Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Powerful People- Old, White Men; Pretty, Young Women

This is a follow-up post to the previous post on "Why America is Not Ready for a Female President."

Wouldn't it have been nice to find things different? But with the resignation of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, I've found others from the New York Times ("Postfeminism and Other Fairy Tales") to England's Guardian ("Why Does Hillary Clinton Wear Such Bad Clothes?") sounding the same notes that Hillary Clinton has been sidelined because of her appearance.

They also note others who've said, "she is a woman and therefore dangerously sexy, but also a woman and therefore a tedious maternal nag." Interesting that women and danger and sexy are all in the same sentence. Reminds me a bit of the old Medieval Catholic idea, believed by many, including Tertulian, that women sullied the world, that women were a tremendous temptation and therefore better left untouched, untasted, unhandled. Like we were some poisoned pretty apple from Satan. I believe Tertullian's words are, "Woman, thou are the devil's gateway, through you sin entered the world." I also found that other journalists were understandably outraged that white men and pretty women wield too much power. Sure it's changing, but not quite as fast as we'd imagine.

I'd like to take a moment to note that the way women's captivating powers are viewed and used and accepted (even in the church as John and Staci Eldredge's book Captivating has proved) is a relatively new idea. Women of character didn't want to captivate, that was a job for adulterous women, geishas, prostitutes, seducers. Women didn't vie for the type of power that a pretty, young thing could easily gain and easily lose. Women didn't parade porn bunnies on their T-shirts, didn't carry key-chains that read "porn star", didn't dress like what my sister calls "hoochi-mamas" on Halloween and call it a costume. And men didn't dress up like gynocologists for Halloween either. Most women knew that a man of character could not be gained with their flesh alone.

But since the early 20th century, things have changed drastically. Who has brainwashed us into believing the main thing to look for in the opposite sex is attractiveness? Is it Hollywood that's to blame? Is it movie stars? Is it fashion mags? Is it godless feminists who parade their free sexuality everywhere? Rather than blame, perhaps we ought to wonder at how we've bought into the lies.

We actually have women and men in our churches, in our homes, maybe even we believe that sex appeal is much more important than honesty, openness, vulnerability, kindness, communication. This sex-addiction began in full-force in American in the early 1900's. This is a date that is often associated with the explosion of Hollywood movies into American theaters and eventually television which pumped ideas into our homes. People grew accustomed to seeing beautiful, attractive, symmetrical people who were the heroes and heroines. We began to demand that we look that good, that you look that good. In fact, not until movies came out did you see immediate wide-spread trends of clothing, jewelry, make-up, hair styles, what's "in" and what's "out." Not until relatively recently did people start closing their eyes when they kissed because that's what they do "in the movies."

So now, because Hillary Clinton is sandwiched between commercials with stylish, white-teethed, symmetrical, full-bosomed females selling us Crest and movie stars who have more money, more sex-appeal, cuter kids, hotter husbands, we find her terribly wanting.

Note: Again, I do not support Clinton, but I do believe that short, older, regular looking women should not be automatically disqualified from power simple on the basis of looks.


Renee said...

I think the attractive power of women can be dangerous. Look at how women throughout history have used their abilities for evil. That is perhaps the reason sexiness and danger are seen in tandem. I don't know that you should dismiss the idea of women being captivating. You seem to view it as purely sexual and negatory, yet I am certain that Eve captivated Adam. Isaac was captivated by Rebekah. Boaz by Ruth. David by Abigail. I disagree that the idea that a woman should be captivating is new. I agree that the idea of a woman's captivating power being largely sexual is fairly recent in the broad application. (though if you read any Medieval literature, you might be surprised at the blatant and widespread sexuality...even, in proper context, connected with upright women) So, while I would question your overarching dismissal of a women's role as a captivator, I entirely agree that our societal focus in in the wrong place. A woman should captivate with her soul, her character, her godliness.

And truly, a leadership position should never be limited by looks. Though it interesting that the only bald president in the last century was Ike. haha. You shouldn't have to look like a movie star to be the president.

btw, I very much enjoy reading your perspective. It always inspires me to think about things more fully, and often in a way I hadn't thought of them before.

Angela C said...

I agree with Renee that we should not dismiss women being "captivating". I'm captivated by Alica Britt Chole when she teaches. There's something mesmerizing about her voice and spirit. Her sweetness and sincerity are attractive.

However, I keep finding myself grieving that we have to have this conversation -- that our society has dipped this low. Yet when I read the quotes concerning women from past centuries it seems we've come a long way.

Romans 8:22-23 keeps coming to my mind:
22 "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved."

The tension between what is and what should be will be there until the final redemption but there is always hope...

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Renee- thanks for commenting and challenging me.. I love it!

I guess I'm a purist when it comes to words. When I hear "captivating" I think of the root of the word "to take captive" and most definitions which read, "1. To attract and hold by charm, beauty, or excellence 2. Archaic. To capture.[Late Latin captivare, captivat-, to capture, from Latin captivus, prisoner. See CAPTIVE.]Excerpted from American Heritage Talking Dictionary
Copyright © 1997

While I do want to be interesting, beautiful, kind, I'm not certain we ought to want to captivate (synonyms are bewitch, mesmerize, amuse, entertain, enthrall) others with our beauty or charm... though yes perhaps we do with our excellence. And yet, I wonder. Do I really want to hold people captive with my excellence? Feels sort of power-trippy to me.

Perhaps I'm splitting hairs (I realize the word has sort of morphed to mean "striking" not necessarily "trying to capture with beauty", but I think we ought to be faithful to the definition and our common use as in, "She's so captivating" which is usually a reference to body not to soul).

So in my criticism I'm using the dictionary definition. And using that one, I don't find Isaac, Boaz and David captivated by their females, for neither Rebekah, Ruth or Abigail used charm to "get" their attention. There were faithful, lovely, courageous, but not (in my mind) captivating.

I'm also rather discouraged by the Eldredges focus on captivation in women. I disagree on several fronts
1- I don't believe women are uniquely more captivating than men
2- I don't believe we can always trust our desire to be captivating as a good gift from God. The Eldredges often fail to realize that just because we have a desire does not mean this desire is good, true, beautiful, nor that it is given to us by God.

I suppose I don't think the word "captivate" is a good choice to explain how a woman inspires, amazes, interests others with her soul, her character, her godliness. I think captivate is too base a word. Perhaps, amaze, interest, delight, inspire are better. I think "captivate" has been picked up because it's a sexy word (power-games, capturing another, etc). And I'm sort of hesitant to use sexy words to describe people I admire, unless I'm actually talking about their bodies.

Angela- yep, it is sad that we have to struggle into this conversation. But I feel even in having it we're shining light on lies around us. That gives me hope.

Renee said...

I see where you're coming from on the semantics. I suppose that I tend to use and view words based on their current connotation rather than their true denotation.

I'm not sure whether I think that women are innately/uniquely more "captivating" than men (in the sense of striking, alluring, attracting), but I do think that we seek to be that more than men do. Men want to be respected as leading or succeeding...women want to be appreciated. Which lends itself to this dilemma of power: that old, white men gain it through swaying arguments and leadership; and young, pretty women gain it through beauty and sexuality. But then, as sinners, it's so easy for us to take things that are good and denigrate them through wrong focus and priorities. If that makes sense.