I think the moment that I realised the continuing prevalence of sexism was during a discussion at school about our upcoming 6th form Formal. A female friend, who I shall call “Amy”* was uncomfortable with dresses and said that she intended to wear a dressy shirt and trousers. The unanimous response from the rest of the (mixed gender) group? “You have to wear a dress or you’ll look like a lesbian”. Sexist, homophobic, and that was from her friends. Amy very nearly decided not to go at all.
This echoed our “proper” end-of-school prom two years before, which Amy and dozens of other girls (then aged only 16) refused to attend due to concerns about how they would look compared to the ideal forced upon them by society. As far as I’m aware, this did not happen to any of my male friends. As long as they showed up reasonably well-dressed, their looks were not scrutinised.
This double standard continues well into adulthood. Have you ever read an article chastising a male celebrity for wearing the same outfit twice? In fact, have you ever read an article that focuses on a male celebrity’s outfit at all? Have you ever seen a paparazzi picture of a male celebrity where the caption mocks him for not wearing the same level of make-up that he would in public appearances?
For women according to the patriarchy, looks are all that matter, and if you don’t look like the ideal then you’re not a “real” woman. Female TV characters are shown waking up and going to bed clearly wearing full make-up and perfectly straight hair. Even in horror films or apocalypse movies, women are almost always wearing full make-up. Even media campaigns claiming to challenge these impossible standards of beauty show hypocrisy; the structure of most episodes of How To Look Good Naked seems to be “You’re beautiful just the way you are… but you need to wear these support pants”. No. Just no.
Not that this “ideal” is particularly clear or well-defined anyway; whatever a woman looks like, the patriarchy thinks it’s wrong. Women who are not naturally skinny are made to feel that they must be skinny to be beautiful; conversely, women who are naturally skinny are also made to feel guilty about it, through phrases and picture along the lines of “Real Women Have Curves” – there are no similar phrases which apply to men. Women who do not wear make-up are criticised for this (several entries in The Everyday Sexism Project show that make-up is required for women in some workplaces), yet women who do wear make-up are criticised for “hiding their natural beauty”. Women who do not like to wear skirts/dresses or revealing clothing often have their femininity and/or sexuality questioned – again, sexist and homophobic. However, women who do wear such clothing are called sluts/whores and are often subject to victim-blaming.
Let me make this clear: Women are not pretty dolls who are on this planet purely for people to look at. Women are human beings, and human beings have assets and flaws. You ARE good enough, you ARE pretty enough, and even if you don’t agree with those statements, why should you care? If you were a man, you wouldn’t have to.
*For the avoidance of all doubt, that isn’t her real name.