Opinion | Op-eds

A superficial fixation

“If there’s one thing girls love more than being told they’re pretty, it’s being told they’re prettier than other girls.”
—Timmy’s mom, The Fairly OddParents

In the sixth grade, they called me ugly. Their ringleader informed me that my hair, which my mother refused to straighten, was “too short” and my skin was “the color of shit.”

Yes, there was definite racism at play here, but that’s not what I was thinking at the time. I had been a confident child, but now all I could think was that I was ugly. I spent the next eight years feeling insecure about my looks, and, by extension, my self-worth. I, like many other girls, learned not to raise my hand too high in class, not to speak up too loudly on the playground. Because it had been male classmates who told me I was ugly, I learned to dress for boys, wear makeup for boys, and desperately seek (straight) male approval. Worst of all, I learned to think of my female classmates not as friends but as threats, competitors for male attention. And I wasn’t alone.

Every woman can recall a moment in which she was labeled as pretty or not. As a consequence, many of these women develop a complex and painful relationship with other women. These girls grow up and say, “Oh, I’m not like other girls.” Because, to them, being like other girls means being catty or bitchy. A recent Family Guy episode enforced this stereotype, saying that men “know how to be friends” better than women.

Are men judged by their looks just as harshly as women? Yes, many men are insecure about their looks, but there is a fundamental difference between how men and women are treated based on their perceived attractiveness. A man is judged by his appearance as part of an equation that factors in his intelligence, personality, and successes. A woman is judged first and foremost by her appearance, and everything else—intelligence, personality, successes—is placed into a secondary category.

A few months ago, I was lying in bed with a male Columbia student who decided that post-sex was an appropriate time to talk to me about the other girls he was dating. I wasn’t planning on being offended by what he was going to say. The two of us were “just casual,” after all. But he decided to talk about these girls in ways that made me incredibly upset. One girl, who, he told me, was “the kind of girl I want to marry,” had long, straight hair, was very pretty, and hadn’t had sex with him yet. I couldn’t help but wonder: Why wasn’t I the marrying type? Was it because I wasn’t pretty or because my hair would never be long or straight or because I’d put out too early?

All of the sadness associated with being called ugly in the sixth grade flooded back. I was angry, not just at the man I was lying in bed with but at this young woman I had never met. No wonder women feel the need to compete with one another since we—not just men, not just women, but society as a whole—divide women into categories: pretty and ugly, sluts and “the marrying type.” I had been categorized and, rather than questioning the nature of this categorization, I channeled my anger into hatred of other women.

Some women may say that I’m a prime example of the sort of female self-hatred that comes out of a misogynistic culture. They may say that they never judge other women so harshly and that they don’t tie their beauty to their self worth. I hope that these women are telling the truth. I hope other women don’t think like me, and I hope today’s little girls are taught to think in healthier ways than I was taught to think.

As college women, we can call upon ourselves to use this intellectual space to eliminate internalized misogyny on campus. This will be a tough task, but Columbia’s activist culture enables women and men who are not afraid to question the status-quo and lead discourse on a variety of difficult subjects for the purpose of enacting change.

We can start at Columbia by forgetting our childhood conditioning and defining ourselves by our goals, passions, and accomplishments. We need shallow judgements about superficial characteristics to be out of the equation.

The author is a Columbia College first-year.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com

Comments

Plain text

  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Your username will not be displayed if checked
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Anonymous posted on

Excellent, interesting, well-articulated op-ed.
"Internalized misogyny" is something that a lot of women deal with - you are certainly not the only one on this campus.

+1
-7
-1
Anonymous posted on

Yes! This is an excellent op-ed, even more remarkable because it's written by a first-year student. Please get a column in the Spec next semester!

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

BRILLIANT BRILLIANT BRILLIANT

+1
-5
-1
Anonymous posted on

Thank you for this.

+1
-2
-1
Anonymous posted on

wow. just wow.

+1
+7
-1
Anonymous posted on

The notion that "men are better at being friends than women" has always been a myth to me until now. It takes a lot of reminder from this kind of discourse to look at status quo in a refreshing angle and challenge the nature of these condition. Sexism veils itself in many ways.

+1
0
-1
Anonymous posted on

wow. absolutely incredible

+1
-1
-1
Anonymous posted on

So you screwed a guy who is already dating other girls, and you're surprised that he turns out to be an asshole? I feel bad for the pretty girl with long straight hair, but I don't feel bad for you. You should probably find yourself a man who is considered ugly, he might actually care about you. Otherwise, its really no mystery why you're "not the marrying type."

+1
-8
-1
You voted '-1'.
Anonymous posted on

how about fuck you?

+1
-3
-1
Anonymous posted on

Well, I am pretty ugly, so I guess that would work. I don't really thing we would get along though.

+1
+5
-1
Anonymous posted on

Bit of a mean way to put it but good point.

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

This made me think about what it means to be called, "marriage material." My conclusion was that it is a label that describes a sort of abstract attraction, the kind a man might use to express his distant admiration of a woman with whom he doesn't actually connect. It puts her in a special box of his, tying her to him but also keeping her separate. This takes connecting as equal human beings off the table, and with it, the possibility of a healthy relationship...

I ended my last three relationships because I felt that neither guy wanted or was really able to engage with me as a partner, though each had told me he loved me and was apparently devastated by the break up. I felt disgusted at the point in both relationships when it became clear to me that I had become a stuffed animal that was loved by and used to comfort my guy at the time; admiration in the absence of understanding at the personal and emotional levels strikes me as being identical to the sentiment behind the claim that someone is "marriage material."

Jesus, just treat a girl as a person, not an "object" of admiration.

+1
-8
-1
Anonymous posted on

It's funny how every guy who doesn't want to marry you is a misogynist asshole who doesn't treat women as people.
I don't get why they don't want to marry you--you sound so lovely!

+1
-4
-1
Anonymous posted on

I think you misunderstand: I'm commenting on those who told me they wanted to marry me. When I date one who doesn't want to marry me, you'll be the first to know ;]

+1
+6
-1
Anonymous posted on

Powerful and well-written. Keep at this, Iman Fears! I want to hear more of your words.

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

I sometimes feel threatened by other women because of their looks and personality. One of my guy friends once told me he was surprised I expressed it so honestly. I certainly don't like feeling that way and judging other women in that way. I appreciate that you put it into an article and offered some interesting reflexions.

+1
+3
-1
Anonymous posted on

i feel like all the men i know here, even my good friends, separate women into the categories of "hookup potential" and "friends". i know there are ways i act with my friends that i wouldn't with guys i'm hoping to get with--a little less open, a little less goofy--but with guys it feels so blatant, like they'll talk about the attractiveness of other girls in terms of numbers, and then say "it's different, you're my friend", like it wouldn't make me uncomfortable to think about them rating women like that, and the fact that at one point, before they knew me they put me somewhere on that scale and my number wasn't high enough.

i also had that moment in middle school when some kids told me i would never be pretty, and it sticks with you. i still have a hard time accepting compliments from men and feeling like they're genuine, and not just a way to get in to my pants. i hate the envy i feel when my male friends talk about a girl they all think is beautiful. it's amazing to me that it takes articles like this one for me to even stop and think about how pervasive conversation about women's looks are in every part of our culture.

+1
0
-1