Some feminists are exposing their herd mentality, and it isn't pretty.
The herd emerged in collective rage against President Obama's offhand compliment to the good looks of California's attorney general, Kamala Harris. The lesson these feminists want men to take away is that a man may observe the combination of female beauty and brains, but he better keep it to himself.
This may be the triumphant revenge of, or in behalf of, ordinary-looking feminists who never get such compliments. But for women who aspire to power, as feminists insist they do, it's simply silly. Beauty can no longer be in the eye of the beholder, as Santayana suggests, and it can't exist at all if the beholder is a man looking at a woman who happens to be an aspiring professional.
The president's fossil attitudes from the 1950s may have been shaped at home. Michelle enjoys being remarkably beautiful. When she posed for a Vogue cover she talked of her love for clothes. "That's what women have to focus on," she said, "what makes them happy and what makes them feel comfortable and beautiful." Well, of course. Women, after all, spend $7 billion a year on cosmetics and other beauty enhancers, and men aren't supposed to notice? Imagine, for a moment, the disappointment of all the wives and girlfriends whose male companions never stop to admire a new coif, carefully eyelined eyes, a narrow waistline with the help of Spanx and an "enhanced" bosom with the assistance of a Wonderbra. (Who has to know how it's done?)
Their disappointment would be considerable. The newest chic fashion for female television correspondents are sleeveless dresses, the better to show off sleekly sculpted arms. Jane Fonda had a complete surgical makeover, and she didn't do it to be taken more seriously as an actress.
These embittered feminists expect us to believe impossible things. Helen of Troy launched a thousand ships, with her intellect? She was just a pretty face, and now we're supposed to have grown out of the attitudes and tastes of decadent Greeks and Romans. What can myths tell us about female beauty? Only the passage of time and the ravages of nature disarmed Venus de Milo, literally, and we're told that the admiration of men is disfiguring our own view of the female face and form.
Feminists have become tedious and hypocritical talking about female beauty. Learned studies and common sense demonstrate that looks matter in politics and business. Physically attractive candidates, male and female, do better than their plainer brothers and sisters. It supposedly carries a different "resonance," however, if applied to women in 2013. "Resonance" is already a cliche for describing something "thoughty."
But silencing appreciation of authentic female attractiveness, in any woman, with or without resonance, diminishes us all, reducing our ability to see distinctions. The Internet exacerbates this trend (as it does all others), contributing to ganglike bullying by gathering sweeping numbers, exerting what psychologists euphemistically describe as "informational social influence." Jack Goncalo, a professor of group dynamics at Cornell University, tells The New York Times that men and women succumbing to this phenomenon don't want to think for themselves, and they go along with the "mob mentality." Anne Hathaway, celebrated for her feminine beauty and talent, has become an Internet target of cultlike disparagers who call themselves "Hathahaters."
Feminist rants against male appreciation of good looks are similar verbal aggression. There are many things we can criticize the president for, but playfully calling Ms. Harris "the best-looking attorney general" isn't one of them.
Women of the '50s who couldn't break through barriers of suburban conformity to express their individuality were put down as "Stepford wives." Now certain feminists insist on a Stepford-like society, refusing to acknowledge a "looker" because she is thought to have exploited her "beauty" to get where she is. Compliments, we're told, make women more tolerant of sexism, and they can't recognize what researchers call a "tool to keep women playing along with male dominance." (So that's what the clever president was up to.)
Margaret Thatcher, who died this week, was famously unflappable when confronted by either compliment or name-calling.
Francois Mitterrand, the French socialist former president, described her as having "the eyes of Caligula and the mouth of Marilyn Monroe." She accepted both. She reveled in accomplishments and good looks. She wore a filmy red chiffon dress to meet her constituency after the Soviets called her "the Iron Lady," pleased that "my face was softly made up and my fair hair gently waved ." Once, when a Tory member of Parliament complimented her on looking stunning, she asked with stunning confidence, "And when don't I?"
The first female prime minister of Great Britain wielded handbag power in her own way, an indomitable leader unfazed by feminist whine in old battles. She knew she was made of iron, so why join the herd?
Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.
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