger, the second of those three aforementioned perceptions seems to be the most prevalent and the one that contributes most to the popularity of coffee. At least among consumers in their late teens or early twenties, coffee is supposed to be associated with calmness and comfort, like the leisure of having free time and using it to read a good book, or the sensation of being safe and cozy inside on a rainy day, or the sound of James Earl Jones’ voice reading John 1 played over Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas Lullaby. People, especially in a relatively safe and affluent culture, have a craving for comfortableness, a calm and easy lifestyle, and the illusion of security that comes from placing those connotations onto something as simple and easily achievable as coffee. Of course, that falls apart when people get snobbish about their favorite brand of coffee, especially when their brand of coffee is expensive and rare. Oh self-entitled coffee-obsessed hipsters, we’re just trying to appreciate and be satisfied with the simple joys of life, so don’t try to tell us that your simple joys are better than our simple joys.

Incidentally, when you think about it, it’s kind of silly to associate coffee with calmness and relaxation, since that is the opposite of what caffeine does to our bodies. Both of coffee’s other two reputations, that of a benevolent deliverer of caffeine and that of a harmful chemical, are much more self-explanatory and accurate. It is true, though that, coffee is usually served as a warm beverage, and people experience warm beverages as being soothing. Tea and hot chocolate are also warm beverages, with a much lesser amount of caffeine, but I guess we prefer coffee as our go-to comfort drink because it’s something that so many of us drink on a daily basis anyway.

coffee machineSo what does our relationship with coffee say about our culture? It says that we live busy and tiring lifestyles, hence the need for so much caffeine. It says that we feel an emotional need to be comfortable in our everyday lives. But I think that mostly, it says that, as a collective group, we’re kind of obsessive when we decide that we like something.

Who Is Really in the Minority?

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I'm pretty sure that introversion is one of the most popular topics for internet memes.

I’m pretty sure that introversion is one of the most popular topics for internet memes.

It’s an unusual day that goes by that I don’t see something on facebook or tumblr or some internet news site about the state of existence known as “being an introverted person.” Introverted people have an affinity for telling the internet all about what it’s like to be introverted, and I myself have written such a thing on this blog. The interesting point is that introverted people are often portrayed, both by themselves and by others, as a terribly misunderstood minority. But if the internet is any indication, introversion is actually an extremely common personality trait. Granted, it is likely that introverted people are statistically more likely to be the kind of people who write about their personalities online instead of actually expressing themselves in direct conversations with actual people. But still, it’s pretty obvious that being introverted is not a unique or exceedingly rare trait.

Bell CurveIn fact, sometimes I wonder if the opposite is the case. Are extroverts the real odd ones out? Obviously, most people fall somewhere near the middle of the spectrum; “normal” people are neither remarkably introverted nor notably extroverted. If everyone was assigned a numerical value based upon how introverted or extroverted they are, those numerical values would surely form a bell curve. But maybe it wouldn’t be a perfect bell curve; maybe it would be skewed to the introverted side. After all, it’s unusual to hear anyone make a case for the awareness of what it’s like to be an extrovert. Is that because it isn’t necessary, or is it because there aren’t many extreme extroverts out there to make such a case?

IntrovertsTo be perfectly honest, most of us introverts can’t even imagine being extroverted. I can picture what it would be like to be a little less socially awkward and a little more friendly than I actually am, but I really have no idea what it would be like to actually feel more comfortable and at-home in a social setting than by myself. I can’t fathom the concept of feeling energized by having conversations. For me, talking to people is like going hiking. It’s a great thing to do sometimes, it’s generally very enjoyable, and I would love to do it more often than I actually do, but it can be pretty tiring and it wouldn’t even be possible to do it constantly. I really don’t know what it would be like to not feel that way.

IntrovertsBut extroverted people, at least those who read stuff online, are forced to know what it’s like to be introverted. They are constantly bombarded with descriptions of how our minds and emotions are different from theirs. You can’t spend much time on the internet without being reminded about the differences between introversion and shyness, reading lists of things that introverts don’t like to be told, or being told that introverts are more likely than extroverts to have any number of other personality traits. The internet frequently points out that introverts aren’t necessarily antisocial, that introverts actually do need some amount of attention and appreciation, and that the best way to connect with an introverted person is to show an interest in whatever book, intellectual interest, or hobby it is that keeps them entertained in their quiet alone time.

From my own tumblr page

From my own tumblr page

Then again, despite the extreme repetition of those facts on the internet, it seems like in-real-life people just don’t get it. I can’t tell you how often people tell me that I need to “come out of my shell,” when as far as I’m concerned, I’m not in a shell. And other times, people comment on how quiet I am, as if I’m deliberately keeping ideas from them, or they advise me that I ought to spend more time socializing, or they think they’re being kind and understanding if they interpret things that I do as being effects of shyness. Sometimes, I keep my mouth shut because I’d actually prefer to just listen. If I refrain from thinking out loud, it’s not because I want my thoughts to be secret, it’s just that my mind works better when I’m not talking. The reason that I don’t spend a lot of time just hanging out with people is that I’m busy with other things that are more important or more fun, and I wouldn’t necessarily be averse to sharing those activities with other people if the circumstances allowed it. When I say or do something really awkward, it’s not necessarily because I’m shy and intimidated; it might just be because I’m awkward. Those are all things that the internet completely understands and can relate to, but real-life people apparently don’t.

Introverts and extrovertsWhen it comes down to it, I think that the misunderstandings really go both ways, and people on either side of the bell curve are a mystery to many of the people on the other side. That’s probably largely due to the fact that most people are pretty close to the middle. But the question remains, are introverted people a tiny minority that has found its voice by making an inordinate amount of noise on the internet? Or are they a slight minority that has found its voice by claiming dominance on the internet and then playing the victim by pretending to be a smaller subset of the population than it actually is? Since the internet has become such a major part of our society, does that mean that introverts are the new “in” crowd? And if so, what impact will that have?

Slightly Politically Incorrect Thoughts on Beauty

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I don't know where this picture came from originally, but it is a computer-generated image that has been posted in many places online as an example of a fairly normal but objectively beautiful female face.

I don’t know where this picture came from originally, but it is a computer-generated image that has been posted in many places online as an example of a fairly normal but objectively beautiful female face.

Society and the mass media promote two different ways of defining and thinking about beauty. The first tells us that beauty is objective and can be judged according to a standard set of ideals, that some people are much better-looking than others, and that it’s important for every individual to do whatever they can to make themselves as attractive as possible, especially in cases where this individual is female. The other perspective says that beauty is only skin deep and that true beauty comes from within. According to this definition, there’s no such thing as objective beauty and it is unethical and hurtful to say that one person looks better than another. One of these views is considered to be superficial and the other is considered to be politically correct, but they’re both commonly held ideas and they’re both deeply ingrained into people’s minds. I would like to offer the opinion that actually, both of these ways of thinking of beauty are incorrect and potentially harmful. Even though one is always critical and the other is always complimentary, they’re both too extreme and just plain wrong.

Of course, everyone knows what’s wrong with the idea of objective beauty that is promoted by movies, the fashion industry, and advertisements in general. It’s unrealistic and artificial, and it promotes the idea that a person’s self-worth is based primarily upon their physical appearance. It makes people, especially women, feel inadequate, and it opens opportunities for marketing strategies that prey upon people’s insecurities. Women are told that they are supposed to strive for a certain ideal, and if that means spending ridiculous amounts of money and time on nice clothes and makeup and hair care products and skin care products, then that’s what you have to do. If you don’t, you’re ugly, no one likes you, and your opportunities in life will be very limited. Those ideas are obviously neither correct nor pleasant.

The other definition of beauty sounds better, though. It’s nice to be able to say that everyone’s beautiful just the way they are and that a person’s facial features have no impact whatsoever either on their potential in life or their overall degree of attractiveness. The problem is that, strictly speaking, that isn’t true in every context, and anyone who really believes it is going to have a hard time dealing with a world in which looks really do matter sometimes. Personally, I feel that there’s a bit of a contradiction in a philosophy that states that everyone is beautiful and that beauty doesn’t really matter. The only way in which that conflict is resolved is to make “beauty” an extremely vague term, which is easy to do when you’re already operating according to the idea that beauty is unimportant. But then you’re basically denying the existence of any such thing as objective physical beauty, and that’s kind of sad because beauty is, by definition, a good thing.

To be honest, I have never understood why people say that the Mona Lisa is pretty.

To be honest, I have never understood why people say that the Mona Lisa is pretty.

I think it makes the most sense to think of beauty in the same way as you’d think of a skill in a certain area. For example, some people are born with a mathematical mind and are guaranteed to be good at math as they grow and learn. If that is something that really matters to them, they will put effort into mathematics and will end up being excellent; otherwise, they’ll just be a little bit good at math and they’ll be better at something else that matters a little more to them. In other words, a person’s mathematical ability comes from a combination of natural ability and deliberate effort. It would be silly for another person to tell a mathematical genius that being good at math is not something they should be proud of because they were born with it, but it would also be silly for others to put that mathematical genius on a pedestal as a model of human perfection just because he or she is extremely good at one certain thing. Other people are born without that degree of mathematical talent. If they work really hard, they can still become somewhat good at math, but certainly not to the degree of being a genius. It would be incorrect and hurtful for other people to claim that this non-genius is an inadequate human being just because of a lower level of innate proficiency in one area.

Likewise, some people are born being naturally good-looking and others aren’t. Regardless of how naturally attractive someone is, there are things he or she can do to look better. The question of whether or not it’s worth it is really a matter of opinion. For example, I personally think that plastic surgery, except when it’s reconstructive in nature, is not worth the money and the recovery time. I don’t, however, think that it’s silly or wasteful for me to use makeup or to occasionally spend some time doing something cool with my hair or to prefer wearing clothing of certain colors simply because I think I look better in those colors. But I do know a lot of girls who wear an awful lot more makeup than I do and who care more about their hair than I do and who buy a lot of clothes because they find it necessary to have as many flattering or “cute” outfits as possible. Some of them are naturally beautiful people who do their best to enhance their good looks because it’s something that they value in themselves. Others are less good-looking to begin with, but they are dedicated to making themselves look as good as they can, and usually, the result is that they succeed in being pretty.

I don't often spend any more time on my hair than absolutely necessary, but I do admit to having wasted some time recently trying to imitate this hairstyle. This is Clara Oswin, from the latest Doctor Who episode.

I don’t often spend any more time on my hair than absolutely necessary, but I do admit to having wasted some time recently trying to imitate this hairstyle. This is Clara Oswin, from the latest Doctor Who episode.

To be honest, I am a little biased against people who think that their appearance is a high priority in their life, and I am very baffled by some girls’ willingness to spend so much time and money on the way they look. Really, though, it’s a lifestyle choice. To me, my appearance is slightly important, but there are a number of things that are much more important. I’d rather put my time and efforts into the pursuit of intellectual achievements, partly because that seems much more important to me and partly because I’m aware that any natural assets I have are intellectual rather than aesthetic. I’m not saying I’m a genius, either, but I do go to a fairly prestigious college and make fairly decent grades, which is worth something.  I’m not sure what an equivalent achievement in prettiness would be, but it’s certainly something well beyond my potential.

There are some people out there who are very good-looking and very smart and very talented in other areas as well.  I guess that must come from a combination of being very naturally gifted and being extremely non-lazy. In that case, those all-around awesome people deserve admiration and respect, even from those of us who just can’t understand how an intelligent and motivated person can find the time to make their hair look that nice or put that much effort into putting together a really great outfit.

It’s true that there are a lot of people out there who are superficially obsessed with their appearance or who are misguided enough to judge other people based upon their looks. And it’s true that it’s bad to be entirely focused on physical beauty and that our society shows many of the negative results of that mindset. But that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to acknowledge that there is such a thing as objective beauty and that some individuals do have quite a bit of it.

Here is a picture of Grace Kelly, because I once had a paper doll of her that I deemed to be the prettiest of all my paper dolls.

Here is a picture of Grace Kelly, because I once had a paper doll of her that I deemed to be the prettiest of all my paper dolls.

For the record, this blog post was in part inspired by a website I found (and unfortunately lost again, so I can’t share the link) which lets you upload a picture of a person’s face and then uses objective details to calculate how good-looking  that person is. This strongly appealed to the part of my brain that is fascinated with quantifying everything. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do a lot with it because it requires pictures that are completely straight-on; the slightest angle or the tiniest incline of the head confuses it. I therefore only had a couple pictures available to feed into the program, but I was interested to note that the analysis of one particular picture of one particular sister indicated that she was more than 95% pretty. Given the fact that I have myself beheld the face of this sister of whom I speak, I am not at all surprised, and I expect that pictures of some of my other sisters would have gotten similar scores if I had been able to find correctly angled pictures to use. My point here is to justify the coolness of such a computer program (and the amount of time I wasted playing with it) and to explain why it is both awesome and unfair that my sisters are pretty people. The additional point of this particular paragraph is to subtly point out that my sisters are pretty people without actually complimenting them, because, you know, that would go against all the principles of sibling rivalry.

Note: Those of you reading this who know me and/or my family in real life may be curious about which sister’s picture I used. If you want to know, you can see it for yourself, because it’s my current cover picture on facebook. It is pretty obvious which sister’s face I was able to use because she’s the only one who isn’t leaning and doesn’t have her head turned or someone else’s hair obscuring her face.

Other note: I notice that all of the pictures I have used here happen to be of Caucasian women, and I would like to note that 1) This is a coincidence where my choices were concerned and I hope that isn’t offensive, and 2) It is interesting and strange, though, that Google images don’t give you racial diversity unless you specifically ask for it.