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Patriarchy's after-taste: Why Julia Gillard continues to trip

Patriarchy may have peaked, but women — even powerful women — continue to be trapped in The Beauty Myth — as writer Naomi Wolf called women’s obsession with physical appearances.

Julia Gillard, the Australian Prime Minister who wowed us the other day with her terrific speech on misogyny and sexism (watch the video here), managed to trip on her high heels at Rajghat on Wednesday, sparking a worldwide debate over women’s obsession with high heels, at considerable risk to life and limb.

It is difficult to understand why women wear high heels, though I presume it has something to do with appearing attractive in some way, as heels emphasise legs (if you sport western wear) and a wavy (sexy?) walking style. Men sure like the results.

Courting risk to appear attractive is important in nature’s scheme of things.

 Patriarchys after-taste: Why Julia Gillard continues to trip

The costs of looking good are heavily loaded against women. Reuters

In non-human species, it is not uncommon to find the male taking on serious risks to attract females. The peacock, despite the huge danger it courts by sporting colourful feathers (if chased by a predator, these will slow it down, resulting in possible death), still it needs them because this is what peahens apparently drool over. Male moose and elk have horns and antlers that are elaborate and artistic, but these can be trouble if you are trying to escape a tiger or lion and get yourselves entangled in low shrubbery.

And so, I presume, it must be with the human female. They court risks — from high heels to uncomfortable clothing — for similar reasons.

Patriarchy, an unnatural evolution in homo sapiens, shifted the risks and costs of attracting mates from male to female. As patriarchy is reversed, this should also be reversed.

In almost every other species, it is the male that has to look better and try harder to attract females. This is why the peacock is simply more beautiful than the peahen, and the lion is clearly more majestic than the lioness, and so on. Mr Gorilla is simply more handsome than Ms Gorilla.

Human patriarchy has reversed nature’s order by making it incumbent on the female to look better.

Thus women go to extraordinary lengths, spend huge fortunes and court risks to achieve this. Feminists, of course, don’t like to put it this way. The spin they give is that women want to look good in order to feel good about themselves, and not to attract some worthless men. But there is no denying that patriarchy gave an evolutionary advantage to women who looked good, and today’s women are stuck with this.

The costs of looking good are heavily loaded against women. I can get a haircut for Rs 50-80; my spouse spends thrice or four times as much for a minor trim. I can get by on a few hundred rupees of grooming gels, after-shaves and lotions a year; the better half is worse off on the budget by a few thousand. Men’s clothes are far cheaper than women’s and the lifestyle and beauty industry’s biggest focus is to ensure that women never lose this paranoia or obsession.

Let’s see what Naomi Wolf has to say on this. I picked up this quote from her book on The Beauty Myth from Wikipedia. “The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us... During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty... Pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and 33,000 American women told researchers that they would rather lose 10-15 pounds than achieve any other goal...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.”

However, Ms Wolf may not have noted that as patriarchy dies a slow and unsung death, the ground is shifting. Male grooming is taking the same path of female grooming, complete with hours at the parlour every month, as we get richer and become more conscious of the need to attract the other sex.

The Male Beauty Myth is in the process of being born, but women are far from abandoning or de-emphasising theirs.

The tables are turning. The heel is on the other foot. But many women do not seem to have noticed that it’s time to let the men do the running. Let them carry the burden of the Beauty Myth.

Ms Gillard, you can stop tripping on your heels.

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Updated Date: Oct 19, 2012 14:32:02 IST